Excerpts from the 1958 : Kuki Tribal Chiefs' Memorandum to the Union Home Minister

Yenning *

On 31st July 1958, "some" Kuki Chiefs submitted a memorandum to the Union Home Minister of India through the Chief Commissioner of Manipur (JMN Raina, IAS), who was visiting Imphal. Thirteen chiefs signed the memorandum.

1. Replacement IFAS (Indian Frontier Administrative Service) cadre officers by local officers in Manipur : Six IFAS from the Defence Forces are manning key posts of Deputy Commissioner, Additional Deputy Commissioner, the Sub-Divisional Officers of the tribal areas and Assistant Political Officers i/c Tribal Development.

These officers do not have adequate training in legal and judicial matters and do not know the local language and tribal customs, traditions and mode of living. Therefore, they must be replaced by local officers.

2. Appointment to Government Posts: The Manipur administration lacks proper rules and regulations regarding the selection and appointment of aspiring candidates to Government posts and fails to adhere to rules even if they exist. We condemn the selection of A Daiho as one of the 20 youth farmers sent to the USA from India for agricultural training.

Daiho was the first President of Free Naga State when the Britishers transferred power to India in 1947. He sowed the seeds of discontent and enmity among various tribes inhabiting the Manipur hills and canvassed for the support of the Naga hostiles whenever he went to the hills of Manipur. All the lawlessness in certain parts of Manipur is the inevitable outcome of his activities against the State.

3. Moreover, he was also said to have contributed Rs 4000 in cash to further the cause of Naga Rebels, and there is nothing yet to show that he has undergone a change in beliefs and ideologies.

His presence in the USA when India has taken a stand on the Kashmir and Naga problem is extremely undesirable and dangerous at this critical time, especially when the Nagas problem still remains unresolved. The Naga rebels have still been making persistent efforts to have their case heard at the United Nations, for a man as fickle as he is may as well be the spokesman of the Naga rebels in the USA.

4. Appointment of Chief Secretary: The officer holding the post of Chief Secretary, coming as he always is, on deputation from outside Manipur, has to serve only for a fixed period, which rarely extends to more than three years at a time.

This fixed term of office is too short and inadequate to enable him to have some knowledge about the similarities and differences in customs, practices, culture, tradition, history, desires, aspirations, needs and requirements of the people of Manipur. And thus, he cannot carry out his duties efficiently for the good and progress of the people of Manipur. Therefore, the senior, experienced, efficient and industrious local officer already in the Secretariat should be promoted to the post of Chief Secretary.

5. Reservation of Posts in the non-Gazette Class III & Class IV Services for the Scheduled Tribes: The reservation of 20% of the post in the non-Gazetted Class III and IV services for the Scheduled Tribes of Manipur is put into effect only at the time of recruitment.

The reservation should be put into effect department-wise, and a tribal should not be disqualified because there are better-qualified men than him. Finally, 20% reservation be given in both Class III & Class IV Services separately.

6. Exclusion from the Operation of the Village Authority Act, 1956: The Act ignores Kuki's ways of life in villages and imposes upon them something entirely foreign. It reduces the Village Chiefs to a state of impotence. It lacks definiteness and clarity. The Act makes Manipuri a compulsory language for the proceedings of the Village Councils. In contrast, the language of Kukis is Thadou Kuki.

Finally, appeals against the decisions of the village authorities have to be filed in Imphal. Therefore, the Act must be amended to the effect that the Act should not apply to the Kukis and a separate Act, if felt necessary, be enacted for the Kukis after a careful and minute study by the Government of our customary laws and rules and in consultation with the Kuki public leaders, to suit and coincide with our own way of living and customary laws which are quite distinct from that of other tribes of Manipur.

7. Forest Reserve: Your honour might be aware that Manipur has an area of over 8600 square miles and that more than 90 per cent is covered with forests spreading all around the Imphal Valley, which has only an area of roughly 700 square miles.

Now, within the space of a few years, all these forests have been one after another converted into 'Forest Reserve' irrespective of their location, proximity to means of communication in total disregard to the well-being of the tribal people and against the surging spirit of the age of modern concept of 'Welfare State' ostensibly to increase revenue of the State but in reality to harass the poverty-stricken tribal people into utter subjection and now the very existence of the tribals is threatened and their economic life kept at a standstill.

The Chiefs further contended that the tribal people have lived in forests since immemorial. They use their produce and also use them for 'Jhoom' cultivation. They further stated that more and more forests are converted into 'Forest Reserve' threatening the very existence of the tribals.

The reservation of forests should be scrapped, and the free use of forest products should be restored; should any tribal want to sell the forest products, let him be allowed to do so on toll payment at the toll gates.

8. Eviction of Nepalis who entered Manipur from outside : Some 3000 Nepali families have purchased land from the local tribals and are driving them out. Therefore, we demand that the Manipur administration take necessary action against these Nepalis and evict them immediately. In the event of the Administration's incapacity to take effective action against these Nepalis, we should be legally authorized and empowered to drive them out.

9. Treatment of Kukis as Political sufferers and payment of grants: The recent grant of Rs 500 each to several political sufferers of Manipur in May 1958 belies the fear and suspicion that the Government of India has totally forgotten and ignored those who have undergone great suffering, tribulation and even death for the cause of India's freedom.

It is, however, sad and disappointing to note that not only none of the Kuki chiefs and elders who waged war against the Britishers during the Kuki rebellion of 1917-19 and who rendered valuable assistance to the Indian National Army during the World War II was among the recipients of these grants, but even their exploits in these wars have been forgotten.

But now these facts of history have become so twisted and distorted that the wars the Kukis fought against the British are forgotten and insignificant and not at all a freedom struggle launched by Gaidilu (Nagani) not only has earned her an honoured place among the famous Indian fighters for freedom but also her a monthly pension of Rs 75.

Truly speaking her struggle was directed against the neighbouring Kuki Villages and not against the Britishers. Mention also must be made that Kuki Chiefs formed an association called the "Kuki Political Sufferers Association" and submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister of India in 1958 demanding (1) Relief in the shape of cash grants of Rs. 200/- in each case (2) Erection of war memorial in the heart of Imphal to commemorate the memory of Kuki martyrs; and (3) Inclusion of their activities in the freedom struggle of India.

10. Non-establishment of Special CD & NES Blocks in Kuki Areas:The grievance is that no Kuki areas have been covered by NES blocks, and no Kuki village has benefitted from the Tribal Welfare Fund. Therefore, all these discrimi-nations, malpractices and injustices against the Kukis must immediately be done away with so that all communities may march side by side in peace towards a better and happier India we envisaged.

11. Separate Kuki District: We also feel that the ultimate remedy to all our troubles lies solely in our having a separate district of our own, and so we reiterate once again our demand for a separate district so that we may become equal, free, unoppressed and useful citizens of India and we beg to bring to your kind remembrance the fact that a memorandum to this effect had been submitted to you when you last visited Shillong in 1957.

The Chief Commissioner or the Union Home Ministry received a horde of memorandums from the Kukis in successive years. The concerned authority made a series of "notes" on these representations. We will share these "notes" after our publication (excerpts) of another important memorandum submitted by the Kuki National Assembly in 1959.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at hoiyenning(AT)proton(DOT)me
This article was webcasted on 21 September 2023.

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