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Mainstream, VOL L, No 51, December 8, 2012

Marup System that Binds the Meiteis of Manipur Together

Wednesday 12 December 2012, by J.J. Roy Burman

The State of Manipur is in throes of militancy and violence for the last few decades. The Meiteis are the predominant people of the State principally inhabiting in the Imphal valley. The valley comprises about 10 per cent of the geographical area of the State. The surrounding hill areas are al inhabited by sundry tribesmen. The Meiteis are demographically almost 57 per cent of the population.

The majority of the Meiteis are much peeved about the forced merger of the State with India in 1949. The younger generation is very much anguished as there is hardly any employment opportunity in the State for the educated people. There is also no industry worth the name in the State. No wonder many young people have taken to arms to confront the mighty Indian state power. But the Meiteis are not very united as there are about 30 odd militant groups who have been fighting for supremacy. Consequently internecine fights are waged between the groups even leading to loss of life. With so much of unemployment and heat generated, it is well-nigh difficult to imagine life in Manipur beyond the shadow of anarchy.
But on a closer look into the social base of the Meitei society, one finds that there is a very strong foundation that binds the society together irrespective of the state. The valley area is traditionally divided into seven principalities like Angom, Ningthouja, Khuman etc. These principalities took the character of exogamous clan formation. Since all the clans are exogamous, it compels people to look for brides/grooms from other areas (as the clans are area-specific). Thus kinship networks are created across the valley leading to a firm base for social solidarity.
This social solidarity is further reinforced through the formation of the Marup institution. In spite of the availability of the banking facilities, the Meiteis enter into the Marup or self-help system that involves significant amount of cash transaction. Marups are of various kinds and the transactions vary accordingly. In the most common system of Marup, a group of people come together and contribute or pool equal amount of money to generate a fund. This fund is given to members turnwise for investment and the cash is returned to the group with some amount of interest. Lottery is usually done to decide the turn of a member to receive the fund. After the last member has received the fund, the Marup is closed down to start a new one. In such Marups usually there is an organiser who initiates the process to include different members and maintain the records and arrange periodic meetings.

THE word ‘Marup’, meaning friendship, is more common among the women but even men do participate in it. Marup is not just confined to the rural areas as many educated people in Imphal city and other small towns are also found to enter into it. Marups may evolve around birth, marriage or death ceremonies. Funds may be mobilised among Marups for such purposes. People born on the same date or year may form a Marup and make monetary transactions. In some cases funds may be raised for marriage ceremonies by groups or else funds may be raised for purchasing commodities like refrigerator, motor cycle or for the construction of tinroofs for kutcha houses. In some cases a group of twelve or fifteen members can raise funds for a Marup and lend the money to different needy people. In such cases the Marup members just act as trustees.

Marup differs from the government and other donor-driven self-help groups in that here the entire lives of the people are bridged through self-generated resources, leading to a kind of self-managed society. If the people acquire possessions, they need to move through their own efforts rather than depending on govern-ment subsidies or bank loans.

Singh (2009) write: “The practice of Marup is very common in Manipur. More than 90 per cent of the population is involved in some way in this sytem. It has become a household name in the Manipuri society. People from different age-groups and from different walks of life participate in the Marup system. Inaccessibility to the formal financial services, slow growth and development of economy, non-availability of any well-organised industrial structure, and the landlocked and inaccessible geographical location of the State might be the real cause of such a large scale practice of the Marup system in Manipur.”

It is felt that in remote areas where the reign of the state is minimal and where there is a large flow of capital in the society, people evolve their local institutions ignoring the state. Manipur indeed receives a lot of funds from the Centre though this does not reach the target population, the funds are floating in the society underneath and Marup is the most ideal institution through which the transaction of cash takes place. After all, there are a lot of Marups which transact lakhs of rupees. Manipur does not have class division with big businessmen or a zamindar class resembling any feudal structure.


Singh, W.C., 2009, “Informal Financial Sector: The Case of State of Manipur” in International Review of Business Research Papers, Vol. 5, No. 5, September.
The author is a Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policies, School of Social Sciences, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

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