By: S. Bhubol, Secretary, Columnists’ Forum Manipur
The world is to be cautioned against false propaganda in different medias about the ongoing Manipur violence that started on the 3rd May 2023. One side, the Social Medias are full of the dramatic pathetic scenes as shown by certain sections of the Kuki-Chin bloggers. Another side, many enquire about the lack of response in the social media from the Meitei Community, misleading the readers or the viewers around the globe. Habitually endowed with wait and watch & usual interest lacunae to such moodiness but definitely with a bit of carelessness of the Meitei’s in combination with the internet ban in the state thereby leading to inability in assessing the right information may be the possible reasons. Unfortunately, such fraudulence is also seen in the writings of the so called Academicians and intellects of the Kuki-Chin-Zomi people while the Meitei counterparts lack interest in responding to the cheap articles undermining the truths of the present imbroglio in the trouble torn state of Manipur and are inclining more on inclusiveness and secular thought. It is very unfortunate that academicians like Dr. L. Lam Khan Piang and bodies like the Zomi Students Federation are found to be actors of paroxysm with falsified versions as shown by their writings in different media and publications.
Many substandard unfounded writings appeared in different Medias the world over. For example, the write up of one Dr. L. Lam Khan Piang, a professor of Sociology in the University of Hyderabad, published in the Quint on the 7th June 2023, is entirely against the truism of the event starting from the title itself. In the title of his write up “The hard Evidence against labeling Manipur’s hill tribes as illegal immigrants” he mentioned all of Manipur’s hill tribe as illegal immigrants, which had not even been labeled by any other Person in the entire Manipur but it was only referred to the Kuki- Chin- Mizo otherwise called ZO people, who recently entered Manipur (India). These recent settlers with illegal occupation of large areas of the State reserve and protected Forest & indulgence in illegal plantation of poppy, accumulated wealth and weapons, formed about 25 Armed militants in the name of protecting their ZO people , meticulously entered the Suspension of Operation (SoS) with the government of India and State government of Manipur in between 2005-2008. Taking opportunity of having Suspension of Operation (SoO), they carried in more ethnic immigrants from the southern borders of Myanmar in the South and South western hill ranges of the State, giving employment in Poppy plantations and drug manufacturing supported by Drug warlords. The occupied areas had been taken as the territory of the KUKIs aided by the so called protagonists of the Kukiland or Zalingam or ZO country. The huge money earned from Narco-terrorism had been helpful in the purchase of enough quantity of gun and other weapons including sophisticated arms & muscle power to face any opponents or hurdles.
Prof. L. Lam Khan Piang’s first sentence stating “Like the Partition of India, the Population exchange between the Meitei and the Kuki-Zomi in the conflict-torn state of Manipur was completed with the help of Central government forces” is an act of unruly interpretation and tarnish the reputation of the central forces. What the government of India with its forces did was evacuation of risked population to the government run relief centers. We fail to understand the mindset of the professor in concluding that the displaced population will not return and dwell in their respective homes. In India in spite of severe riots that happened, native people used to return to their respective original places when things came to normalcy and became peaceful. Or does he mean it necessary and rightful in the ongoing onslaughts being perpetrated by Kuki-Chin armed militants using sophisticated arms upon the Meitei civilians; causing many slaughters, burnt houses and destroyed properties to plan occupation of the destroyed localities in the hills by his group even when Peace takes its course?
Immediate endorsing the representation of the 10 Kuki MLAs submitted to the hon’ble Home Minister of India on the 5th May 2023 with the demand for separate administration, show his keen nexus with the legislatures and had the keen desire to create a Kukiland or ZO Country comprising parts of India, Myanmar & Bangladesh. Narratives like the Meitei’s having 10% land and hill tribes having 90 % land can hardly justify any violence against the Kukis are unrelated to the present context. The Present clash was never started by the Meitei’s but was initiated by miscreants belonging to Kuki- Chin group supported by the armed terrorists, as exemplified by the burning of the open Gym on the 28th April 2023, dismantling of the venue where the inauguration was to be addressed by the Chief Minister of Manipur & burning of Forest beat Offices starting at 10.30 am on the day of the mass Tribal Soliditory Rally on 3rd May 2023. Prof. Piang talks about hard evidences but on the contrary he showed manipulated incidents as truth. The Meitei’s had never denied that the Khongjais were early settlers of the south western part of Manipur and had mentions in the Royal Chronicles of Manipur.
Prof. L. Lam khan Piang seemingly tries to distort the territorial history of Manipur by strongly misinterpreting James Johnston’s map of Manipur (1896) singularly and saying that the present Churachandpur and Pherzawl districts were not part of Manipur. Why don’t Prof. Piang refer to the facts of Manipur’s history & geographical area sustained for many Centuries as vividly defined by not more than 20 recognized Maps including the map of Manipur (Manipoor) of 1822 &1856 by Captain Henry Yule, The court of Ava Map in 1855, Map of the Surveyor General’s Office, Calcutta,1844; Manipur Map in 1870 by Blackie & Sons, Glasgow, Edinburgh & London; Manipur map in the North Eastern part of Indian Empire, 1893 ( Constable’s Hand Atlas of India, London). The territorial boundary of Manipur had been safeguarded by many historically established treaties and documents including the Verelst treaty, 14th September 1762; the treaty of Yandaboo, 28th February 1826; the Anglo- Manipur treaty, 18th April 1833; the Kabaw valley agreement, 24th January 1834; the Barak agreement, 24th January 1876; the Manipur State constitution Act, 1947; the Manipur Chief Court Act 1947; Constitution of India (17th Amendment) Act, 1956 Part II Section 1, Ministry of Law, New Delhi 19th October, 1956 etc. Moreover, as regards the territorial boundary of Manipur the official declaration by Maharaja Bodhachandra in the first Assembly session of Independent Manipur (the 18th October 1948) might be referred, in which one Kuki MLA Mr. Teba of the Khulmee Union was present as Member of Assembly. The said message declared “Read her Political history from 24 AD. She had her dominion over a wide area extending as far as the southern portion of China in the north, the gold mines of the Sibsagar valley, the river Chindwin in the east and South, and Chandrapore ( Cachar) in the West. Her present area is 8,650 square miles pus 7000 square miles of the Kabow valley including 7,900 square miles of the hills. All these times when Manipur was in the highest of her power, Hill and Valley were one; and this ones defended Manipur against all invasions and thus, She could maintain her independence upto 1891, when the rest of India has already been conquered by the British”. The learned Professor should not skip to read the introductory remark of R.B. Pamberton’s work ‘Muneepoor’, which sayed “I shall now proceed to describe generally the territory of Mumeepoor, through which lie the routes leading from the districts of Sylhet and Cachar to the Ningthee river and central portion of the northern province of Ava”. Of course he mentioned about the Southern boundary of Muneepoor territory as very irregular and ill defined, as the area was inhabited by new Kuki-Chin settlers who were later conquered and recognized by the kings of Manipur. And also regarding the territorial boundary of modern Manipur the writings in V.P.Menon’s work ‘Integration of Indian states’ (The Orient Longman, India publication) might be referred.
Meiteis had always been fighting for the safeguard of the territorial multi- ethnic boundary of Manipur that had been existing since 33 AD with 76 Kings as recorded in the Cheitharol Kumbaba, the Royal Chronicle of Manipur Kingdom. The Khongjais ( Old Kukis) presumed to be early settlers of the South western portion of Manipur played their roles during the reigns of different Kings. The Kuki rising or rebellion (1917-1919) referred to as Zo-gal by some was carried out under the leadership of Chingakham Sanajaoba, a Meitei under the advice of the then King Churachand in order not to send People from Manipur as labor Corps to France in May 1917. Several writings show that the Kukis entered Manipur in different phases. Those who were early settlers had been called Old Kukis and the new comers were referred to as New Kukis who began coming to Manipur only in the 19th century. Eminent historian RK Jhalajit in his book “ A short History of Manipur” wrote “ About 2000 Kukis migrated to Manipur from the South in 1877-78 being probably driven northwards by more powerful tribes. They brought with them a large number of muskets and some ammunition. The king (Chandrakirti KCSI) settled them near Moirang. Later, some of them served as irregulars in the Manipur Army and helped in the maintenance of law and order”. In the Words of late Prof. N. Sanajaoba “Meeteis and the peripheral Meetei cognate tribes molded the confederal and pluralistic history within the territory of the State (Manipur)” (Source : Early Manipur National Institutions: Law & Justice structure). With this basic concept, the Meiteis who had been once a powerful entity, unlike the Kuki-Chin assimilation theory, had been respecting the identities of small ethnic communities for the last 2000 years and till today Manipur might probably be the only State where the largest number of small ethnic communities lived together with dignity.
Another fact is that the population composition of the Kukis had increased from 11.48 % in 1881 to 16.13 % in 2011, whereas the Meitei Population composition trend had reduced from 56.20 % to 44.90 % and the trend of the Naga Population had reduced from 27.10 % to 24.02 %.
The Percentage of growth may not seem much but to a small State like Manipur, the percentage of increase is quite worrisome. When the 2021 Census becomes official, we may be in for more surprises. What is even more thought provoking is the number of Village expansion of the Kukis. Out of 996 expanded Villages in the last 10 years, some 38 Villages are that of Nagas, whereas the rest are that of the Kukis. Having said so it can be reminded that Manipur is a mosaic abode of many diverse ethnic communities. They have been living together harmoniously for many Centuries sharing historical, political, cultural and economic values as brethren communities. History proves that the shared strength of all ethnic communities stood against the powerful foreign hands including the mighty British empire and sustained unbreakable inter – community bonds even during temporary periods of defeats and subordination.
However, the history of the State had its dark periods like the Hmar – Kuki Conflict (1959 – 1960); Kuki – Naga Clashes ( 1992 – 1998); Kuki – Paite Clashes ( 1997 -1998 ) etc. In addition, Kukis living in Assam could not have a harmonious relationship with the Karbis and a clash between the two erupted in 2003 – 2004, wherein a large number of displaced Kukis entered into Manipur and settled in various Kuki inhabited areas adding pressure on land and other resources. It would not be wrong to say that new populations of the Kuki – Chin group had been recently entering the State from Burma boarder without any check, often aided by the early settlers and influencing to corrupt political & administrative setup of the State.
Since May 3rd, 2023, Manipur has been plagued by violence and arson, causing profound fear and devastation. Kuki civilians, supported by Kuki militants & aided by armed rebel group based in Myanmar have forcefully expelled over 50,000 Meiteis from the areas under the dominance of Kuki-Chin-Mizo-Zomi ethnic groups. They have systematically burned down every house in the Meitei settlements in the fringe areas specially in Churachandpur district, which has been established in 250 A.D. during the reign of Khoyum Tompok. Consequently, these Meiteis have been displaced and are refugees in their own ancestral land, seeking refuge at various locations in Imphal and other valley districts like Bishnupur. In addition to taking control of the Meitei settlement areas in Churachandpur, armed Kuki militants have occupied seven major Meitei villages, namely Torbung Waikhurok, Torbung Bangla, Torbung Govindapur, Torbung Sabal Maning Leikai, and Kangvai. Equipped with sophisticated weapons, these militants have entrenched themselves in trenches and bunkers in Kangvai, preventing non-Kuki persons from entering the Kuki- dominated areas of Churachandpur and Phezawl.
On the night of May 3rd, Kuki militants set fire to more than 500 houses in Ikou, Dolaithabi, and Pukhao in Imphal East. Though there is a counter narrative and propaganda devised by Kuki leadership, one has to dispassionately consider the actual sequence of events and the manner in which this series of violence has unfolded. It has become evidently clear that these acts are a result of narco-terrorism, orchestrated by armed Kuki militant groups. These groups are financed by proceeds from the opium and drug trade, and receive support from Kuki intellectuals, policymakers, high-ranking officials, and the so-called civil society organizations, all of whom exploit the Kuki militant apparatus and utilize illegal Kuki immigrants from Myanmar as soldiers. Currently, there is a general perception that the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement signed between the Centre and the Kuki militants in which Manipur government has already withdrawn, has greatly facilitated the rise of narco-terrorism. It is alleged that the Assam Rifles not only provides food and shelter to the Kuki militants but also allows them to move about freely. In other words, this mobility has provided Kuki militants with the opportunity to accumulate weapons through funding derived from drug trafficking and poppy cultivation along the Indo-Myanmar border, as well as in Reserve and Protected Forests within Kuki-dominated areas of Manipur. In the aftermath of May 3rd, the Narcotics and Affairs of the Border (NAB), Manipur, confiscated 3,544 kilograms of poppy seeds from a Kuki-owned house in Mantripurkhri, Imphal East. This serves as evidence of the involvement of Kuki elites in poppy cultivation and drug-related activities. This non-traditional internal security threat poses a serious danger to India, as no one can be safe from the impending onslaught of drugs and narco-terrorism. The present crisis exemplifies how narco-terrorism undermines the national security of India as a whole even if it seems it is affecting only the border states of Northeast India. Historical evidence suggests that the animosity between communities and the recent conflicts have shaped the relationships between the Kuki community and other groups in Manipur, its neighbor like Assam and Mizoram and even surrounding states. And the repercussion is likely to spread further.
The Kukis had a long history of engaging in violent clashes with various communities. In the early 19th century, they were expelled from Lushai hills and migrated to Manipur during the reign of Maharaja Narsingh (1844-1850). Upon their arrival, they raided Kabui Naga villages and seized their lands, sparking conflicts with other tribes in Manipur and Assam over the course of history. Some notable instances of ethnic clashes include the Kabui/Rongmei and Tangkhul from 1917 to 1919 in Manipur, the Kuki- Hmar conflict in 1959-1960 in Manipur, the Kuki-Naga clashes from 1992 to 1995 in Manipur, and the Kuki-Paite conflict from 1997 to 1998 in Manipur. Additionally, the Kuki-Karbi clash took place in Assam between October 2003 and March 2004. Why and how in all these clashes Kukis were involved needs to be found out in a systematic manner in the light of history. During World War I, when the Manipur Labour Corps recruited Tangkhuls, Khongjais (also known as Kukis), Meiteis, and Koms to serve in France, Kukis resisted further recruitment after learning about the deaths of many who had gone before them on the initiative and leadership of Chingakham Sanajaoba, a Meitei. They sought the support of Kabuis and Tangkhuls in their resistance but turned against them when they refused to join. This led to Kukis attacking Kabui and Tangkhul villages, resulting in burning houses and casualties. The conflict arose from Kukis’ opposition to forced recruitment into the Labour Corps and their subsequent clashes with Kabuis and Tangkhuls. In the 1960s, the Kukis clashed with the Hmars in Churachandpur, Manipur. The Hmars, who belonged to the larger Zo (Mizo) group but lived in Manipur, had invited Kukis to be chiefs in their villages for protection. However, this arrangement led to Kukis imposing their dominance over the Hmars, even forcing them to identify as “Kuki,” which the Hmars rejected. Tensions escalated when compensation funds for development projects went to the Kuki chiefs, despite the village being registered in the name of the Hmar chief. The conflict in 1959-1960 was primarily driven by Kukis’ opposition to including the Hmars in India’s Scheduled Tribe list. The Kuki-Naga clashes from 1992 to 1998 were triggered by territorial disputes and the control of Moreh town in Indo-Myanmar region between the Kuki National Army (KNA), a Myanmar-based group, and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah), now under peace talks with the Government of India. Moreh town was strategically important for collecting taxes from narcotic smugglers, acquiring weapons from Myanmar, and gaining access to Southeast Asia. The conflict began with the KNA serving “quit notices” to Nagas residing in the area, resulting in the displacement of Nagas. The Kukis began occupying their abandoned houses and properties. The conflict spread to other districts in Manipur, leading to widespread retaliation and counter-retaliation, resulting in significant human suffering. Moreh, once a Naga-dominated area, became a stronghold for the Kukis, similar to the way how the fate of Meiteis would be be after the 2023 massacre by Kuki militants. The Kuki-Paite conflict from June 1997 to September 1998 arose due to disagreements over identity. The Paites preferred to be called “Zomi” rather than the term “Kuki,” which they considered a foreign term. Additionally, the Kuki National Army (KNF) had been imposing taxes on Zomi and other groups, including the Chin and Mizo communities, to which the Paites belong. The KNF also sought control over Churachandpur town, which was under the traditional jurisdiction of the Paite tribe. However, the conflict’s immediate trigger was the killing of ten Paites by the KNF on June 24, 1997. In response, with the assistance of the NSCN (IM), the Zomi Reunification Army (ZRA) launched retaliatory attacks, resulting in several casualties among the Kuki population in Churachandpur. In Assam, from October 2003 to March 2004, a clash between the Kukis and Karbis occurred in the Karbi Anglong region. The influx of Kuki immigrants into the region under Karbi tribe, along with issues of land grabbing and resource control, created significant discontent among the Karbis. The conflict was primarily fuelled by the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA). The Kuki militants, associated with the KRA, were responsible for the killings of more than 50 Karbis during the clashes. These conflicts between the Kukis and various communities in Manipur and Assam had deep historical roots, often arising from disagreements over land, resources, identity, and political autonomy. The clashes had resulted in the loss of lives, displacement of people, and a cycle of retaliation and counter-retaliation, further exacerbating tensions between the different groups. Resolving these long-standing issues and fostering peaceful coexistence required efforts towards reconciliation, dialogue, and addressing the underlying grievances of all affected communities.
In recent times, old enmities among the Kuki, Hmar, and Paite tribes have been set aside as they join forces. Fuelled by narco-money, the Kuki conglomerate has transformed into a unified military-political-ethnic entity, with intellectual leadership and manpower provided by the Chin (Zomi) and Zo (Mizo) communities. The Unao Suopui Cultural festival held on January 11th, 2023, in Parbung, Pherzawl, is not only a cultural gathering but also a political event where Kuki tribes proclaims their common origins from Ruong-Le-Vaisuo or Tipaimukh. This new political narrative emphasize their scattered presence in Assam, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura, Myanmar, and Bangladesh. The dream of a united Kuki independent state surpasses even that of the Nagas, and there are efforts to push out the Meiteis from Kuki-dominated areas and expand their territory by seizing Meitei land through militant areas domination. The current crisis involves Kuki SoO militants carrying out strikes, with support from Chin-Kuki militants in Mizoram, the Chin Hills of Myanmar, and even Karbi Anglong if reports are correct. It is not surprising that the Chief Minister of Mizoram has provided assistance to the Kukis in Manipur in the name of humanitarian approach. Facing this united force poses a significant challenge. The spread of narco-terrorism has led to the massacre of Meiteis. In Tengnoupal’s Moreh town, armed Kukis have burned down numerous Meitei houses, shops, hotels, and vehicles. Some surviving Meiteis have sought refuge even in Myanmar, while others are staying in Relief Camps in the valley districts. In Kangpokpi, Kuki militants have burned down several Meitei houses in Ikou, Motbung, Kanglatombi, Dolaithabi, and other areas. Thousands of Meiteis have fled from these arsons and attacks and have sought refuge in different parts of Imphal and valley districts.
During the violence, Kuki militants have destroyed a 200-year-old Shiva Temple in Koubrou of Kangpokpi district and targeted Meitei Deity Sanamahi abodes, including household deities, across the state. Meitei houses typically have three abodes of Gods and Goddesses, including the important abode of Lord Sanamahi, Goddess Imoinu, and the abode of Tulshi Mata (Brinda Devi) and Lord Mahadeva in the front courtyard. Hence, when a Meitei house is destroyed, three sacred temples are destroyed. Additionally, Umanglai temples or the sacred ancestral deity temples have also been vandalized by Kuki militants. The violence has spread to the foothills of valley districts, where several Meitei houses have been burned down by Kuki militants. In the municipal areas of Imphal East and West, irate mobs have vandalized and burned/destroyed several Kuki houses too. Christian churches run by Kukis have also been targeted and destroyed. Affected Kuki individuals have found shelter at the Manipur Rifles campus and Tulihal Airport when the violence began. Most have been safely escorted home, except for those who have nowhere to go. Kuki drug lords and their families have used even helicopters to escape from Manipur. The ongoing onslaught against the Meiteis in different parts of Manipur has been pre- planned, well-organized, and orchestrated by the Kuki SoO militants, supported by high- ranking Kuki government officials and Kuki civil societies. It should also be noted that there has been a pragmatic and realistic spreading of false and one sided information churned out on a daily basis through a coordinated propaganda machine handled by Kuki leadership as if the majority Meitei community has been attacking and massacring Kukis while realizing that Meitei’s response is purely retaliatory action even today.
Four interrelated factors can be identified as the catalysts for the current crisis. The first factor is the initiation of the “War on Drugs” campaign by the Manipur Government under N Biren Singh. This campaign, launched in November 2018, aims to combat drug trafficking, illicit poppy cultivation, and narco-terrorism in the hills, while addressing drug abuse. The campaign exposed various issues such as deforestation resulting from poppy cultivation, the involvement of SoO militants in drug trade, and the occupation of Reserved and Protected Forest (RF&PF) areas by illegal Kuki immigrants from Myanmar. There has been significant deforestation, as stated in the 2023 report by the Forest Survey of India, with a loss of 758 sq. km of forest and tree covers between 2017 and 2021. Therefore, it can be inferred that the present crisis is closely linked to the “War on Drugs” campaign and the issues surrounding land, forest areas, and ecological protection. The second factor contributing to the crisis is the eviction of illegal immigrants and encroachers from RF&PF areas. The Manipur Government conducted eviction drives, including those in Waithou Reserve Forest in Thoubal district and Langol Reserve Forest in Kangpokpi district. These drives resulted in the removal of illegal Meitei and Meitei Pangal encroachers and the destruction of expensive buildings. In February 2023, an eviction drive targeted 15 temporary Kutcha houses near the National Highway at K. Sonjang village in Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest (C-KPF). This eviction faced violent opposition, with protestors using the pretext of opposing new settlements in protected forest areas. The underlying issue goes beyond this specific village, affecting Manipur society as a whole and even India. It should be noted that villagers who were settled inside the C-KPF when it was declared a Protected Forest had the right to stay, but expansion without government permission was prohibited. The third factor is the invitation extended by the MLA of Churachandpur AC to the Chief Minister of Manipur for the inauguration of a government-sponsored open gym in Churachandpur Town on April 28, 2023. However, a day before the CM’s visit, a group of individuals staged a violent protest. Arsonists burned down the open gym and the site where the inauguration was planned, while hurling abusive slogans against the Chief Minister. Furthermore, on April 29, 2023, a mob set fire to the Forest Office at Tuibong in Churachandpur and desecrated and destroyed two Meitei sacred household deities in Thingamphai village, Churachandpur. These incidents indicate that certain interest groups aimed to discourage the government from conducting village boundary demarcation within RF&PF areas and hinder the Manipur Government’s efforts against poppy cultivation and drug trafficking. The fourth factor contributing to the crisis is the role played by Shri Paolienlal Haokip, the MLA of Saikot AC in Churachandpur district. He took it upon himself to negotiate with the Union Government on behalf of the arrested arsonists, ultimately leading to their release. Emboldened by this success, he started undermining the authority of the Manipur Government. During a victory celebration in Saikot, he proclaimed that “The Government of India understood the problem of the Kukis even if the Manipur Government does not understand it,” echoing slogans raised during the March 10 rally. Furthermore, he spread misinformation through social media, claiming that the declaration of RF&PF areas by the Manipur Government was done in a secretive manner, thus questioning its legality. In performing these actions, Shri Paolienllal Haokip neglected his constitutional duty, which should have been to educate the public about the importance of reserved and protected forests and the necessity of obeying the law. In summary, the present crisis can be traced back to the “War on Drugs” campaign initiated by the Manipur Government, the eviction of illegal immigrants and encroachers from RF&PF areas, the violent opposition to the inauguration of a government-sponsored open gym, and the role played by Shri Paolienlal Haokip in undermining the Manipur Government’s authority. These factors have contributed to tensions, protests, and misinformation, highlighting the complex issues surrounding land, forests, and law enforcement in Manipur.
To protect the interests of the Kuki SoO militants, Shri Paolienlal Haokip, and their associates, shifted their strategy and opposed the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the Scheduled Tribe list of India. However, this opposition to the ST inclusion merely served as a facade to conceal their underlying sinister interests. As part of their plan, they organized a solidarity rally through the All Tribal Students Union of Manipur (ATSUM), which is a pro-Kuki organization with no student office bearers. The timing of the proposed rally was planned to coincide with the visit of the Indian Vice President to Manipur. Earlier, on April 19, 2023, the Manipur High Court (in W.P. No. 229 of 2023) directed the Manipur Government to submit recommendations to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry, Government of India, regarding the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the ST list by May 29, 2023. Subsequently, the High Court issued notices to the Chairman of the Hill Area Committee (HAC) and the President of ATSUM, summoning them to appear in court for allegedly instigating innocent hill people against the court’s judgment. It was worth noting that the HAC had previously issued a public notice stating that it was not consulted regarding the ST inclusion of Meitei/Meetei and had not provided any recommendation or consent for the same. On 3rd May 2023, massive rallies were organized in Kuki-dominated areas of Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, and Tengnoupal. Kuki SoO militants, fully equipped with combat gear, guarded these rallies. However, there were no rallies in Naga-dominated districts such as Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Senapati, Noney, and Chandel. During the rally, the forest offices at Maultam and Mata Maultam in Churachandpur were set on fire around 1:30 PM. Additionally, between 1:30 PM and 2:30 PM, tires were burned in front of forest offices at Bongmol and Singhat in Churachandpur. Accompanied by armed SoO militants, the rallyists proceeded towards Bishnupur district. As they marched, they attacked Meitei houses and continued until they reached Kangvai in Bishnupur district, where they set fire to the Phouchakai Forest Office at approximately 4:30 PM. The air was filled with gunshots fired by Kuki militants, Frightened Meiteis fled from their homes as the rallyists made their way back. Starting from around 4:30 PM, the rallyists began burning down empty Meitei houses and shops along their route. The violence and arson during the tribal solidarity rally were well-planned and orchestrated. The Kuki SoO militants played a significant role in guarding the rallies, ensuring their smooth progress. The targeted destruction of forest offices and the deliberate attacks on Meitei houses and properties indicate a calculated effort to create fear and chaos. In a well-coordinated series of events, multiple acts of arson were carried out targeting Meitei houses in Kangpokpi, Moreh, Tuibong, and Churachandpur town. Approximately 1600 houses, shops, and hotels belonging to Meitei Hindu/Sanamahi communities were intentionally burned down. The crisis worsened when the Meiteis had their land ownership documents, known as “Pattas,” taken away from them, accompanied by threats prohibiting their return. Disturbingly, it was later discovered that Kuki militants had claimed the abandoned villages as “tribal land” by erecting signboards. The news of violence and arson quickly spread through social media, triggering mob violence primarily in Imphal. Angry mobs retaliated by setting fire to Kuki houses and property, starting around 10 PM. The attacks continued on May 4th, resulting in approximately 600 Kuki houses and religious structures being vandalized or burned. The violent clashes between the two sides persisted until May 6th, inflicting a significant toll on human lives. With promulgation of article 355 and shoot at sight orders, violent rioting subsided. After a few days peacefulness, the crisis restarted in a different way, with the SoO militants leading the process of attacking Meitei houses in the Villages situated in the foothills. Sophisticate guns were used, wherein innocent Meiteis were killed and houses were burnt. Very cleverly these actions were termed as guarding themselves against the Meiteis, which should be otherwise in reality.
When examining the responsibility for the present crisis in Manipur, several groups of elites emerged as key contributors. The first group consisted bureaucrats and policymakers who continued the British colonial policy of employing Kuki mercenaries to fulfil their own aspirations. The case of the Kuki SoO militants served as a clear example of this practice. The second group included intellectuals who provided ideological support to sustain the British legacy. They manipulated historical truths under the guise of academic exercises. For instance, they propagated the false narrative of an “Anglo-Kuki War” and claimed that Kukis were war heroes as soldiers of the Indian National Army. In reality, there was never an Anglo-Kuki War; rather, it involved sporadic skirmishes during World War I against forced labour recruitment by the colonial British. By falsely portraying these events as a war against the British, they benefited from Indian government policies supporting freedom fighters. Additionally, Kuki scholars asserted that Manipur’s boundaries encompass only 700 square miles, suggesting that they were never under the suzerainty of Manipur kings despite being indigenous to the hill areas. The third group consists of Kuki immigrants from Myanmar who had acquired influential positions within Indian government offices. They enabled the continuous influx of illegal Kuki migrants into Manipur, posing a threat to India’s national security. These individuals, armed with forged identity papers, exploit Indian reservation policies to their advantage. Over time, they had amassed significant power and influence, establishing militant groups, utilizing illegal migrants for illicit activities like poppy cultivation and narco-terrorism, and using their wealth to purchase land from impoverished Meiteis across the state.
The present crisis in Manipur revolves around violence aimed at claiming a specific area of land. These factors have fuelled the notion of a Kuki nationhood, which requires a distinct territory to establish an independent Kuki country. However, it is important to note that the Kukis are historically migratory and lack ancestral land in Manipur or elsewhere. Apart from those who are early settlers, many have been brought to Manipur by the British as porters and mercenaries in the mid-18th century, during the reign of Maharaja Nar Singh (1834-1850 A.D.). After this also immigration continues without any hindrance. Consequently, they encroach upon the land of other communities or illegally occupies Reserved Forests (RF) and Protected Forests (PF). They view the opportunity to seize land in Manipur as a means to realize their dream of a homeland, although Myanmar and Bangladesh vehemently oppose their claims, even expelling militants from their countries. The demand for an independent Kuki country encompasses territories in Myanmar (Chin Hills), Bangladesh (Chittagong tract), and India (Manipur and Assam). Notably, two SoO militant groups, namely the Zomi Revolutionary Organisation (ZRO) and its military wing, the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), as well as the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its military wing, the Kuki National Army (KNA), originate from Myanmar. The current SoO agreement has inadvertently facilitated narco-terrorism, with illegal poppy cultivation and drug manufacturing serving as revenue sources. This illicit activity has significantly bolstered the Kuki SoO groups, granting them substantial power and resources. The SoO arrangement has also provided them with unrestricted mobility and access to sophisticated weaponry. In the final analysis, the present violent crisis is orchestrated by Kuki drug lords, utilizing their militants and a network of politicians and bureaucrats funded by them, to establish a definitive area of land they can claim as their own. It is crucial to highlight that this crisis has nothing to do with the demand for the inclusion of Meitei/Meetei in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) list of India.
In order to address the crisis in Manipur, in addition to what has already been taken up there is need for immediate return of normalcy organizing Several rounds of dialogues, return of the trust deficit, rehabilitation measures , decisive action to combat narco-terrorism, Prohibition of the illegal plantation of narcotic and poppy plants and stringent actions against those involved in narco-terrorist activities, efforts to evict encroachers from Reserved Forests (RF) and Protected Forests (PF), wildlife sanctuaries, and wetlands; Sustention of the “War on Drugs” campaign with the support of the Union Government; Termination of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreements with the 25 Kuki Insurgents, Identification of all foreigners who entered Manipur after 1951, Implementation of the NRC (National Registrar of Citizenship) in Manipur as envisaged for other parts of the Indian Union and institution of State Population Commission, investigations into the roots and ancestral origins of high-ranking Kuki officials recruited in various government positions, strict Implementation of measures of controlling social media platforms to prevent the spread of rumors and hatred after the ban of internet ends; Prevention of politically motivated national and international media from engaging in biased news reporting, Upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice for all parties involved, Establishment of Village Defence Forces (VDF) and providing proper salaries to each family residing in mixed settlements, particularly Meitei and Kuki communities, to ensure self-defence in situations since security forces are not adequately protecting the villages, Policies for Setting up of security barracks for guarding the abandoned/dismantled villages/localities both in the hills as well as in the valley need to be looked into, Need for Creation of a platform for resolving all conflicting issues with a leading part taken by the Central government, creation of temporary means of livelihood and ultimately resettlement of all displaced indigenous populations to their original places irrespective of ethnicity and Immediate opening of the National Highways for vehicular movement.