Ethnic cleansing of Meitei Hindus in Manipur – Another Kashmir in the making?

Yesterday Kashmiri Hindus, and today Manipuri Meitei Hindus are fighting for their survival, while the entire country is paralyzed and watches helplessly

Yesterday Kashmiri Hindus, and today Manipuri Meitei Hindus are fighting for their survival, while the entire country is paralyzed and watches helplessly
Yesterday Kashmiri Hindus, and today Manipuri Meitei Hindus are fighting for their survival, while the entire country is paralyzed and watches helplessly

The battle against Hindu Meiteis in Manipur is being waged in the name of Christ?

After the clashes and ethnic conflicts in Manipur which left over 140 persons dead and thousands displaced since May 2023, recent news reports say that Meitei Manipuri Hindus are being driven out from Mizoram, they are forced to take shelter in neighboring Assam.

The situation in Manipur has been exacerbated by the lopsided pseudo-secular policies of the Indian state since its inception, which turns a blind eye wherever Hindus are being hounded and driven out of their own homelands; this along with the rapid Christian conversions have led to massive change in demographics in many parts of India; Manipur being the latest hotspot in a never-ending series of ethnic cleansing, killings and uprooting of Hindus. The mainstream media has always favored and amplified the `minorities under threat’ narrative and never even reported the Christian conversions racket in the country, especially the aggressive church campaigns in the new millennium. The latest flashpoint of Manipur with its myriad ethnicities and complexities makes the issue even more difficult to comprehend. Naturally, the lethargic and biased media actively picks up selective violent videos of a single dominant community that has the backing of the powerful church and even the European parliament, and continues the tradition of misreporting, underreporting, and more importantly, continues to peddle the `minority’ victimization stories. Unfortunately, the NDA govt in the state and Centre failed to communicate the problem in its entirety, further fuelling the frenzy which has been built up. It is possible that they are silent as the church is too powerful for them, and resisting the church might mean losing out on the Christian vote in the entire North-east.

The Hindu Kingdom of Manipur

The historic kingdom of Manipur dates back thousands of years, the warrior princess of Manipur, Chitrangada marries the Pandava prince Arjuna in the epic Mahabharata. In recent history, in the palace intrigues that followed the death of Maharaja Chandrakriti in 1886, the dead king’s brothers took over the throne. To remove and arrest the kingdom’s Army commander Tikendrajit Singh, the British sent a 400-strong army force; in the revolt that followed the British residency was attacked, and several British officers were killed including Assam Chief Commissioner J W Quinton. In the Anglo-Manipur war, the British captured the Kangla fort on 27th April 1891; Tikendrajit Singh, Kulachandra, Thangal General, and other Meitei Manipur royal family members were sentenced to death and publicly hanged by the barbaric British in Imphal’s Polo Grounds on 13th August 1891. The British then placed Churachand Singh, the minor prince on the throne of Manipur, which became a princely state.

The proud Hindu Meitei population which follows the Goudiya Vaishnava tradition and is known for its Kshatriya valor is said to have refused the ST status in the initial years after the merger of the princely state of Manipur into the Indian union in 1949. The kingdom of Manipur with the majority of Hindu Meiteis stretched from the banks of the Chindwin River in Myanmar to the Surma River in today’s Bangladesh. In 1776, the East India Company entered into a treaty with the rulers of the Hindu kingdom. Manipur is also known for its rich Hindu legacy of fine arts, Manipuri classical dance and music as well as martial arts and Polo. The last Maharaja of Manipur, Bodhchandra Singh signed the `Instrument of Accession’ on 11th August 1947, for a brief period Manipur had its own `Manipur State Constitution 1947’ till it formally merged with the Indian Union on 21st September 1949. Since then, the rampant aggressive proselytization has reduced the Hindu Meitei population to less than 41%, which is restricted to the five districts of the valley or just about 10% area of the state, while the Christian population of Kukis and the Nagas form the majority, they occupy 90% area of the hills and also enjoy the Scheduled Tribe status. Manipur mainly comprises Kuki (including Mizo Kukis), and Kuki Phangal who are Muslim converts, Nagas, and Meitei people; a section of Meitei people too have converted to Christianity. It is strange that a tiny state with just 3.5 million populace among the 1450 million people of India should be the center of such gruesome violence. The state has people of 33 tribes with 190 spoken dialects; the Chin people of Myanmar and the Mizo people of Mizoram are kindred tribes of Kukis, collectively called the Zo people.

Meiteis’ demand for ST status

The latest trigger for the conflagration has been the 27th March 2023 ruling of the Manipur High Court asking the state Govt to approach the Centre for considering Scheduled Tribe (ST) status for Meiteis, the demand has been pending for many decades. The court said it found some force in the petition that the `State government was violating the Meiteis’ right to equality and right to life with dignity enshrined under Article 14 and 21 of the Constitution’. The demand for ST status for Meiteis has been on for many decades and has been ignored. In the last decade, the Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee, Manipur (STDCM), in one of the biggest rallies of more than 1.5 lakh people on 18th September 2016, choked the streets of Imphal reiterating their demand for ST status. In 2019 again, the STDCM held a public meeting entitled `Meeyam Gee WarrepLoubaNumit’ meaning Public Decision Day and requested the State govt to forward their plea for reservations to the Centre. Immediately, the All Tribal Students Union (ATSUM) asked ST legislators to oppose the demand of Meiteis for inclusion in the ST list, though STDCM clarified that the existing ST quotas in Manipur wouldn’t be disturbed.

The sequence of events raises disturbing questions; when the High Court gave its ruling recommending that the State govt approach the Centre regarding ST status, the aggressive Kuki population started rioting against the hapless Meiteis. For weeks, they attacked Meiteis, subjected women to sexual violence, and demolished dozens of temples. The moot question is why are Kukis opposing ST status for Meiteis, why are they attacking Hindu men and women, and why are they demolishing temples? The national media picked up Manipur stories only after the Meitei Hindus started retaliating against this mindless and needless violence, and has been presenting a one-sided biased story since then.

Army operations

Other than the State police, 124 companies of the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) and 184 columns of the Army have been deployed in the State. The protesters are found wielding AK-47 & AK-56 weapons.

On 24th June 2023, the Indian Army’s Dimapur-based 3 Corps/ Spear Corps released a video of about 1500 women blocking their convoy in Itham village of Manipur’s Imphal East district, demanding the release of a dozen hardcore militants of KYKL (Kanglei Yawol Kanna Lup), a banned insurgent group that had masterminded the 2015 ambush of a convoy of the Army’s Dogra Regiment in Manipur, in which 20 personnel lost their lives. As the standoff lasted an entire day, the Army said it released 12 militants!

In the present scheme of violence, when the army released a statement that women are obstructing their operations in the hills, they were forced to retreat as women were threatening to disrobe themselves, which then gave ample time for the rioters and insurgents to flee, the national media didn’t report on these abject acts of deprivation. It is also not clear why the Army has to retreat instead of removing the women from their operational paths.

Who actually are the Kukis?

Originally from Myanmar, Kukis were systematically settled in India by the British administration in the nearly 200 years of their rule, they were not only converted to Christianity but were also given Tribal status. Groups referred to as `new Kukis’ by the British, migrated to the Manipur region during the early to mid-19th century. The arrival of Christian missionaries and the conversion of the Kuki people to Christianity changed the political game, marking a departure from the native traditions which had drastic social, cultural, and political ramifications. Foreign Christian missionaries especially American Baptist Church are particularly active among the Kukis. Infiltration of Kukis from Myanmar is continuing unabated even today.

In the Kuki-Naga clashes of 1990, 800 people were dead, Nagas were driven out; Christian Kukis along with Mizo Christians demolished a Behing-shiva temple in Tripura’s Jampui hills in 1997. United Naga Council wanted Kukis to leave the mountainous regions which they claim as part of greater Nagaland. In 2008, the Kuki national organization- KNO, State, and Central govts signed a `suspension of operations’ agreement, which however was always violated by the Kukis.

Illegal Infiltration into India

Kuki-chin from Myanmar entered in hordes into India after the military coup in Myanmar in 2021, and have the full support of local Kukis. They occupied the hills, are part of an extensive drug mafia, and are also supported by the separatist insurgent groups. The NDA govt headed by CM Biren Singh has intelligence inputs that Kuki-Chin tribes have links to the Myanmar drug mafia, and as he is struggling to isolate separatists and the drug mafia, he has become the target of all forces inimical to India, both within and without.

`The Hindu’ quoted Myanmar’s government in exile, the ‘NUG-National Unity Govt’ official saying that at least 50000 Chins from Myanmar have taken refuge in Mizoram and Manipur after the 2021 coup. The NUG’s statement also urged the refugees from Myanmar `not to get involved in illegal trafficking of drugs and wild animals, India’s internal election campaigns, ethnic-based conflicts and any acts which are prejudicial to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Republic of India’. Growing numbers of Zo and smaller tribes are entering Manipur and Mizoram fleeing counter-insurgency operations by the junta in Myanmar. Some ethnic Myanmar people including Chins share ethnic bonds with Kukis and Mizos.

The Drug angle and the armed insurgent groups

The Kukis have occupied all the hills and are heavily into poppy cultivation. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Myanmar has a 1600 km border with India; Myanmar, Thailand, and Laos form the ‘Golden Triangle‘ of Narcotics trade and drug trafficking. Some of the common drugs smuggled from Myanmar and imported to the Northeast are opium, heroin, methamphetamine, etc. According to analysts, one of the triggers of Kuki violence against the hapless Meiteis is also the strong actions that the NDA govt has been taking against the drug mafia including the burning of the poppy crops. Intelligence agencies also say that millions of dollars in the Drug trade are fuelling and funding insurgent operations and arms supply, primarily by China through Myanmar. Videos have emerged in which Kukis say that they want to continue poppy cultivation. `Washington Post’ quoting officials reported that the instability created by the civil war in Myanmar has boosted cross-border drug smuggling, poppy cultivation, and opium trade escalation — a trend confirmed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in January 2023.

Naturally, the question which begs answers is when the Central govt is aware of these issues, what steps has it taken to control the porous borders with Myanmar to check infiltration of people, arms, and drug trade? Or is it also a lost case like the porous border with Bangladesh where millions of Bangladeshi Muslims illegally infiltrate into India? Are the BSF and other armed forces operational in the NE, if so can the Central govt make them accountable for their inaction? In these circumstances, was it wise for the Central Govt to lift AFSPA from a large number of areas in the NE including Manipur? How does the Centre tackle all the armed insurgent and separatist groups?

Christian conversions and ST question

The Kuki groups in Manipur want the hills to be separated from the valley to make some kind of Christian Kuki Hill Council! Already Nagaland and Mizoram are almost ‘unofficially’ 100% Christian states; all Christian tribes and groups enjoy ST status while Hindu Meiteis are denied the same. Because of ST reservations, Kukis, Nagas, and other Christian groups dominate in the respective states’ administrative machinery. In such a strange mixture of ethnicities and religions, an overwhelming number of Kuki Christian MLAs of the Manipur State Assembly demanded the separation of hills from the valley to perpetuate their own dominance and that of the church. As per the figures emerging, a mind-boggling 2000 churches are established in the hills.

The most critical question is, why are ST status and reservations continuing after Christian religious conversions? Surely, the Indian Constitution didn’t intend to continue with reservations even after religious conversions. While Crypto-Christians in large numbers already effected demographic changes, especially in South India, a majority of them enjoy SC status and reservations despite conversions. It is argued that Supreme Court judgments have given liberal exemptions to STs to continue ST status despite religious conversions. In 2004, setting aside a Kerala High Court order, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court comprising Chief Justice V N Khare, Justice S B Sinha, and Justice S H Kapadia held that despite religious conversion, members of a notified Scheduled Tribes (ST) retained their tribal status if they continued to follow their traditional customs, rituals and other traits & could enjoy protection and other benefits.

Is it not a fact that after the SC rulings, religious conversions are rampant in all tribal regions? Why did the Indian state, of which the Supreme Court is a part, continue the colonial British policy of enabling and facilitating evangelical conversions all over the country? Is it not patently unconstitutional on their part to continuously pronounce judgments that denigrate and suppress Hindus and the native Dharma? Is the judiciary in the country so oblivious of the foreign forces acting inimically against the country’s interests, against the native indigenous Hindus and their culture?

If the ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Manipur is just a case of ethnic clashes as some analysts like to argue, why are we then witnessing a curious spectacle of churches in Hyderabad city doing protest marches (Hyderabad Archdiocese, Telugu Catholic Bishops Council, Telangana Council of Churches, etc), and distant churches and towns of Khammam, Mangalagiri, Bikkavolu, Bhimavaram, Palakollu, etc in both Telugu states reporting huge rallies in support of Kuki Christians? Why are Christian groups all over the country in active support of the Kukis in the North-east?

The Hindu marginalization and systemic suppression, conversions, demographic changes leading to killings, rapes of women, and displacement of Hindus is an established playbook perfected in Kashmir valley as well as other pockets in the country, especially West Bengal and Kerala. How does the Indian state, irrespective of the political parties and regimes, tackle this menace where Hindus face an existential crisis in their own homelands? Yesterday Kashmiri Hindus, and today Manipuri Meitei Hindus are fighting for their survival, while the entire country is paralyzed and watches helplessly.

1. Text in Blue points to additional data on the topic.
2. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.

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