By Sira Kharay
“Kuki nationalist imagination” inextricably remains entrapped in the perception of the colonial tutelage. McCulloch’s policy of planting “Kuki settlements on exposed frontiers” still informs the idea of “Kuki nationalist consciousness”. Historical accounts perhaps reveal that the whole history of Kuki consciousness is characterised by the conspicuous absence of even a plausible “nationalist imagination”.
A colonial fault still haunts Manipur. The apparition of ethnic Kuki aggression re-looms large as the Kukis arouse in bizarre excitement targeting the Tangkhul Nagas on 13th September, 2018 with the erection of three dehumanising monoliths on the grounds of Kuki Inpi, Churachandpur, carrying a hate-propagandist inscription, “25th Anniversary of Kuki Genocide by Tangkhul-Led NSCN (IM)”.
As Kukis continue playing the role of colonial minion, the arbitrary repetition of the misleading labels such as “genocide” dehors the actual empirical experience only demonstrates the hypocritical worldview of the Kuki intellectual discourse. It only reaffirms the assertion that the whole quest for “Kuki nationhood/homeland” is no more than a pathology of parochial ethnic neurosis.
Kuki tribe: A colonial invention
Kukis originally “are a wandering race” and they “were first heard of as Kukis, in Manipur, between 1830 and 1840” (Johnstone J., My Experiences in Manipur and the Naga Hills, p. 25). B.C. Allen confirms that the Kukis originally “live in the southern hills, and are pushing their villages into Kapui (Zeliangrong) on the west and the Tangkhul country on the east”.
As the threatening waves of Kuki immigration “began to cause anxiety about the year 1845”, McCulloch in his kneejerk policy response “settled them down, allotting to them lands” wherever “their presence would be useful on exposed frontiers” (Johnstone J., My Experiences in Manipur and the Naga Hills, p. 26). This historical Kuki status was later officially recognised by the Standing Order of the President Manipur State Darbar issued by T.A. Sharp that “Kukis in the Naga Areas in Manipur are Aliens and Refugees”. Again the Standing Order No. 2 dated 23.07.1941 declares that “the kukis shall obtain prior permission from the Chief of Naga village for settlement and pay House Tax to the Naga Chief”.The Court of President, Manipur State Darbar in the matter of Shangreihan Khulakpa of Leishan Village vs. Manvom Kuki of Mollen Village accordingly opines in its order dated 20.04.1931 that, “Manvom admits he will pay Rs. 50/- as Lausang… Manvom has already been allowed to settle at Leishan, but he must not consider that by paying Rs. 50/-, he has purchase the land outright”. Subsequently, the Refugee Relief Fund for rehabilitating the Kukis was sanctioned by the Government of India vide Memo No. P3/9/66 and payment was released through the Government of Manipur vide Memo No. 01/R/RFL in three instalments, the last instalment being released on 28.02.1966.
McCulloch’s Kuki policy: A failure
McCulloch’s shortsightedness, though initially a success, turned out to be a costly policy misadventure for the colonial administrators. Kukis became a persistent headache for the British lately. On 25.02.1880, troubled James Johnstone notes in his personal diary, “Today I received the news of an attack by the Chassad Kookies, who gave so much trouble last year (emphasis added), on the village Chingsow (Chingsui)”.
Turning against their own Master, the imperial authority of the British was constantly put to challenge as the “troublesome” Kukis persisted in attacking the subject villages against the policy and orders of the British Government, finally culminating in the 1917-1919 rebellion. The British only then realized the seed it had sown.
Kuki massacre of innocent Naga villagers: Colonial account
Unprovoked Kuki aggression is not new to the Nagas. James Johnstone reminisces that the Kukis “were a ceaseless trouble” to the “Nagas” and according to B.C. Chakravorti, during the “Kuki rebellion of 1917-1919, the Kabui Nagas suffered very badly at the hands of the Kukis”. In the month of February, 1880, the Kukis attacked another “Tankhool” (Tangkhul) Naga village, namely “Chingsow” (Chingsui) village, and mercilessly massacred 45 persons. The attack was in defiance of British order and policy as it “appeared that a demand has been made by Tonghooj the Chussad Chief, that the Chingsow Nagas should submit to him and pay tribute, but they, of course, refused (emphasis added)” (Johnston J., My Experiences in Manipur and the Naga Hills, p. 185). As per the accounts of Sir Robert Reids, the Kuki mercenaries massacred about 176 persons of Goitang village and total of about 76 houses were completely razed to ashes. More than 250 Kharam villagers were butchered and their houses burnt. About 70 of Makoi villagers were massacred, properties plundered and houses burnt. About 10 of Dailong villagers were butchered, over 70 houses torched and properties plundered. Whole of Mongjarong Khunou village was razed to the ground and about 39 were massacred (Facts about the Naga-Kuki Conflict, p. 5-6). According to B.C. Allen, the Kuki mercenaries made another ferocious attack on “Swemi” (Chingjaroi) Naga village in about the month of December, 1892 and as per the village account, more than 600 villagers were ruthlessly massacred. And the list goes on.
KNF/KNA: A product of the Indian Intelligence
India inherited McCulloch’s policy of arming the Kukis to neutralise the Nagas. With the sole object of annihilating the Nagas, the Kuki National Front (KNF), now renamed Kuki National Army (KNA), was formed and armed in the year 1990 by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) in collusion with the Government of Manipur.
Funding was routed through the State Government in the liaison of Sh. C. Doungel (the then Finance Minister). This is confirmed from the letter dated 12.07.1992 written by the Commander-In-Chief, Kuki Federal Council acknowledging the receipt of Rs. 1 Lakh from the Chief Minister, Sh. R.K. Dorendra Singh. In another letter dated 02.08.1992, the General Secretary of Chin-Kuki Revolutionary Front acknowledges the receipt of Rs. 2 Lakh each from the Chief Minister and Finance Minister of the State. In the Hindustan Times publication dated 22.07.1993, it was exposed that “The Kuki National Army (KNA) is seeking at least Rupees seven crore financial assistance from the Indian Government through the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Indian Army’s arms and material support, according to the sources close to Kuki National Organisation (KNO) chief Sohlun, to enable it to undertake a ‘fight to finish’ war with the well-organised National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Muivah)”.
In another letter to the Editor, Eastern Panorama, October 1993, it was revealed that the formation of KNF/KNA “was masterminded” “by Mr. C. Doungel and Mr. Holkhomang Haokip” and that “the Kukis have received a huge amount in the name of assisting the armed forces to annihilate the Nagas. Arms are supplied and rations shared in the AR camps as they are sheltered there.” In his campaign speech at 46(ST) Assembly Constituency, Sh. C. Doungel promised to “take revenge against the Nagas who were their enemies in Manipur and Nagaland (emphasis added)” and contributed Rs. 25 Lakh in the formation of KNF/KNA (Memorandum to the Prime Minister of India dated 01.09.1992).
Unsurprisingly, a joint force of the 15th Assam Regiment and KNF/KNA raided Kambang Khullen Maring Naga village and torched 25 houses and 25 granaries on 21.04.1993. Again on 22.04.1993, Leibu village was laid siege by the 15th Assam Regiment and KNF/KNA and set ablaze 64 houses. On 15.05.1993, the 15th Assam Regiment and KNF/KNA torched another 24 houses and granaries of Leipham village.
Naga-Kuki conflict (1990-1997): A case of unprovoked Kuki aggression
After its formation, KNF/KNA launched its treacherous mission by manipulating the Kuki mass sentiment invoking the perceived historical stigma in the Refugee Relief Fund of 1966 and an easy scapegoat was found in the Nagas.
On 09.02.1990, KNF/KNA served its first letter to the Chatric Village Authority warning the Naga villagers to vacate with immediate effect. On 04.05.1992, the Kuki Students’ Organisation (KSO) announced warning the Nagas to leave Moreh town within 24 hours leading to mass exodus of the Nagas. On 12.09.1992, the Kuki War Declaration Committee thereafter declared a war against the Nagas without any provocation (Thinglang Post Publication 22nd September, 1992).
In the ensuing aggression, hundreds of Nagas were massacred, thousands of houses torched, hundreds of villages uprooted, women raped and the harmless Naga religious ministers were not even spared. As per the UNC report 1992-1997, a total of about 470 Kukis and 207 Nagas were killed in the ensuing clash, about 205 Kukis and 197 Nagas were injured and about 2870 Kuki houses and 2582 Naga houses were burnt.
Formation of Naga-Lim-Guard(NLG)
Nagas did not retaliate till then. Naga civil societies and village chiefs on the contrary made repeated appeals to the State Government for immediate intervention. On 16.06.1992, a delegation of ANSAM also sneaked into Churachandpur in search for peace with KSO and CDSU (Churachandpur District Students’ Union). However, the effort failed as the attack on the Nagas continued. In a shocking complicity of the State Government, the Government of Sh. R.K. Dorendra Singh ordered immediate confiscation of arms from Ukhrul District in the month of August, 1993. Sh. R.K. Dorendra Singh went further to glorify the Kuki aggression by awarding martyrdom on Lt. Sh. Onkholet Haokip, a KNF/KNA militant, with a reward of Rs. 20,000/-.
Consequently, the Naga-Lim-Guard (NLG) was formed in the month of May, 1993 under the Unite Naga Council (UNC) in self defence and protection of the Nagas from the state sponsored Kuki aggression.
Nagas perceive “Sahnit Ni” as another tactical offensive of the Kukis. It is a propagandist conception with the sole object of distorting the collective memories of the past by branding the Nagas as the cause of their past misfortunes.
The conspiracy theory behind the complaint reportedly lodged with the NHRC against the NSCN (IM) must be true. As per the confidential sources, there is a conspiracy at the instigation of the Indian state agency to entrap the Naga nationalist movement by booking Th. Muivah.
At the time when the Nagas are at accommodative peace with the Kukis, the new inflammatory offensive of “Sahnit-Ni” does not portent a peaceful co-existence. Unless the forging of “Kuki national identity” is extricated from the memories of being a mere colonial pawn, history is likely to repeat itself. Only then India and its puppet state Manipur will realize the seed they had already sown like the British.
The writer is a practicing advocate based in Delhi and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org