TODAY -

Hereditary Chieftainship exists only in Manipur in the Northeast

L B Singh *



The Nagas and Kukis have a chieftainship system of village administration. The Chieftainship is not hereditary in the case of the Nagas and the Old Kuki tribes of Manipur. The Naga and the Old Kuki Chiefs do not claim ownership of the village land and forest. Their role is mainly limited to ceremonial and religious activities. They don’t have supreme authority and power like the hereditary chieftains. The advice of the village elders and the council binds them.

The term Old Kuki has been applied to the clans that suddenly appeared in Cachar in about 1800. Aimol, Anal, Chawte (Chothe), Chiru, Kolhen (Koireng), Kom, Lamgang (Lamkhang), Purum, Tikhup, and Vaiphei were identified as the Old Kuki clans of Manipur (Lt Col J Shakespear 1912: p148-49).

In addition, Koirao, Maring, Moyon, and Monsang are also regarded as Old Kuki clans. Most of the above tribes have now identified themselves as Naga. The Hmar and the Gangte tribes are also included in the Old Kuki clan by renowned historian Lal Dena.

However, the Chieftainship is hereditary in the case of New Kuki tribes who migrated from the Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar) and Lushai Hills (Mizoram) to Manipur during and after the reign of Maharaja Nara Singh (1844 to 1850). The New Kuki Tribes of Manipur are Thadou, Zou, Paite, Mizo (Lushai), Ralte, Simte, Sema, Sukte, and Mate.

The hereditary Kuki Chiefs have supreme authority and may exercise authority against the wishes of the village elders and the council. He possessed executive, judicial, legislative, and military power. He claims the ownership of the village land, including the forest. He is also the Commander-in-Chief of the village Army and is responsible for dealing with the militants.

According to “The Manipur Village Authority (Hill Area) Act 1956,” village authority elections were required WEF 1957, and permission was required to set up a new village. However, the Kuki National Assembly (KNA) objected to the Act, stating that it ignored Kuki’s way of life in the village. The Act also requires a minimum of 20 houses to establish a village.

However, Thadou Kuki Chiefs are well known for establishing a village with a few houses, enabling them to make most of their sons village chiefs. Illegal Kuki-Chin immigrants from Myanmar or Bangladesh provide an opportunity for all the ambitious Kuki Chief’s sons to fulfill their aspiration to become village chiefs, and it also helps to change the delicate demography of the State in their favour. The number of Naga villages increased from 253 to 812 between 1881 and 2022, and the Kuki villages increased from 73 to above 1600 in the corresponding time.

The Chiefs of all the other tribes have been defanged, and only the Kuki Chiefs of New Kuki clans have a monopoly of military, executive, legislative, and legal power. Therefore, the Kuki Chiefs have acted aggressively with impunity towards the other ethnic groups living in the State. There were Naga-Kuki in 1992-94 and Paite-Kuki clashes in 1997-98 before the Meitei-Kuki clash in 2023.

The Kuki Chief’s word is the law within his chiefdom, and his decision is final. Villages who disobeyed were severely punished or expelled. He can allot village land to outsiders, including foreigners, and make them settle in the village as long they please him. This system is opposed to the very idea of democracy, and the villagers in the Kuki villages don’t have the right to freedom provided by the Constitution of India.

The Kuki Chief’s Association was formed in 1935 by the educated elite Thadou Kukis Chiefs, mostly retired government officers. They have ensured their future generations the monopoly of power and privilege. The Kuki Chiefs and their children have progressed immensely in the last century. However, many ordinary Kuki remain below the poverty line and are highly vulnerable to misinformation and exploitation by the poppy growers and drug mafia.

In February 1948, the Chieftainship was abolished in the Chin Hills of Burma (Myanmar). Similarly, the Government of Assam passed the “Assam Lushai Hill District (Acquisition of Chief’s Rights) Bill” in 1954, and the rights and interests of the Chiefs became vested in the government. In Tripura, the Panchayat System has replaced the institute of Kuki Chieftainship, which functions under the Tripura Tribal Areas Autonomous District Council.

The Government of Manipur passed the “Manipur (Hill Areas) Acquisition of Chief’s Rights Act 1967.” However, the Act could not be implemented mainly due to objections from the politically powerful lobby of Kuki Chiefs. The Act also requires some amendments so that it is not discriminatory to any tribe. The State Government should expedite the necessary amendment to the Act.

The traditional institute of Chieftainship has already been abolished in Myanmar, Mizoram, and the other NE states. The democratically elected Chief has already replaced the hereditary Chief, except for the New Kuki tribes of Manipur.

The Government of India (GoI) should provide guidance and financial assistance to the State Government to implement the “Manipur (Hill Areas) Acquisition of Chief’s Rights Act 1967.” The Chieftainship must be abolished for the peaceful coexistence of all the ethnic groups in Manipur.


* L B Singh wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is a retired Captain of the Indian Navy
and can be reached at bimollaishram(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on December 01 2023.



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