Enduring Loss: Stories from the Kuki-Naga Conflict in Manipur :: Book Review

James Oinam *

Enduring Loss: Stories from the Kuki-Naga Conflict in Manipur
Author: Asojiini Rachel Kashena
Publisher: North Eastern Social Research Centre (NESRC), Guwahati, Assam
Year of Publication: March 2017
No. of Pages: 83

'Once, I saw the person who killed my wife at the market. Another time, I met him on the riverbank. He did not know that he had shot my wife. He asked me, “Brother, are you also cultivating paddy here?” I replied, “Yes I am. Where are you off to?” Then I whispered in my heart, “I forgive you”' (p. 51).

'The person who killed my wife was also seeking revenge for his niece who had been injured. Why bring further grief to his family members as he brought to mine?' (p. 52).

The monograph under review was published as a part of NESRC Monograph Series - 2. The work is based on master's dissertation of the author for MA programme in Peace and Conflict Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Guwahati.

As the author belongs the Naga tribe, she was apprehensive about reaching out to Kuki victims for one-on-one interviews which was the method chosen for the study. But the focus group (those who lost their spouses) included not only the Kukis and Nagas, but also Meitei victims of the conflict; all of them cooperated freely.

Rather than focusing on figures and trying to tease out the facts, the author wanted to study the human aspect of the conflict: how they were coping with the loss and forging a better future in the midst of the chaos. However, before getting into the three main sections of the book, the Introduction section briefly explains the historical background of the conflict.

The interviewees were victims of 1992-1998 conflict from villages in Kangpokpi region of Manipur. However, the states of Assam and Nagaland were also affected. Although intermittent raids were conducted by Kuki and Naga villages even before the colonial era, resettling of Kukis in the frontlines of British territory as buffer against the Burmese, also against the Naga and Lushai tribes, intensified the skirmishes.

Also the British and rajas of Manipur using one tribe against the other exacerbated the situation (p. 5). For instance, to suppress Kuki revolt in 1917, the British used Naga warriors. The immediate cause of the conflict in 1992 was desire to control Moreh town by NSCN-IM and KNS, the armed groups of the Naga and Kuki tribes, respectively.

In the study area, Kangpokpi, the author noticed that although the tribes maintained economic and political relations, social and civic interactions were lacking.

Section 1, titled Stories of Loss and Trauma, narrates the stories of the victims. The interviews were conducted in Meiteilon. They were not structured interviews and the author acted as an impartial and non-judgemental listener.

Section 2 is called 'Coming to Terms with Trauma', wherein the consequences and coping mechanisms of the loss are explored. The author cites pertinent studies carried out for other conflicts around the world. The victims have sought solace in faith and there are quotes from the Bible. The choices made by the victims, namely not to retaliate and devote themselves in the upbringing of their children, are praiseworthy. Without such choices, it would have been difficult to contain the conflict.

The Conclusion forms Section 3 of the book. The section highlights the point that a widow victim suffers more in patriarchal tribes like the Kukis and Nagas. While the community was more helpful towards a widower victim (like village women helping out with the household chores), the widow victims had to perform both the roles of father and mother alone without any such help. Also, the society looked upon them with suspicion with regards to their sources of income.

Individual resilience, having unquestioning faith in God and help from the community play crucial roles in bringing back the conflict victims on their feet again are brought out in the study.

'Forgiveness isn't forgetting. Forgiveness isn't usually a one-time act, but commonly a lifetime commitment, especially of deep wrongs. Finally and most importantly, forgiveness is excruciatingly difficult and should not be demanded' (Larson, 2009, cited on page 53 of the book under review).

* James Oinam wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT0com
This article was webcasted on October 24, 2017.

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