Kuki Political Stand and The Way Forward

Published on August 16, 2016

By PS Haokip

I thank the Kuki Inpi for organising this occasion concerning ‘Kuki Political Stand and The Way forward’ at this critical juncture in our people’s march to deliberate on our political future. I also thank the Inpi for inviting the United People’s Front, Kuki Movement For Human Rights, Hmar Inpui, Zomi Council, Paite Tribe Council, Simte Tribe Council, Mizo Peoples Convention, Vaiphei Peoples Council, Mate Tribe Council, including the Kuki National Organisation to this august gathering. I extend personal greetings also to each and everyone who have come to participate on this very important day.

The ideological base of the Kuki National Organisation is Zale’n-gam (freedom land). Prior to the British Colonial incursions upon our land, we, the Kuki people, were self-governed under the benign and capable leadership of our Chieftains and enjoyed full freedom over our ancestral territory. By nature an independent people, we were never ruled by any authority other than our noble Chieftains, who reigned over the entire hills of present-day Manipur.

The Kuki people are one of the three main indigenous peoples of Manipur; Naga and Meitei are the other two. The three communities co-existed throughout history. The status quo, however, was altered with the rise of Naga nationalism led by National Socialist Council of Nagaland–Isak and Muivah, and assertion of Meitei hegemony in Manipur by the United National Liberation Front and other valley based insurgent groups.

Cordial relations and mutual respect prevailed between the Meitei Ningthou and the Kuki Chieftains. Neither impinged on either’s political authority or territorial integrity. The Meitei Ningthou ruled over his people in Kangleipak, which comprise the valley, not the hills, the fiefdom of Kuki Chieftains. The Kuki Chieftains ruled over Kukis dwelling in the hills in villages similar to Greek-city states.

Both Meitei and Kuki opposed British colonialism to safeguard their respective lands. The Meitei people’s resistance culminated with the Khongjom war of 1892. The ‘Kuki Rising, 1917-1919’[1] or ‘Kuki Rebellion, 1917-1919’[2] was a culmination of prolonged opposition to British imperialism that began from 1777, when Warren Hastings was Governor General of India. The event manifests the extent our people cherish freedom and self-determination, and the tenacity to preserve those ideals. Today, the fortitude of our forefathers to preserve Kuki freedom and self-rule over our land continues to motivate and define KNO’s political aspirations. Our illustrious history is a legacy of our forebears that binds us to our land. Ownership of our traditional lands is therefore indisputable and provides an inalienable right to demand statehood for our people in the name of Kuki. This is why, at the first round of the tripartite political dialogue with Government of India and the state Government of Manipur on 15 June 2016, KNO and United People’s Front, based on the resolution passed at the meeting held at Grace Bible College in September 2015 submitted a joint statement entitled ‘Outline of Political Demand’. Pitching our demand on the basis of our indisputable heritage of land ownership, the statement inevitably referred to ‘statehood for the Kuki people’; it did not, contrary to rumours, make demands for a ‘Kuki state’. Identity and land ownership are intrinsically bound.

Therefore, omission or denial of our historical identity to make a political demand – an opportunity Government has come up for our people for the first time in sixty-seven years in independent India – would not only be imprudent, but would be downright political suicide. NSCN (IM) and certain elements of the state of Manipur describe our people as foreigners in our own lands. In regard to the infamous Three Bills passed by the Special Session of the Manipur Legislative Assembly in August 2015, the cut off year to identify legitimacy was 1951. However, our people are collectively secured because the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, Govt of India, dating back to 1951, contains complete Tribes Schedules of the six states in Northeast India: Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, and Tripura. In all these States the various Kuki clans and groups are collectively recognised as ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ or ‘Kuki’. Later, exceptional to this collectivity, there was an unprecedented development regarding the State of Manipur. In the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) (Part C States) Order, 1951, the Schedule, Part XVI – Manipur, throughout the State’, was deleted and the substitute set in place was ‘The Constitution Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Lists (Modification) Order, 1956, The Schedule, Part X – Manipur.’ This Schedule, in contrast to those preceding it, listed each Kuki clan as separate tribes, thereby inducing a state of grave internal division. The divisive impact that lasted nearly 50 years was rectified by ‘The Gazette of India Extraordinary, Part II – Section I, New Delhi, January 8, 2003 (p 6), (f) in Part X. – Manipur, – ‘Any Kuki Tribes’. This Gazette restores the legitimacy of Kukis’ existence in Manipur in congruence with the status of the Kukis in the other five Northeast states. Therefore, no three or four or five bills are going to deprive of our Constitutional rights. Nevertheless, the time has come for us to be architects of our own destiny, which is why KNO and UPF are engaged in political dialogue with Government.

The present-day state of Manipur is a British construct, reinforced in independent India. The term Manipur ‘is not used at all until the British period.’[3] For instance, Taotingmang, the third Meitei king’s (Sakabda 186 (264 CE)) territory was ‘only up to Lilong, seventeen miles from Kangla’, which is located at the heart of Imphal, the capital.[4] Kangleipak, the ancestral land of Meitei people, who are the majority population in the state, comprise the valley that constitute less than 10% of the total land mass. Without the consent of Kuki Chieftains, the British clubbed the Kuki hills and Kangleipak under a single administrative unit as Manipur.

In India, the bulk of Kuki territory was included within the boundary of Manipur. The British administered these Kuki lands through their Political Agent and later under the Manipur Durbar. In the post-independence era, Kukis initially opposed the proposal for Manipur’s merger with the Indian Union because it would include Kuki territory, which was administered under the Manipur Durbar. However, Manipur, as created by the British, merged with the Indian Union in 1949. In due course, Kukis acquiesced to the merger in the hope that equity would characterise the new order. Thus, began the Kuki people’s tryst with destiny under the reassuring promises of Indian democracy, only soon to be thoroughly disillusioned by the ills of deep-rooted majoritarian bias in an ethnically diverse and communally divisive political environment.

Therefore, to alleviate the plight of the Kukis, as early as 1960, the Kuki National Assembly submitted a Memorandum to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, seeking a separate Kuki State within the Indian Union. Following the Prime Minister’s apathy towards the Kuki people’s political aspirations and the stark discriminative action taken by the Government of India in favour of pro-British colonialists[5] by according statehood to Nagaland in 1963, the ever anti-colonial Kukis joined hands with the Mizo National Front, but only to experience betrayal again in 1986, when the Mizo Accord was signed between Government of India and Mizo National Front, which excluded Kukis. It is worthy of note that MNF’s proclaimed objective was territorial integration and a single administration for the Kuki-Mizo people.[6]

In Manipur, the post-independence 60-odd years of communally driven State Government policies and continued discriminative actions have proven beyond doubt that Kukis will never be allowed to develop economically or progress in the existing State. ‘The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life’,[7] but the Government of Manipur has utterly failed to ensure these basic quality of life to the Kuks. Therefore, perpetuation of the status quo will only exacerbate the condition of the Kuki people, never alleviate. Besides, more important than political and economic deprivations, the Kuki people have not been and are not safe or secure in Manipur. They have suffered immense loss of lives and loss of parts of their territory at the hands of Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak & Muivah), primarily due to the State Government’s callous approach to their security.

Today, the hype to preserve ‘Manipur’s territorial integrity’ at all cost is carried by the majority Meitei population. However, precious little was done or said to prevent NSCN (IM)-led Kuki genocide from 1992-1997. As the Auschwitch survivor Elie Wiesel (1928-2016), who was awarded the Noble Peace prize in 1986 said, ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’ Coupled with this predicament, aggressive penetration into erstwhile peaceful hill areas by Meitei militants and the Meitei dominated state Government’s myriad discriminatory policies have made the condition of the Kukis unbearably woeful. Years of tolerance and patience have failed to bring justice or equitable treatment to the Kukis, who continue to languish in abject poverty and are under constant fear psychosis perpetrated by Meiteis and Nagas.

Given their predicament, restoration of self-determination–the Kuki people’s pre-British period status–albeit statehood under the democratic framework of India, is essential for the Kukis to exist and grow according to their own genius as a people with distinct cultural ethos and in a context that does justice to their history. This status is central to, and in full harmony with the spirit of unity in diversity – the bedrock of Indian nationhood.

The Constitution of India was drawn up by our founding fathers after prolonged well-informed in-depth debates and deliberations. It seeks to embody the true spirit of democracy. It is, indeed, an exemplary and illustrious document providing both for sovereignty, integrity and unity of the country, while at the same time incorporating provisions that enable accommodating and meeting differing needs and requirements as also aspirations of its various states, regions, classes of populace (castes, tribes, minorities etc.) and other factors. The theme that runs through the Constitution like a golden thread is that of true democracy by effective representation and participation in governance by the people through their elected representatives and of unity in diversity.

The Constitution recognizes that situations or conditions may exist or arise, making it desirable for a given State to be sub–divided, or, for people of a particular region or area within a State being conferred more executive and legislative power or in participation in respect of a given region or area than mere usual municipal powers conferred on local authorities. There are also provisions conferring special privileges or benefits or providing protection for various classes such as castes, tribes, religions or linguistic minorities etc.

Recently states in India, such as Chattisgarh and Uttrakhand, may have been created primarily for development and administrative necessity. In the case of Kukis, the overwhelming need for political and physical security can only be assured by the mechanisms of statehood. Administrative requirement, although extremely pertinent, in comparison is secondary; development will follow when there is security and political stability. Given the foresight of the Constitutional fathers who incorporated provisions to accommodate the interests and aspirations of the diverse populace of India, including minorities like the Kuki people, and the fact that new states were created on ethno-lingual lines, such as Nagaland, Mizoram, Tamil Nadu, would it not be a tremendous waste on our part not to demand statehood which is our Constitutional right?

In support of our movement for Kuki statehood, there are clear provisions for the creation of a separate state within the Union of India. Article 3 of the Indian Constitution clearly spells out the power of the Union Parliament to form new states, alter areas or boundaries or names of existing states.

Let us have a look at Article 3 of the Indian constitution in detail. It states that Parliament may by law

(a) form a new State by separation of territory from any State or by uniting two or more states or parts of States or by uniting any territory to a part of any State;

(b) increase the area of any State;

(c) diminish the area of any State;

(d) alter the boundaries of any State;

(e) alter the name of any State;

Provided that no Bill for the purpose shall be introduced in either House of Parliament except on the recommendation of the President and unless, where the proposal contained in the Bill affects the area, boundaries or name of any of the States, the Bill has been referred by the President to the Legislature of that State for expressing its views thereon within such period as may be specified in the reference or within such further period as the President may allow and the period so specified or allowed has expired.

Explanation I In this article, in clauses (a) to (e), State includes a Union territory, but in the proviso, State does not include a Union territory Explanation II. The power conferred on Parliament by clause (a) includes the power to form a new State or Union territory by uniting a part of any State or Union territory to any other State or Union territory.

States can only give their views on a reference from the President within a specified period. Manipur Government has no moral authority to object to the formation of a separate Kuki State, and the Parliament has power to ignore its views.

In all previous states reorganization exercises, state boundaries have been drawn on linguistic and ethnic lines. Having embraced ethno-linguistic political compartmentalization, the Indian state cannot today deny the same treatment to Kuki people.

Therefore, the Kuki National Organization and the United People’s Front, hereby, assert the right of the Kuki people as a distinct ethnic community and equal citizens of India and seek a tribal state to be named Zale’n-gam, Kukiland or Zogam, where they can fully enjoy their Constitutional rights, co-exist in peace and safety with their neighbours and develop in accordance with their own genius and progress in step with the rest of the nation.

ON KUKI INDIGNITY, WITH SPECIFIC HISTORICAL REFERENCES

In alphabetical order (A-Z), the Kuki people in Manipur includes the genealogically-linked ethnic groups Aimol, Anal, Baite, Chiru, Changsen, Chongloi, Chothe, Doungel, Gangte, Guite, Haokip, Hangshing, Hmar, Kipgen, Khongsai, Khoibu, Koirao, Koireng, Kom, Lamkang, Lhungdim, Lunkim, Lupheng, Lupho, Mate, Maring, Mayon, Misao, Monsang, Paite, Purum Ralte, Simte, Sukte, Tarao, Thadou, Thangal, Thangeo, Tuboi, Vaiphei and Zou.

Historians, Majumdar and Bhattasali,[8] refer to the Kukis as the earliest people known to have lived in pre-historic India, preceding ‘the “Dravidians” who now live in South India.’ Comparatively, the Aryans, who drove the Dravidians towards the south, arrived in the Indian sub-continent around BC 1500[9]. Nearer home, the Pooyas,[10] the original script of the Meitei people of Manipur, which refer to ‘two Kuki Chiefs named Kuki Ahongba and Kuki Achouba were allies to Nongba Lairen Pakhangba, the first historically recorded king of the Meithis [Meiteis], in the latter’s mobilisation for the throne in 33 AD.’ The statement of Prof JN Phukan supports this record:[11]

If we were to accept Ptolemy’s ‘Tiladae’ as the ‘Kuki’ people, as identified by Gerini, the settlement of the Kuki in North-East India would go back to a very long time in the past. As Professor Gangumei Kabui thinks, ‘some Kuki tribes migrated to Manipur hills in the pre-historic times along with or after the Meitei advent in the Manipur valley (History of Manipur, p24).’ This hypothesis will take us to the theory that the Kukis, for the matter, the Mizos, at least some of their tribes, had been living in North-East India since the prehistoric time, and therefore, their early home must be sought in the hills of Manipur and the nearby areas rather than in Central China or the Yang-tze valley.

In the second century (AD 90 – 168), Claudius Ptolemy, the geographer, identified the Kukis with Tiladai who are associated with Tilabharas, and places them ‘to the north of Maiandros, that is about the Garo Hills and Silhet.’[12] Stevenson’s[13] reference to Kuki in relation to Ptolemy’s The Geography also bears critical significance to its period existence. In the Rajmala or Annals of Tripura, Shiva is quoted to have fallen in love with a Kuki woman around AD 1512.[14]

According to Capt Pemberton (1853), the Kuki territory stretches from the southern borders of Manipur valley to the Northern limit of the province of Arracan. Meerwarth (1835) observed that the Kukis occupied the hill ranges south of the Naga Hills, to the east the tribes of upper Chindwin and the Chin Hills, on the south those living on the hill tracts of Chittagong, while on the west they are bounded by the plains of Sylhet and the hills of North Cachar. William Shaw (1929) stated that the Kukis live in a large area of hilly country bounded by the Angami Nagas of the Naga Hills District in the North, the Province of Burma in the East, Lushai Hills in the South and the districts of Cachar in the West. Dalton (1872) had noted that the Kukis are the neighbours of the Nagas in Assam and in contiguity with the Mugs of Arracan. The Hill country occupied by them extends from the valley of the Kolodyne, where they touch on the Khumis to the Northern Cachar and Manipur.

DN Majumdar (1944) also observed:

The Kuki Chiefs rule over the country between the Karnapuli river and its main tributary, the Tuilampai, on the west, and the Tyao and Koladyne boundary is roughly a line drawn east and west through the junction of the Mat and Kolodyne rivers and their northernly villages are founded on the borders of the Silchar district.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica[15] records, ‘Kuki, a name given to a group of tribes inhabiting both sides of the mountains dividing Assam and Bengal from Burma, south of the Namtaleik River.’

Sir George Abraham Grierson, Superintendent General, Linguistic Survey of India, 1904[16] marks out Kuki territory as follows:

The territory inhabited by the Kuki tribes extends from the Naga Hills in the north down into the Sandoway District of Burma in the south; from Myittha River in the east, almost to the Bay of Bengal in the west. It is almost entirely filled up by hills and mountain ridges, separated by deep valleys.

A great chain of mountains suddenly rises from the plains of Eastern Bengal, about 220 miles north of Calcutta, and stretches eastward in a broadening mass of spurs and ridges, called successively the Garo, Khasia, and Naga Hills. The elevation of the highest point increases towards the east, from about 3,000 feet in the Garo Hills to 8,000 and 9,000 in the region of Manipur.

This chain merges, in the east, into the spurs, which the Himalayas shoot out from the north of Assam towards the south. From here a great mass of mountain ridges starts southwards, enclosing the alluvial valley of Manipur, and thence spreads out westwards to the south of Sylhet. It then runs almost due north and south, with cross-ridges of smaller elevation, through the districts known as the Chin Hills, the Lushai Hills, Hill Tipperah, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Farther south the mountainous region continues, through the Arakan Hill tracts, and the Arakan Yoma, until it finally sinks into the sea at Cape Negrais, the total length of the range being some seven hundred miles.

The greatest elevation is found to the north of Manipur. Thence it gradually diminishes towards the south. Where the ridge enters the north of Arakan it again rises, with summit upwards of 8,000 feet high, and here a mass of spurs is thrown off in all directions. Towards the south the western off-shoots diminish in length, leaving a track of alluvial land between them and the sea, while in the north the eastern off-shoots of the Arakan Yoma run down to the banks of the Irrawaddy.

This vast mountainous region, from the Jaintia and Naga Hills in the north, is the home of the Kuki tribes. We find them, besides, in the valley of Manipur, and, in small settlements, in the Cachar Plains and Sylhet.

In light of systemic deprivation and discrimination over decades in independent India as a part of Manipur administration, to alleviate the plight of our people various political demands have been made to the Government. This includes the Sixth Schedule, full-fledged district status for Sadar Hills, and addition of Assembly Constituencies. The delimitation of Assembly Constituencies in Manipur was stayed by the Imphal Bench of the Guwahati High Court on a writ petition filed by the All Political Parties, Manipur (APPM). Later, the Supreme Court vacated the stay order and set the stage for the Delimitation Commission to complete its task in respect of the State of Manipur after a petition filed by Indo-Myanmar Tribal Development Association (IMTDA) on behalf of various tribal organizations in the State. Thereafter, the Government of Manipur and the All Political Parties of Manipur, having been defeated in the Apex Court resorted to all available political pressure on the Central leadership to allow the status quo to be maintained in the State. The Central Government succumbed in the name of preservation of law and order. Not content with this denial of our rights, COPTAM – The Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas, Manipur had to be formed to preserve our territorial integrity from being flouted.

An avoidable upshot that is the outcome of such policies and acts of the State Government of Manipur is the recent public movement led by COPTAM – The Committee on Protection of Tribal Areas, Manipur, which was formed under the aegis of the Kuki Students Organisation (GHQ) and the Kuki Inpi, Manipur. Efforts to get the Nagas brothers on board in the initial stage, was politely turned down by the latter on the contention that ‘they have severed all ties with the Manipur Government’, but they would render full moral support to the movement. COPTAM came into public attention when its volunteers uprooted the ‘Welcome to Bishnupur District’ signboard at Kangvai, put up by the PWD Bishnupur District, on the ground that Kangvai is part and parcel of Churachandpur district. This objectionable action of the dominant community in putting up a boundary marker of sorts deep into the hill district, merely because of the presence of Meitei settlers, and the needful step taken by COPTAM to remove the same almost snowballed into a violent communal confrontation between the people of the Hill District of Churachandpur and Bishnupur. COPTAM submitted an Official Memorandum to the Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, the Government of India (15 October 2010).

Latterly, the infamous Three Bills passed by the Special Session of the Legislative Assembly in August 2015 sparked violent protest resulting in the deaths of nine people. The Martyrs are a symbol of sacrifice for our political rights in our own land.

The preceding accounts manifest fertile grounds for continued exploitation in the existing system. It is the existing system, which has changed the status quo from the pre British era when cordial relations prevailed between the people of the hill and the valley. The era of mutual respect for territorial integrity and political independence was altered by colonialists rule, which lumped the people of hill and valley under the same administration. In independent India, following the merger of Manipur to the Indian Union in 1949, which we, Kukis, despite opposition on grounds of not wanting our lands to be included, rule under the same administration was reinforced. Thereafter, notwithstanding our fair co-operation in the interest of communal harmony over the decades, unfortunately the conditions conducive for sustained exploitation created by being put under the ‘same administrative’ set up has proven the status quo does not benefit all stakeholders equitably. Experience has shown time and again that the status quo is not favourable for justice towards the interests of the hill people. The majoritarian Meitei dominated state Government has left a trail of evidence contrary to the spirit and letter of fair governance that does not discriminate on the basis of hill and valley people.

Therefore, with a view to restoring the pre-colonial status of mutual respect for one another’s identity, territory and political rights conducive for peaceful coexistence among all stakeholders, hill and valley is the objective of the Kuki National Organisation. The objective is pitched in our incontrovertible history of Kuki indignity dating over two millennia as recorded in 33 AD in the Pooyas, the traditional script of the Meitei people. Identity and territory are intrinsically linked, which makes it is imperative, particularly in the context of present-day Manipur that we claim our political rights in the name of Kuki. Accordingly, as our demand for political settlement is within the Constitutional framework of India, KNO pitches for the best provision, i.e. statehood for the Kuki people. Following the final settlement with the Government, the name of the state may be determined through proper democratic process of consensus by the people.

Finally, my brothers and sisters, I appeal to you today that we must stand united and achieve our long overdue political rights. This is the time to overcome petty differences that have divided and deprived of our rightful due as a people with inalienable indigenous rights. WE must focus on the larger goal ahead. Our vision must not be skewed by narrow interest, which others can utilise to make inroads to divide us and in the process benefit them. Reason based on truth and forgiveness must guide us at this crucial juncture. The collectively whole must take precedence over narrow sectarian entanglements in order to achieve a state where we can share and develop together as one people the Almighty God created.

 

[1] Burma and Assam Frontier, ‘Kuki rising, 1917-1919’, L/PS/10/724, Oriental and India Office Collections (OIOC), British Library, London

[2] Shakespear, LW Colonel (1977) (1929)), History of the Assam Rifles, Firma KLM Pvt Ltd, Calcutta

[3] The Court chronicle of Manipur The Cheitharon Kumpapa, original text, translation and notes Saroj Nalini Arambam Paratt, 2005, Notes 5, p14, Routledge, London and New York

[4] Op cit (2005, 23)

[5] Jacobs, J et al (1990, 152), The Nagas, Hansjörg Mayer, Stuttgart: ‘shortly after the War – in which many Nagas fought with bravery for the Allied cause’, Sir Charles R Pawsey, Deputy Commissioner of the Naga Hills, formed the Naga Hills Districts Tribal Council in 1945, which in 1946 became the Naga National Council (NNC).

[6] Haokip, S (2010, 37), Rhetorics of Kuki Nationalism, Lustra Press, New Delhi

[7] CS Lewis (Op cit)

[8] Majumdar, RC & Bhattasali, N (1930, 6-7, fifth revised edition), History of India, Shyam Chandra Dutta, Dacca

[9] Thapar, R (1966, 29), A History of India 1, Penguin, UK

[10] NP Rakung, Reader, in The Telegraph, 17 January 1994, Letter to the Editor, Imphal, Manipur

[11] Phukan, JN, The Late Home of Migration of the Mizos, International Seminar, Aizawl, Mizoram, studies on the Minority Nationalities of Northeast India – The Mizos, 1992, 10

[12] Gereni, GR (1909, 53), Researches on Ptolemy’s Geography of Eastern Asia (further India and Indo-Malay archipelago), Published in conjunction with the Royal Geographical Society, London

[13] Stevenson, EL (ed) (1932), Claudius Ptolemy: The Geography, (2nd Century), Translated and Edited by Edward Luther Stevenson, Dover edition first published in 1991 (p.xiii), an unabridged republication of the work originally published by The New York Public Library, N.Y., 1932, Dover Publications, Inc. New York

[14] Dalton, ET (1872, 110), Descriptive Ethnology of Bengal, Government Printing Press, Calcutta

[15] EB (1962), Vol 13, 511

[16] Grierson, GA (ed) (1904), Tibeto-Burman Family: Specimens of the Kuki-Chin and Burma Groups, Linguistic survey of India, Vol. 111, Pt.111, Published by Office of the Superintendent, Government Printing, India, Calcutta

This is the text of PS Haokip’s speech at an event organized by the Kuki Inpi Manipur in Churachandpur, Manipur, India on August 17, 2016. Haokip is president of the Kuki National Organization. 

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