Increasing hate-speech against Manipur Kukis – An irresponsible dangerous approach

Increasing hate-speech against Manipur Kukis – An irresponsible dangerous approach

/ Guest Column / Monday, 26 October 2020 17:11

By- Phanjoubam Chingkhei

Of lately, there has been alarming rise in anti-Kuki rhetoric not just in social media but from few civil bodies, which in the long run is bound to heighten divisions among multi-ethnic state of Manipur.
History bears witness that Manipur Kukis, mostly Thadous, have played prominent role in multiple historic events of 19th century and 20th century assisting the Manipur troops, and have sacrificed a lot to protect their own cherished freedom. Unfortunately, taking advantage of their vulnerable position in the nineties of the last century, Manipur Kukis experienced unimaginable horror at the hands of Manipur Naga based militants which uprooted innumerable ancestral homes and barbaric killing of around 1000 civilians.
Unjust labelling of term Refugees against Kukis
The universal definition of refugees refers to those individuals seeking protection from prosecution and distressfrom an authoritarian form of government. The unjust term has been consistently labelled against Manipur Kukis by Manipur based Naga militants and their puppet organisationsafter anti-Kuki propaganda began to emerge ever since the concept of balkanisation of Manipur appeared.
The United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention defines “refugee” as those individuals “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is willing to return to it.”
In 2011, the UNHCR recognised a person as refugees “who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and unable to return there owing to serious threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalised violence or events seriously disturbing public order.”
Simply put, refugees refer to those who have been forced to flee their country due to persecution, war or violence for reasons based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership and unable to return their home. This definition alone is sufficient to prove that Kukis who have been living in Manipur for more than 300 years are as much as indigenous and native like Meiteis, Rongmeis, Kom and plethora of other tribes.
Human history is one of migration from one region to another to seek for better live and this applied to Meitei’s very own historical figure of Poireiton and his horde who migrated from the yet to be determined place of Kham-nung-sawa, referred to as the land of death.
Though hate speech against Manipur Kukis has been consistent from certain section of Manipur Nagas, it is a recent development from Manipur Meiteis. The matter developed from being labelled the Manipur Kukis as “foreigners” by a senior person and his organisation consisting of few members cannot claim to bean apex body reflecting mindset of Manipur Meiteis, unlike the Kuki Inpi, the apex body of Manipur Kukis or the United Naga Council.The extremely irresponsible claim later spread over larger number of ignorant public.
However, the recent rise of hate-speech against Manipur Kukis and unjust labelling of them as “refugees” came about in connection with the Kuki uprising of 1917-1919 which Governor of Assam Sir Robert Reid acknowledged “as the most serious incident in the history of Manipur and its relations with its Hill subjects” which then cost an amount of Rs 28 lakhs, an enormous sum of the time.
The five-year long barbaric Kuki genocide has led to internal displacement and being not able to live their respective village of their forefathers, the government as caretakers of the public had to arrange for their safety and settle at a place where they are safe from gun-toting Manipur Naga militants led by one particular community. These victims were forced to flee their homes in their very own home state and did not come from across the border as has been led to belief though a rare few cases may have happen but is negligible and not worthy of consideration for many Meiteis who had long fled Manipur and settled in Bangladesh too have crossed into Indian side and reside in several parts of Manipur.
During the height of Kuki-Naga clashes, an executive meeting of United Naga Council (UNC) was held in October 1992 during which the body set 1972 as the base year for determining the land ownership of the Kukis in all hill districts of Manipur. Completely unreasonable, for UNC does not have any legitimate right to dictate such terms against law-abiding citizens, it should not be forgotten that Manipur Kukis who has so much contributed in various historic events of Manipur cannot be taken for granted.
During the Kuki genocide of the 90s, Ph. Tarapot writes “in most cases Kukis had been at the receiving end” with 350 Kuki villages being uprooted from 1992-1997 and tens of thousands of villagers internally displaced.
The myth and exaggerated role of Chingakham Sanajaoba during Kuki uprising
No doubt, the frequently mentioned, Chingakham Sanajaoba, a “low class” Meitei adventurer who claimed to possess “magic powers” toured to seek supporters among the simple Kukis who had for long been resentful over the harsh rule and domination by the British. Sanajaoba’s objective was to have the “royal house overthrown and he himself installed as the ruler of the state.” However, the Kukis had a different objective. Ph. Tarapot writes, “since the British assumed a major role in the state administration, some sections of Kukis…viewed the foreigners with suspicion and were not satisfied with the then prevailing system.”
Certain historians, spokesperson of certain irresponsible civil bodies, particularly one which was recently formed have been relentless to impress as if Sanajaoba was instrumental behind the deadly Kuki uprising. This is a misnomer, as Robert Reid says “Enjakhup, a Kuki ex-sepoy of the Naga Hills Battalion was described as the brains of the movement.”
Though Sanajaoba did painted a wrong picture amongst the simple Kukis of the time, the outbreak is strongly connected with the high-handed approach of JC Higgins and his party who in search of Chief Ngulkhup of Mombi set ablaze the village on October 17, 1917 prompting several Kuki chiefs to decide to fight the British despite poorly armed and heavily out-numbered. Under the overall leadership of Aishan chief Pu Chengjapao aided by many other influential chiefs, wildfire spread in the hills of Manipur which took more than two years to quell.
The intensity of the Kuki uprising was so much so that at one point there was a rumour that that the rebels planned to invade Imphal, which created panic among the Imphalites though it did not occurred. The role of Chingakham Sanajaoba has been exaggerated to much extent in order to portray the Kuki uprising as a random outburst without taking into the consideration their own discontent against harsh policies imposed against them.
Protection of their land and villages inherited from their forefathers, resistance against forceful occupation by others, emotional attachment are characteristic of indigenous people and not that of a refugee or a foreigner as propagated by vested interest.
Though the uprising is also connected with raising of the Manipur Labour Corps by recruiting able-bodied Kuki youths to serve in the First World War, there are more complexities which cannot be ignored. British officials later reported that among the various reasons, one which affected the psychology of the then Kuki ancestors was a rumour that if their able-bodied youths leave their villages, their woman and children would be attacked by Angami Nagas. How the rumour emerged was not able to be traced.
In another perspective, it should be understood that the flat refusal to send their able-bodied men at the behest of Rajah Churachand implies the Kukis under their chiefs did not have much regard for Manipur authorities for had they been under their complete subjugation they would be compelled to agree like certain section of other tribes who willingly served to act as porters for the white man.
Aftermath the conclusion of the Kuki uprising, Sir Nicholas Beaston Bell in a letter to Viceroy Lord Cheimfort in April 1919 wrote on what he thought of the general attitude of the Manipuris towards the Hillmen which is to get as much as he can out of the Hillman and do nothing for him in return.
Kukis active role in historic events of 19th and 20th century Manipur
EW Dun writes “they are naturally more courageous and better soldiers than the Manipuris” and some 700 Kuki irregulars were kept in addition to the regular state troops.
Ethnic Kukis were recruited in the Manipuri army in subduing several tribal villages which failed to paid tribute to the Manipuri rulers and played an important role during the Lushai expedition of 1870, the seize and subsequent relief of Kohima in 1878-led by Col Johnstone as well as the disastrous defeat of Manipur army at the hands of Kamhau/ Suktes during the reign ofRajah Chandrakriti, known as Ngameingam by the Thadou.
Sir James Johnstone recalled that Lt. later Col McCulloch who was the political agent at that time shared a great rapport with the Kukis and had “thousands of fierce Kukis settled as peaceful subjects of Manipur.” His policy of planting Kuki settlement on exposed frontiers prompted the Government of Bengal to try similar experiment and had large colony of Kukis settled in 1855 to act as barrier for North Cachar against the raids of the Angami Nagas. The British officers recognised the Kukis as courageous men than other of any people in Manipur and adjoining areas and were employed to protect the British subjects of Cachar against the raids of Angami Nagas and Lushai warriors.
During Johnstone’s time, the Manipur army consisted of about 5000 men with an additional 1000 to 1200 Kuki irregulars and played a great and significant role in rescuing the British garrison at Kohima in November 1878.
About expedition in the Naga Hills, the Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General’s report of this Naga Hills states that Lt. Col Johnstone’s Kuki levies had attacked Phesama, killing 200 of the enemies while also losing considerable loss of live during the attack. Surprisingly, the Manipuri army performed no other operations in this war (except as coolies and bringing supplies and in this respect they were invaluable.) (Johnstone)
Manipur Kukis in the rescue of Manipur Meiteis
William Shaw recalls that during the time of Burmese invasion of Manipur, the Manipur Raja fled for protection to the house of Khongsat Kuki’s father where he ate “ga” beans for several months to survive. Only after the Burmese left the valley, he returned with Khongsat father and Kaikholal Kuki and since then the Manipuris have treated them with respect.
When a proud Manipur Raja Chandrakriti decided to attack Kamhau Chief at Molbem village, and proceeded with a “great force” Chief Thangkhohen of Sangnao village sent his cousin Chief Pumjam of Bijang with some 1000 Kukis to help Chandrakriti. The battle with the ferocious Kamhaus, the terror of all tribes at one time, ended in the disgraceful flight of Manipur troops. William Shaw in his words recorded “the Raja was weeping on the banks of the Gun (Imphal) River at such a disgrace when one Chongja Kuki taking pity on him fired off his gun before the said and exclaimed that the Raja shall not die until I, Chongja, am first killed by the Raja’s enemies.” This eventually cheered the Manipur Rajah and Chongja along with his followers made a cane suspension bridge got Chandrakriti into safety.
During the period when Maharaj Bodhchandra was under intense pressurize to have Manipur merged with India by both the newly formed democratic India and Manipur Meiteis themselves, only the Kuki chiefs (The Haokips) sent more than 150 men to aid Bodhchandra to resist the signing of the merger agreement and protect the king from her Hindu subjects.
Today, all the contributions made by the Manipur Kukis for the welfare of the state has been sidelined and forgotten for particular reasons, one of obvious reason being undying love of a “blood-brother” community.
Manipur Kukis are as much as indigenous as Manipur Meiteis for their emotional attachment to the areas they occupy just as ethnic Meiteis have religious attachment to their sacred sites of Koubru peak, Nongmaijing Hills, Langol and many others in the hill districts.
Humanity lost
During the September 13, 1993 massacre of Kukis at Tamei, Ph. Tarapot based on few survivors account writes “Pleas for lives went unheard amid painful cries. Some shouted the names of known persons to save their lives, some attempted themselves to free from shackles. But all attempts went in vain.”
Media reports of surviving accounts of womenfolk included “brothers, please do not kill the children” to killers who they knew.
During the time of the clashes, Kuki Inpi Manipur had even approached the UNC, the apex civil body of Manipur Nagas, for a peaceful settlement and the two apex bodies met twice in 1994. However, the meetings were discontinued without an amicable solution as the NSCN-IM prevented the UNC.
Despite initiation of to restore peace by KIM, the increasing attack against Kuki civilians severely affected the process of which included the cold-blooded murder of prominent Kuki leaders S Pagin Kipgen (a retired army officer) and L. Thangeo, former vice-president of KIM. S Pagin was a popular personality among different communities. (Ph. Tarapot)
To conclude, the rising hate-speech against Kukis is an extremely dangerous for co-existence among all communities and no one claim Manipur as their own sole property. Development and mutual respect for one another is the only solution for long-lasting peace in Manipur state.
Let it be realised the Chingmi-Tammi slogan does not make any sense if one community continuously engage in hate-speech against brethren Manipur Kukis.

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