The case of the disparaged chiefs, 1891–1930
The mid to late nineteenth century in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is best understood as a period in which the Raj sought to appropriate local institutions and resources, and refashion them to suit its purposes. But the period after 1891 and the early twentieth century saw a departure from that form of governance, as the Raj sought to transform these institutions more aggressively and bring in a more effective system of rule. With the annexation of the Lushai Hills in 1891, colonial officials believed that they had finally managed to tame the eastern frontier. They now focused on setting up more rigorous administrative structures that would keep the frontier territories stable, secure, and profitable. By the early twentieth century, the colonial state believed that these goals could only be achieved by doing away with some of the ‘traditional’ forms of power. Increasingly, they set their sights on the chiefs and headmen mediating between the sarkar and the ‘lay’ hill communities. As the previous chapters have shown, in the period before this, the colonial state had tried to push through, albeit in fits and starts, the processes of sedentarisation and territorialisation of the Tracts, in order to bring order into its economic and political life. This chapter will examine how and why, by the early twentieth century, drastic changes were brought about in land, forest, and labour management. It will attempt to show how a more elaborate economy was developed, with almost every economic activity and enterprise being brought under more rigorous systems of taxation. But not everyone was brought into this new economy, and by the mid-1930s, the chieftainships had been rendered almost obsolete.