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Pangals: The forgotten Community of Barak valley

Assam has seen the migration of different groups of people in its history. The fusion of different languages and cultures has created the present Assam that we know. The state has a distinct ecosystem with different tribal groups and communities and such is the community of Pangals.

It is a historical fact that Manipuri speaking diaspora migrated to Barak valley of Assam due to artificially engineered event. The Burmese invaded Manipuri kingdom, killing many Manipuris. The seven years of devastation (1819-1826) also known as “Chahi Taret Khuntakpa” displaced most of the Manipuris. Many of them fled to neighboring states and countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar. The fleeing Manipuris to Bangladesh left a trial of its population in Barak valley districts.

(A Pangal girl going to Maktab)

If we look at the history of Barak valley, migration of Manipuris started much earlier. There is evidence that suggests cultural exchanges between Manipuri and Cachari kingdoms. To know the origin of Manipuris in Barak valley one has to look back at the past. According to historians, Manipuris settled in the valley at various periods for different reasons.

Barak valley was a gate way to the west for Manipuris. There were many trade routes and foot tracks which suggested communication between the two regions. Being a neighboring kingdom Manipur had close political, trade and cultural connections. The valley has been referred to as “Mayang Leipak” in ancient folklore. The valley has been a shelter for Manipuri revolting kings and princes. In different Manipuri chronicles, there are references to matrimonial alliances between Manpuri and neighboring kingdoms. There is evidence to suggest that after the Dimasas established their capital at Khaspur, there were matrimonial alliances with the Manipuri people.

The Pangals are a small Manipuri speaking community, who trace their origin in Manipur valley. According to Wikipedia, there population is about 3 lakhs in India. The community is also known as Manipuri Muslims, Meitei-Pangal or Panggan. In Barak valley, they are also known as Moglai by the local Bengali community. According to historians, the origin of Pangals has multiple theories.

Evidence of Muslim settlement can be found in Manipuri royal chronicles known as “Puyas”. Muslims became part of Manipuri society during the rule of king Khagemba (1597-1652). It is recorded that, Muslim soldiers led by General Muhammad Shani were part of a combined Cachari and Muslim force which invaded Manipur. There are conflicting pieces of evidence about their settlement, whether the Muslim forces were captured or there was a mutual agreement to settle the Muslims forces in the Imphal valley.

These historical events were recorded in “Nongsamei Puya” and “Pangal Thorakpa”. There are records that suggest the existence of Muslims even before the reign of King Khagemba. It is believed, that Pangals of Aribam clan were the first Muslims of Manipur. Even after the death of king Khagemba, there were migrations of Muslims in small numbers in different periods.

The Muslims forces were highly skillful in different crafts and vocation. King Khagemba, appreciated their skills and gave them local women for marriage and land for settlement. The Muslim families were given family titles according to their vocation, they were known as “Sageis”. There were administrative offices known as “Pangal Sanglen” for Muslims under the king. The head of the institution was known as Kazi, who use to look after the affairs of Muslims.

A Pangal marriage ceremony

Gradually, Muslims adopted Meiteilon as their mother tongue. They integrated a number of local customs and traditions in their daily lives. The Pangals were inducted under the “Lallup” system. They took part in military services and utilized their skills in craft and vocation to boost the economy of the kingdom.

Pangals were also part of the Manipur levy formed in 1824 in Barak valley. The Manipuri Army liberated Manipur from the Burmese invaders. Maharaj Gambhir Singh raised a strong 500 men Manipuri force known as Manipur Levy to drive out the Burmese invaders from the land of Manipur.

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Pangals, like the Meitei community fled Manipur in the seven year devastation for fear of persecution. Both the communities live in close proximity showing their common lineage. Most of the Pangals are settled in Lakhipur and Sonai assembly constituencies of Cachar. Few of them have settled in some areas of Hojai district. Singerband, Sapormoina, Tolengram, Banskandi, Dolugram, Badripar, kontha, Tarapur, Moijing etc are some of the villages where Pangals are settled.

The Pangals have number of customs and traditions similar to the Meiteis. Most of them are related to households like food habits, dress and habitation. The women folk of the community adopted Khudei, phanek and khwangnam phi as their traditional dress, whereas Pangal men wear kurta and lungi as their traditional dress.

They have food habits like uti, eromba and ngari similar to the Meiteis. The marriage custom of Pangals is a combination of Islamic and Meitei traditions. Weaving and farming are work, which the Pangal women perform apart from their domestic chores. Phida, a traditional decorated carpet is one of the products associated with the community.

Rice cultivation has been the traditional occupation of Pangals, apart from basket making and bamboo crafts. They have similar pattern of building houses with the Meiteis. With modernization, they have started to work in other profession for their livelihood. Many of them are now working as teachers, defence personals, and some have travelled abroad for livelihood. Some have opened their own enterprise in small towns and cities.

The Manipuri language is the basic identity of Pangals. Other communities are not aware of the existence of Pangal community. The community has given some renowned politicians, historians and authors. Comrade Nurul Huda was one such leader from the community. He was a former MP and MLA from Silchar constituency. He was a veteran leader of the CPI (M) in the state of Assam. Other respected politicians are late Kazi Kutub Uddin Ahmed, who was elected form Lakhipur constituency in the year (1978) and Late Kutub Ahmed Mazumdar, who was selected from Sonai constituency in the year (2006).

Late Nurul Huda CPI(M) leader

Authors like Late Mohd. Khairuddin Choudhury and Prof. Abdus Shahid Choudhury are some of the prominent authors of Manipuri literature in Barak valley. Late Mohd. Khairuddin Choudhury was awarded Kamini Kumar Award (Gold Medal), the highest Manipuri literature award by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad in 1978 for his works “Minok Pirangi Mitkup Anidang”. The recognition was the first literary award given to an author from outside the state of Manipur. Retired Prof. Abdus Shahid Choudhury was also awarded Kamini Kumar Award by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad in 1993. He received the Kavya Bhusan Award by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad in 2015 for his contribution to Manipuri literature. His work “Kunsuba Satabdi” is considered an important work on modern Manipuri poetry.

Historians like Prof. Kazi Hamid Ali and Md. Safiullah Choudhury have written extensively about the settlement of Pangals in the Barak valley. Their books “The Manipuri Muslim” in English and “Lauha Manab Saddam” in Bengali are some of their prominent works. Many other authors have released their literary works in Manipuri language. Other have translated books and other literature in Manipuri language

Like most communities in Barak valley, Pangals rely on government jobs for employment. Some of them are working in education or other departments. Economically, Pangals belong to lower section of the society. One can attribute this to illiteracy and lack of opportunities. There is not a single APSC officer from the community.

 Economically weaker families usually send their children for vocational training (mechanics, welders, painter etc.) with an aim to earn livelihood from the Middle Eastern countries. Like most communities in Barak valley, the Pangal community suffers from unemployment and illiteracy.

Some Pangal youths are excelling in studies with access to good education and other opportunities,. Many youths have joined defence forces for serving the nation. Many youths from the community are excelling in other Fields like medicine, engineering and sciences.

The future of the community will be similar to other communities of Barak valley. Unemployment, access to good schools and colleges, accessibly of government schemes and facilities are some of the obstacles which need to be addressed by the government and other institutions.

Barak valley has welcomed many communities and it is for this tolerance, Barak valley is considered as one of the peaceful regions of Assam. Accessibility through roads, railways, and air has made this region ready for investment and development. It has the potential to become a hub for businesses with its strategic location.

The Pangals should feel privilege to be part of such vibrant ecosystem. With the help of other communities, the Pangal community should contribute in bringing development and prosperity in Barak valley.

Author Bio

Rafeuddin Ahmed is an online entrepreneur. A native of Barak valley, with avid interest in Technology and entrepreneurship. You can contact him @rafedigital

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