Kukiforum exclusive interview with KMHR chairman
December 27, 2005: This is an excerpt from the 25th November 2005 Kukiforum exclusive video interview with Dr. Tongkhojang Lunkim aka T. Lunkim, chairman of Kuki Movement for Human Rights (KMHR), at the end of a two day Kuki International Forum (KIF) Annual Meeting -cum- KUT celebration in Laurel, a suburb of Washington, DC, USA. Dr. Lunkim, who also holds the Administrative Secretary post of the Kuki Christian Church (KCC,) was an invited Chief Guest for the KUT celebration.
“Everyone should unequivocally understand the fact that the Kukis live in their own land, and they were the people who fought the British to protect their land in the present so-called northeast India and northwest Burma.”
Kukiforum: Dr. T. Lunkim, we are glad to have you for this exclusive interview.
T. Lunkim: It is my pleasure to be here too. I am honored to be interviewed by the Kuki International Forum (KIF) leadership.
Kukiforum: Can you share us your visit to the States?
T. Lunkim: There are two important reasons – (i) to update and encourage churches that support seminary and hospital that the KCC runs in Manipur, Northeast India, and this is a routine work (ii) another reason is to meet face to face with the core leadership of KIF at this KUT celebration. With the formation of KIF, governments and military authorities have come to see the presence of our people at the international level. As a KUKI INPI (Kuki government) adviser, I came here to discuss the endeavors of the Forum so that it continues to remain a boon to our people.
Kukiforum: We do acknowledge your untiring services for the Kuki society. Keeping that in mind, which one do you consider the most remarkable success?
T. Lunkim: I am a religious worker and did not initially volunteer to be a national worker. However, since my election to the post of Matejang area Secretary in 1952, I have not given up my relentless commitment for the Kuki people. I was elected the first General Secretary of the Kuki Baptist Convention (KBC). This was the reason why I had to go to a Theological Seminary. KBC taking the leading role, six Baptist associations – KBA, KBC, KCA, KCBA, KVTBA and Presbytery consultatively formed a council, which eventually led to the Holy Bible translation. This is one of my greatest achievements in religious circle. On the other hand, although the general public might not be aware of the revitalization of the KUKI INPI on June 29, 1993, I consider this as the most remarkable success we achieve collectively.
Kukiforum: What is your understanding on “Who are the Kukis?” Can you tell us the origin of the term “KUKI?”
T. Lunkim: It is not for me to answer who the Kukis are in this generation. To understand who the Kukis are, distribute this booklet amongst yourselves and read it (the Kukiforum was presented a booklet entitled “The KOOKIES (KUKIS)” by Dr. Horatia Bickerstaffe Rowney). * The Kukiforum will release the text of this booklet in its website www.kukiforum.com at the earliest convenient time.
Kukiforum: We would like to know the challenges you had gone through at the time of translating the Holy Bible. Given the fact that there are different dialects in the Kuki society, what prompted you to call the language as “Kuki Language?”
T. Lunkim: The general public believes that I manipulated the language. I am a man of discipline; I did this in conjunction with committee’s decision. During the translation, two associations each from Assam, Burma, Manipur and Nagaland, who used this language, formed a literature committee at Motbung village in Manipur where U Lunneh was the Secretary and I was the Chairman. The committee decided that the translation language should be called “Kuki Language.” The committee further sought the approval of the Kuki National Assembly (KNA), the then political body. As a result, KNA discussed the matter on December 16, 1959 at Kumbipukhri (Koite) in Manipur. U Thongkhopao was the President of KNA at that time. U Paokhohang, who brought the matter into motion, said, “Some called this language as Haokip dialect or Khongsai dialect or Thadou dialect, but these are only names of clans, therefore, they cannot be used. The term KUKI language is most appropriate one.” The same agreement had been reached at the September 10, 1938 Kuki Literature Society meeting in Kangpokpi. At that time, there was no separate identification as of today such as Kom tribe, Vaiphei tribe, etc. All participated. Disgruntled individuals brought the language case to the court and even put me in prison. I had gone through several pains during Bible translation, but I have no slightest regret about it. By God’s grace, today we have the finest translation amongst the tribal community. Our translation is not from English, but from Hebrew. English is also a translated version like ours. Therefore, you should not complain the translation by comparing with the English versions. I agree that there are numerous dialects in our society, however, many surveyors and linguist experts opined that the dialect we now speak was the most widely used and was considered to be the lingua-franca. The British imperialists used “divide and rule” policy to disintegrate our nation. In spite of that we still can communicate one another using our own dialects. For instance, if you travel to Falam, Tiddim or Mizoram, we can still understand each other. What you should tell to people who say if this dialect is a Kuki language, I am not a Kuki: “All dialects such as Lushai, Tiddim, Falam, etc. are also Kuki language.” The dialect we use most widely will eventually become common language for our people who are living in Bangladesh, Burma and India.
Kukiforum: Today, many people, particularly the younger generation, have questioned the spelling usage in Kuki Bible translation. In this regard, many are of the opinion that it has to be either modified or changed. What is your opinion about it?
T. Lunkim: In my view, it is simple. When I extensively studied Hebrew, I came to understand that our problems are vowels and not consonants. Hebrew language has no vowels but only consonants. As they are the native speakers, they have no problem. But for us, we use vowels very often. For instance, the Hebrew says “QHL,” but for the non-native speakers they have to change into “QAHAL.” Language is primarily meant for its native speakers. For me, I copied the standard which Pu Ngulhao Thomsong (another Bible translator) used, and would like to give him the credit for this. I am very much eager to see the introduction of a standard grammar which we all can comply with. Till that happens, we need to stick with the spelling usage in the Bible translation.
Kukiforum: What is your evaluation on the pace of our contemporary socio-political development?
T. Lunkim: I appreciate for raising this issue. Whether they identify themselves as CHINS or LUSHAIS, they are all Kukis. The Kukis around the world should have a serious thought why the Kukis of Burma and India are not flourishing as they should be. Starting 1761, we fought the British colonizers to defend our country from occupation. Again in 1917-1919, the brave Kuki fighters resumed their fight against the British army. It should be vividly understood that the Kuki fighters did not surrender. In the context of India, we have time and again demanded explanation from the central government to explain why the Kukis were not given adequate protection during the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Issak-Muivah) ethnic cleansing on the Kukis. If the government considers the Kukis as citizens of India, why remained silent spectators during the heinous killing of more than 900 innocent Kukis and the burning down of hundreds of houses? In this regard, the Indian government has not given any official response yet. The Kuki people, under the aegis of the KUKI INPI, have also intimated the government of India that not an inch of the Kuki inhabited land should be ceded to others. We do not have any misgivings on the NSCN-IM and Indian government talk for a peaceful solution, but not at the cost of the Kuki inhabited land. The Kuki Students Organization-Delhi (KSOD) has courageously shown patriotic acts in India’s national capital. Everyone should unequivocally understand the fact that the Kukis live in their own land, and they were the people who fought the British to protect their land in the present so-called northeast India and northwest Burma.
Kukiforum: During the gruesome killing of hundreds of innocent Kukis by the NSCN-IM cadres in the early 90s, you had a chance to brief the situation to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the then Prime Minister of India, Atal Behari Vajpayee. This timely action largely contributed to the cessation of the genocidal killing in the region. While recognizing your altruism, there were also people who were of the opinion that this was something not relevant for a Church leader to do. How would you like to react to that?
T. Lunkim: It would be more appropriate for the people who sent me to answer this question. With the reorganization of the Kuki Inpi in 1993, I have been an advisor to the body. In addition to that, I am also the chairman of the Kuki Movement for Human Rights. Given that responsibilities by my people, I did the right thing at the right time in concert with my designation. I was sent to both New Delhi and Washington, DC by the KUKI INPI.
Kukiforum: With the need of having an international platform for the diversely populated Kuki people around the world, the Kuki International Forum was formed in 2002 in the United States of America. In conjunction with its founding objectives, it has had some accomplishments. What is your observation about KIF?
T. Lunkim: With the revival of the KUKI INPI, every organization formed in the Kuki society is considered to be part of the INPI. The formation of KIF is very good and is a tremendous treasure for our society. We have to use discreetly. The Kuki Inpi considers the KIF as its International Relations branch. If you refuse to say ‘yes’ to this proposition, you are lying that you have love for our nation.
Kukiforum: Finally, what words do you have for the youths of the Kuki society?
T. Lunkim: The youths should not be swayed by different Christian denominations of our society. As the Bible says, the Church is one and, therefore, we should be one. Church leaders and religious workers should work not only for one particular denomination, but inclusively. In politics, we must remember that our land was given neither to Burma nor India by the then British; we are living in our own land. Historically, the Kukis did not go by tribes, but by clans. This can be ascertained from the fact that people from the same clan are seen under different tribes’ names. In Manipur, the Indian government in 1956 divided our nation into 21 different tribes, which has become a source of contention in our society today. This classification was done at the time when Rishang Keishing was Member of Parliament from the state. It is now the younger generation’s responsibility to protect the land that our forefathers fought to defend it. I am getting old; I am not the one to get this job done.
Kukiforum: We appreciate your time. See you again next time!
T. Lunkim: Thanks!