A number of Christian bodies, as well as leftists and 'wokes', have been trying to portray the conflict between Metieis and Kukis in Manipur as a Hindu-Christian strife.
And this narrative has been bought by politicians and organisations in the West to denounce India and the Narendra Modi government.
But anyone who has even a passing knowledge of the discord in Manipur would know that the Meitei-Kuki clash is a purely ethnic one.
The primary proof of that lies in the fact that all Meiteis--Hindus, , Christians and Muslims (also known as Pangals)--have been clashing with the Kukis.
The Kukis—almost all of them Christians—have not discriminated between Christian or Hindu Meiteis while carrying out strikes against the majority community (Meiteis) of Manipur.
Like Hindu and places of worship, Kukis have targeted Meitei Christian churches and razed them as well. It needs to be mentioned here that different tribes and communities in the Northeast have their own churches.
For the Kukis, all Meiteis, irrespective of their religious beliefs, are the same. So all Meiteis—be they Christians, Hindus, Muslims or Sanamahis--are targets of their attacks.
This also explains why an organisation of former militants belonging to the (MNF) did not distinguish between Meiteis of different faiths and asked all members of the community to quit Mizoram.
Though the organisation retracted from the ‘quit Mizoram’ stand, a number of Meiteis—Hindus, Muslims and Christians—living in Mizoram have started exiting the state.
Meitei Christians do not feel safer in Mizoram—a predominantly Christian state—just because they are Christians. To them, as well as to the Mizo Christians, their ethnic (Meitei) identity prevails over their religious identity.
The Meiteis are now at daggers drawn with the Kukis not because the latter are Chrisitians. In fact, Manipur has been free of communal tensions except for the clashes between Hindus and Sanamahis on the one side and Muslims (or Pangals) on the other in May 1993.
There have been tensions between the Meiteis and Nagas also in the past, but those too have been completely ethnic in nature.
The History Of Ethnic Discord In Manipur
To understand the current conflict, it is important to know why ethnic tensions have troubled Manipur for the past few decades.
Meitei-Naga tensions: Ever since the Nagas raised the demand for integration of the vast tracts of lands inhabited by them in the hill districts of Manipur with Nagaland in pursuance of their dream of ‘Greater Nagaland’ (or ‘Nagalim’), Meiteis have become passionate about Manipur’s territorial integrity.
This issue—the territorial integrity of their state—is one very close to the hearts of all Meiteis irrespective of their faiths. Even a hint of a threat to Manipur’s territorial integrity evokes passionate reactions.
That is why, when the Union Government extended the ceasefire with the Isak-Muivah faction of the (NSCN) to the Naga-inhabited areas of Manipur in June 2001, Meiteis were enraged and set the Legislative Assembly, the chief minister’s office and other government buildings on fire.
The widespread violence that time left many dead (in police firing) and ultimately forced the Union Government to retract its decision.
Territorial integrity of Manipur: The Meiteis have always been sensitive about their state’s territorial integrity and have resisted any move that has the potential to trigger centrifugal (or separatist) tendencies.
That is why the Meiteis are loath to grant much autonomy to Nagas and Kukis who have been demanding autonomous district councils to administer them. The Meiteis fear that conceding this demand of the Nagas and Kukis would be the first step towards eventual disintegration of their state.
The underlying reason for the Meitei-Naga discord in the past was primarily territory. Or land. And that was also why the Kukis and Nagas clashed violently in the early 1990s, leaving nearly 250 dead and displacing thousands (mostly Kukis).
Kuki-Naga clashes: The reason for that (Kuki-Naga) conflict was eerily similar to the ones for the present (Meitei-Kuki) conflict.
At that time, the Nagas became restive with large-scale and illegal influx of Kukis from Myanmar into the hills of Manipur that the Nagas considered their homelands.
The Kuki immigrants started settling down in the northern districts of Manipur like Ukhrul, Tamenglong and Senapati that Nagas consider their territories.
That influx (of Kukis from Myanmar) was triggered by what is known as the in Myanmar and the brutal crackdown by the military junta in that country on civilians.
The recent influx of Kuki immigrants from Myanmar into Manipur has also been triggered by excesses carried out by the junta on civilians in that country.
The Nagas felt that the Kukis would outnumber them and lay claims on their land. Their fears came true when the Kukis did start asserting their claims over lands which belonged to the Nagas.
And so they (the Nagas) started driving away Kukis. The Kukis retaliated, and that led to violent clashes.
Incidentally, both Nagas and Meiteis look upon the Kukis as ‘outsiders’ who migrated to Manipur from Myanmar. Hence, they hold, even if Kukis now form 25 per cent of the state’s population, that they (the Kukis) do not have any legitimate claims over most of the land they inhabit in Manipur.
The Nagas, like the Kukis, are predominantly Christians and many Nagas and Kukis belong to the same Christian denomination. But that has not stopped the two communities from clashing with each other.
Interestingly, even today, the Nagas oppose the Kukis’ claim over many areas in the hills. The renewed demand by the Kukis for a separate state carved out of Manipur is opposed as vehemently by the Nagas as the Meitis.
Kuki-Paite clashes: It must also be remembered that the Kukis and their ethnic brethren—the Paites—clashed violently in 1997-998, again over land.
Thousands of Kukis, who speak the language, had been displaced from the northern districts of Manipur like Ukhrul, Senapati and Tamenglong (which are dominated by the Nagas). They migrated to Churachandpur and settled down there.
The Paite-Zomis, who belong to the same ethnic group as the Kukis but speak a different dialect, were the original inhabitants of Churachandpur. The Paites, who feared being reduced to a minority in their homeland by their ethnic cousins, started clashing with the new settlers.
The clashes became violent and left over 350 dead while displacing thousands. Both the Kuki settlers and the Paite-Zomis were predominantly Christians. But that did not stop the violence.
The Kukis destroyed Paite houses and churches, and the Paites also did the same. Belonging to the same religion was no inhibiting factor in the bloody clashes between the two groups belonging to the same ethnic community.
The Current Conflict
The current Meitei-Kuki conflict also has to be viewed against this backdrop.
The reported large-scale influx of people belonging to the Kuki-Chin-Zo ethnic group from trouble-torn Myanmar into Manipur over the past two years has alarmed the Meiteis.
The Meiteis believe that this influx will create a demographic imbalance. If the Kukis, who already form 25 per cent of the state’s population, grow in numbers, their demand for autonomy will also grow stronger.
As mentioned earlier, the Meiteis and Nagas look upon most Kukis as migrants from Myanmar and dispute their (the Kukis’) claim over most lands that they inhabit within Manipur.
They argue that few Kukis inhabited the hills of Manipur till the British brought them from Mynamar and encouraged them to settle in the hills.
That migration from Myanmar has continued unabated and, hence, the Kukis cannot be considered original inhabitants of Manipur, say the Meiteis (and Nagas).
Religion is not a factor here at all. Even Meitei Christians view Kukis (who are overwhelmingly Christian) as ‘outsiders’ and illegal immigrants from Myanmar.
Poppy cultivation and eviction of Kukis: The Meiteis also hold that the Kuki immigrants from Myanmar, being desperately poor, have taken to illegal poppy cultivation and that has compounded the drug menace in the state.
A large number of Meiteis are victims of drug abuse and the Meiteis hold the Kukis responsible for this.
That is why the crackdown on poppy cultivation by the Biren Singh government since late last year enjoyed the backing of all Meiteis, and Nagas as well.
Kuki immigrants from Myanmar have been settling down on uninhabited tracts of lands--mostly forests--in the hills and cultivating poppy as well as other crops there.
The Biren Singh government had, since early this year, started declaring such lands as reserve forests and evicting Kuki settlers from those lands. Those evictions endeared Biren Singh to Meiteis.
These two measures—eviction of Kuki settlers from lands they were occupying and crackdown on illicit poppy cultivation—led to large-scale resentment among Kukis.
When this resentment coalesced into protests in late April that ultimately led to attacks on Meiteis in Churachandpur on 3 May, the retaliation by Meties in Imphal Valley was swift.
The Kukis, who were in a minority in Imphal Valley, became easy targets of Meitei mobs.
The Meiteis who attacked Kukis included Meitei Christians and Meitei Muslims. When the Meiteis burnt down Kuki churches, they did not do so because those were Christian places of worship but because they were Kuki places of worship.
Similarly, when the Kukis also attacked Meiteis, they did not spare Meitei Christians. Kukis burnt down Meitei Christian churches too, and they did so because they were Meitei places of worship.
When the Kukis burnt down Meitei temples and Sanamahi Snaglens (the places of worship of Sanamahis), they did so because they were Meitei places of worship.
What is also significant is that the Meitei mobs who attacked Kuki properties or killed Kukis consisted of members of Metei terror outfits, including the (KCP).
These communist radicals who believe passionately in Maoism and are avowedly atheists took part in attacks on Kukis and Kuki properties not because Kukis are mostly Chrsitians, but because they look on the Kukis as illegal migrants from Maynamr who pose a threat to Meiteis.
That is why the ongoing conflict in Manipur is a purely ethnic one and has no religious angle to it. Those who attempt to give it a religious colour are not only guilty of propagating fake narratives, but are also hurting India's cause.
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