MANIPUR’S ETHNIC FAULTLINES

  • Context: The ongoing violence between the Kuki-Zomi tribals and the largely Hindu Meiteis in Manipur is the first time in three decades that the state has witnessed direct clashes between two ethnic groups.
  • The Manipur valley is encircled by skirts of low hills that spread into Nagaland and Mizoram.
  • In these hill areas live 15 Naga tribes and the Chin-Kuki-Mizo-Zomi group, which includes the Kuki, Thadou, Hmar, Paite, Vaiphei and Zou peoples.
  • The Kangleipak kingdom, then a British protectorate, was repeatedly raided by Naga tribes who came down from the northern hills.
  • The British political agent in Manipur is believed to have brought the Kuki-Zomi from the Kuki-Chin hills of Burma to protect the valley from plunder by acting as a buffer between the Meiteis and the Nagas.
  • The Kukis, like the Nagas, were fierce headhunting warriors and the Maharaja gave them land along the ridges, where they could act as a shield for the Imphal valley below.

Kuki-Meitei divide

  • Ethnic tensions between the hill communities and the Meiteis have existed from the time of the erstwhile kingdom.
  • But it escalated with the advent of the Naga national movement in the 1950s, and the call for an independent Naga nation.
  • The Naga insurgency was countered by the rise of insurgent groups among the Meiteis and Kuki-Zomi.
  • The Kuki-Zomi groups began to militarise, and the Kukis launched their own movement for ‘Kukiland’.
  • Unlike the Naga movement, however, the Kuki-Zomi demand was for a state within India, not a separate national homeland.
  • Even though the Kukis had started out as protectors of the Meitei people, the Kukiland demand created a rift between the communities.
  • Many Kukis fled to Churachandpur, a district dominated by the Kuki-Zomi people.

Meitei fears

  • The Meiteis contend that in a state where the government is the largest employer, reservation for STs in jobs amounts to an unfair advantage.
  • While tribals can buy land in the valley, Meiteis are prohibited from buying land in the hills.

SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB

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