Remembering September 13 Tragedy
By Gabriel T Haokip
Come September 13, Kuki people the world over will commemorate the greatest tragedy ever that marked their history. It was on this fateful day in 1993 at the height of Kuki genocide more than 100 innocent lives were lost in the cruel hands of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim-Issak Muivah (NSCN-IM). The tragic incidents occurred at four separate places viz., Zoupi, Gelnel, Santing, and Nungthut villages in Manipur where the death toll amounted to 87, 13, 4, and 3 respectively totaling to 107, all in a span of less than 24 hours.
The manner and the circumstances to which these innocent villagers were killed sent shock waves down the spine. To cite one, Joupi village was served ‘quit notice’ by NSCN-IM and the deadline fixed was September 15. These villagers obediently but rather reluctantly left their beloved ancestral land two days before the deadline for fear of enemy’s aggression only to meet the worse. They were intercepted en-route on the same day and annihilated near Tamei in Tamenglong district. All the victims’ hands were tied at the back and hacked to death with machetes. They were slaughtered and, to quote BBC reports, “butchered” by the perpetrators in a cold-blooded manner.
Kukis are ethnic people comprising numerous tribes and sub-tribes. They live in their ancestral land. Kuki country was subjugated by the British and divided between British India and British Burma administrations following the ‘Kuki Rising of 1917-1919’. Up until the fateful defeat in 1919, the Kukis were independent people ruled by the chieftains (Haosa). During the World War II, seizing the opportunity to regain independence, Kukis fought along with the imperial Japanese Army and the Indian National Army led by Subhas Chandra Bose. The success of the Allied forces over the Axis group dashed the aspiration of the Kuki people. Today the Kukis are dispersed in the Northeast India, Northwest Burma and the Chittagong Hill tracts in Bangladesh. In India, the Kukis are in the states of Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Tripura; in the state of Mizoram, formerly the Lushai Hills, they are known as ‘Mizo’. In Burma they are in the Sagaing Division and in Bangladesh, along the Chittagong Hill Tracts.
The political division makes them weak thus rendering the minority status in the states they live. Nevertheless, the major part of hills in Manipur belongs to the Kukis. This is where their ancestral land is and enough written records are there to support the evidence. Unfortunately, evil designs crept into the minds of the NSCN-IM leadership. A large part of the said land is claimed by the NSCN-IM. They tried every possibility to snatch away by launching the bloody “ethnic cleansing campaign” for half a decade upon the unprepared Kukis. The sudden onslaughts take the peace-loving Kukis by storm and violent bloodshed ensued. Approximately 1,000 innocent lives of all ages and sex were lost, 500 villages reduced to cinders and 50,000 people rendered homeless
In 1992, the NSCN-IM embarked upon a campaign of ethnic cleansing against defenseless Kuki villagers. This process has its origins in the 1950s. Tax has been imposed on Kukis, and the muzzle of the gun silenced any dissenting voice. The victims have mostly been influential Kuki chiefs and leaders, to instill fear in the minds of the Kuki people. The saddest part of the story, however, is that the Kukis are being taxed in their own land, by the people they had sympathetically accommodated. This selective killing culminated to mass and regular killing starting from 1992 till 1997 when the NSCN (IM) entered the Ceasefire Agreement with the Government of India.
Of all the five years continuous killings, September 13 is painfully significant. On this day, the death toll reached its maximum to 107 within a span of less than 24 hours. The day is observed by the Kukis as ‘Kuki Black Day’. Kuki people hoist black flags, light candles and a special gathering held. People observe with silence paying salute to the departed souls who sacrificed their lives for the sake of motherland. The occasion is marked with tears and anguish yet to continue the unfinished work left behind. The idea behind is not to retaliate though. It is meant to remember the great souls; chanting prayers so that the tragedy does not befall upon them or to other again, forgive and forget the perpetrators.
The ghost of the genocide still haunts the Kuki people. The sudden onslaught gave severe blows to the socio-economic, political, religious and educational sphere of the Kukis. The socio-economic consequences have far-reaching impacts. Prostitution, begging, rickshaw pulling, charcoal business, orphanage and so forth are the terms linking to the Kuki people. Today, they are the means of survival for many people whose futures are pitilessly blocked. But the perpetrators of the inhuman crime still roam scot-free lying on the bed of roses dreaming forth their selfish ends.
The writer is pursuing M.A. in Political Science at Manipur University, India.