Home » Reflections on the Conflicts of our Times : Attempt at Common Sense reading of the Manipur Experience

Reflections on the Conflicts of our Times : Attempt at Common Sense reading of the Manipur Experience

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By Lokendra Arambam

New Delhi missed the vital fact that the NCSN (IM), notwithstanding its Pan-Naga pretensions, is essentially a militia of the Tangkhul tribes of Manipur with little resonance with the broad Naga family. A deal cut with it would not be acceptable to the Naga society.

R.N. Ravi in ‘Nagaland : Descent into Chaos’

The Hindu, January, 23, 2014.


On the 6th February 2016, a massive rally of over a lakh people were organized by three civil society organizations of the Manipur valley, when the congregation circumambulated the thorough fares of the Imphal city for come three hours raising slogans for a Common Future of Manipur. Conflict watchers attentively listened to the speakers at the public meeting held at the Khuman Lampak, where representatives including some eleven tribal communities spoke about Hills and Plains Unity, at the same time expressing concerns about non-communication amongst the communities on issues of public interest. Four resolutions were adopted which stipulated the anxieties of major sections of the people of Manipur. The highlight of the resolutions were on the necessity to safeguard the territorial integrity of Manipur, that the Government of India should respect it. The second resolution also denounced the Government of India playing a Divide and Rule Policy amongst the indigenous communities who had lived in amity for more than two thousand years, that the GoI should respect its pluralistic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious character. Thirdly the meeting re-affirmed the relationship of the indigenous peoples as being of the same mother (homeland). And lastly, the meeting sternly warned neighbouring states not to meddle into the internal affairs of the state.1

The signals emitted symbolically from the rally of this nature was a product of two critical issues the people of Manipur experienced conflictually in the last sixty five years after Manipur’s integration into India. The one more immediate was the simmering threat on the disintegration of the Manipur territory, fear of which was induced by the Government of India’s policy of settling the long-drawn Indo-Naga conflict, which had dragged on for some seventy years. The new Modi Government’s desire to end the conflict once for all, and settle the incompatibilities between the two entities India and the Nagas, seemed to have been reflected under the recent Frame-work of Agreement signed on the 3rd August 2015, the Indian Government’s recognition of the unique history, culture and situation of the Nagas and the promise to honour the historical rights of the Nagas. It implicated, in the minds of certain sections of the Manipur hill and valley people, that part of the territories in the Manipur state, especially in the eastern, southern and south western hills would be incorporated into an enlarged Nagalim which has claims over certain Naga inhabited areas of Manipur to be incorporated in the proposed Nagalim. This was the apprehension which led to the sacrifice of eighteen people in the valley in 2001, when the Indian security forces fired upon the agitating crowd during the anti-ceasefire agitation when the NDA Government signed the Bangkok agreement with the NSCN (IM) on June 14, 2001. (The ceasefire without territorial limits was rescinded by the NDA Government on July 28, and the clause ‘Without territorial Limits’ was struck off from the agreement). The NSCN (IM) however refused to recognize the actions of the Indian Government, declaring that it was a unilateral decision by the Indian Government and the NSCN (IM) had not been consulted over the decision. When Mr. R.N. Ravi, the new interlocutor for the Indo-Naga Peace Talks met some civil society representatives in the valley, he was asked about the continued presence of NSCN (IM) armed cadres in the Manipur hills, and their harassment and killing of Manipur people, taxing transporters and civil employees in the hill districts, Mr. Ravi was reported to have replied that the ceasefire between the GoI and the NSCN (IM) was not extended beyond Nagaland, and if the NSCN (IM) armed cadres were perpetrating violence in the hills of Manipur, the responsibility of preventing it was that of the Manipur Government. Hence the Centre has nothing to do with the matter. This attitude was confirmed by the actions of the Central Security and the paramilitary in the hills who didn’t intervene whenever armed cadres perpetrated rampage over valley people with their goods and vehicles passing the National Highways for the last twenty five years or so. R.N. Ravi, before he became interlocutor, wrote in the Hindu that ‘In the guise of giving the NCSN (IM) a secure political space for building a workable consensus on the fractious Naga issue, New Delhi has given the militia a free military run of the Naga inhabited areas’.

It seems Mr. R.N. Ravi in his interlocutory role in the peace talks also assured the civil society representatives of the valley that the Centre has no intention to give assent to demands of disintegration of Manipur territory for satisfying Muivah’s demand for the same, and when he was pressed for an answer for the continuous public speeches by Muivah that the NSCN (IM)’s demand for Naga integration remains an integral part of the settlement, he again was reported to have retorted that let them make speeches as freedom of speech is allowed by the Constitution, and that those in the Centre who have power over the issue need not decide in his favour, so the valley people need not worry. This attitude was also shared by the Bharatiya Janata Party, that they stood for Manipur’s territorial integrity, and they would never allow Manipur’s territories to be given away to the NSCN (IM).

Enigma of Unique Histories

As for the issue of the GoI’s decision to recognize the unique history, culture and situation of the Nagas, the people in the valley have other fears. Because the demographic situation of the Manipur state is composed of a plural spread of some thirty four ethnic communities all over the hills and plains and certain smaller ethnoses had been converted into the denomination of Nagas, like earlier anthropological understanding of some old-Kuki communities like the Moyon, Monsang, Anal, Maring etc. have identified themselves as Nagas, and there are resistances to this programme. The Aimol community had refused to be recognized as Nagas. They wanted to remain Aimol, and some other smaller communities like Chothe also refused to be incorporated into larger tribes. When the NSCN (IM) submitted their demands for the settlement of the Indo-Naga Peace Talks, they surely must be presenting to the Centre a history of the Nagas as they claimed to be unique, and one is not sure what is the representation of the Manipur Nagas, apart from their solid history of the Nagas in Nagaland and Burma, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. When the civil representatives asked for a White Paper from the GoI to produce the documents of the Indo-Naga Peace Talks since 1997, Mr. Ravi was reported to have brushed aside the idea curtly, saying that he didn’t bring any ‘baggage’ of the past, meaning GoI had rejected the earlier 17 years old non-settled ambivalences of the UPA Government of the Congress, that the Modi Government was starting afresh on the issue. This means that the Modi Government had also rejected certain decisions reported to have been communicated to the Naga representatives by Mr. Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister that the idea of sovereignty of the Nagas shall not be recognized and that Naga integration of territories and people in neighbouring states are also ruled out. This sudden turn-about in the policies of the Centre, and recognition of the History of the Nagas as told by the Nagas only, not the history of ethnic components of neighbouring states, which are as yet not invited by the Centre from them. Here lies a complex bind on the case!

It is feared that the case of the Manipur Nagas, and their history in Manipur could have been wrongly reported by the NSCN (IM) to the Centre. It had been widely circulated that the Nagas of Manipur had never been conquered by any other power other than the British in Manipur history. It was circulated that the Meetei kingdom before they came under British rule in 1891 was only in the valley of Manipur. The Nagas of Manipur were therefore represented as being ‘independent’ in the hill regions of Manipur till the advent of the British.

It looks like the history of the Nagas in Manipur were being presented to the Centre in a one-sided version. The history of pre-colonial Manipur was not much studied as public knowledge, and not much of studies had been done on ethno-history, the issues of authority relations in the pre-colonial polity, the ritual relationship amongst communities with the state, and the facts in history about progressive awareness of self-hoods amongst pre-colonial ethnoses as against others, the development of the in-group consciousness of solidarity and out-group hostility being only a late phenomenon in our lives. The Indo-Naga Peace Talks, which was freshly started by the Modi Government, with Mr. R.N. Ravi’s perceptions of having carried no baggages from the past, was based on mistaken paradigms of conflict resolution exercises. Mr. R.N. Ravi himself was carrying a baggage of severe mistaken notion of Naga history, a discourse of unique history and situation of the Nagas, told by the NSCN (IM) and accepted by the NDA Government under Atal Bihari Bajpayee since the Amsterdam Conference of 2002. No other neighbouring states in Northeast India, which have Naga citizens in their territories, had ever been invited to relate their ethnic histories and cultures.

The civil societies in the Manipur valley have a relevant point to demand a White Paper of the GoI-NSCN (IM) negotiations since 1997, for the very issues of the Manipur Nagas could have been wrongly represented in the context of the negotiations. A correct perspective of history must be established about Naga uniqueness, if ever that too was reflected in Manipur history. There would be another uniqueness of Manipur history, if the pages of pre-colonial Manipur are opened. For it will be discovered that the hill tribes were participating as voluntary components of the pre-colonial Manipur polity since the tenth century of the Common Era. A ritual of mutual relationship with collective solidarity in tow known as Mera Haochongba (Dance by the Hillmen in October) was established during the reign of King Irengba (984-1074 C.E.). Both the lowland and highland dwellers fought together in Manipur’s wars against foreign powers like the Burmese and the English. The hills and the plains had a symbiotic relationship, forged by the geographic, ecological and economic inter-dependencies of the natural environment. The Manipur Nagas were not being understood as Nagas, which was a British invention. The Manipur polity recognized them in their ethnonyms, their original ethnos names like the Tangkhuls, the Mao, the Maram, the Thangals etc. The spread of the idea of Naga consciousness was a fairly recent phenomenon, a post-Phizo development. Even the legendary sacrifices of Jadonang and Gaidinlieu from the Manipur hills against the British imperial power, as interpreted as forbears of Naga nationalism was found to be an incorrect interpretation. For the two leaders fought for kingdom of the Makam people, which now is represented by the Zeliangroung people. Such critical nuances in the interpretation of historical events did create a lot of misunderstanding in the study and analysis of conflict. The story of the actual participation of the Nagas of Manipur in the overall Naga ethno-national movement should be dispassionately debated in the Naga inhabited areas, understood by the neighbouring communities so as to encourage proper treatment of the subject of their dignity, status and autonomy appropriate in context.

The suggestion would however remain as wishful thinking since the issue of Naga integration under one administrative roof is a very strong demand of the NSCN (IM) and their supporters. Naga civil society groups in Manipur believe it as an act of faith that the Naga National movement is inexorably connected with the unison of territory with identity. Sanjib Baruah, an Assamese intellectual once remarked on ‘The emerging inclusivity of Naga identity with geography coming into clash with the territorially embodied identities of states like Assam and Manipur! For the Nagas, to bring together all the Nagas and the areas inhabited by them under one political roof is a driving force of the Nagas (Now there are opponents of this idea in Nagaland itself). The fundamental rights and aspirations of the Naga people as expounded by their leaders incorporate this fond belief. The constitution of the Naga National Council, the initiator of the Naga political struggle endorses this principle. Many prior agreements between the representatives of the Naga movement, and the officials of the Dominion of India in the wake of the Independence of India reflect this possibility.

“Naga integration implies explicitly that it is an issue of removing all the arbitrary boundaries created without the free and informed consent of the Naga people by the Government of British India, Burma and India. Therefore, for the integration of all Naga areas, under one political roof, the partition made in the past must be removed. The total geographical area of the land which is desired to be integrated is approximately 1,00,000 sq. Km. The division of their territory is one of the greatest wounds that has been inflicted on the Naga people by the power that be including the Naga opportunist elements who have more faith in the dominant system than the Naga people. It is clear that the Naga people did not decide to be part of Assam or Arunachal Pradesh or Manipur”. (White paper on Naga Integration by Naga Hoho 2002).2

Civil society groups of Nagas in Manipur and Nagaland expressed deep sense of hurt when mass movements in the plains of Manipur were organized to oppose threats to the disintegration of the state, which they feared was being negotiated in the ongoing talks between the GoI and the NSCN (IM). In 1997, Nagas derided the Meetei rally, ‘as it was purportedly organized on apprehension of the Manipur Territorial disintegrity in the light of the ongoing talks between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM). The Nagas of Manipur along with the rest of other Nagas have been combating the mighty India for the last 50 years for Naga sovereignty and this long struggle by shedding blood of thousands of men, women and children cannot be easily sacrificed for the sake of Mammoth territorial integrity. The Naga political struggle is not without historical facts. The voice of the Meiteis should not be allowed to prevail upon the settlement of 50 years long political struggle of the Nagas in any manner’. (M. Dili et al – Naga Territorial Integrity Vs Manipur Territorial Integrity 14-9-97).3

The tense dynamics of the ethnic relationships in Manipur and its contours are often defined by their very relationships with the Indian Government, for the Indian state is the ultimate arbiter and dispenser of ethnic justice. The future of the ethnoses in Northeast India seem to heavily lie with the decisions being made in the corridors of power in New Delhi. The equations of the proximity with and distance from the Centres of power therefore were critical factors in assessing the environment of distrust and mutual suspicion over moves and manoeuvres being made by the representatives of Indian authority, their nearness with respective political groups, and the very secrecies and hush-hush methods of the intent and actions of their higher officials. There seems to be no room for transparencies where the Central authority could be seen as being impartial and just in the eyes of the contending groups or ethnicities. Ethnic suspicions or distrust amongst themselves were thus heightened by the seeming behaviour and actions of the Central Government. This moral universe which is being tensely watched by the ethnoses in NE-India does not seem to impact on the national political parties vying for power in the five yearly exercise of electoral politics. The rivalries between the Congress Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, and their opposing views and attitudes over the peripheral others of the Northeast does not portend any kind of democratic justice over conflictual issues in the Northeast. For the North-easterners view themselves as equals in their relationship with the Centre, and a slight tilt in favour of one ethnos against other ethnoses is regarded as sheer favouritism. The NDA government is mistrusted as being nearer to the Nagas than to the others in the Northeast.

Anomalies of Incompability – The Kuki Upheaval!

Another second difficulty in the contemporary tensions of the day is the recent explosion of ethnic hostility and recurrence of state violence, with its deeper ramifications in all aspects of the life-world of the Manipur people. The decision of the February 6 public meeting to collectively declare that the people of Manipur belong to the same mother – Ima amattagi machani, perhaps alluding to reference to the state as a common birthplace, or of the communities having been of common autochthonous origins, was no doubt a sentimental declaration. However, the declaration seemed to carry a painful burden of nation-memory, cherished more by the Meiteis of the valley, of having been continuously threatened of disaster, disintegration throughout the state’s unfortunate history, that of invasions, or humiliations through defeat, or internal as well as external conspiracies out to destabilize the traditional equilibrium of the polity. The pre-colonial status of the state in the international community had a character and identity, constituted by the experience of collective participation of its varied citizenry, having fought successfully against the imperial Burmese in the 18th century, and valiant sacrifices in defeat against the Western imperial power of the British in the 19th. This nation-memory forged by the experiences of the sacrifices of the pre-colonial ethnoses are not yet dimmed, but are being ruptured by factors of endogenous failures of contemporary distributive justice, as well as silent exogenous, sinister pressures to destabilize this hapless, corrupt post-colonial polity. Let us attempt to summarise the concrete evidence of this kind of rupture.

Last August in 2015, the Manipur Legislative Assembly passed three bills, namely the Protection of Manipur Peoples Bill 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (Seventh Amendment) Bill 2015, and the Manipur Shops and Establishments (Second Amendment) Bill 2015, as a result of prolonged agitation by the people in the valley, where one young school student was killed through police firing and more than 400 people were injured in the melee, and loss of public properties were unaccounted. Having learnt bitter historical experiences of immigrants becoming master of the land and government in Northeast states like Tripura and Sikkim, and having been informed about the complexities of demographic imbalances like in Assam, the Manipur civil organizations in the valley pursued implementations of safeguarding laws for the indigenous peoples, similar to the ones-enjoyed by Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. Their slogan for a similar law began feverishly from 2012 when 32 organizations formed the Joint Committee for Inner Line Permit System in Manipur. They followed certain historical antecedents of that nature back to the 1980s when the students came into agreement on the demographic threat, acknowledged by the then ruling Congress Government, also re-endorsed and ratified the Central Government representatives when Manipur was under President’s rule in 1994.

As soon as the Bills were passed on the 31st August, another sudden, unexpected agitation erupted in the Western hills where nine protestors were killed again in the firing by the police and the security forces, and the agitation was against the passing of the three bills. The three bills were condemned as an anti-tribal measure and the dead bodies were still unburied and last rites not being performed till date. The agitation spread throughout the hill areas of the Manipur state. Passions were aroused, and a new slogan which earlier remained at subterranean levels of public visibility surfaced as direct, forthright statement of intent by major ethnic groups of the state. The demand was for separate administrations of the Hill regions as differentiated from the valley. Earlier a civil society organization from the North-western Hills of Manipur, named the United Naga Committee (UNC), established since 1981 had been propagating an Alternative Arrangement for the separate administration for Naga inhabited areas since 2010, when the crisis that occurred through the State Government’s measure to prevent the NSCN (IM)’s General Secretary Th. Muivah’s visit to his home village in Ukhrul, where police firing resulted to the killing of two Mao students. Since then the demands for complete severing of relationships with the ‘communal’ government of Manipur, and the call for Autonomous District Council Elections to be declared ‘Null and Void’ were their main agendas. As for the neighbouring Kukis, there had been a long democratic history of demands for the establishment of a Kuki state since the 1960s. Various memorandums had been sent to the Central authorities, with varying emphasis on the nature of the Kuki communities relationship with the Central Government, along with their attitude towards the neighbouring communities. The event of 1992-1998 reckoned as the Ethnic Cleansing campaign of the NSCN (IM) which resulted to severe loss of lives and properties had changed the dynamics of ethnic relationship in Manipur. Some 1000 Kuki citizens were reported to have been killed, leading to retributory violences by the Kukis against the Nagas, with a resultant impact of simultaneous arming of ethnic communities for protection of their respective identities, as well as heightening of ethnic insurgencies in the state. The environment of ethnic violence, mutual mistrust of the other, with occasional proposals for sharing of resources and advantages as well as attempts at alliances and agreements became a blinding feature of ethnic relations in the state. The Kukis, by virtue of a little better history of sharing of powers on their lands and resources in the pre-colonial times, and of a better form of alliance for mutual protection and help with the Meitei rulers of the state resulted to the Kuki peoples’ nearness to the polity and more desire to help protect the territorial integrity of the state. Though the Naga independence movement was prolonged, it made more serious impact on the consciousness of the Manipur Nagas, and more particularly of a strong Tangkhul presence in the NSCN (IM) hierarchy. The Kuki consciousness were more geographically bound in the Manipur state, in spite of a large presence of their kin in the Chin state of Myanmar. The movement for identity for a Pan Chin-Kuki-Mizo consciousness of these kindred tribes are also in the ascendant in cultural and democratic spaces, but the ethnic armies who became pre-dominant in local as well as trans-geographical spaces in politics had been active in the Manipur hills, whose dynamics it is extremely difficult to identify in the current state of confusion and semi-anarchic configurations of ethnic politics. It is learnt that the NSCN (IM) sought an alliance with the Kuki identity movements, a settlement of earlier unfortunate violences and massacres, and come to a palpable understanding to spite of the ‘communal’ majority of the Meiteis in the valley. A proposal that was circulated in August last year secretly by the Kuki National Organization to the NSCN (IM) for parcelling out the hills of Manipur as Nagalim and a Kuki State (Zalengam) was learnt to have fizzled out. Since the Kukis and Nagas had not yet got rid off the accumulated passions and revenge motifs accumulated from mutual hurt and violence during the Kuki Naga clashes. The Kuki Inpi (Kuki government) which was revived in 1993 in earnest from earlier existences had been demanding justice against the NSCN (IM) in many memorandums and appeals to the Central Government.

“The NSCN (IM) preferred and cheated worldwide that they were sovereign nation now revealing their true colours of trying to snatch other peoples lands by (1) invading, killing innocent thousands, uprooting hundreds of villages, but failed (2) Now NSCN (IM) is asking the mighty Government of India to parcel out lands belonging to others, including Kukiland, give them to NSCN (IM).


The Kukis had been carefully observing the NSCN (IM) of their suspicious movements, and now this organization has come out openly asking India to take lands belonging to others and give them to the NSCN (IM). This will result to nothing else, but civil war.

Instead, it is requested that whatever present Indian rulers are talking with NSCN (IM) first and foremost (1) The murderers of over 900 innocent Kukis plus other ethnic groups (2) uprooting 360 Kuki villages must be arrested and punished in accordance of the prevailing Indian laws, and (3) all those displaced by NSCN (IM) be rehabilitated to avoid the wrath of all the ethnic groups who heavily suffered in the hands of the NSCN (IM). The wrath has to be avoided at any costs for peace and harmony in the land as it had been from time immemorial.” (Kuki Inpi Memorandum to Indian Home Minister June 10, 2010).4

On the issues of the present ethnic tension between the Meiteis, the Naga sans the Kukis, the Kuki Impi added that “Any talk on the question of boundary and land must be tripartite. No single ethnic group has the authority or is authorized to talk and break the territory.” (Ibid 2010).

However the contemporary tension however saw certain transformations and twists in positions by the major ethnic communities, when the Kuki and the Nagas came into a certain understanding in the midst of the crisis created by the passing of the bills. Resistances mounted with opposition to the bills, complaints lodged to the Central authorities and pressures from civil society bodies both national and international and the national medias also noticed the violences and complexities thrown up by the issue.

However the last six months from the beginning of the anti bill agitation in August-September last year, sparked off by the sacrifice of the nine martyrs had remain unsettled and grievances of the hill people remained unassuaged. Many waters had flown under the current of ethnic cleavages which still remained a tense feature of public life in the state. The Government of Manipur was reported to have attempted to compromise with the agitators by acknowledging the customary laws of the Kukis (Hiangkham) and having had a few rounds of talks with those responsible for the widespread agitation. Not much of progress was reported about a solution to the issue.

Inter and Intra-community Rupture?

It seems the dynamics of the ethnic relations between the very participants of the agitation was intricately marked by differences of opinions and worldviews amongst the groups themselves. There were major differences and incompatibilities between the Kuki point of view with those of the Paite community, who also constitute a large share of ethnic population in Churachandpur (six of these killed through police firing were Paites!). The Paite had an earlier experience also having lost ten lives back in 1997-98, in the Kuki-Paite clashes of a severe nature, when the latter refused to pay house-tax to some Kuki underground outfits, leading to the subsequent killing of the Paite villagers. The Paite settlements on the Southern side of the Manipur border near Moreh were affected by Kuki reprisals from underground outfits towards the aggressive Nagas in the Naga-Kuki clashes, and a lot of Paite population were displaced. These violences and mutual hurts in the past, though temporarily assuaged through the interventions of apex civil society organizations like the Kuki-Inpi, with Zomi Reunification Army (ZRA), there remained niggling doubts of differences, primordial suspicions and mistrust which become manifest when new incidents did occur. The difference of view-points between the Kuki and the Paite and their non-participation in the Pan Chin-Kuki-Mizo identity movement are stark reminders to stubborn internal beliefs amongst ethnic self-hoods which refuse any kind of forcible foisting of collective decisions by one tribe over another.

Also at the same time certain alliances of ethnic co-operation through inclusionist exercise over recognition by the Nagas of the Paite as Naga, and support with arms, money and materials for self-protection had also strengthened Paite resistance against Kuki hegemony in Churachandpur. The political influence of the NSCN (IM) in the Western Hills of Manipur are strong, because of many other smaller tribal communities, having experienced discrimination and oppression by governments or by other larger ethnic groups like the valley underground outfits in the past helped persuade the non-Naga communities in the Western hills to side with NSCN (IM) who had been assiduously engaging with other non-Naga communities for friendship or alliances to mitigate the mistakes in the 1992-1998 Ethnic Cleansing pogrom.

The issues of inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic dynamics in Northeast India, particularly Manipur therefore are much more complex and difficult from those the Indian nation state experienced in the Indian heartland. For mainstream Tribal communities in Central, Western and South-eastern parts of India, it seems are affected more by class conflicts and societal differentiation, whereas the tribal communities in Northeast India are severely affected by issues of ethnicity and identity, which are more accentuated by cultural mores, perceptions, practices and prejudices. The attitude of the Indian state as reflected in the Constitution of India however seem to categorize them equally within a uniform schedule of human groupings, and yet the Northeast Indian ethnicities are distant racial others whose worldviews, concerns about life and the universe are different from those of the Indian heartland.

The Framework of Agreement which was signed by the GoI and the NSCN (IM) in August, 2015 seemed to affect the politics of ethnicity which had long accumulated since the very days when the Indian state inherited the peoples, territories and spaces after the departure of the British Indian Empire. Though the public meeting in Manipur on February 6, 2016 was a signal to the Government of India to notice the feelings of major sections of the Manipur people, the responses from new civil society organizations amongst the Nagas re-affirm their very convictions about the public rally as “a motivated re-action to sabotage the tireless efforts of the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India to bring long lasting peace and development not only in the Naga areas but for the entire North-eastern region.” (Nagaland Post February 8, 2016).5

The idea of the hill and valley people are one, “is nothing but another majoritarian attempt to deconstruct the history of hill-valley disconnect so as to muzzle the legitimate aspiration of the Nagas and other tribal communities in the state”. (Ibid, 2016).

“If the dominant community is really for peace and development in the region and has concern for the hill people, then respecting the aspiration of the Nagas and other tribal people of the state and their aspiration is highly warranted”. (ibid, 2016).

The current presentation is a simple reading of the contemporary character and physiognomy of ethnic conflict as experienced by major communities in Manipur. There are also more deeper and sinister micro-level impacts of violences of this nature on smaller communities in the state. Violence is not simply a physical act destroying the body or life of the individual in a society, but it accompanies the structural disintegration of norms, institutions and social universes, more heavier and lethal and smaller communities are not able to speak out for justice and fair play. There are substantial records of these subterranean oppressions and pressures through claims of intra-ethnic justice and forced change of identities. The inside of the contemporary polity of Manipur had been corroded during its apprenticeship to democracy and modernization. Complex networks of the civil, military, police and bureaucracy in alliance with pushy business and social classes had penetrated into the realm of power and resources, and ethnic insurgencies, surrendered militants as well as those in peace talks with the Government are in hands and gloves with those supposedly concerned with the maintenance of law and order in society. The new social and business classes had prospered, and having had no prior relationship with core traditional values and ethics, had become rapid operators of mercenary onslaughts of economic opportunism and corruption. These classes are at the helm of public affairs. The system of modern education are heavily structured for enhanced dependency and enslavement of minds, rather than freeing the intellect from routine knowledge and perpetuation of received ideas. Sheer violence of confrontation, attrition and mutual acrimony destroys equilibrium of extended house-holds, constituencies, and human settlements of artificially created boundaries. Through the pressures of heavily monetized electoral politics, veteran politicians often experience mental and physical wreckage and trauma. Women activists who struggle to protect the body of the innocent son from the onslaughts of the instruments of the Indian state often die unnoticed deaths from vomiting and other complex experiences unleashed in the Meira-Paibee (Women Torch Holders) movements. Sheer epistemic violence is noticed in the interstices of family, language, culture and behavioural norms and the entire originary world of the autochthons are ruptured beyond repair. In the experience of militarization and clashes between the state and non-state actors, the Manipuris do not live their lives, they live the life of others. Such is the characters of the transformation of the Manipuri in the world of global capitalism and the violence of insurgency and counter-insurgency.

Not much word is said of the role and responsibility of the Indian state and its military arm, who have a double purpose of suppressing internal dissidence and protecting the country from seeming threats to security from across the globe. Many scholars and social scientists studying the issues of ethnic mobilization and ethnic assertion are prone to habitually provide distinctive features of the ethno-national movements, their genesis, their demands, their ideologies and action that fan the movements, but very little on the character of the state with whom these ethnic protagonists are in vital relationship i.e. the Indian state.

History – from Obscurity to Visibility?

The relationship between Manipur and Indian state through history need some understanding, though the relationship was never a harmonious one. (The term Manipur and India are themselves subjects of relative interpretation). From very ancient times, Manipur’s cultural and social orientation was towards the eastern direction, towards Myanmar and Southeast Asia. The pre-colonial Manipur state was an endogenous development, impelled by the nature of its geographic and ecological features, initiated by clan warriors who descended from up the mountains into the fertile valley below. The indigenous populations had origins from racial categories of Southern Mongoloid, with certain complicated admixtures between Proto-Austroloids and incoming layers of Tibeto-Burman speech communities. All these human groups shared habitat, geography, climate, faunal and floral environments, food habits, and ancient technological traits like loin loom and fly shuttle technologies in the plains. While the highlander denizens continued to bear the vagaries of the forest and mountain environments, those who came down in the plains were ushered into challenging the extensive flow of the river waters whose currents had to be controlled and utilized for developing livelihood systems. Wet rice agriculture, with the system of transplantation provided early impetus to change into peasant lifestyle and invention of better tools for food production technologies. The openness of the alluvial flood-plains helped ensophistication of religious beliefs, with a deep ecological consciousness of the notion of fertility of nature and veneration of ancestors. The initial tribal lifestyles of close clan formation and in-group consciousness were transformed into the need for greater integration on supra-village principality formations and the idea of a ritual theatre state, a designed architecture of governance and authority relationship through ritual was organized under a monarchical system, with war and matrimonial alliances binding the clan polities. An urge for civilization propelled the lowlanders into producing a philosophy of life, numerous literatures and texts thereby reflecting the literate status of the communities in the plains. Openness to outside influences and miscegenation with incoming migrants with various human groups resulted to a detribalized life-world of hydraulic civilization based on systematic networks of irrigation and flood control. Early possession of the plough, the horse and iron paved the path for rapid development in the ontology of the plains dwellers into a martial race. Citizen volunteers swift in horsemanship, swift in physical movements in the arts of swordsmanship, rapid in aggression or retreat, with tremendous spirit of sacrifice for the collective, emerged in the medieval period of expansion and conquest. A ranked society helped in smoothening of the governing bureaucracy indigenous in values and beliefs. The clan Piba (male elder of the clan) had been raised to the status of Kingship, and a system of circulation of royal princesses circulated amidst the rising international communities for peace and harmony. The territorial frontiers of the state was recognized in the international community first by the Upper Shan principalities and later by Burmans, the Ahoms, the Dimasas and the Bodos of Tripura.

With the international recognition of prestige, liberality and hospitality of the monarchical regime in the 15th century, the first migration of Brahmin populations, escaping from the violence of western Islamic invasions, was noticed, bringing along with them fresh notions of astrological and cosmological wisdom, along with pragmatic theories of kingship and elevation of the power and authority of the monarch to the status of divinity. The need for the integration of the clans, tribes and other communities into a well-structured poly-glot of cultures and demographies needed a higher religious system emphasizing the power and exhibitory faculties of the state represented by the monarch and his associates necessitating the conversion of the Meitei into Hinduism in the 18th century.

While Southeast Asian polities had easily assimilated themselves into the Indic cultural influences since the 4th to 14th centuries in the Common era, Manipur felt these influences while its social and political systems had already been well-established with a definite identity and status of its own. The conversion into Hinduism faced shift opposition from the proponents of the Meitei indigenous religion. But through the exercise of force and violence, subtle intimidation as well as public oppression, the king Garibniwaj (1709-1748) was able to effect a compromise with the clan elders, a sort of contract to accept the conversion into the Ramandi religion. Other indigenous religious systems of tribes and peripheral communities like the Chakpas retained their traditional systems. Christianity entered Manipur during the colonial era in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The pre-colonial orientation of the Manipur state towards Indic connections, side by side with the conversion of the ruling kraton class into Hinduism was therefore an 18th century phenomenon. It also coincided with the political orientation towards British India since 1762 C.E., because of the expansion of the imperial Burmese ambitions directly affecting the geo-political awareness of the rulers, necessitating support from the Ahom dynasties as well as the East India Company. Total economic integration was unthinkable at that period of history for more than a hundred years. Manipur’s agricultural economy was based on subsistence with incipient trade relations with the proximate neighbouring countries. However the British defeat of Manipur in 1891 CE introduced forcible changes in the indigenous economic structures. The British introduced the Indian rupee as a medium of exchange replacing indigenous systems in 1892, and the Manipur resources were used to feed the imperial military establishments in Assam and the Northeastern region through the export of rice and cattle. Imports of British manufactured goods reached Imphal and the colonial economy altered the indigenous social structure by introducing a new imperial racial class of Marwaris and Bengalis for economic management and organization of the new revenue structures. The earlier migrant population of Brahmnis and Muslims had earlier been assimilated into the indigenous social structure, but the new demographic inputs through the colonial economy introduced a sort of contested pluralism, as different from the organic pluralism of the past. A lot of conflictual societal relationship was noticed similar to the system introduced in Burma by the colonial authorities.

The British also introduced a new system of administration totally rupturing the organic plurality of hill and plains relations. The Meitei ruler-ship was divested of administrative jurisdiction over the Hill people, and the administration of the Hill was given to the British political authority craftily institutionalized in the colonised polity. A system of dyarchy, separation of powers between the Maharajah and the British political agent was structured into the system. When the Hill citizens rebelled against the colonial authority in the first two or three decades of the 20th century, its character and form was later misinterpreted through the prism of awakened ethnicities, which became murky and unclear leading to serious conflicts in the era of ethnic identification movements. When the British left in 1947, leading to a precarious in-equilibrium from the convulsions of the Second World War all the efforts to restore traditional equilibrium of the polity was in vain. Manipur became a district of the vast territories of India through the integration in1949. One can imagine the consequences.

Force – The Basis of India’s Relation with Manipur

Delving into the attitudes and worldviews of the Indian rulers in the critical era of integration of the princely states in the proposed Indian Union one can surmise that the representatives of the Dominion of India were completely unaware of the history and character of the pre-merger polity. The official version of the Dominion of India’s ‘Take-over’ of Manipur was based on the considerations that (i) the history of Manipur is ‘obscure’ (ii) the economy of the state is ‘unviable’ and (iii) the area is a ‘strategic area’. The administration of the Dominion didn’t make it official that the fear of the Indian state of the infiltration of Communist ideologies through Manipur’s connection with the Burmese Communist Party was never mentioned. But it was a fact that the new Indian state was forced to take a harsh decision to suppress the Communist Party of India’s violent revolution under the inspiration of the Bolshevik Revolution, designed through the strategies of B.T. Ranadive in 1948-1949. The revolutionary movement of Hijam Irabot as a member of the Communist Party of India was suppressed through the use of the Indian Army and the Police (1949-1955).

What is very significant here it that the Indian state which inherited the outgoing British Empire’s territorial possessions in Northeast India also inherited the security architecture of the British Colonial Empire. Legitimate as well as covert exercise of force for suppression of rebellions, and for protection of life and properties of the imperial officials, and for maintenance of peace and order in the porous border areas and defensive parameters to be built into the system was inherited by the Indian authorities and strategic thinking in these lines was more ensophisticated by the Indian think tanks over a passage of time. The great Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel’s innate militaristic worldview ‘Isn’t there a Brigadier in Shillong’ during the hectic days of the Manipur merger episode was a statement of immense consequences. This was strengthened by his own observations that the tribal and other communities in the Northeastern parts of India were all Mongoloid in racial origins, and thus may not be loyal to the nation state of India in future was indeed a rational perception.

The security architecture of the Indian state in Northeast India had a long history since the British colonial days. The need for security of the persons and officials of the tea industry of Assam, from fear of raids and murder by the tribal communities, necessitated the establishment of indigenous security forces, and the Cachar Levy of 1835, the Jorhat Militia of 1838, the Kuki Levy of 1850 etc. were gradually effected in various geographies of the Northeastern region, and they later were progressively merged into the famous Assam Rifles in 1917 in the wake of the first World War. From simple protective measures for colonial officials, these indigenously raised forces became a necessary instrument of the maintenance of the law and order. Military and police pickets in Assam, the Lushai Hills, the Naga Hills and in Manipur after the 1891 war was systematically merged to help effect the security architecture in the Northeast.

Manipur in its painful history of colonial modernity had to experience the militaristic attitude and culture of the British colonial officials as well as their new rulers from the Indian state. After the defeat at the hands of the British Indian forces in 1891, the sacred capital of Kangla was occupied by the soldiers who remained till 2004. The native citizen army of the pre-colonial Lallup was disarmed and an occupying force of the Indian army was installed in its place. The new prince ruler was divested of any security arrangements of its own, whereas the British political agent had command over the imperial forces stationed in the region. The Assam Rifles continued to take exemplary roles for suppressing ethnic armed movements like that of the Kukis in 1917-19 as well as the Kabui movement of 1928-34. The Assam Rifles bayoneted the unarmed women in the 1939 food security agitation known as the Second Nupilal or Women’s war. It also was responsible for suppressing the Mao Naga no house tax campaign in 1948 leading to the death of three hillmen. In the history of Manipur’s integration into India in 1949, the Assam Rifles was used to face eventualities. The trend had to be continued for extensive counter-insurgency campaigns. The Indian security forces are even stationed in the campus of a precious educational institution, the Manipur University still today.

The security architecture at contemporary times is expanded a thousand times under new dynamics of geo-political rivalries, the persistence of insurgency as well as overall challenges by the enforced vulnerability of the borderland syndrome. What is more sinister is the fear that sheer militarism and capacities for ruthless use of excessive force was not reserved for security reasons alone. What was more diabolic was blatant exercise of intervention in the dynamics of ethnic conflict, taking advantage of the primordial passions and prejudices of ethnic rivalries, thereby helping expand ethnic jealousies. The classical Kautilyan principles of Sham, Dam, Dand, Bhed (of reconciliation, inducement of riches, use of force and principles of split or divide) are all in evidence. Whisper campaigns are afoot silently in the public sphere, in the atmosphere of suspicion and hatred, that the Meitei in the plains were persuaded, not to fear the Nagas, but the Kukis and the Muslims as enemies. Again the Kukis were learnt to have been persuaded, not to hate the Nagas, but the Meiteis and the Muslims.

Concluding Observations

What was the more immediate was the virtual reality to state violence over the general population for the last three or four decades coupled with unbridled corruption and opportunity affliction. The vitals of the polity are eaten up into, which had corroded all institutions of the state. Globalization and liberalization since the nineties had accentuated the vitiated atmosphere, with more violence and ruthlessness of human behaviour in tow. Ethnicity and ethnic conflict shall increase more, affected by the wrenching processes of modernization, of the struggle for power over resources, above the surface of the earth, as well as below. Pure sentimental outcries of Hills and Plains unity of the past will no longer be valid.

The challenge today seems to indicate a heightened response of consciousness, of understanding conflict in a positive way, like by those classical sociologists, who reflected that conflict (or violence) would prevent ossification of the social system by exerting pressure for innovation and creativity (George Sorel 1908). In the words of Lewis A Coser “Conflict within and between groups in a society can prevent accommodations and habitual relations from progressively impoverishing creativity. The clash of values, and interests, the tension between what is and what some groups ought to be, the conflict between vested interests and new strata and demanding their share of power, wealth and status, have been productive of vitality”. 6 (George A. Kelly & Clifford W. Brown Jr. 1970)

We must accept conflict as reality, though the Government of India nor its henchmen the local state, do not recognize it. We must respond with more in depth knowledge of what constitutes the violence of what is spread as ‘Development’. Developmental violence is another category of oppression under which ethnic rivalries are played out. One has to acknowledge the configurations of ethnic demands, and the global universal values of rights, entitlements and freedoms have to be addressed anew with all honest intensity of commitment and fair play. Civil society have to understand afresh that we are entering into a much more sinister era of intrigue, deceit and lies, and the whole artificiality of discourse of development.

The crisis of the times had thrown challenges to both the people of the hills and the plains, the dynamics of which had not been addressed dispassionately by the indigenous peoples themselves having posed over each other as adversaries for long. The Meiteis in the plains could only blame themselves for their incapability to play the facilitating leadership role for multi-ethnic and multi-religious unity. The Meiteis had failed to learn from their nation-memories of how they carried the burdens of the collective of the past, and it seems they are as community sinking fast in the debris of self-destruction through intra-group attrition and false individualist pride!


1. The Feb 6 rally was organized by three Civil Society organizations – The AMUCO, The CCSKA and the UCM, Imphal.

2. White Paper on Naga Integration, Published by the Naga Hoho, Hekhevi Achumi, 2002.

3. M. Dili et al – Naga Territorial Integrity v/s Manipur. Territorial Integrity-Statement of the All Naga Students Association 14/8/1997 from Claims of Refutations: Compilation on Naga Political Movement Ed. By Dr. Aheibam Koireng, Dr. Sukhdev Sharma Hanjabam & Dr. Homen Thangjam, Jain Book Shop Publication, Imphal, 2015.

4. Kuki Inpi Memorandum to Indian Prime Minister June 10, 2010, cited in the above 2015.

5. Naga Civil Societies – The Naga Peoples Union for Civil Liberties (NPUCL), Forum for Understanding the Naga-India Conflict and Human Rights – statement reported by Nagaland Post, Feb. 6, 2016.

6. George A. Kelly & Clifford W. Brown Jr. 1970. Struggles in the State – Sources and Patterns of World Revolution – John Wiley & Sons, New York.

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