Proselytization Campaigns in Manipur


Recently, in January 2020, the Inner Line Permit (hereinafter ‘ILP’) came into effect in Manipur, making it the fourth northeastern state of India after Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram.[i] In simple terms, ILP can be defined as a permit required to a person to enter in the state when the concerned person is not of the state of Manipur or a permanent resident of the state of Manipur. The ILPs mechanism dates back to the colonial era. In 1873, under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulation Act, the Britishers implemented ILP to restrict the movement of people from other states or parts of India to the Northeast region.[ii] The ILPs were implemented in all northeastern states that are common nowadays known as ‘seven sisters’ to protect the interest of the Crown. The interests mentioned here are mostly commercial in nature that aim to plunder the wealth of the Indian Northeastern region. The act also aimed to prevent ‘British subjects’ i.e. Indians from trading within these regions.[iii] However, with the passage of time, the interests of Britishers grown up they wished to make India a colony. Thus, they were given access to the Northeast region to Christian missionaries so that they can run their proselytizing campaigns and lure the underprivileged as well as privileged strata of these states and make them convert to Christianity. However, their dreams got shattered by the revolutionaries to govern India. The plan of Britishers to convert the population became successful that lead to a change in demographics of Northeastern states, including Manipur.

Manipur is one of the intrinsic parts of Indian, which is located in the northeastern part of the country. Manipur means ‘Land of Gems.’ Manipur population in 2021 is estimated to be 3.1 million (31 Lakhs). According to Unique Identification Aadhar India (UIDAI), by mid of the year 2020, the projected population was 3,091,545.[iv] The majority and main ethnic group of Manipur are Meitei. The settled central plain part of Manipur is where the majority of the state population resides. Manipuri language is natively called Meitei, is the most spoken language of Manipur. Other tribal groups include Naga and Kuki. The Government of India data states that the Manipur population mostly comprises of tribal groups population. Nagas and Kukis are two major tribal groups as Meitei is not considered as a scheduled tribe in India. As per Census 2011, the tribal population in Manipur is around 35.1 percent of the total population.[v] Kukis reside in the south, while Nagas cover the northern part of the state.

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As per the Indian government, there are thirty-three officially recognized tribal groups – Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Chothe, Gangte, Inpui, Hmar, Kharam, Khoibu, Koirao, Kom, Lamkang, Liangmai, Mao, Maram, Maring, Mate, Monsang, Moyon, Paite, Poumai, Purum, Ralte, Rongmei (Kabui), Simte, Suhte, Tangkhul, Tarao, Thadou, Thangal, Vaiphei, Zeme and Zou. Out of all these 33 groups, they mostly fall under two groups of either Nagas or Kukis.[vi] Thus, considering these tribal groups, the article first attempts to elucidate their rich culture and traditions, and further, it shows how the traditions and cultures of these tribal groups are getting deteriorated due to continuing evangelizing campaigns of Manipur. At last, it concludes what measures are necessary to take to protect these vulnerable tribes and protect their rich culture and traditions.


The first and foremost tribe of Manipur that is dominant not only in population, but in the political sphere of the state also is Meitei. The rich culture and tradition of the Meitei tribe date back to ancient times. However, there is not much evidence available, or even there is evidence, they are in Meitei language, which is hardly known to anyone except Meitei people. The history states that Meitei groups converted to Hinduism in the early 18th century. As per the historic instances, King Kyamba of Manipur received a little image of Shri Vishnu from Choupha Khekkhomba of Pong (in Burma) during his sickness. He offered sacrifices and started worshipping Lord Vishnu, after which he got cured. He then constructed a Vishnu Temple in Manipur. Thus, this way gradually, the royal family moved towards the Vaishnava form of Hinduism and then the subjects of that kingdom. [vii]

The Vaishnavism got established in Manipur, which is still prevalent among Meitei groups. They worship Shri Krishna, abstain from eating meat, do not drink alcohol, revere cow, and follow all other traditions of Hinduism.[viii]

Further, the next major tribe, which is also considered a ‘Scheduled Tribe,’ is Kuki. It is generally believed that Kuki’s came out of China and migrated towards India and other neighboring countries.[ix] Kuki group majorly consists of Paite, Kom, Hmar, Vaiphei, Thadou, Gante, and Zou tribal groups. The traditions and beliefs of Thadou Kukis include that they consider the soul as ‘the minute replica of the individual.’[x]

The third most prominent tribe in Manipur is Nagas, which is also considered a ‘Schedule Tribe’ in India. The Nagas primarily consists of Kabui, Mao, and Tangkhul. The Kabui Nagas believe in multiple gods and goddesses, which is an intrinsic characteristic of Hinduism. They also believe in their local deities and spirits and in a Supreme God, Ra-Gang (King of Gods), whose abode is in Heaven and is immortal and eternal. They have got their priests (whom they call Molls) and other diviners of various attainments. The Tangkhul Nagas worship a number of deities and are fond of songs for all their activities – religious and secular. The Mao Nagas, in a similar manner to Thadou Kukis, consider the soul as ‘the minute replica of the individual.’[xi]

Thus, these are the major tribes that further divide into groups. Under the heading, the article attempted to focus on religious beliefs and history as the literature, and tradition and culture of these tribes is too vast and rich that it can’t be elucidated in just a few words. However, the heading attempted to provide a brief and succinct knowledge about them from which it can be deciphered that these tribes prominently followed Hinduism or animism in past. Animism can be considered a part of Hinduism as Vedas in Hinduism mostly talk about Agni, Vayu, Jal, etc. that are an intrinsic part of Hinduism.


Up to the twelfth century, the Northeast region was prominently dominated by Hinduism or Animism, a part of Hinduism. The ancient Hindu epics – Ramayana and Mahabharata – used to dominate most of the region’s consciousness. Assam was the most prestigious kingdom among all Northeastern kingdoms. The Ahom kingdom of Assam believed in Tai and Hindu rituals relating to the Vaishnav sect, while Koch Kings, another ruling clan, were the devotees of the Sakta cult. However, the demography of northeastern regions started transforming after the introduction of Buddhism in the seventh century, invasion of Islam in the thirteenth century, and colonization by Britishers with the introduction of Christian missionaries in the nineteenth century.[xii]

The repercussions of Islam began with the unsuccessful efforts of the Turko-Afghan ruler of Bengal, Bakhtiar Khilji. He tried to capture Assam in 1205-06. By 1682, Islam became a religion followed by a significant group of people in Assam, Manipur, Tripura, and Bangladesh. A process of conversion of Hindus to Islam and assimilation between Hindus and Muslims began. By the seventeenth century, in the Brahmaputra Valley, Muslims became an indivisible part of the local population.[xiii]

The economic policies of Britishers had grave social and cultural repercussions on the tribe of Manipur. The invention of tea in Northeastern provinces led to the forced tribal labor. Tribal communities being forest dweller communities, did not have access to scientific methods and resources for agriculture and had a lack of literacy, adequate healthcare, food, and other necessities. Christian missionaries introduce by colonials lured tribals by providing food, imparting English education through schools set up by them, and providing access to healthcare through hospitals and clinics set up by them and made them convert to Christianity. This mass conversion led to the sheer deterioration and decline of the tribal cultures that they used to follow before.

In Manipur, the Hindu population was 62 percent of the Manipuri Population in 1961, which the Christian population was just 19 percent. However, as per Census 2011, both the Christian and Hindu populations became 41 percent.[xiv] It somehow shows that though conversion might not be the lonely reason, it is an intrinsic one among the growth of the Christian population and the decline of the Hindu population. As a result of this, the prominent Hindu tribal group – Meitei, which is still not considered ‘Scheduled Tribe’ protesting to include them as a part of the group of vulnerable tribes. Though the Meitei group is a dominant group in Manipur, it is a minority tribal group at a national level. They are demanding the status of ‘Scheduled tribe’ as they fear that their culture is under threat of extinction without any constitutional protection.[xv] The main reasons stated by them are the influx of illegal Rohingya immigrants as well as evangelizing campaigns. Thus, in contemporary scenarios, vis-à-vis past situations, the tribes of Manipur are facing evangelizing campaigns threatening their identity at a higher pace.


As stated above, the Manipur government implemented ILP in the state that will prevent the influx of illegal Rohingya immigrants into the state.[xvi] Thus, help in protecting and preserving the tribes residing in Manipur. Further, there is a need for state as well as central level government to ponder over what steps need to be taken to curb the continuing evangelizing campaigns. Meitei should also be added to the list of ‘Scheduled Tribe’ so that their community gets protected with the help of privileges granted to the communities under that status.

Manipur also does not have any law to prevent force conversions from happening in the state. However, the reports state that the issue is under consideration by the Manipur state government.[xvii] Thus, it is an urgent need that state government should either try to create any such law or formulate any other guidelines that might prevent the evangelizing campaigns in Manipur. Manipur is an intrinsic part of India that remains ostracized mostly in the history as well as the political system of India. Thus, it is required to give due consideration to the issues faced by the tribes residing there so that the rich culture and traditions of those tribes that are getting adulterated since the rule of Britishers might get preserved.

Author: Kaustubh Kumar, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to or at  Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.


[i] Karishma Hasnat, ILP Comes into Effect in Manipur from January 1, Temporary Permit to be Issued for 15 Days, Cnn-News18 (December 31, 2019, 10:38 PM),

[ii] Alisha Rahaman Sarkar, Explained: What is the Inner Line Permit and why is the Northeast clamouring for it?, The New Indian Express (December 14, 2019, 06:52 PM),

[iii] Id.

[iv] State/UT wise Aadhaar Saturation (Overall) – All Age Groups (31st December, 2020), The Unique Identification Authority of India, Government of India, Available at: (Last Visited on May 12, 2021).

[v] The Census of India, 2011, Executive Summary, Manipur, Available at:

[vi] A Glimpse of the Indigenous Tribes of Manipur (Part 1), My Gov Blog (February 06, 2020),

[vii] Subhendu Manna, The Emergence of Gaudiya Vaishnavism in Manipur and its Impact on Nat Sankirtana, International Journal of Research – Granthaalayah, 8(7), 130-136 (2020), layah.v8.i7.2020.620

[viii] Origin of Meiteis – Part 3, E-Pao, (Last Visited on May 12, 2021).

[ix] Thangkhomang S. Gantge, The Kukis of Manipur: A Historical Analysis, pg. 1-27, Gyan Publishing House, New Delhi (2010).

[x] E. Nikanta Singh, Status of Religion in Tribal Areas of Manipur, E-Pao, (Last Visited on May 12, 2021).

[xi] Id.

[xii] B. P. Singh, North-East India: Demography, Culture and Identity Crisis, Modern Asian Studies , 1987, Vol. 21, No. 2 (1987), pp. 257-282, Jstor, (Last Visited on May 12, 2021).

[xiii] Id.

[xiv] Samarth Bansal, Smriti Kak Ramachandran, Christian population on the rise in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Hindustan Times (March 09, 2017 12:35 PM),

[xv] Jimmy Leivon, Manipur: Thousands protest demanding inclusion of Meitei community in Schedule Tribe list, The Indian Express (March 3, 2019 10:20 PM),

[xvi] Manipur gets ‘Inner Line Permit’ shield, The New Indian Express (January 02, 2020, 04:28 PM),

[xvii] State Anti-conversion Laws in India, Library Of Congress,

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