North East

Chronicles Of Clashes: The Long History Of Animosity Between Kukis And Other Communities In Northeast

Jaideep Mazumdar

Aug 17, 2023, 08:15 PM | Updated 08:15 PM IST

Outlaws of the Kuki National Army (KNA)
Outlaws of the Kuki National Army (KNA)
  • The Kuki community has seen conflicts not just with other communities of the Northeast but has also witnessed violent strife within itself.
  • The post-Independence history of Northeast India is replete with clashes, often marked by blood and gore, between many ethnic communities. 

    A close study of the long list of such clashes over the last 76 years will reveal that the Kukis particularly have been involved in violent conflicts with various other communities in not only Manipur, but also in Assam. 

    Besides this, the Kukis have also seen conflicts within the community. 

    Prominent conflicts involving Kukis

    (i) The Kuki-Naga Clashes: Kukis started attacking Naga settlements in the hills in 1990, allegedly with the aim of forcing the Nagas out of their lands.

    The Kukis wanted to claim vast swathes of Manipur’s hills which have been inhabited by Nagas, as their own land.

    The objective was, and remains so to this day, to claim a major part of the hill districts of Manipur as ‘Kukiland’.  

    Many Naga villages were burnt and hundreds of Nagas displaced. Many Nagas were also killed by Kukis.

    In 1992, when repeated warnings to the Kukis to stop the eviction of Nagas from their lands went unheeded, the Nagas retaliated.

    Over the next three years, more than 230 people (mostly Kukis) were killed and tens of thousands of Kukis evicted from Naga areas in the hills of Manipur. 

    (ii) Kuki-Paite Clashes:

    Though the Kukis and Paiteis belong to the same Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group, the Paites distinguish themselves as Zomis which the Thadou-speaking Kukis resented. 

    Tens of thousands of Thadou-speaking Kukis who had been displaced from Naga areas during the Kuki-Naga clashes started settling down in Churachandpur district (of Manipur) that the Paites considered their ‘homeland’. 

    The new settlers in Churachandpur, backed by Kuki militants belonging to the Kuki National Front (KNF), started asserting themselves and committing atrocities on Paites, displacing them from their villages and forcibly taking over their properties. 

    In response, the Paites formed their own militant group--the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA). 

    As tensions kept rising between the Kukis and Paites, the Kukis fired the first bullet. The KNF attacked a Paite township called Saikul and killed 13 Paites in June 1997. 

    Fierce clashes that broke out over the next 17 months left 352 people (both Kukis and Paites) dead and displaced 15,000 people. 

    The clashes ended with a peace agreement in October 1998 that laid down separate identities for Kukis and Zomis. 

    (iiI) Kuki-Karbi Clashes:

    The Kukis, who had started moving into the hilly Karbi Anglong district of Assam in the third decade of the last century (in the 1930s), started skirmishing with the indigenous Karbis of the district from 1999. 

    The Kukis, concentrated in the Singhason Hills--a small pocket in the Karbi Anglong district--started asserting themselves and demanding political autonomy. 

    A section of Kukis, encouraged by the Kuki Revolutionary Army (KRA), also started voicing the demand for integration of Kuki-inhabited areas in Karbi Anglong with the Kuki-inhabited areas of adjoining Manipur to form a ‘Kukiland’ state.

    This brought the Kukis into direct conflict with the Karbis who had their own militant outfits like the United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS).

    The KRA triggered the violence by attacking Karbi villages in October 2003 and killing a few Karbis. The UPDS retaliated by attacking Kuki settlements and killing Kukis. 

    The worst massacre took place in March 2004 when the KRA killed 39 Karbis in a single day. 

    The conflict ended with security forces launching operations against both the militant groups. But not before it left about a hundred persons dead. 

    (iv) Hmar-Dimasa Clashes:

    The Hmars belong to the Kuki-Chin-Zomi-Mizo ethnic group and apart from Mizoram and Manipur, had settled down in pockets of present-day Dima Hasao district of Assam that is inhabited by Dimasas who once ruled over large parts of Assam and the plains areas of present-day Nagaland. 

    Like their brethren in neighbouring Karbi Anglong district, the Hmars started flexing their muscles in the district from the late 1990s and challenging the Dimasas. 

    The Hmars, all Christians, also started an aggressive proselytization drive to convert the Hindu Dimasas to Christianity.

    In this, they were aided by the Church and the Naga insurgent group--the Isak-Muivah faction of the NSCN that punctuates all its communication with ‘Nagalim for Christ’. 

    The Dimasas started resenting the assertion by the Hmars who were recent settlers in the district. They (the Dimasas) were particularly angered by the fierce opposition by Hmars to their demand for greater autonomy or a separate Dimasa state within the Indian Union. 

    The Hmar militant outfit--the Hmar People's Convention (Democratic), the HPC(D)--started attacking Dimasa settlements in 2002. The Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), a Dimasa militant outfit, started retaliation and full scale clashes broke out in early 2003. 

    The worst massacre took place in March 2003 with the HPC(D) massacring 27 Dimasas. Attacks and counter-attacks continued and more than a hundred people were killed. 

    The Hmars also demand that the areas they inhabit in Dima Hasao be integrated with ‘Kukiland’. 

    The violence ended with peace talks involving the two ethnic groups and the Assam government as well as the Union Government in 2004. 

    But tensions still simmer. 

    (v) Kukis vs Gorkhas:

    The Kukis, in their bid to claim most of the hills of Manipur as their homeland, also came into conflict with Gorkhas inhabiting the Kakching, Tengnoupal, Kangpokpi and Churachandpur districts where they (the Kukis) are in a majority. 

    The Gorkhas came to Manipur during the reign of the Meitei kings and are a poor and socially disadvantaged group in the state who number about 67,000 now. 

    They are engaged mostly in farming small plots of land, dairy and poultry, petty businesses and as labourers. Some Gorkha ex-servicemen of the Indian Army and Assam Rifles have also settled down in Manipur. 

    As such, due to their low population and poor socio-economic status, they pose no threat to the Kukis.

    And yet, they face all kinds of pressures to leave the area. There are also disturbing reports that encouraged by the Church, the predominantly Christian Kukis have been trying to convert Hindu Gorkhas by force and enticements. 

    In a recent memorandum to BJP president J P Nadda, the Gorkhas of Manipur have asked for security and protection from Kuki militant groups. 

    (vi) Clashes in Mizoram

    The Mizos, close ethnic brethren of Kukis, have also found themselves in more than one ethnic conflict in Mizoram.

    Severe restrictions have been imposed on the rights of non-Mizos for many decades, even from the pre-Independence days, in what was the Lushai Hills of Assam that became the Mizoram state in 1987. 

    Many communities in Mizoram like the Marwaris, Biharis and Bengalis who have been engaged in business activities or have been employed in the administration for many decades have faced curtailment of their rights, especially with regard to owning properties.

    The non-Mizo business community in the state have also faced curtailment of their freedom to carry on their businesses in the form of reducing the quotas of trade licences for non-Mizos and restricting them from bidding for government or semi-government contracts. 

    But the worst discrimination was faced by the Brus (or Reangs) who have resided in Mizoram for many centuries. T

    The Brus are historically spread over contiguous areas of Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) of Bangladesh. 

    The Brus, predominantly Buddhists, faced genocide by the Pakistani Army in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (when Bangladesh was East Pakistan till 1971). 

    The Mizos resented the presence of the Brus since they were a separate ethnic group.

    Two powerful civil society groups--the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Students’ Association--forced the state government to arbitrarily remove the names of Brus from the state’s electoral rolls in order to disenfranchise them, marginalise them politically and then divest them of their rights. 

    That triggered a conflict between the Brus and Mizos, and more than 35,000 Brus were forcibly displaced from Mizoram.

    They have since then lived in inhuman and squalid conditions in refugee camps in Tripura. 

    That is why current calls by Mizos to grant refuge to Kuki-Chins from Myanmar are met with charges of hypocrisy. The Kuki-Chins from Myanmar belong to the same ethnic stock and, are Christians too. 

    People of other ethnicities and religions however, pejoratively called ‘vai’ in Mizo, are not offered similar refuge in Mizoram.  

    Kuki clashes

    Thus, the Northeast has witnessed many clashes with the Kukis being one of warring sides.

    What also distinguishes these conflicts is the gore accompanying many of the killings perpetrated by Kuki militants. As has been seen in the recent Kuki-Meitei clashes, the bodies of many Meitei victims had been disfigured after they had been killed. 

    The purpose has been to strike fear among adversaries by projecting Kuki fighters as fierce. 

    But that has only fuelled more violence and led to tit-for-tat killings (of Kukis) marked by gore.

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