Kukis are not foreigners, illegal foreign immigrants are

Phanjoubam Chingkheinganba *

Logo of Chavang Kut, performed annually on November 1
Logo of Chavang Kut, performed annually on November 1

In today's post colonial 21st century, where formerly nations, through centuries of struggle against imperialism achieved their freedom from the yolk of European exploitation, hundreds of countries with their clearly established political boundaries have emerged and formed.

Post-independence, the word "foreigners" are basically applied to those people whose citizenship is not affiliated to the sovereign country he belongs to.

The sovereign country of India and her Constitution maintains and enforces the Foreigners' Act 1946, to check illegal immigration from neighbouring countries which are economically weaker than the country and for security reasons, from the presumption of a layman.

One of the latest instances, which received wide national media coverage, and which occurred in the Indian state of Manipur, neighbouring Myanmar, was the death of two Muslim individuals at Sajiwa Central Jail who claimed themselves to be nationals of Saudi Arabia and had been imprisoned for entering India under this Act.

From the country's constitutional aspect, any group of people including the ethnic Meetei, Kukis, Burmese Chins, Burmese Nagas or any other ethnic groups which have not acquired Indian citizenship, other than India, is a foreigner though in some other highly developed countries dual citizenship are allowed.

The rationality behind granting of citizenship is not directed against any ethnic groups on the ground of biasness and is applicable to each and every sovereign countries of the world.

Henceforth, from universally accepted laws, citizenship is the proper platform which determines whether an individual is an illegal immigrant or a foreigner.

A historic event forgotten

Aside from the two Women's War (Nupi Lal) of Manipur, one of the most historically important events occurred in the native state of Manipur in 1917, which the British masters, even acknowledged as the most serious disturbances, even more than the extent of the short-lived movement launched by the legendary figure Haipou Jadonang and his follower Indian freedom fighter Rani Gaidinliu as per Robert Reid "History of Frontier Areas bordering Assam."

Known in modern times as Anglo-Kuki war of independence, this historic incident was referred to as Khongjai Lan (Lal) by ethnic Meeteis and Thadou Gal by the Khongjais which ethnic Meeteis earlier called the Thadou similarly as the Kukis previously called the ethnic Meeteis as "Meilheis".

The historic "Kuki Rebellion" was mostly led by the Thadou chiefs, "related kindred clans" and hence the ethnic Meeteis called it Khongjai Lal as the latter have been living with the Thadous (Kukis or Khongjais) ever since the great Kuki immigration/ invasion in the forties and beyond during the 19th century.

The guerrilla style of warfare, which rose from the issue of raising a second Manipur Labour Corps to provide service in the European theatre of First World War, took three years to quell down by the British colonialists during which several lives unforeseen since the India's First War of Independence were lost.

At the conclusion of the rebellion, the British sorted out three most important personalities -Pu Enjakhup, a former sepoy of the Naga Hills Battalion and the mastermind of the "Kuki rebellion", Pu Ngulkhukhai and one "Manipuri adventurer" Chingakhamba were handed much more stringent punishment while other chiefs were given lesser punishment, stated Robert Reid.

The term "Rebellion"

The word "rebellion" suggests that the policy and planning of the foreign rulers are unacceptable for the people and the indigenous people chose to disagree with the demands. Interestingly, it also implies that the Kukis who were living in the then native state of Manipur which had undeniably defined political boundaries, are "indigenous" as much as the ethnic Manipuri Nagas and ethnic Meeteis are, as the term "indigenous" is not based on particular year but attachment to lands and identification of the self with the villages where one's earlier generation hailed from, amongst many others.

Had the Kukis been not indigenous to the state of Manipur and had no attachment to the villages they had occupied a century ago after the Great Kuki immigration/ invasion of Manipur, they certainly would not have been defiant and resorted to guerrilla skills to resist the attempt of the British to have the Kuki people enlisted in the 2nd Manipur Labour Corps.

Unfortunately, few Manipuri intellectuals, often has a tendency to focus in the literal meaning of the word "foreigner" and seems to be ambiguous in disseminating and distinguishing the meaning that exists in the distinction of the term "foreigners" and "indigenous" to the masses of ignorant ethnic Meeteis.

Though the definition of the word foreigner is clearly distinguished in modern India from the concept of citizenship, the exact determination of the meaning of the word "indigenous" is accountable to complexities.


Amongst many of the departing normative behaviour of the masses of Manipur, irrespective of ethnicity, is the interpretation of the meaning of social issues based on assumption or influenced by some self-interested groups with the intention or without deeper understanding of the concerned term.

There is no universally accepted definition of the word "indigenous" and henceforth is open to several interpretations.

Driven out by more ferocious tribes, particularly the Lushais, modern day Mizos, the Thadous or the "New Kukis" poured in thousands in the hills of Manipur beginning the middle of the 19th century and established new villages, sometimes to establish as a buffer zone against the raids of the formidable Angami Nagas and Lushai-related clans on both British and Manipur subjects respectively.

During the tumultuous period, the then reigning Manipur ruler Maharaj Nara Singh with the active assistance of political agent McCulloch also took trouble to have them settled in various parts of the state.

Ethnic Kukis were also recruited in the Manipuri army in subduing several tribal villages which failed to paid tribute to the Manipuri rulers and played an important role during the Lushai expedition of 1870, Seize of Kohima in 1878-led by then Col Johnstone as well as the disastrous and humiliating defeat of Manipuri army in the hands of the Kamhau/ Suktes during the reign of Maharaj Chandrakriti, known as Ngameingam by the Thadou as per W Shaw's "The Thadou Kukis."

Notably, Manipur kings and Meeteis of the 19th century after being converted into Hinduism were severely depopulated and almost annihilated by the Burmese prior to and during the period of "Seven Years Devastation" before Manipur's sharpest and ambitious ruler "Iningthou" Gambhir Singh reclaimed the throne of erstwhile kingdom of Manipur, retook Kabaw valley and established Chindwin River (Ningthi Turel) as the eastern boundary of the state.

Nevertheless, ethnic Meeteis had lost their warrior capacities and gradually declined themselves into lives of idleness, discarded its earlier virtues, and began to involve in growing Hindu orthodoxy which is another reason for the initiation of ethnic grudges before modern day Meetei generation have completely discarded this abominable system. Irresponsible discussions creates ethnic grudges, not tension

The matter of Kukis being associated with the term "foreigners" would not have emerged if not for one elderly person, a retired Indian army officer, and his organisation which constitutes of less than half a dozen persons and does not present the viewpoint of all the Meeteis.

In all assumption, the senior citizen did not properly grasped the meaning of "foreigners" from modern point of view or misunderstood with the Chins of Myanmar which reportedly have been migrating into the state of Manipur to escape the crackdown on Chin Hills in the last decade by the Tatmadaw, before the Burmese Junta made changes in the administrative functions of that neighbouring country in recent times.

Chins were also intimidated and deported during the periodic "anti-foreigners campaign" in Mizoram, particularly during the 2003 campaign launched by the powerful Young Mizo Association, supported by the legal authorities and the host population-the Mizos.

The ongoing Inner Line Permit (ILP) brought up issues providing fodder for new grudges between two linguistically- similar ethnic groups who have been allies ever since their advent in the state.

Aside from the confusion and staunch stand for determination to have a particular base year for determining indigenous people, implementation of ILP, which is of absolute necessity for the indigenous populace from the massive influx of Bangladeshis, Nepalis and reportedly illegal immigrants of Chins from neighbouring Myanmar.

The endless, directionless and un-conclusive discussion by some intellectuals on the meaning of "foreigners, indigenous and outsiders" cropped up the issue which raised the unnecessary matter of Manipur's Kukis being associated with foreigners or not.

Etymologically, the Kukis of Manipur are indigenous for their attachment to the areas they occupy just as ethnic Meeteis have religious attachment to the sacred sites of Koubru peak, Nongmaijing Hills, Langol and many others in the hill districts.

On the other hand, descendants of the Kukis (Thadous and Khongjais) who have settled in various parts of Manipur till NSCN (IM) and its Nagalim Guards unleashed the ethnic cleansing of Kuki civilians during the nineties of the last century cannot imagine and understand why they have been termed as "foreigners" and are seriously offended by such irresponsible statements which can be of impending danger for the most sensitive state of India.

Lastly, another historic moment that should not be forgotten is that, during the period when Maharaj Bodhchandra was under intense pressurize by both the newly formed democratic India and the Hindu Meeteis, Kuki chiefs (mostly the Haokips) sent more than 150 men to aid Bodhchandra to resist the signing of the merger agreement and protect the king from her Hindu subjects.

Such contributions and sacrifices made by the ethnic Kuki are not to be ignored and should be honoured by the government in all its capacities.

However, the reported migration of the Chins, who are nationals of Myanmar, needs to be figured out carefully as Kukis are also known as Chins in the eastern neighbouring country.

* Phanjoubam Chingkheinganba wrote this article for
The writer Imphal-correspondent of Assam-based Asomiya Pratidin newspaper and can be contacted at phanjching(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on September 06, 2016.

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