Manipur crisis part 2: A Zo-Kuki perspective

This is the second of our three-part series trying to observe the Manipur crisis from as many angles as possible. Here the author presents a heartfelt Zo-Kuki side of the argument, pleading the Central government to intervene seriously to prevent a genocide in Manipur.


Poem: Weepeth the hills

The hill echoes with afflictions and fury,

The patriotic hill tribes fighting courageously over their adversaries.

The patriotic hill tribes mourn, weepeth sore night and day,

The mothers fear, “Will this be the last I see of my sons and family?”


Behold every nation, weepeth the hills of Manipur!


The valley’s ravenous beast’s tongues and teeth swarm to suppress our rights and land,

The land and rights our forefathers bought with blood and tears.

Oh, must we fight for what our forefathers rightfully owned?

Oh, must the indigenous be tagged foreign and forbidden.


Behold every nation, weepeth the hills of Manipur!


The hill grievously rebelled and bereaved with bitterness and hate.

The hill tribes behold with sorrow, “should we be captive in our land”?

The hill tribes’ women lament, children’s memories painted with traumas.

The valley ravished at the innocence and simplicity of the hill, gnashing and hissing now.


Behold every nation, weepeth the hills of Manipur!


The tribes’ daughter and son’s blood splattered on the hills and valley soil.

The cloud is bereaved with gloom as smoke clusters below the firmaments.

Oh, must the hill’s be widowed and orphaned, victims of political adultery?

Oh, and must our children be wandering beggars in our land?


Behold every nation, weepeth the hills of Manipur!


Do we grievously sin that we should be ripped naked?

Oh! Must we be slain in our hills by our nation?

How many more lives?

How many more homes are ashes?


Behold every nation, weepeth the hills of Manipur!


The youths boiled with sweat and blood,

Dodging bullets, that generations will lament,

“Our forefathers brought us right and land with blood,”

For our land is given by the sovereign Lord,

The sovereign Lord is our strength!

(May 10, 2023, Dr Langthianmung Vualzong and Awon)


ON May 15, incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur N. Biren Singh held a press conference after returning from. a meeting with Union home minister Amit Shah in Delhi. His press conference and the press release by the home ministry were in stark contrast to the developments in the meeting.

Also read: As Manipur continues to burn, UN and ITLF issue statements even as Union Home Minister Amit Shah visits state

To perhaps appease his Meitei constituency, the chief minister continued to endorse a disinformation campaign that the home ministry had assured him on the formation of a ‘joint monitoring committee’ and provision of state and Central armed forces, and that the government was taking steps to make militants return to their designated camps under the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement. The press release of the home ministry on May 15 has not mentioned anything to this effect.

During the press conference in Imphal Biren Singh also appealed to the public to not organise any rallies or protests at this juncture. However, his pleas fell on deaf ears as Thoubal district witnessed a mass gathering of Meiteis on May 20, who echoed communal slogans of “Manipur na yaiphare, Kuki macha sing hallkpa yaroi” (Long live Manipur, Kukis should not be allowed to come back again).

Such denigrating slogans manifest the innate communal hatred the Meitei community has been cultivating since time immemorial. This closely follows the burning, looting, butchering of young, old, female and male alike. There were also allegations that two tribal women were raped at the behest of Meira Paibi (Women torch bearers). As per ground reports, the marauding Meitei crowds even looted the destroyed homes of the tribals.

Also read: Despite Supreme Court’s directions, why has violence in Manipur not abated?

Somehow the incidents in Thoubal also confirmed what the tribals have been insisting upon for a long time, that the two communities cannot co-exists and thus need separate administrations.

Thoubal district witnessed a mass gathering of Meiteis on May 20, who echoed communal slogans of “Manipur na yaiphare, Kuki macha sing hallkpa yaroi” (Long live Manipur, Kukis should not be allowed to come back again).

Manipur state government under scrutiny

The indifference of the state government towards the plight of the tribals trapped in the Imphal valley when the violence erupted— led by a group of radicalised Meitei men and women on the basis of rumors and political agenda— was clear when the chief minister failed to even permit the Indian army and Central paramilitary forces based in the valley to reign in the atrocious acts of mob lynching, murder and arson of vehicles, homes and churches for a good four days after the riots started on May 3.

Instead, he allowed the Manipur police commandos, a team which is already dominated by the Meitei community, to openly support the majority community in the wanton destruction. The consequences of this action were widespread, and especially led to an intra-state and inter-state mass exodus of the tribals.

Also read: Manipur crisis: Supreme Court directs Union and state governments to ensure protection of religious places, relief and rehabilitation

Videos and photos that have surfaced online clearly point towards the massacre being orchestrated and carried out largely by two militant groups known as Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol.

The social media pages (Instagram and Facebook) of its members, leaders, and sympathisers have proven without doubt that they are an organised terrorist group who have been trained and provided sophisticated weapons by Meitei elites. The elites have also indoctrinated hatred in these groups towards the hill people.

These groups have also been recruiting volunteers and training them for ‘self-defense’ in the name of protecting Kangleipak (Ancient Manipur or Early Meitei Civilisation) and establishing a new secessionist nation-state for the Meiteis.

Cases of looting of guns from the Manipur Training College at Pangei, Imphal have also been attributed to a large extent to these two militant groups. These acts have no longer any basis in the Constitution of India and disregard territorial integrity of the country, owing allegiance only to the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Manipur or Kangleipak as a nation-state.

A special probe needs to be carried out on Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun, investigating their origin, their role in the violence, the sources of their funding, and their links with the Meitei government as well as Meitei elites. The culprits behind these two militant organisations (Arambai Tenggol and Meitei Leepun) need to be booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA).

Denigrating slogans raised by Meiteis against tribals (Kukis) should reveal with clarity regarding the innate communal hatred the Meitei community have been cultivating since time immemorial.

Fight against the disinformation campaign

Amidst fear, displacement and loss of life and property in Manipur, the national media needs to uphold a greater responsibility to perform due diligence before reporting a biased narrative based on only Meitei-invented views or alternative facts and figures. The mainstream media should come out with unbiased reporting on the actual perpetrator of these riots.

Also read: Manipur crisis: A fresh incision in old fissures

Due to the selective political agenda, the ban on internet services by the ‘Meitei state government’ is not being followed uniformly across the state. Imphal valley’s Meitei residents are able to access the internet and utilise it to spread more disinformation. On the other hand, hill districts such as Lamka (Churachandpur), where many tribals found refuge after being displaced from the Imphal valley, do not have access to internet services, because of which the refugees are unable to share their eyewitness accounts.

One of the political disinformation campaigns by the valley Meiteis was carried out on May 9, 2023, when the People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress Manipur and Delhi Manipuri Society, held a press conference in New Delhi where they made assertions and claims starkly contradiction the ground reality in Manipur.

The whole press conference turned into a sham as it was being held by Meitei intellectuals, one of whom is a known faculty from Jawaharlal University (JNU), widely prominent as a Meitei chauvinist, anti-feminist, communal mouthpiece, and a brown-noser of whoever is in power.

The narrative spun by State media in Manipur has continually undertaken a communal undertone bereft of objective truth and facts. National and international media would be encouraged to not fall prey to the state-controlled channels by providing a catalyst that could further ignite and engulf the entire state.

Instead, national and international media should investigate how this spate of selective and orchestrated violence against the tribals was spearheaded and even supported by the ‘Schedule Tribe Demand Committee’ of Manipur, along with Meitei elites sympathetic to the aspirations of a secessionist nation-state called Kangleipak.

Events prior to the May 3 massacre and the following days are revealing of how the Manipur government’s inherent policy of divide and rule, or ‘define and rule’ as described by Giorgio Agamben (a leading Italian philosopher), towards the indigenous tribal peoples once again raised its ugly head.

The ‘disinformation campaign’ peddled via the communal agenda of the dominant Meitei community has the potential of widening the existing gap between the communities by rubbing salt in the already wounded relationship between the hill tribes or the ‘Tribals’ and the valley community or ‘Meiteis/Meeteis’.

State’s policy of divide and rule

Events prior to the May 3 massacre and the following days are revealing of how the Manipur government’s inherent policy of divide and rule, or ‘define and rule’ as described by Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, towards the indigenous tribal peoples has once again reared its ugly head.

Instead of exploring amicable and acceptable solutions, the Biren Singh government, in May 2021, announced that Mount Koubru falls under the Kanglatongbi–Kangpokpi reserved forest which was declared so in 1968 under the Indian Forest Act, 1927.

The declaration meant that indigenous forest dwellers would be evicted from their ancestral land. The process of eviction of tribal forest dwellers and taking their indigenous land under the contentious anti-tribal Acts to make— reserved forests, protected forests, wildlife sanctuaries and wetlands across the hill districts of Manipur is reminiscent of the three Anti-Tribal Bills passed in 2015— the Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015, the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reforms (7th Amendment) Bill, and Manipur Shops and Establishments (2nd Amendment) Bill.

The sudden and arbitrary declaration of the aforementioned anti-tribal Acts solely aimed at appeasing one community at the expense of persecuting another is a case in point of attempts to create communal discords, detrimental to the very fabric and rights of tribal unity, integrity and peace within the state.

According to the Backward Classes Commission, the Scheduled Tribes can be generally ascertained from the fact that “they live apart in hills, and even where they live on the plains, they lead a separate excluded existence and are not fully assimilated in the main body of the people.”

Criteria for inclusion in Scheduled Tribes list

Manipur merged with the Union of India in 1949 and since then has undergone several changes in its status, from being a Part-C state to Territorial Council (TC) and Union territory, before becoming a full-fledged state in 1972.

It is disheartening to note that while Manipur has completed more than 34 years of statehood and almost 70 years of being a unit of the Union of India, the “advanced” Meitei community of the state has regressed so much that it feels the need to claim Scheduled Tribes status.

If this claim is correct, it is alarming and implies that successive Meitei-dominated governments in the state have not been able to uplift even their own people in the valley. Unfortunately for the Meiteis, the consequences of the State’s failure and its impact upon the advanced classes are not the criterion for the inclusion of a community in the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list, as put forth by the Backward Classes Commission (1952) headed by Dattatreya Balkrishna Kalelkar.

According to the Backward Classes Commission, whether a particular group or community qualifies to be a Scheduled Tribe can be generally ascertained by the fact that “they live apart in hills, and even where they live on the plains, they lead a separate excluded existence and are not fully assimilated in the main body of the people.

“Scheduled Tribes may belong to any religion. They were listed as Scheduled Tribes because of the kind of life led by them.”

This criterion was not rigid. The commission gave states and Union territories the privilege to interpret the various conditions that needed to be fulfilled to become a Scheduled Tribe, and asked them to send the list of the communities whom they deemed backward enough to be listed as a Scheduled Tribe.

The Meiteis had been in the Other Backward Class (OBC) category since 1949, but they did not recommend themselves to be a Scheduled Tribe, instead, they recommended their own people who fell outside due to the criteria of Vaishnavism— Untouchability, backwardness, hao (foolish) and class of local social hierarchy— to be a Scheduled Caste (SC).

It is mandatory to mention here that Suisa Rungsung, the former visionary member of Parliament (MP), who later became a member of the Naga National Council (NNC), once pleaded with the Meitei community and the maharaja of the time to accept Scheduled Tribe status. However, they humiliated him with the retort, “Ekhoi hao macha, hao pang natte.” (We are not hao, and not foolish like you.) and dismissed his request with the words, “Ekhoise amaangba mi natte.” (We are not lost, man.)

Amidst fear, displacement and loss of life and property in Manipur, the national media needs to uphold a greater responsibility to do its due diligence before falling to reporting a biased narrative based on only Meitei-invented views or alternative facts and figures.

Later, when Rungsung tried again, he was warned of dire consequences. It is recorded that a dejected Rungsung wept and wrote, “One day, the Meitei will demand Scheduled Tribe status. By then, it will be too late to undo things achievable now.” Rungsung’s lament and prophecy are coming true right before our eyes.

Interestingly, the present criterion followed for the specification of a community is more specific, viz. indications of primitive traits, distinctive culture, geographical isolation, shyness of contact with the community at large and backwardness.

The Meitei, having been  the dominant community within the state since 1972, enjoying undemocratic, unequal representation within the state assembly, and not being backward even in the 1950s, now claims to be backwards in the 21st century. It is a rather dramatic turn of events!

It is even being doubted as a sinister design to create discord among various hill tribes in Manipur. If at all Meiteis should be listed, it is right and lawful for them to be included among the other Meiteis under the Scheduled Caste category; otherwise, it would resemble granting tribal status to the dominant Dvija castes, which is not consistent with the social structure of the Hindu society, and importantly the Constitution of India.

Also read: Scheduled Tribes status cannot be decided only on the basis of ‘affinity test,’ says Supreme Court

The Chief Justice of India, Dr D.Y. Chandrachud, on the first hearing of the petitions challenging the Manipur High Court’s order directing the state government to consider Scheduled Tribe status for the Meitei community, had orally remarked that the high court does not have the power to direct changes in the ST list. Rather, “It is [a] Presidential power to designate a Scheduled Caste or Schedule Tribe.” The situation needs an imperative intervention to explore and give a fundamental resolution directly.

Questions for the Manipur government

  • Which community boycotts Republic Day and Independence Day every year in the state? So far, what action has the Manipur government taken against them? What are its plans against them?

  • Why is the state government violating Article 371C and Manipur Legislative Assembly (Hill Areas Committee) Order, 1972?

  • Why have elections to the ‘autonomous district councils’ not been held since June 2020 as per the Autonomous District Council (ADC) Act, 1971?

  • Why is a land survey in hill areas violative of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform Act, 1960, being conducted?

  • How can militants and the public from Imphal valley take guns and arms from police stations, Manipur Police Training College , and Manipur Rifles (MR) or India Reserve Battalion (IRB) camps? Is the state government so incompetent as to let the violence, riots, massacres and destruction go on unhindered?

The eviction of tribal forest dwellers in the name of making reserved forests and taking their indigenous land under the three contentious anti-tribal Acts, solely aimed at appeasing one community at the expense of persecuting another.

The trauma, scars and wounds imprinted in every indigenous hill tribe’s heart will never be forgotten. Yet, the violence and progression of genocide should be put to a halt. The matter should not be shoved aside by considering it akin to a child’s temper tantrum that will calm down with mere sweet talk. The matter must be addressed without prejudice toward the grievances of the minority communities in Manipur.

As a country, India pledges to acknowledge the diversity of its citizens along with unity. When the cries of the minority hill tribes of Manipur are graphically evident and have been laid on the table time after time, the State cannot look the other way.

With inputs from Dr Tunchinmang Langel (JNU) and Awon.

The Leaflet