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Naga-Kuki Discord: Conflict in the Manipur Hills

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The Naga insurgents consider the continued residence of Kukis in these areas as the prime obstacle to realizing their concept of Nagalim
The hill state of Manipur has a social and cultural history unique to its own. For years, this was the kingdom of the long standing Ningthouja dynasty assuming different names like Kangleipak and Meeteileipak.
It saw bloodshed through history for clashes with the Shan dynasty, the Burmese, the Britishers and has been mentioned in stories of the Mahabharata as well. The demography of the state can be divided into three main tribes. The Meiteis primarily inhabiting the plains or valleys and the hills being occupied by the Nagas and the Kukis.
These tribes have many more sub tribes under them, which make the entire population of the state quite diverse. While the Naga sub tribes speak different dialects among themselves altogether, the Kuki sub tribes have more or less similar sounding dialects which make it easier for them to converse among themselves.
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The Kukis are a very widely spread tribe with presence in all North Eastern states except Arunachal, elsewhere known as Chin or Mizos. The Nagas in Manipur are specific to certain areas for certain tribes. For example, Ukhrul has the prominence of Tangkhul Nagas, Senapati has the Mao-Maram people and Tamenglong has a major Zeliangrong Naga population. Both of these communities have been in historic clashes with each other.
The Kukis claim that the areas in which they are residing are their ancestral land and they had opened it for Zeliangrong Nagas to settle in return for taxes and tributes after they were driven out by the Sukte Poi and Lusei people of Chin Hills and present day Mizoram.
The Nagas, on the other hand, do not consider it to be the Kuki’s ancestral land. They are of the opinion that Kukis have encroached upon Naga areas and much of the land inhabited by the Kukis are claimed as a part of the “Greater Nagalim.” The Naga insurgents consider the continued residence of Kukis in these areas as the prime obstacle to realizing their concept of Nagalim.
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These differences have resulted in years of discord and violence among the two tribes. The Khallong and Taloulung massacres of 1993 bear witness to this. The most horrific among them is probably the Joupi massacre, when 88 Kukis were beheaded by the NSCN-IM. Kukis have also retaliated in defense and many Naga lives have been lost.
The clashes have reached a fever pitch during the 1992-95 Naga-Kuki wars which many scholars have referred to as genocide and acts of ethnic cleansing. This strife has been a long standing issue and many acts of violence have been committed including the recent incidents in Kamjong.

Ruins of Chassad village (Kuki) in Kamjong, Manipur

The violence in Kamjong cannot be seen as a clash between two random villages and is in fact the culminating action that has resulted from many different incidents. The fire simmered once again probably since October last year when the final document of the Naga solution was supposed to be submitted on the 31st of the month.
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On November 1, protests erupted in Manipur after the conclusion of the peace talks fearing for the territorial integrity of Manipur and the Kuki homeland. Political stalwarts of Manipur including Chief Minister N. Biren Singh and ex Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh have met the central leaders like home minister Amit Shah, Prime Minister Modi and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi regarding the impact of the Naga Solution on Manipur and urging them to make sure that the territorial integrity of the state is maintained. This no doubt reignited old fires of discontentment and insecurity among both tribes.
The Manipur hill locals are of the opinion that the clash between Tangkhul Nagas and Kukis has resulted in the torture of many Kukis in Kamjong and Chassad. In February, NSCN-IM militants brutally beat up a Kuki villager, Siekhohao Haokip. He was invited from his home under the pretext of repairing a motor bike. However as soon as he arrived, he was thrashed on allegations of being affiliated to the Kuki Liberation Army (KLA) as an informer.
Aerial view of the Chassad (Kuki) village that was burned down in Kamjong violence

He was later placed under house arrest by the NSCN. The very next day two Rongmei Nagas were thrashed black and blue by underground Kuki rebels of the Kuki National Army (KNA) in Ukhrul.
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A few days later, on March 13th, a gunfight was reported between two armed Naga outfits, Zeliangrong United Front (ZUF) and NSCN-IM in Tamenglong. In this battle, a ZUF cadre lost his life to NSCN bullets. Although both these groups have been in fierce clashes against each other recently over setting up a camp near Jalukie village, it intensified after the ZUF decided to side with the Naga National Political Groups (NNPG) in the ongoing peace talks. It is to be noted that the ZUF had previously refused to sit in any talks with the Government.
All this animosity between the tribes as well as the discord associated with the land owning rights culminated in the recent violence. Clashes erupted between the two villages of Chassad and Sampui which are primarily inhabited by the Kukis and the Tangkhul Nagas respectively. The Kukis use the technique of Jhum farming in their cultivation, while the Nagas use terrace farming.
Large tracts of Jhum farms belonging to Chassad villagers were burnt down by unidentified miscreants. The Kukis retaliated by blocking the roads at the Sampui junction. Armed with lethal weapons, a group of Chassad villagers didn’t even allow the police personnel to perform their duties. It was around this time that the Nagas allege the Kukis hurled abusive and insulting slogans and even pelted stones at them.
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They also burnt down a new petrol pump owned by Tangkhul Naga people. The NSCN-IM said this provoked the Nagas to attack the Chassad village and as a result of the subsequent clashes, 100 houses in Chassad were razed and 10 vehicles were burnt down. Section 144 was imposed and internet shut down.
Reactions from both sides were immediate. The Mizo Zarlai Pawl (MZP), the apex student body of Mizoram condemned the violence and offered to help the Kukis “no matter where they are” while referring to them as their blood brothers. Mainland Indian Kuki organisations like the Kuki Students’ Organisation of Delhi-NCR have called the incident to be pre-planned by Tangkhul led NSCN-IM.
On the other hand, influential Naga body, Tangkhul Katamnao Long Delhi has denied that it was a communal issue but declared it to be a clash between the two villages only. The NSCN-IM blames the Kuki ‘provocation’ to be responsible for the violence. In an official statement issued by the group, the group has called the present dwellers of Chassad village to be “nomadic tribes from neighboring Myanmar that had migrated to the ancestral land of the Tangkhuls.”
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Thus, as is evident, the Kuki-Naga strife is not a recent one and has its roots in deep history of the state. The Kukis have alleged Nagaisation of Kukis by the Nagas. This they say is being undertaken primarily towards the Old Kukis who migrated earlier. These tribes are being forced to call themselves as sub tribes of the Nagas by coercion or persuasion. This age old clash has always been for land. It is alleged that the Tangkhul Nagas have always led the fight using the NSCN in the fore front.
This allegation is bound by the fact that Thuingaleng Muivah, the M in the NSCN-IM is a Tangkhul Naga himself. The Tangkhul Nagas, who regard themselves as “one nation” even though international borders run through them, have continued their stand that this is not the Kuki ancestral land and they have in fact encroached the land that the Nagas had let them settle in on the account of humanity.
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The Naga peace treaty is again hung mid-way with the Government interlocutor, Governor R N Ravi and the NSCN-IM both blaming each other for acting as road blocks. There is no doubt that this age long clash between two old tribes of the North East can only be solved after the Naga solution is accepted.
Time and again the stake holders of the issue, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh have mentioned that there can be no possibility of a Naga Treaty without consulting them. Taking this into consideration, we can only hope that the representatives of all the stake holders get an equal say in the matter and a proper and unanimous provision is addressed.
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