Are the Kukis refugees in Manipur?

Written By: / Articles / Thursday, 13 May 2021 18:49

By: Janghaolun Haokip


Lately, Manipur has undergone severe communal tension that arose between the Meeiteis and the Kukis, the two largest communities in Manipur. The Kukis have been incessantly called as ‘refugees’ and ‘foreigners’ by a section of the Meeiteis, who are also hastily followed by some other rather insignificant groups with vested interests. In fact, over time, the Kukis have faced this malignant discrimination of being termed as refugees and foreigners in their own ancestral land which has come to an intolerable point. This article seeks to act as a reminder for the already written facts of various history books and the oral traditions of the great and respectable fathers of the Kukis.

Who are refugees?

The term ‘Refugee’ in international law and its legal definition as laid down in the United Nations “1951 Convention” and its 1967 Protocol means “A person who 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, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”. 

This definition clearly states that, ‘refugees’ are those who are outside the country of his nationality. It also asserts and evinces the fact that, ‘refugees’ are those who are seeking protection in a certain country outside of their own. Moreover, in the words of Dr. Lamtinthang, a renowned social activist, there is no point to draw who is indigenous or non-indigenous in the current Indian context. Once you are recorded in government registry through various bonafide certification or identification, or through any Constitutional Scheduled you are accepted and treated as citizens of Independent India. 

The Kukis of Manipur

Albeit being contemptuously termed today as refugees and foreigners, the Kukis of Manipur have an irrefutable originality to the land that they today settle in that is corroborated by their intimate connection to the land. The Kukis today identify themselves with their land and consider it to be an integral part of themselves that is extensively demonstrated in their traditional way of life.

In fact, it is for this reason -to defend their ancestral land and freedom -that the Kukis stood against the mighty British Imperial power in the Anglo-Kuki War (1917-1919), which according to writer Donn Morgan Kipgen was the “longest, largest, costliest military operation in the whole of India since the India’s first War of Independence, 1857.” It has also been recorded that after the Treaty of Yandabo, 1826, there were periodic Kuki raids on British subjects in between 1845 to 1851. In fact, according to historians, the Kuki resistance against the British already started in the 18th century when the Kukis attacked British subjects in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In the “Great Kuki Invasion of Tipperah” in the 1860s, 15 villages were burnt and around 185 British subjects were killed. Had it not been their love for their land and freedom, and the pride they hold with it, the Kukis would have readily complied with the demands of the Britishers like the people around them. Instead they dared to stand against the cannons of the Colonisers with their traditional rifles known as ‘Thih-nang”.

It is to be particularly noted that prior to the British occupation of India, the Kukis were living in their own independent country and have occupied extensive regions that includes parts of modern day states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, and extending into neighbouring countries of Bangladesh and Myanmar. They were brave and powerful people who were ably administered by their chiefs. They have cordial relationships with the Meeiteis who were settling in the valleys, and there are several instances where the Kuki Chiefs stood up for the Meeitei Kings as a friendly gesture. Oral traditions of the Kukis have also narrated the Kaccha Nagas, another community in Manipur, as friendly and submissive neighbours who were looking up to the Kukis as superiors and have worked their fields and lands.

Why Refugees?

At one look, it is baffling why the Kukis are termed as refugees and foreigners in their own ancestral land and the historical fact of their glorious past. However, if one cares to look at the recent political build-up in Manipur, this is not at all surprising because it is ostensible that this is simply a propaganda to mislead the people using the majoritarian force and influence. These vested interest groups are calling the Kukis as Refugees with a delusion that it may help them establish the right to encroach into tribal lands and hence occupy lands which were never theirs. These groups are fighting tooth and nail in order to legitimise illegal occupation of lands while undermining the glorious past of the Kukis and the tribal autonomy and land rights enshrined in the constitution of India. 

Furthermore, these groups are supporting the government with their majority influence, and demanding the government to establish laws where they can fulfil their ill-fated aspirations. They have used religious appeal as an outer colouring to disguise the play of communal interests. Otherwise, can they display any evidence of the Kukis as refugees? In other words, should they refuse the fact that the very people they call refugees today were the one who never left them to fend for themselves but have assisted them in several ways they can? When the Manipuri Kings themselves took permission from the Kuki Chiefs in their visits to the hills as a show of respect, should the present day Manipuris not be obliged of the same respect and strive for harmonious Ching-tam relationship? 

It is implicit then that the Kukis are only termed as ‘refugees’ and ‘foreigners’ simply to promote narrow communal interests and not on lines that are historically proven and rationally arguable. These obscene terms are results of ill-fed ideologies that are predominantly inclined towards communal hatred and enmity. The government on their part also does not play enough roles, while they know that it is wholly against the constitution of India, they choose to do little with the hate-speeches that have been propagated on social media and therefore seem to stand indirectly in support of this obscene term.


It is utterly insensible and outrageous when the Kukis today are called as refugees and foreigners simply to promote one’s communal interests. Moreover, the term ‘refugees’ or ‘foreigners’ accorded to a bonafide citizen is an outright challenge to the government and the very foundation of our country of Unity in Diversity. It is anti-constitutional at its best. The Meeiteis and other vested interest groups should refrain from promoting narrow communal interests at the cost of peace and tranquility that may but greatly hinder the development and obstruct the future prospects of the state. Rather, we should come together to seek to promote societal welfare and harmony so that everyone, irrespective of religion and community origin, may well live without any fear of being harmed or the necessity to go through chaotic times just for the sake of delusions of racial superiority.

About the Author

Janghaolun Haokip

Janghaolun Haokip

Janghaolun Haokip, a resident of Kholep Village, P.O –Motbung, Kangpokpi District, Manipur -795107  is a regular contributor of articles to Imphal Times. He completed his B.A (Psychology) Delhi University, Delhi and is currently pursuing Bachelor of Divinity at Manipur Theological College, Kangpokpi, Manipur. He used to work as a Assistant Teacher in English Literature for two years at MBC Higher Secondary School, Kangpokpi Mission Compound, Kangpokpi.

Haokip can be contacted at : [email protected]

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