POPULATION TREND AMONG THE KARBIS IN A CENTURY [1872-1971]
By AP Thaparia
[An Essay from ‘Population Poverty and Environment in North East India’
Edited by B Dutta Ray, HK Mazhari, PM Passah, MC Pandey]
The Karbis or Mikirs constitute a major tribe of Assam. They are mainly concentrated in Karbi Anglong districted. They are also foundin some pockets of Nowgong, Kamrup, Darrang, Golaghat, North Cachar Hills of Assam as well as in Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya and Nagaland
A study of the physical aspect of the Karbi land has shown that the Karbi habitations are considerably diverse particularly respects of physiography, vegetation etc. This diversity in the geo-physical structure has formed a distinctive ecological background that has greatly influenced the settlement pattern, economy, population as well as socio- political life of the people. There prevails cool climate in the plains and low-lying areas. Vegetations vary from thick forest in the Dhansuri and Kopili valleys in the higher elevations bordering Nagaland and Meghalaya at the thin forests in the Brahamaputra plains.
It is in this physical setting that the Karbis came to inhabit in the present habitat long before the coming of the Ahoms in the early thirteenth century. The Karbi linguistic and socio-culture affinities with other Tibeto-Burman families and their myths and legends form sufficient gorunds to accept the view that the Karbis immigrated in to the present Karbi Anglong district crossing over the hills ranges lying between Southern Nagaland and North Manipur, and further proceeded through North Cachar Hills to their present habitat.. Here, the Karbis came into contact with the historically powerfully principalities of the Kacharis, the Jaintias and the Ahoms. Much later, they came into contact with the British. It is during the Ahom and the British period that Karbis spread themselves territorially covering the major part of their present habitat Their relation with the Ahoms was cordial and that with the British was somewhat indifferent, if not inimical, and this specially encouraged them to settle in the foothills and the plains. During the British period, the Karbis came under the influence of developed to an appreciable extent. They were so much influenced that they developed an aspiration to have a separate administrative entity for themselves, which they could manage to achieve in the form of a separate autonomous district in the post independence period.
The Karbi Land:
During the British period present Karbi Anglong district was included partly in Nowgaon and sibsagar district and partly in Khasi and Jaintia district. The areas inhabited by the Karbis were called ‘Partially Excluded Area’ and ‘Excluded Area’. The provisions of ‘Partially Excluded Area’ order operated in the district of Nowgaon and sibsagar. The Karbi settlement in the Khasi and Jaintia Hills came fully under the provisions of the ‘Excluded Area’ order.
After independence, the areas inhabited by the Karbis were carved out from the district Nawgaon, Sibsagar and United Khasi and Jaintia Hills and added to what was formed as the new United Mikir and North Cachar Hills District, On second February, 1970:
Mikir Hills was declared as a separate administrative district, and renamed as a Karbi Anglong on the 14 October, 1976.
The district lies between latitude 25 degree 30 inch and 26 degree 41 inch and between longitude 72 degree 7 inch and 93 degree 52 inch with a total geographically area of 10, 332sq. Kms. It has three civil sub – divisions –Bokajan Sub-divisions came into existence on 15 August, 1989.
There are 6 Police Stations-
|Diphu [2009 sq.Km] –
|Baitholangso [1030sq.Km] –
|Bokajan [2263sq.Km] –
Lyall [1908-?] mention that the number of Mikirs was 87, 046 in the 1901 Census, and the speaker of the Mikir language was 82, 283. Thus there was discrepancy in the two figures .The author further observe that in no districts the number of speaker was identical with the number of those returned as Mikirs. It was indeed remarkable that more persons were returned as speaker of the language of the tribe then belonging to the tribe. On the other hand, in the North Cachar Hills none of the 1446 Mikirs were shown as the speakers who were manifestly absorbed. The figures of Census 1901, regarding as Mikirs as a tribe and as speakers of one’s own language was quite interesting as can be seen in the following table –
||Mikirs by race
|Khasi & Jaintia
Source: Lyall, 1908:1
It is clear form the above table that in Kamrup, Nowgaon and Sibsagar, the Mikirs or the Karbis have returned higher than the other places. Lyall [1908:1-2] assumed that the Mikirs returned as speakers also spoke some other language [probably Assamese], being bilingual like others non-Aryan races in Assam; and the 809 person in Darrang, the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, and elsewhere, returned as speaking mikirs, thought not as by tribe Mikirs by tribe, must really have belong to the tribe. The author further opined that since 1891, when the number of Mikirs was returned as 94,829, has been a considerable falling of, due to terrible ravages of the decease called kalaazar in the Nowgaon and Kamrup districts.
During the first ever Census of 1872 under the British, the total Karbi population was 47,328. Separate figures for male and females were not shown. By, 1881, their number rose to 77,765 over the previous Census population figure accounting for the decadal growth rate of 64.12 person. It was later observed that this almost abrupt decadal growth was perhaps due the reason that the enumeration of the first year was not so comprehensive as the next enumeration was. In the following there was and increase of the Karbi population figure which returned 94,829 showing a decadal growth of 31.94 pc.
During the period of 1891- 1901 the total Karbi population showed a marked fall by 7.90 pc. Records could not be accounted for this sharp fall the relevant Census. How ever, as has already been mentioned by Lyall it must have been due the terrible disease of Kalaazar the Nowgaon and Kamrup districts.
The Census of 1872, 1881 and 1891 have showed considerable increase of Karbi population in the district of Kamrup , Nowgaon , Darrang , Sibsagar and Lakhimpur . It is to be noted that Nowgaon district showed highest growth of Karbi population [36 percent] during 1872-1881. This mainly due to the fact that what was showed as Naga Hill 1872 later came to be include in the Nowgaon district where Karbi population concentrated. Further, the large increase of Karbi population in Darrang , Sibsagar and Lakhimpur was showen to be due to immigration of the Karbi most probably from Nowgaon district where they lived in a large concentration .
The Karbis living in Goalpara district did not figure (?) in the 1881 Census. It was perhaps due to their emigration to other districts. Till 1891, the Karbi population continued to increase considerately in the district of Khasi and Jaintia Hill and Darrang at the decadal growth rate of 81. 75 percent and 79.69 pc respectively. The high growth rate in the Khasi and Jaintia Hill is perhaps due to more careful Census enumeration, and in Darrang , due to immigration from the southern bank , especially from Nowgaon district , which recorded slight increase [0.81 pc] . How ever, North Cachar and Kamrup recorded a decrease during the decade 1881-1891. The decrease in the former was 49.91pc and in the later it was 12. 56pc. This is due to the immigration. There was also slight decrease in Cachar and Sibsagar district.
The disappearance of Karbi population of Lokhimpur in interesting, the reason being suspected confusion of the Census enumerations of the Mikirs [Karbi] and the Nishis [Missings]. The Karbi must have recorded as Missings. This, therefore, accounts for the surprisingly high numerical figures for the Missings and small figures for the Karbi s in the Census in 1891.
In the decade of 1901- 11, the growth rate of population was 21.67 pc. During the 1911 –1921,there was epidemic out break of influenza besides kalaazar which both swept over Kamrup , Nowgaon and Sibsagar district.This against resulted in a very low growth rate of 5.05pc of the Karbi population during the decade . In the following two decades, the growths rate recorded was 16.28 pc [1921-1931] and 15. 37 pc [1931-1941] respectively. Census of the succeeding decade indicated a fall in the growth rate to 1.86 pc [1941-1951] which was perhaps due to the separation of Sylhate district from India. Following the partition in 1947, a large number of the Karbis who also live in that district went over to the then East Pakistan [now Bangladesh].
In the 1961 Census there was a sharp fall in the Karbi population to the tune of 20.62pc. This surprising fall, however, was not because of any epidemic or such natural calamity but because of the Government of the modification order scheduled and schedule tribe in 1956 which excluded all the Karbi population living out side the autonomous Hill district , namely, united Khasi and Jaintia Hill , united Mikir and North Cachar Hills , Garo Hill and the Lushei Hill. This involved the exclusion of a good number of Karbis living in the plains district of Assam.
The figures shown against 1971 Census give a 58.04pc decadal growth over 1961 Census. This clearly indicates quite high growth rate of Karbi population during the decade. This decadal growth was perhaps due to the migration of the Karbis from the plain district to the autonomous district of Karbi Anglong .
To sum up it can be said that growth of population among the Karbis according to the earlier Census of 1891-1901 was slow . The negative variation shown in 1901 Census was chiefly due to the effect of natural calamities such as the outbreak of black fever and other epidemic which had done ravages to the most Karbi inhabited areas. The negative variation in 1951-1961was due to the government notification on the constitution of the autonomous district Council under the provision of the sixth schedule to the constitution the excluded all Karbi population living out side the autonomous district of United Mikir and North Cachar Hills. By 1971, the Karbi population showed a considerable upward trend. This has happened due to migration of the Karbi from plains districts to the autonomous district of Karbi Anglong. However, it is observed that in all Censuses, the growth male population more than that of the females.
1. Chari, RB, 1975: Census of India, 1971Series –1, paper1, Schedule cast and schdule tribes, Tables –c, viii parts, A&B , New Delhi : Govt. Publication.
2. Lyall. C., 1098: The Mikirs, London: David Nutt.
3. Lyndoh , FB and BK Roy Burman, 1972: Census of India 1961, vol,1 monograph Series, part V-B, Mikir of Assam , Delhi: Manager of publication.
4. Saikia, PD, 1968 : Changes in Mikir society, Jorhat , Agro economic Centre for North East India.