Imphal, I would not call home anymore, was the line made by a 20 year old college student survivor of mob violence, during her interview by Shivnarayan Rajpurohit of Newslaundry a Youtube channel, who tragically witness the murder of her brother and her mother at the hands of mobs at Imphal, the capital of Manipur situated in the north eastern part of India. Here the Meitei community need to reflect if butchering up and burning churches and houses of thy own neighbours is the best way to preserve the state.
Manipur: A legacy of a colonial state
Manipur state is a classic example of a colonial state and its continuing legacy of being a colonial state not only owing to the historical fact that the Colonial British Govt. of India once administered the area but on account of the very fact that the majority Meities were given the rein to directly govern and administer the tribal areas post creation of Manipur state in 1972. Ironically, the Meiteis had no settlement on the hills of Manipur until the recent times. Meiteis nationalists still bear the grudge that the Merger Agreement of 1949 which officially and legally joined Manipur with India was forced upon the Manipur Maharaja Bodhchandra, while the Meiteis knew very well but still choose to ignore the fact that without the merger, they would be deprived of constitutional rights to govern the tribal populations of Manipur and being blessed with larger populations than the tribal Nagas and Kukis, the Meiteis came to dominate the three organs of the State: legislature, Executive and even the Judiciary including state media. Which in fact is a continuation of the erstwhile Meitei Kingdom under a democratic form of government facilitated by the Constitution of India. And the question of whether the government headed by majority of Meitei legislators is fair and transparent for all citizens of Manipur? Is best answered by the citizens living in Manipur.
Meiteis Supremacy over the Hills of Manipur
The historical fact that the Meiteis Maharajas dominated the tribals population who lives in the hills before the British arrival and the permanent transfer of Jiri-Barak tract to Manipur as a policy of appeasement towards Manipur adopted by the British administration to then ambitious Manipur Raja Gambhir Singh in 1832 were an example of how powerful the Meitei kingdom was. But the supremacy of Meitei Kingdom and its Rajas came to an end at the hand of the more powerful British Empire and later the Government of India took over Manipur post India’s independence. However, the present Meiteis taking into account of their past supremacy over the tribal populations stills believes it is their divine rights to rule/govern over the tribal populations be Nagas or Kukis, such example were best illustrated when Meiteis population in protecting the territorial integrity of Manipur protested violently on 18th June 2001 against ceasefire agreement signed between NSCN IM and GOI without territorial limits. Even the present clash between Kukis and Meities over Scheduled Tribe demand by Meiteis is in many ways a display of Meitei supremacy, in order to remind on who the true master/lord of Manipur is.
In fact, it is a marvelous political achievement for the Meiteis also a master of political strategy that they could keep the Manipur state territorial integrity intact for so long by owning only 10% of the State territory while Nagas and Kukis who own the rest 90% of the land mass failed to achieve their political goal i.e. separate administration. And only future can tell how long these forceful/unhappy union of the three distinct ethnic communities will last. The case scenario of a Manipur state is like the situation where the abusive Husband (Meitei) is adamantly unwilling to grant divorce to his two wives being Nagas and Kukis, where the Nagas (first wife) think that she can get divorce at international level and Kukis (second wife) believes divorce can be attained at National level and under such situation, their unhappy marriage survives with lots of ups and down. Not forgetting that the two helpless wives who equally suffer at the hand of abusive husband are not at all united with lots of unresolved issues between them till now.
Grievances of Meiteis
No doubt, one cannot brush off the grievances of Meitei people and their complaint in regard to illegal immigrants, large scale poppy cultivations on hills of Manipur and its drug menace but the manner in which non-governmental organizations taking law in to their hands and directly attacking Kukis and Zo people will have a serious political set-back for generations to come, I believe there are other legal channel available to address their grievances though it may have some side effects. For instance in recent years , Assam government and its non government organizations did not just start attacking foreigners just because they want to get rid of them, Assam government makes use of NRC to its fullest. At present the Kuki-Zo communities who are traditional allies of Meitei Kingdom may or may not succeed in achieving separate administration ion but the seeds of separation have already been sown on the soil of Manipur. Even if separate State or UT is not attained by the present generation, the struggle will be carried forward by the next generation with much more commitment and vigor as they have suffered inhuman treatment in their own state. The current situation also tells us that Meiteis embrace and promotion of pan Manipuri identity encompassing Nagas and Kukis is only on paper, if larger and more resourceful Meiteis consider themselves and Kukis to be a true Manipuri with shared destiny, uncontrolled mob violence would not have taken place at the first place. Policy of restraining would have save the interest of Meiteis and put them in advantage in the long run but now new chapter has open in Manipur and CM Biren Singh go to Hills program have failed to integrate the people of Manipur though physically and legally integrated by virtue of statehood, hearts have soured.
Future of tribal’s
It is very clear by now that ST demand by Meiteis is not the only demand in queue, once NRC is allowed by the Central Government, all hell will break loose. It’s too early to say what will be the criteria to qualify as indigenous inhabitants of Manipur but if it follows Assam NRC model by purely basing on documentations with uncompromising cut off year, not only Kukis but even tribal Nagas will face the music of being a foreigners in Manipur.
The Kukis- Zo influence in shaping Manipur
Years ago I read an article on how the Myanmar government made maximum uses of some ethnic groups in their national army to hunt down other rival ethnic armed groups. Such situation is similar in Manipur. Taking the example of Naga National movement since the NNC days up to the present NSCN- IM emergence as power house in Nagaland and Manipur, the Meiteis has time and again lost sleep over protecting the territorial integrity, the Naga peace talks always them to their nerves but now the Meiteis have to deal Kukis who have intensified their demand at the backdrop of the latest fall out between them. Personally, I believe only Kukis-Zo roles played by them can break up Manipur for the Kukis have much better intelligentsia and resources at their disposal not to forget their unity unlike the Nagas who are not as homogenous as Kukis and unity not their stronghold. Unless the Thadou Kukis repeat their past mistakes of brutally dominating other sub tribes, for now the Kukis seems to have upper hand as naturally as possible outside observers would always favour the weak when pitch against stronger opponent.
In many ways, the Constitution of India and its successive Central Government has failed to protect the interest of minor groups as we can tell from the miserable fate of minor groups across India be of ethnicity or religious background. Such reality was foreseen by past Muslim leaders. The partition of Bengal 1905 and its reversal in 1911, partition of India and the Sylhet Referendum presents us a solid case study why partition is always the best option when the people first priority is their ethnicity and their religion. And like the British Crown reverse the Bengal partition to appease the majority Hindus thereby compromising the Muslim interest; such history is likely to repeat itself today in Manipur as India is a nation dominated by majority community.
Unlike democratic countries like USA and UK where inclusiveness is promoted, the India’s democracy and its practices put the people in different categories and majority community sacrificing their influence and resources to let minority groups lead them would never happen, here we decide everything by our caste, creed, region and religion, people of Indian origin are now important figures and head of the state like in the person of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and US Vice President Kamala Harris as they are voted by truly democratic people who does not look at their ethnicity, religion or place of origin, here in India, can we imagine a tribal politicians from Northeast becoming Prime Minister of India, it may happen only through divine intervention not otherwise. In a nation where only strength of populations matters, minorities can only protect themselves through self governance not otherwise. (The author is an Advocate based in Samziuram Village, Peren Nagaland & can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)