Manipur Simmers as Delisting Proposal for Kuki and Zomi Tribes Stirs Ethnic Tensions

Manipur, a state in Northeast India, is once again witnessing the simmering flames of ethnic conflict ignited by a controversial proposal seeking the delisting of the “Nomadic Chin-Kuki” tribes from the Scheduled Tribes (ST) list. This new development comes amidst the ongoing tensions between the dominant Meitei community and the hill-based Kukis and Zomis, a conflict that has already claimed nearly 200 lives and displaced thousands since May 2023.

The catalyst for this fresh wave of discord is a representation sent to the Union Tribal Affairs Ministry by Maheshwar Thounaojam, National Secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale) based in Imphal. The document argues that the Kukis and Zomis, despite being notified as STs in Manipur, do not qualify as they are not “original inhabitants” of the state. This claim hinges on a Supreme Court judgement from 2011, which, while upholding the conviction in a case of atrocity against a tribal woman, remarked that ancestors of current STs were likely the land’s original inhabitants.

Manipur Faces Unrest: Delisting Proposal for Kuki and Zomi Tribes Ignites Ethnic Tensions

Manipur

However, critics point out that the cited judgement had nothing to do with defining a tribe and was specific to the case at hand. They argue that Thounaojam’s attempt to extrapolate this remark into a blanket criterion for indigeneity is misleading and dangerous.

The 17-page representation, along with its voluminous annexures, goes beyond the delisting proposal. It argues that indigeneity should be the primary factor for defining STs nationwide and requests the government to re-evaluate the entire list in Manipur, paving the way for the inclusion of the Meitei community.

This push for Meitei inclusion adds another layer of complexity to the already volatile situation. Meitei groups have been demanding ST status for years, and the March 2023 Manipur High Court order directing the state government to send a recommendation for their inclusion sparked outrage among existing ST communities.

The Arguements

Thounaojam’s arguments against the Kukis and Zomis primarily rest on two claims. Firstly, he asserts that the broad entries of “Any Mizo (Lushai) Tribes” and “Any Kuki Tribes” in the ST list are ambiguous and provide room for illegal immigrants and refugees from neighboring countries and states to claim ST status fraudulently.

Secondly, he contends that the “Zou” tribe specifically is not indigenous to Manipur but originates from Myanmar’s Chin State. He cites the absence of any mention of “Zou” in pre-independence censuses as evidence to support his claim.

Claims Contested by Kuki and Zomi Organisations

These claims have been met with strong rebuttals from Kuki and Zomi organizations. They denounce the attempt to delegitimize their historical presence in Manipur and point to documented evidence of their long-standing residence in the region. They view the delisting proposal as an attack on their identity and rights.

The Manipur government, caught in the crossfire, has forwarded Thounaojam’s representation to the Centre as per protocol. However, it has so far refrained from taking a stance on the matter. This cautious approach reflects the sensitivity of the issue and the potential for further escalation if not handled with utmost prudence.

Experts warn that the delisting proposal, fueled by claims of indigeneity and accusations of fraudulent inclusion, has the potential to exacerbate the existing ethnic tensions in Manipur. They urge the government to handle the matter with utmost sensitivity and transparency, ensuring that any decision taken is based on a thorough and objective assessment of all claims and counter-claims.

Furthermore, they emphasize the need for open dialogue and reconciliation between the communities involved. Addressing historical grievances, acknowledging the cultural complexities of the region, and finding common ground through mutual respect are crucial steps towards achieving lasting peace and ensuring the well-being of all communities in Manipur.

The situation in Manipur remains precarious, and the road ahead is fraught with challenges. Only through a commitment to inclusivity, justice, and open dialogue can the state hope to heal the wounds of the past and build a future where all communities can thrive together.

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