Far from the madding crowd and cities: the indigenous peoples of Tripura

By Pankaj Debbarma

September 17, 2023

Tucked away in the northeastern corner of India lies Tripura, a state whose geographical and cultural intricacies weave a compelling narrative of historical, geographical, and political influences. In the contemporary context, Tripura appears as an enclave of Bangladesh, though its origins precede the formation of the neighbouring country, owing to its complex past and intricate demarcations. Its physical landscape, characterized by ‘hathai’ and ‘harep’ (hills and undulated lands) interspersed with intermittent plains (‘haur’), provides the backdrop for its predominantly rural cultural landscape, with urban developments concentrated in specific pockets. This intricate interplay of land and culture is further emphasized by the dominance of both indigenous and non-indigenous populations, with the former reflecting a deep-rooted connection with the traditional and rural facets of the region. This essay delves into the multi-layered nuances of Tripura’s indigenous communities, shedding light on their representation, identity, and socio-economic realities, while examining the spatial distribution and its implications in the state’s urban centers.

The Indigenous Landscape:

Tripura’s indigenous populace finds its niche amidst the meandering hills and undulating terrains, nestled within the ‘hathai’ and ‘harep’. Their presence, although widespread, is thinly scattered across these landscapes, creating a unique Cul-de-sac within the larger Cul-de-sac that Tripura represents in the national context. The spread of the indigenous peoples is more prominent in the ‘hathai’ and ‘harep’, where they account for a significant portion of the population.

Cultural Superimposition and Rural Realities:

As urban centres sporadically emerge within this predominantly rural expanse; one witnesses a cultural superimposition that is primarily traditional and rural in nature. The economy and settlements, though reflecting signs of modernity, remain largely anchored in traditional practices, echoing the resilience of the indigenous communities in preserving their cultural heritage. This cultural dichotomy manifests in the relative distribution of the indigenous population within the top ten populous urban centres of Tripura, where their underrepresentation is starkly evident. The data from the Census of India 2011 highlights this disparity, with indigenous populations ranging from as low as 0.11% in Bishalgarh Municipal Council to 11.48% in Ambassa Municipal Council.

Table 1: Top ten populous town/city of Tripura, India, 2011
Sl. No.Town/CityTotal PopulationIndigenous Population (IP)Percentage of IP to
Total Population
1Agartala Municipal Corporation4000041976744.94
2Dharmanagar Municipal Council405954671.15
3Udaipur Municipal Council327583631.11
4Kailashahar Municipal Council224058823.94
5Bishalgarh Municipal Council21085230.11
6Teliamura Nagar Panchayat210322411.15
7Belonia Municipal Council199962181.09
8Khowai Municipal Council18526119266.43
9Ambassa Municipal Council16285186911.48
10Panisagar Nagar Panchayat147587675.2
Source: Census of India, 2011

Urban Experiences and Perceptions:

The urban landscape of Tripura, particularly the bustling city of Agartala, presents a contrasting spectacle to the expectations of national and international visitors. The cityscape, teeming with a diverse population, predominantly comprises non-indigenous groups, highlighting the incongruity between the perception and reality of the indigenous populace. According to the data provided, the Agartala Municipal Corporation comprises a mere 4.94% of the indigenous population, underscoring their limited presence within the urban setting.

The Statistical Discourse:

The statistical insights derived from the Census of India 2011 shed further light on the indigenous representation in Tripura’s urban centers. The data highlights the meagre percentages of indigenous populations in the top ten populous urban centers, emphasizing their marginalized presence within these spaces. The figures paint a poignant picture, illustrating the challenges faced by the indigenous communities in securing a substantial foothold in the urban milieu, further reinforcing their rural-centric existence.

Tripura, with its intricate geographical contours and cultural nuances, serves as a microcosm of the broader complexities inherent in India’s diverse socio-cultural landscape. The indigenous communities, ensconced within the state’s rural heartland, embody the spirit of resilience and tenacity, upholding their cultural identity in the face of evolving modernity. Their underrepresentation in the urban domains, though a product of historical and political complexities, signifies the need for a more inclusive narrative that embraces the diverse tapestry of Tripura’s indigenous heritage. It is imperative to recognize and amplify the voices of these communities, thereby fostering a more holistic understanding of Tripura’s unique Cul-de-sac identity and the profound legacies it encapsulates.

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