Experts said Monday that the Karpong tribe, a sub-tribe of Tripura’s dream community, whose leaders were among the specially invited guests at the kingdom’s former royal palace, is now on the verge of extinction.
Located in a small tribal village of Champak Nagar in the Barmura chains of West Tripura district, about 40 to 50 families of the Karbong sub-tribe are now finding it difficult to make ends meet with a lack of facilities such as educational institutes, health care and drinking water, and officials said another 10-15 are living In the neighboring Dhalai area.
Who are the Karpong tribe?
The Karpong are a small group of people belonging to the larger Hallam community. The history of Karbong is not yet known. They say they have been staying in Tripura for a long time but they cannot tell the time or name of the king who allowed them to settle there.
The traditional economy of Karpung consists in collecting leaves and tubers from the bush; Hunting wild animals and birds, catching fish from streams in areas with watery legs close to their habitation. All these calls refer to their habit of gathering food. Again as producers, they practice gome farming, even plain spaces, raising domestic animals and birds, maintaining fisheries and engaging in cottage industries. With the rapidly changing social system, they have also changed their traditional attitudes and inclined towards different livelihood jobs.
They said that no more than 250 members of the tribe now live in West Tripura and Dhalai districts.
Efforts to save the tribe in vain
“I can vividly remember visiting the Ojayanta Royal Palace in Agartala three times during the Durga Puja festivities when Bir Bikram Kishore Manikia Bahadur was the ruler,” said Pechurai Karpong, 80, from the tribal community.
Harihar Debnath, an expert on the affairs of the sub-tribe, said that the rulers of Manikya tried to educate the Karpung tribe and arranged for teachers, but that did not work out well.
The Autonomous District Council established, in 1989, a primary school in Karpungpara village but it did not start operating until 1993.
He said three teachers were hired and 15 students were accepted into the school but most of them dropped out halfway.
Decreased population due to inter-tribal marriage
“Barely 250 people belonging to 60 to 70 families remained in the Karpong tribe. Our population is declining rapidly due to inter-tribal marriage, poverty and lack of proper education, said Rabimohan Karpung, a senior from the local community.
The numbers have been decreasing over the years, according to tribal elders. Since the Karbong is considered a sub-tribe despite having a distinctly different language from all the other tribes, the population of India does not count them separately.
According to a 1940 newspaper notification, there are 19 tribal groups in Tripura with the Karpong community included in a dream group. More recently, they have been given scheduled tribe status by the center.
Karbongs and their distinctive language
The endangered Karpung distinguish themselves from other indigenous tribal groups by their language, which is different from the Kokborok language, the lingua franca of most of the Tribora tribal groups.
Experts said that they all convert to Hinduism.
According to the UNESCO Classification of Languages, any language spoken by less than 10,000 people is considered “endangered”.
Former Executive Member of Tripura Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) Radhacharan Diparma expressed concern about the current situation of the Karpung sub-tribe, which is “one of the smallest tribal groups in the world and is likely to become extinct soon unless appropriate measures are taken to protect their identity” .
“They must be settled in one place, their culture and language must be preserved, and employment opportunities must be created to earn their livelihood,” Deparma told PTI.
What do the courts say?
The community came into the spotlight recently when the Tripura High Court on October 18 asked the center and the state government to set up a panel of experts to assess the current situation of the Karpung ethnic community and provide an affidavit on or before November 9.
Aware of a report in a local newspaper about the tribal group, Chief Justice Indrajit Mahani has set up a division seat for consideration.
The division board is composed of Judge Mihnati and Justice Subhashish Talabatra. The Supreme Court requested the State Advocate General as well as the Assistant Attorney General on behalf of the Central Government to form a team of appropriate officials, “who will visit the District, assess the District and the needs of the District, Karpong. In particular, and report by affidavit on or before 9 November (Nov) “.
“We further direct that should any emergency step need to be taken in that area, the State as well as the Union of India, shall be free to take all such steps as may become essentially necessary without waiting for further directives from this court,” he directed.
Lawyer Harikrishna Bhumik has been appointed as a Korean friend of the case.
According to the 2011 census, Tripura had 3,673,917 people, approximately 30 percent of whom were from the 19 tribal communities.
(with PTI input)