Assertive Scheduled Tribes and Militants Push Meiteis to Precarious Situation

L B Singh *

Manipur is a unique place in the world where the majority community, Meitei, which constitutes 53% of the population, lives in a small valley at the centre. Whereas the Scheduled Tribes (STs) constitute only 40.8 % of the population and live in the vast 22,327 sq. km. hill districts surrounding the valley. The area of the hill area is more than nine times the area of the valley.

The people of the hill and the valley co-existed harmoniously for thousands of years. The conversion of most of the Meiteis and the tribals to Hinduism and Christianity, respectively, and the British's 'Divide and Rule Policy' progressively divided the people between the hill and the valley. The problem was inadvertently aggravated after the merger of the kingdom with India in 1949.

Slumbering Meitei.

The Meithei (Meetei/Meitei) was classified as a 'Hill Tribe' in the census conducted by the British from 1891 to 1931. However, the Meiteis were excluded from the list of STs promulgated on 20 September 1951, but the Nagas and the Kukis were included.

The reason for the exclusion was based on the statement of a few prominent citizens of Manipur, who highlighted only the ceremonials and rituals related to Hinduism but failed to bring out the ceremonials and rituals related to the indigenous worship of Sanamahi, Leimarel Sidabi, Umang Lai (Forest Gods), etc.

Article 371C and 'The Manipur Legislative Assembly [Hill Areas Committee (HAC)] Order, 1972, limits the power of the Manipur Legislative Assembly via-a-vis the 'Hill Areas' which is about 90% of the geographical area of Manipur. In addition, Section 158 of the Manipur Land Revenue and Land Reform (ML&LR) Act 1960 restricted land transfer from STs to non-STs.

Therefore, the Meiteis have almost lost their land rights in 90% of the geographical area, and the number of landless Meiteis is increasing rapidly as the STs continue acquiring the land in the valley. The Meiteis are heading to a precarious situation as they cannot preserve their cultural identity without land.

No rule prevented Meitei from settling in the hill districts before the merger with India. However, Meitei preferred to settle in the valley though a few settled in the hill districts. The boundary was demarcated in the kingdom's name, and the British allotted additional territory on the hill in the name of the Maharaja of Manipur.

In 1905, Political agent J Shakespeare issued boundary papers for the villages in the hill districts in the name of Maharaja of Manipur. The standard procedure of setting up villages in the hill districts with the permission of the Maharaja or the Political Agent also confirmed that the land belonged to the kingdom/State.

After the exposure to the British administration, western education, and the Second World War, the STs became more conscious of their land rights. In addition, sections of Nagas have come under the influence of their militant outfits and want to establish 'Greater Nagaland' or 'Nagalim.'

The policy of appeasement adopted by the Government of India (GoI) in dealing with the separatist Naga Movement encouraged the emergence of many more insurgent groups in the region. The Naga Movement inspired the Kukis militants to launch an armed struggle to establish a sovereign country, 'Zougam' or 'Zalen'gam' or 'Kukiland' by uniting the Kuki-Chin tribes of Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Myanmar, and Bangladesh.

The land claimed by the Nagas and the Kukis have overlapping areas, and they clashed in the 90s for the ownership of the overlapping area in Manipur. On the other hand, both the Nagas and Kukis do not want to share an inch of land in the hill districts with the Meitei.

Some Meitei politicians say that Manipur being a small valley in the Himalayan Mountain Range like Himachal Pradesh, the GoI should declare Manipur a 'Hill State,' and all the indigenous people could settle anywhere in the State. However, no proper case has been taken up by the State Government to amend Article 371C or the Presidential Order 1972 or to declare Manipur as a 'Hill State.'

Land Reforms, Distribution and Updating Land Records.

The Northeastern Region Vision 2020 highlighted the need for land reforms, distribution, updating land records and computerisation. However, under the influence of their militant outfits, the Nagas and Kukis have been resisting every effort of the State Government to survey the land in the hill districts. The Naga and the Kuki militant outfits want to keep the land intact for the 'Nagalim' and 'Zalen'gam' or 'Zougam.'

False sense of Grievance.

Almost all African countries suffered from the separation of their ethnic tribes by the artificial boundaries drawn by the Colonial Empires in Europe. Many tribes in African countries peacefully managed the separation of their brethren's ethnic groups by artificial boundaries. The people of Africa have the wisdom to understand that any attempt to unite their ethnic brothers in various countries by forcible means would result in a never-ending war.

The British had grouped the tribes in the region under the term Nagas, Kukis etc., for easy identification and administrative convenience. However, these tribes, in different states and countries, wanted to live under one administrative unit by forcible means. The people in the region suffered for many decades due to the Naga Movement, and now the Kuki-Chin tribes started the armed struggle to unite their tribes in Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.

It is a never-ending war; the Zeliangrong Naga tribe also started the armed struggle to unite their tribe in Manipur, Nagaland, and Assam. If the GoI recognised the separation of a particular community by the boundary of states or countries as a genuine grievance, many similar cases would also surface in other states.

In the last 65 years, the Nagas blockaded national highways carrying essential supplies to Manipur whenever they wanted. Now the Kukis carried out similar blockades and extortion on the highway. The Meiteis in the valley are helpless, and they struggle for survival.

False History

Very few people in the GoI are aware of the false and fabricated history created by some tribes in the region. The former Governor of Nagaland, RN Ravi, stated in July 2020 that "The Northeast today is portrayed as if they are distinct land and distinct people.

The people of the hills and the plains were so well organically connected, and they have sociological, economic, and matrimonial relations. First and foremost is the detoxification of the false history which has taken root in the region. It has replaced the genuine, true history."

Meitei Kuki Clash 2023.

The proponents of Nagalim and Kukiland or Zalen'gam have been spreading hatred and discontentment for over 60 and 30 years, respectively. They have been working relentlessly to divide the people of the hill and the valley. In the last few years, the Kuki-Chin tribes have intensified their campaign of hatred, and some Meitei organisations reacted and started spreading hatred against them.

The Naga and the Kukis are apprehensive that if Meiteis are included in the list of STs, Meiteis would have the land rights in the hill districts, and their prospect for government jobs would be affected. The All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur (ATSUM) organised the Tribal Solidary Rally on 03 May 23 to protest against the directive of the Manipur High Court to forward recommendations for including Meitei in the list of STs.

The Kuki militants displayed sophisticated weapons during the rally at Churachandpur. The rally ended peacefully in the Naga-dominated areas. However, after the rally, the Meitei community was brutally attacked by the Kuki-Chn tribes, and their properties were burned down in Churachandpur, Torbung, Moreh and Kangpokpi.

The Meitei community was shocked when they learnt that many of their kin were killed, their houses and properties were burned down, and the Kuki- Chin Tribes drove them out from their villages on the evening of 03 May 23. Meitei fell into the trap of provocation by the Kuki militants and retaliated by burning and destroying the properties of innocent Kuki in the valley.

Many Kukis, with prior information about the attack, had already left the valley before 03 May 23. The remaining innocent Kukis took shelter in the Army or CRPF camps and were transported to Kuki-dominated areas. The Kuki militants achieved their long-cherished dream of physically dividing the two ethnic groups.

Many factors indicated that the violence on the evening of 03 May 23 was preplanned to expedite the creation of a separate administrative unit for the Kuki-dominated area. It would not be difficult for the Judicial Inquiry Commission constituted by the GoI to find the conspirators of the crisis in Manipur, which has shamed the nation.

The policy of Appeasement did not Solve Problems in the Region.

We have learned that the policy of appeasement did not solve the problem of the people who lived under the shadow of the gun of militant outfits aspiring for a sovereign country. The GoI fulfilled the demand of the first Naga People's Convention (NPC), and an 'Administrative Unit' known as the 'Naga Hill Tuensang Area' came into existence on 01 December 1957 in the Naga Hill District of Assam.

However, it was used as a stepping stone for more ambitious demands. The people were not even satisfied with granting Nagaland a full-fledged statehood with a special provision in the Constitution in 1963. The shadow of the gun silences the voice of the majority, and one can hear only the voice of the militant outfits parroted by the disillusioned people and the local politicians. The GoI is still trying to find a solution to the Naga Movement and hopes we avoid repeating the same mistake.


o The GoI should holistically examine every factor of the complex problem, including the factors enumerated above, for a lasting solution.

o The complex land problem needs to be resolved for a long-term solution. An independent "Land Commission" headed by a retired Supreme Court Judge with experts in various fields may be constituted by the GoI to determine 100% land requirements of the STs, including land for future infrastructure and the land available for development by all the indigenous people of Manipur in the hill districts without affecting the long-term interest of the STs.

o The GoI should assist the State Government in implementing land reforms, distribution and updating land records as envisaged in the Northeastern Region Vision 2020.

o The State Government should take up the necessary case to amend Article 371C, the Presidential Order 1972 and ML&LR Act 1960.

o No appeasement or a separate administrative unit, as the Kuki militants would use the same as a stepping stone for pursuing a separate country.

o Both communities, Meitei and Kuki, should exercise restraint and initiate Confident Building Measures (CBM).

*** The article appeared in the Outlook India web-only column on 20 August 23 with the title 'Manipur: Why did the harmony between Meiteis and hill tribes end?
The article was also published in 'The Sangai Express' on 22 August 23.

* L B Singh wrote this article for
The writer is a Captain Indian Navy (Retired)
This article was webcasted on 23 August 2023.

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