-Lian Hangluah

The responsibility of the State Government is to ensure peace, development, equality of status, and equal respect for the citizens staying in the State. Besides this, the mandate of the State Government is to ensure that every culture, religion, race, and ethnicity should be protected at all costs. Paradoxically, the above mandates are ignored and neglected by the Manipur Government under the leadership of Chief Minister N.Biren Singh. Sometimes he identifies the Kuki-Chin-Mizo tribals as ‘immigrants/refugees’. Other times, he inferred them as ‘illegal Myanmarese who practices poppy cultivation’. Linguistically speaking, ‘Are the Kuki-Chin groups really immigrants or refugees?’. Added to this, ‘Are only the Kuki-Chin groups the only poppy cultivators in the State?’. These questions led to the proposition of the Biren-led government answers which need scientific and empirical research rather than an opinionated proposition. This paper attempts to argue that the present government is engaging in a structural and systematic plan to target a particular community group by employing draconian laws and orders. Not only is this, employing infuriating and instigative language to stir up communal hatred used by the head of the State is also discussed in this paper. The term ‘KUKI’ used in this paper represents the Chin-Kuki- Hmar-Mizo (CHIKIM) community in Manipur.

Our first discussion led to the engagement of the structural and systematic plan to target the tribals, especially to the Kuki community in Manipur. By structural and systematic plan, the writer means to state that the government is implementing a draconian law and order for these sections of people. On 19th February 2023, the DFO of Noney and staff informed K.Songjang Village, Churachandpur that an eviction drive will be carried out for settling along the highway. Paominlun enquired the DFO, “Under which provision or article of the Indian Constitution is it illegal to settle along the highway?’. However, no efficient answer was given to him. The following day, K.Songjang village was evicted in broad daylight. Paominlun adds the eviction was carried out without prior information or intimidation to the villagers. Subsequently, the notice of reserve forest was served to multiple villages in Churachandpur District too. Those reserved forests include Dampi Reserve Forest, Dampi Reserve Forest, Cheklaphai Reserve Forest and Kangchup Reserve Forests. Not only this, the Kuki settlements in the plain areas are notified as ‘wetlands’. Seeing the dictatorial move of the government, the tribals come out to confront the officials assigned to the land survey. Significantly, ‘The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Right Dwellers’ (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006’ recognizes the rights of forest-dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forests to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs. This Act encompasses the Right of self-cultivation and Habitation which are usually regarded as individual rights. In conjunction with the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Settlement Act, 2013, this Forest Right Act also protects the tribal population from eviction without rehabilitation and settlement. The surveys have to be done with proper consultation from Village Authorities, which the government authorities abruptly failed to do so. The irate mobs also felt that the government of Manipur simply serves the eviction notice to them without proper guidance for their rehabilitation and settlement.

Secondly, the High Court of Manipur bypasses the constitutional rights by directing the Manipur government to submit all necessary documents for their ST demands, precisely to the Union government. This order is in gross violation of the Court’s proceedings. In regards to this move, the CJI D.Y.Chandrachud, on May 8, vividly argues that no court or state has the power to add, subtract or modify the Schedule Tribe Lists. Only the President has the power to designate a Schedule Caste or Schedule Tribe.

Juxtaposing the order of the Reserve Forests and Manipur’s High Court Order, it is pertinent that the government is playing with the law, to strip off tribal rights and privileges. Tribal life revolves around lands and forests. So, encroachment in their lands and forests means encroaching on their personal life, customs and livelihood. The tribals are a peace-loving community, friendly and nature lovers. Their discontentment arouse when you barged into their life illegally. Col. Vijay Chenji in his book “Anlo-Kuki War: A Military Perspective’ asserts that the Kukis were peace-loving people, with rich culture and tradition.  Their integrity was challenged when the British imposed a hill house tax on them. He further states that the Anglo-Kuki war was a spontaneous emotional response caused by the threat from the British for not being willing to go as porters to France. That same integrity holds true today. Had the government interfered in the tribal affairs in a democratic way, I suppose conflict and chaos could have been avoided.

Thirdly, the tagging of the Kuki community as ‘illegal immigrants, Myanmarese, refugees’ by the Meiteis in general and the CM, in particular, is not a scientific and empirically proven statement. It is rather the disillusion of the common masses with an expectation to reap the benefits, after victimizing tribal communities. Sadly, the brain behind these propositions is formulated by ‘arm-chair scholars’, collecting their data from ‘half-boiled information or opinionated presupposition’. The early writings about the Kukis are found in colonial writers. Colonial writer Captain Pemberton argued that The Khongjais who are generally known as ‘Kookees’ lived in the Southern borders of the Manipur valley to the Northern borders.  Another Colonial writer William Shaw asserts that the Kukis of Manipur lived in a large area of hilly country bounded by the Angami Nagas of Naga Hill District in the North, the province of Burma in the East, the Chin Hills and Lushai Hills in the South and the district of Cachar in the West. Shaw in an exaggerating tone state that the Kukis occupied the hills of the State of Manipur on all sides of Imphal valley. Other colonial writers such as Hudson, and Mc Cullouch do write about the Kukis too. The inclusion of the people races into the tribe list starting from the 1950s under the Indian Constitution affirms that the Kukis are the bonafide residents of India as much as the Meiteis. The main argument lies here: If the colonial writers can affirm our ancestral settlement in records, who are the valley people to tag our settlement in Manipur as ‘refugees or immigrants’. If the Kuki groups are included in the tribe list, why is a particular section of society still called them immigrants? Their argument will be justifiable if the complainants come out with appropriate data, facts and figures.  So, the writer’s preliminary observation is that few thinkers distort Kuki history through armchair research and disillusioned the ignorant masses. As per Chenji’s argument, the Kukis constitute about 30% of the Indian Military forces, which is a huge figure despite the ethnographic challenges imposed upon them. No country will employ or deploy such a huge figure for their security services to immigrants and refugees of a foreign country. In fact, the Kukis are instrumental in the development of nation-building.

Fifthly, poppy cultivation is rampant in the Kuki-inhabited areas of Manipur. Churches and NGOs are trying hard to tackle how to stop this illegal business. Some churches even made a circular notifying all church members not to indulge in the poppy plantation as it affects personal life and societal life. Most importantly, such practice violates the faith and beliefs of the Christians. From a broader perspective, this poppy cultivation is not confined to Kuki-inhabited areas. It is also practised in Chandel, Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong districts too. And, I am sure the Biren-led government must be aware of this, as he is monitoring those fields using an all-seeing eye (drone). He even termed the poppy cultivators as ‘enemies’, and make a statement for the war on drugs. Here, some crucial questions need discussion: If poppy cultivation is practised in hill districts, why articulate only the Kuki community as  poppy planters? Why are the general masses residing in Imphal see the Kuki group as the only poppy cultivators? Why not the government speak about the machinery production of heroin in Imphal and all surrounding valley areas?. The government is talking about the ill effects of the raw materials (poppy) but never talks about the products (heroin) being produced by the international drug cartel, and drug kingpins settled in the valley. A humble suggestion to our CM Biren is that please fight against drugs in all the hills of Manipur, and don’t let the drug kingpin go hassle-free. In other words, don’t give the drug kingpins in the valley a free hand.

To conclude, the immediate cause of the tribal-Meitei conflict is the burning down of the Anglo-Kuki War Centenary gate in Leisang by the valley people. Meitei brothers also suffered as much as the tribals do.  The outbreak of the Chaos will not reach this far, had the valley-based people known that the tribals are demonstrating their constitutional rights to the Manipur government. It is not targeted towards a particular community. Sadly, the infuriation and instigation of the masses by a few narrow-minded scholars cost the loss of lives. Now, if peace is to prevail, the racist CM must step down from his post. Not only this, Central Government must ensure that discrimination on the grounds of race, religion and ethnicity is not taken place. The tribals also need protection and safeguard from the Union government. Such protection is pragmatic when separate administration is imposed on the tribals.

Lian Hangluah is a Research Scholar at NEHU, Shillong

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of the author and do not represent the views, opinions, or policies of the website - www.themizos.com. The Mizos is not responsible for and does not endorse, any of the information, opinions, or statements expressed by the author. The information provided in this article is for general informational purposes.

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