Why implementation of NRC in Manipur can restore peace

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MANIPUR violence
Tyres and construction material set on fire in Manipur during the ongoing violence in the state (Photo: PTI)

Since the last couple of months Manipur has been in centre stage, a north-eastern state of India embroiled in an ethnic conflict since early May. The conflict has taken place between two dominant groups, the majority Meitei community and the Kuki tribe that is in minority. Tensions have been on the rise between the two communities.The eruption of violence was in protest of the order issued by the Manipur High Court, which directed the state government to include the Meitei community in the Scheduled Tribes list of the Constitution as a “tribe among tribes in Manipur”. However, one needs to ask what are the underlying reasons apart from the court order that left the entire state in ashes ? Can a court order spark so much outrage and ethnic cleansing between communities? It is thus important to know the past to understand the present and devise a way forward.

It is a historical fact that the Kukis were first brought to Manipur by the Britishers to help them like the Gurkhas. Maharaj Gambhir Singh took the help of the British to drive out the Burmese from Manipur in the 1820s. After the Treaty of Yandabo (1826) and successful restoration of Manipur crown the military alliance with the British continued. In between 1834 and 1840 many Kukis were brought in by the British army from Chitagong and Chin hills. This embarked the beginning of Kuki arrival in Manipur. They are referred to as “old Kukis” and they got assimilated in the social milieu and soon became part of Manipur.

Post Independence (1947 onwards)

1947 – 48 India and Burma got emancipated from British Raj respectively. In the late 50s and early 60s under the Military regime of General Ne Win, many Kukis and Zomis fled Burma and entered the fringes of India. They started settling down in the border areas. India was a nascent nation — the borders were porous and nobody bothered so much during those days. Mostly the Kuki-Chin-Zo groups who were inimical to General Ne Win took shelter in Indo-Burma border areas (now parts of Manipur and Mizoram). This is the second wave of the Kukis entering Manipur. Consequently they also became settlers of Manipur.
The Kukis were primarily a semi-nomadic tribe who had been moving from one place to another .They started to settle down properly only a few centuries ago. Their major settlement in Manipur also began only decades ago. The former Member of Parliament (late) R. Suisa from Manipur said that in the 1950s Kukis were given refugee relief allowances in Ukhrul and in other hill areas of Manipur.
When they started dwelling in Manipur, Kukis also introduced their traditional chieftainship, under which the village chief has the power to give land as gift to anybody. In their system chief is the land owner. In 1966 Chieftainship was abolished all over India – surprisingly it continued in Manipur. Another unusual thing the earlier regime did was – 20 households could form a village. Thus, in the hills of Manipur the Kuki villages are mushrooming and expanding at a fast pace – (Naga–Kuki clash of 1990s was mainly because of this issue) – and they are encroaching the “State Reserved Forest areas and Protected Forest areas”.Deforestation and extensive poppy plantation has become a socio-environment menace and i9/t often leads to conflict and administrative inconveniences in the hills.

The third Kuki-Zo wave came in the 1980’s during the pro democracy movement of Aung San Suu kyi ; the then Military Junta Government crushed the pro-democracy politicians and activists . A huge Kuki-Chin activists and leaders along with their followers were taking shelter in Manipur and Mizoram. One of their (Kuki -Chin) MPs namely Thang Lian Pau also came and settled in Churachandpur. I personally met him in those days. As a friendly country and believer in the idea of democracy we extended our assistance to them both openly as well as tacitly. Many of them were absorbed in our society.
But the most dangerous wave, is the arrival of new Kukis who fled Myanmar because of the successive Military Regimes in the last few decades. In the last few years I am told that many Kuki-Chin-Zo groups have entered India in huge numbers. The State of Mizoram is openly saying that they have more than 10,000 such people ; and they are taken care of. However, in Manipur there is no official figure though the number of intruders from Myanmar must be quite large. They are taking shelter in the border districts of Manipur adjoining Myanmar. Identification of these intruders is difficult because they speak more or less the same Kuki-Mizo-Zomi language. These new migrants are dealing with arms and drugs in connivance with the locals; and they also take part part in local politics which is lethal. In the present turmoil, active involvement of these intruders is not ruled out. Perhaps they are directly involved.
The Kuki-Zo militancy became more assertive and aggressive after their conflict with the Nagas in the 90s; they started demanding autonomy or homeland. A tripartite agreement was signed between the the Government of India along with the State government and nearly 21 Kuki–Zo militant groups in 2008 for the suspension of incendiary operation and instead finding a political settlement to the problem.

The intention of this article is not to build a divide amongst the ethnic communities residing in the state of Manipur. Most of the Kukis-Zos in Manipur are Christians.What I am trying to highlight is that the earlier Kukis were docile, friendly and amicable but the later Kukis particularly those who have illegally entered India in the last few years are really aggressive and violent. They must be shunted out without any further delay.
Thus, it is imperative that NRC (base year 1961, The National Register of Citizens) should be implemented in Manipur at the earliest and all the illegal immigrants must be identified and deported at the earliest. Both the Centre and State government must act in tandem and in war footing it must be done. NRC must be implemented in an aggressive way and it will certainly help in restoring normalcy in Manipur to a great extent.
This multi-ethnic state called Manipur (my motherland) with its unique geographical and political entity must be protected at any cost. It is also an ancient civilization which has a history of more than 2000 years old, and it is a continuing civilization – a rear living civilisation which carries a synthesis of native ethnic ethos and magnanimous Vaisnavite culture. For many Manipur has been a Hindu cultural bridge between the Indian Subcontinent and Southeast Asia. Peace must be bestowed at Manipur at the earliest.

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