The Naga Scholars’ Association (NSA) organised a panel discussion on ‘Ethnic Conflicts in Manipur: Issues and Challenges’ held on October 26 at School of International Studies (SIS), JNU, New Delhi.
The president of the association Dr Zuchamo Yanthan stated that it is time that Naga scholars address the issue of ethnic conflict and its challenges in Manipur. Ethnic conflicts in Manipur have been a major concern and Nagas have been one of the main victims of the conflicts.
A press release by NSA stated the panelists focused on the Naga-Kuki conflict, particularly on the genesis, nature of the conflict, and major incidents. It added that they traced the genesis of the conflict to the 19th century when Kukis migrated to Naga areas (of Manipur state) from Myanmar (Burma) and subsequent British deployment of the immigrant Kukis to help check the unrest of Nagas against the British interference.
“In the process of helping the British to subdue Naga unrest, Kukis also took undue advantage of acquiring lands for themselves in Naga areas,” NSA stated, adding, “However, they were met with stiff encounters from Naga villages, although some Kukis could avail some lands for settlement by paying royalty to the Naga villages concerned. In all such Kuki villages, the names of the new Kuki villages were prefixed by the names of the Naga villages concerned”.
Dr Khole Timothy Poumai stated that with the swelling of Kuki immigrants, they began to populate in some pockets of Naga areas where they became dominant. In the latter half of the 19th century, many raids were organised by Kukis in Naga villages.
“Many Naga villagers were killed and even many villages razed. The most heinous inhumane acts perpetrated by Kukis on the innocent Nagas were the killing of over 600 villagers of Chingjaroi (‘Swemi’) in 1892 and the ‘Haokip War’ (‘Tingtong rih’) wherein Kukis killed over 1000 Rongmei Nagas in 1917 during the ‘Anglo-Kuki War’ (1917-1919). Inspite of the conflict, Kukis continued to pay royalty to the Naga villages and were living at peace with Nagas,” he added.
The discourse also gave an insight as to how the Naga-Kuki relationship took a very different turn in the 1990s conflict which caused a huge casualty to both Nagas and Kukis with hundreds of people killed, hundreds of houses burnt and massive displacement of villagers.
From the media reports and other sources, there is enough evidence to consider that the Naga-Kuki conflict of 1992-1997 was orchestrated by Kukis in connivance with others, the NSA added.
“The panelists as well as participants took cognizance of the scheme of observing ‘Sahnit Ni’ (Kuki Black Day),” the NSA press release said, adding: “One most crucial concern that emerged was how the Kuki community and media have been painting a lopsided picture by projecting Kukis as the victim of the episode”.
According to NSA, the scholars observed that the observance of Kuki Black Day “has been nothing but playing victim card to pursue the hidden agenda to illegally claim Naga lands”.
It then said that the scholars expressed anguish over the message of the 25th anniversary of Kuki Black Day organised by Kuki Inpi, Churachandpur “which tried to perpetuate the conflict rather than looking for peace, and considers as a dangerous move which will only beget a vicious cycle of violence”.
Dr Tuisem Ngakang stressed that it is more important to focus toward building stronger relationship rather than considering the other as a threat. “This is for the fact that Nagas and Kukis will always live as neighbours”, he said. He opined that both communities can offer many good things to one another. He felt that the scholars have a crucial responsibility towards rebuilding trust for a better future of Nagas and Kukis.
Prof Yaruingam Awungshi, the chair of the panel discussion, concluded by submitting that Nagas and Kukis should learn to live as good neighbours by reflecting on the South African experience where truth and reconciliation went hand in hand.