TODAY -

Note on Kuki-Hmar Trouble
Letter from the Chief Commissioner of Manipur to the Joint Secretary of the Home Ministry - February 27, 1960

Yenning *



In a letter dated February 27, 1960, with reference DO No. 44/369/60/Cord/CC-AS(C), JM Raina, IAS, the Chief Commissioner of Manipur, briefed N Sahgal, ICS, the Joint Secretary at the Ministry of Home Affairs, India, about rising tensions between the Kukis and Hmars.

The letter enclosed a detailed report titled "Note on Kuki-Hmar Trouble". Furthermore, on December 18, 1959, Raina had conveyed his opinion to the Home Ministry regarding declaring Tamenglong as a "Disturbed Area" due to increasing issues caused by Naga hostiles (Naga National Council cadres).

He also expressed concerns about the distribution of 20 licensed guns to the Kukis in 1959, stating that the Kukis had a substantial number of unlicensed weapons in every village, and they were not as unarmed as previously believed.

The Context

From a Part C State, Manipur transitioned to the Union Territory status in 1956 before ultimately achieving full-fledged Statehood in 1972. Between 1958 and 1959, the Kukis, under different leaderships, submitted three representations to the Government of India. In 1958, they demanded a separate district, followed by a plea for separate hill areas within the same year.

By 1959, their demand had escalated to seeking a separate State, with the Kuki National Assembly spearheading this effort. Simultaneously, starting in 1956, there was a growing call for Manipur's Statehood, primarily championed by socialist and communist groups. Furthermore, during this period, Naga hostiles' activism had started touching the Tamenglong, Mao, and Ukhrul areas of Manipur.

Our Aim & Objective

One can say that by early 1960, there emerged in Manipur different political aspirations by different communities. However, considering the general public's limited awareness of the first ethnic conflict in Manipur (sic. Kukis vs Hmars), our goal is to provide readers with insightful document excerpts that illuminate the origins of this conflict. It spanned the entire 1960s decade, with its repercussions still echoing today.

Excerpts from the 27th February Letter from Raina to Sahgal

1. The enclosed note contains the details of how the relationship between the Kukis and Hmars has gradually deteriorated and caused tension among them. There is no doubt that this trouble is due to the apprehension of the Kukis that they will not have a square deal with the Nagas. They have a feeling that as Naga demands are going to be conceded they should also organize themselves.

Whenever their leaders have met me, I have assured them that any settlement taken with Nagas in NHTA (Naga Hills-Tuensang Area) will not necessarily apply to Manipur and that they should never think that anything would be done anywhere at the expense of Kukis who have been loyal to us. Nevertheless, as Kukis are numerically less than Nagas they always thought of securing some aid from outside Manipur.

Efforts are still continuing to enlist the sympathies of Chins in Burma and develop a common bond with them. The older elements among the Kukis are against calling themselves as Chins but the younger element is insisting that all Kukis of Manipur should call themselves as Chins.

2. Similarly, the Hmars also looked outside Manipur for assistance. A very large number of them live in North Cachar Hills and the Mizo districts, which adjoins our territory in the Jiribam sub-division. There has been a demand encouraged by the Eastern Tribal League of Assam claiming that Hmars should also have a land of their own and that the Hmars of Assam and Manipur should be united together.

Unfortunately, the Chiefs in most of the Hmar villages are Thadous who are Kukis. The relationship between the Hmars and their Chiefs has not been good. Since the introduction of the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act 1956, the people have mostly stopped paying customary dues to their chiefs, which cannot be enforced under the law. To sum up, both the Hmars and Kukis have been trying to organize themselves in separate units and have different political aspirations.

Excerpts from "Note on Kuki-Hmar Trouble"

1. From the 17 th October 1959, the Kukis of Tamenglong sub-division of Manipur held a meeting at village Lungohilem in the sub-division and passed a resolution requesting the Government of India for a separate Kuki Area where from all other sub-tribes of hillmen should be turned out.

Again, in their general meeting held at Thingkhangphai in Police Circle Churachandpur from 19th to 21st January 1960 they demanded a Kuki State comprising the areas of Manipur having Kuki majority as they apprehended unfair treatment at the hands of the Nagas if the hill areas of Manipur adjoining the NHTA are merged with the Naga State proposed at the Makokchung Convention of the Nagas.

This merger was also demanded by the Manipur Naga Council at their Haochong Convention held from 14th to 16th December 1959.

2. For some-time past, it has been observed that the Kukis are trying to bring into their fold other hill sub-tribes except the Nagas. At a meeting held at Kumbi Pukhri Churachandpur from 15th to 16th December 1958, the Kuki leaders invited Paites, Gangtes, Waipheis and other hill tribes of the sub-division. They wanted these tribes to declare themselves Kukis. These sub-tribes did not agree to attend this meeting.

Recently, Sri Kaikhohen, President of the Kuki National Assembly (KNA) of the Tamenglong area addressed a letter to the Hmar Union Authority Members and President of Tamenglong Block from Chingkel on 25th January 1960 wherein he stated that the Manipur Administration recognised only 3 (three) Nations Kuki, Naga and Manipuri and as such the Manipur Government and the KNA regarded the Hmar as Kuki. He

enquired of the Hmars if the Hmar Union was recognised by the Government of India and if the Hmars were willing to suppress the bad work being done by the Naga-hostiles. He further wanted the Hmars to clarify if they were Kukis, Nagas or Manipuri.

His letter also contained the following two threatening sentences which will speak for themselves: "I have 70 (seventy) volunteers along with 22 guns am I to come with it". "Send your reply by evening without fail".

3. The Hmars on the other hand have been organising themselves. The Hmar National Union decided in the general meeting held at Pherzol from 9th to 12th December 1959 to demand a district comprising the Hmar majority area of Manipur, North Cachar Hills and Mizo district of Assam. They have not favoured the idea of a Kuki State as demanded by the Kukis of Manipur.

The Executive Committee of the Hmar National Union again met at village Rankai in Churachandpur sub-division on 5th January 1960 and resolved not to support the Kukis in their demand for a Kuki State. They also decided to recruit 500 volunteers from Khuga Valley and raise subscriptions at the rate of one rupee from each villager. They refused to identify themselves with the Kukis.

The Hmar residents of village Moluam thwarted an attempt by Thonghen Kuki, Chief of the village to raise some subscriptions for KNA. The Hmar and other tribal leaders of the Churachandpur sub-division again met on 30th January 1960 and decided to launch joint action against the KNA volunteers if the latter attempted to force the other tribes into their fold.

4. In this manner, relations between the two tribes gradually deteriorated. Meanwhile on 20th January 1960 about 35 Naga-hostiles raided the Kuki village of Changkhel under Azuram police station and forcibly took away Rs 200 (two hundred) from the 16 Kuki houses. The Kukis suspected Lalchungkhup Hmar, Wangchengphai Hmar, and Lallom Hmar of Rhalphai to have participated in the raid on village Changkhel.

From 20th to 25th January 1960, 50 Hmar delegates attended a conference at the Hmar National Union at Rovazol. They were detained by the Kuki volunteers and some Marpit was reported to have taken place at Hmar village Phaipi Khunou between the Hmars and Kukis on 23rd January 1960 in which Kaikhohen Kuki, President of KNA Tamenglong area and his volunteers took part.

Azuram Police Station reported that the tension between the Kukis and Hmar was going up in Phaipi Khunou, Changkhel, Mundu, Taosem and Faklong. On 8th February 1960, 100 Kuki volunteers led by Hemkholen Haokip, Vice President, KNA Tamenglong area, Thongkholen Kuki of Joute (representative of Joute Circle) and Dukhopao Kuki of Joupi (Intelligence Staff of KNA) had set fire to about 22 houses including the paddy go-down in village Rovazol.

Kuki volunteers led by Kaikhohen forcibly took away Rs 140 (one hundred and forty), 300 tins of paddy, one sewing machine, and 3 licensed guns from village Phaipi Khunou on 11th February 1960. They also kidnapped one Tongte Hmar and Lalrobing Hmar of Phaipi Khullen and one Humingsawn Hmar of Jiribam Thana on the same day.

7. The root cause of the trouble appears to be the refusal of the Hmars to identify themselves with Kukis and not to support them in the demand for a Kuki State. The alliance between the Naga-hostiles and Kukis against Hmars is also highly improbable, and there is no proof available so far for the same. Historically, there is racial enmity and long-standing rivalry between the two tribes.

Inference

As an extension of the British colonial legacy, the Government of India has historically regarded the Kukis as loyal subjects, often employing them as armed mercenaries to counter the political aspirations of various ethnic communities in Manipur. An analysis of the Kuki's three representations and India's positive response throw significant light to this aspect (Yenning's next edition). Kuki's political aspiration has shown a remarkable linear progression.

Subsequent to the initial ethnic conflict between these two communities started by the Kukis, armed clashes persisted, primarily centered around the control of the Tipaimukh sub-division.

Additionally, the Kukis strongly opposed the inclusion of Hmars in India's Scheduled Tribe list (earlier included under the category of "Any Kuki"). Furthermore, due to vehement objections from Kuki Chiefs, the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act of 1956 was revoked in the State, at the expense of the democratic rights of Kuki citizens.

It is noteworthy that Hmar militants have recently collaborated with Kuki militants in the ongoing crisis in Manipur. This itself is one of the stupendous achievements of the Kukis in their demand for a separate State.

Last but not the least, the Hmars also have not given up its dream of a homeland consisting parts of Tripura, Assam, Mizoram and Manipur.


* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be contacted at hoiyenning(AT)proton(DOT)me
This article was webcasted on 12 September 2023.



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