Protective Thinking: The current status of Naga-Kuki relations in Manipur
- Part 1 -

Pakinrichapbo *

The Nagas and Kukis in Manipur are in a state of political hangover thanks to intense contest for winning the outer Manipur Lok Sabha seat and may not want to be distracted by other topics except on election. Elections will come and go but will the Nagas and Kukis stays forever in Manipur deemed by them as temporary shelter house? Their relations will decide their fate.

Beyond Ethnicity

To carry out meaningful debate in any topic, Nagas and Kukis have to think beyond ethnicity. I shall do my best to present my unbiased observations and my understanding of Naga-Kuki relations with concise reference to past, counting the present atmosphere for the sake of harmonious future.

Turning History pages to understand current status of Naga-Kuki relations

To truly understand Naga-Kuki relations, one has to carefully start turning pages of history without any iota of biasness; here history implies under what circumstances, these two ethnic groups came into contact with each other for the first time in the distant past as consequences of past dealings still haunts them.

And what really transpired after they came into contact, whether they first met as friends, well wishers or as enemy, one group trying to finish the other. Without clear understanding of the first phase of their encounter, history will be distorted uninterruptedly by certain interest groups.

Taking responsibility of Historical wrongs:

Making the matter worst, the concept of acknowledging historical wrongs done by predecessors has no takers; in fact they justify every wrong, which further strain today’s relations. Disastrous consequences unleashed in the distant past as these two ethnic groups came into contact for the first time and in recent past while pursuing extreme ethnic nationalist goals appears not to have taught any lesson to these fanatic ethnic groups. In fact, observing the attitudes of the current decision makers from both sides reveals a disturbing atmosphere.

What is this disturbing atmosphere? The social atmosphere which originated because of unsettled past conflicts followed with intensifying war of words where a sane mind cannot guarantee permanent peace or recurring hostilities in the days to come is a disturbing atmosphere in the context of Naga-Kuki relations in Manipur.

Taking the lead role in creating disturbing atmosphere are powerful civil society groups, nationalists’ armed groups from both sides not to forget numbers of press statements, articles published in media and war of words between battles hardened social media warriors in social media platforms.

Contested Claim to Manipur Hills

The endless debate on the claims and counter claims of being the traditional landowners of Manipur Hills has not find any consensus winner as both ethnic groups depends on their own source of history to be hundred percent accurate and its history beyond corrections.

It is essential that historical truth need to be acknowledged duly to come to a permanent settlement but reaching a timely compromise between Nagas and Kuki in Manipur is unlikely as these two ethnic groups uses their distinct history to push forward the agenda of ethnic nationalism and therefore consciously chooses not to close the ongoing debate. As their claim to hills of Manipur is the life blood to their ethnic driven nationalist movement.

And I shall not dwell deeply on the debate on who has the right claim to the Manipur Hills. Rather I shall add how the debates are carried out and present my short reviews on the debate:

Kukis Inputs

A Kuki writer wrote that the rich cultural heritage and neat administrative setup which is the chieftainship system practiced by Kuki tribes enabled their predecessors to rule over the Naga tribes in Manipur Hills, as a result the several Naga villages paid tribute to the Kuki chiefs. Based on these historical facts, he claimed that all the hills of Manipur belong to the Kukis.

Based on accounts of colonial writers and traditional account, the writer is not exaggerating when he say that Kuki chiefs of the past could easily subdued and uprooted several Naga villages since Naga social set up was a village republic where inter village feud dominates their social, economic and political life, the main reason why Kuki chiefs could subdue them and captured their vast lands. But he will be exaggerating if he meant all Naga villages paid tributes.

All that changed with the rise of AZ Phizo lead Naga movement, Phizo could gain solid support from fellow kindred Naga tribesman living in Manipur hills as they are of the same stock and had also suffered terribly for such a long time at the hands of powerful and well organized New Kuki groups and Meitei entity.

Had the Kukis and Meities been nice and cool to the Nagas, I feel the flames of Naga Nationalist Movement won’t have spread like a wildfire in the hills of Manipur. So now employing the rhetoric of Kacha Nagas or absence of Nagas in Manipur would not make up for the past dominance. In fact, Kukis must not forget that when Meiteis speak of Manipuri unity it include Kukis too.

Nagas inputs

That Kukis are refugees from Burma, arriving late and settling in the ancestral lands of the Nagas with British help. To support the Kukis refugees’ theory, apart from oral history, Naga writers would present hard evidences such as Government of Manipur reports on resettling Kuki Refugees, administrative reports of British Political Agents, extractions from history books by colonial writers and contemporary writers, order passed by then President of Manipur State Darbar.

My reviews on the debate

Kuki and Nagas will not make any political gains in this generation by continuously engaging in meaningless debate on their history and yet failing to settle territorial disputes. Rather its time they should focus on taking equal responsibilities for the hurt caused to each other in the past and finds a way out before it’s too late.

In the end, people cannot decide everything from historical point of view shutting our eyes to the present reality. And what I find disgusting is that both ethnic groups will cry victim after what they have done to each other. I again urged the readers to analyse how their predecessors treated each other when they first met and also count from the first year, they came into contact not starting from 1880, 1917 or 1992 onwards.

Nagas and Kukis in the same situation

Therefore the young minds must seriously learn to start thinking beyond ethnicity even if the current decisions makers are not in a mood to settle their differences in order to construct their relations for the sake of harmonious future before they replace the older generation not forgetting that past generations had hurt each other, more so, the present generation are in the same situation whether they like each other or not.

* Pakinrichapbo wrote this article for
The writer is an Advocate from Peren, Nagaland and can be reached at pakinchawang(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on April 19, 2019.

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