Jill Carr-Harris interviews three Indians about the civil unrest in Manipur between the Kuki and Meitei people. Dr. Deben Bachaspatimayum, who lives in the area, explains the historical and demographic background of the struggle over land rights. Rajagopal suggests holding meetings by third parties, not the fighting communities, Father C.P. Anto describes the refugee camps and Lily Khawbung recounts the appalling story about the abuse of Kuki women. For the video, audio podcast, transcript and comments, https://tosavetheworld.ca/episode-565-manipur/.
C. P. Anto
Meiteis, cookie, government, India, area, Myanmar, group, population, hills, community, land, tribal, happening, camps, women, food, fighting, peace, people, villages
Metta Spencer, Lily Khawbung, Deben Bachaspataimayum, Rajagopal, CP Anto, Jill Carr-Harris
In this conversation, Metta Spencer and co-host Jill Carr-Harris discuss the conflict that is going on in Manipur. Jill Carr-Harris introduces the panel. Deben Bachaspataimayum, a peace activist and teacher, CP Anto, a Catholic priest, and founder of the Northeastern Institute for Social Science Research in the northeast of India, Lily Khawbung who is a faculty member in Nagar in the Nagaland Social Research Center, and Rajagopal, the founder of Ekta Parishad, a non-violent Gandhian social movement.
Jill Carr-Harris provides an overview of the conflict. In Manipur, a northeastern state of India, ongoing conflict has led to a dire humanitarian crisis. This conflict includes predominantly two ethnic groups, the Meiteis and the Kuki peoples who have an ongoing grievance over land and resource distribution. The Meiteis make up the majority and have gained more political power and development benefits causing mistrust among the Kuki people. Meiteis people were granted “Scheduled Tribe” (ST) status, which has provided them with land rights and other privileges, and this has escalated the conflict with the Kuki’s. It has also increased the distrust between the two groups leading to violence in the form of mob attacks, killings, and displacement.
Tensions increased when a violent video was posted on social media of two Kuki women being attacked by Meiteis men. This video has garnered international attention and outrage escalating the violence even further. Both sides have targeted the other groups religious sites, burning them down as a result. This is not just a religious conflict, there are ethnic, cultural, and economic factors complicating things. Part of the problem is that the Manipur government did not manage the situation early in the conflict.
To effectively address the crisis, humanitarian aid is necessary to assist displaced people living in makeshift camps, providing medical care as well as support for trauma. Peacebuilding, reconciliation, as well as religious acceptance between groups, youth, and fair policies. One group working on these things is Ekta Parishad. It is imperative groups try to rebuild trust and resolve grievances to come to a peaceful resolution.
Deben Bachaspataimayum talked about the conflict prior to May and the 2008 ceasefire agreement—SoO, between the government of India, the Kuki armed group—Kuki National organization (KNO) and the United People’s Front. The agreement became a tripartite agreement and prior to May the government withdrew from the agreement.
During the coup in Myanmar there was a lot of pressure put on tribal groups with Nada joining China and others fighting for their own political space. People were fleeing to Manipur for their survival.
The Meiteis population is declining, and the Naga people are more organized in the north and northern hills while the Kuki’s are predominantly in the southern hills as well as part of the eastern and western hills.
Deben Bachaspataimayum explained that the conflict is about land, and between 1992 and 1996 this was between the Naga and Kuki peoples. A considerable amount of relocation took place with the Kuki’s were pushed back towards the south. The current conflict is between the Meiteis and the Kuki’s. Currently the Meiteis are demanding Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to gain or maintain control over their ancestral land. This is complicated because any person that belongs to a group with ST status and purchases land, owns it permanently. It cannot be reclaimed or purchased by anyone other than the government. This appears to be a failure on the government side because they did not try to deal with the issues at the start.
Rajagopal explained that the Meiteis do not have as much land as the Kuki’s, yet the Meiteis have been allowed to apply for ST status. This has caused even more of a problem and now extensive building has limited and even stopped the food crop for the year.
CP Anto visited Manipur in June and reports that lives have been lost, houses and places of worship have been destroyed, and many people have been displaced.
As Deben Bachaspataimayum states, there is considerable distrust as the Kuki people feel that the Manipur police and the government are taking sides with the Meiteis. The government has tried to speak to groups separately but there are no negotiations taking place. One positive is that neutral people, civil society organizations especially those with Gandhian peace background are accepted can cross communities when it is safe. Despite this the Kuki’s feel that the state is working with the Meiteis, yet it looks from the outside to be a Hindu-Christian struggle when it is one for territory and status.
Lily Khawbung highlights the atrocities, the video that went viral, and some of the statistics that have been reported. Many of the deceased bodies have not even been claimed or received their proper burials. After the video went viral, the internet connectivity decreased.
Finally, the main point in this conversation was to bring awareness and shine a light on these horrendous atrocities. Media attention notified the international community of the human rights violations that have been taking place. It is hopeful that civil society groups can assist providing food, medical and trauma care for healing, along the journey to reconciliation.
The following transcript has been machine-generated using “otter.ai.” Prior to using information from the transcript, please watch the video to catch any obvious errors.
Metta Spencer 00:00
Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, today we’re going to take really quite a long trip we’re going to, we’re India. And this will be a real excursion for me because I’ve never been to that part of India. And I’m going to rely on my dear friend Jill Carr-Harris to be the co-host. Because she knows some of these folks who are going to be our speakers. There’s a lot of trouble going on in Manipur, a province, I guess you’d call it a province of India. It’s a section of India where I can show you with a map and and it’s over there, close to Bangladesh and that sort of area. So Jill Carr Harris is a good friend who lives she’s Canadian, but she’s also lived in India for the last 37 years and has been working as a Gandhian organizer, peaceful worker. So she knows India very, very well.
Jill Carr-Harris 00:59
Let me begin by introducing Deben Bachaspataimayum. Because you are based in money pouring in fall and have been a longtime peace worker peace activist as well as a Peace teacher.We thought it was so important to have you with us tonight. So thank you for making the time out of a very busy schedule and with a very difficult internet situation. We also have with us tonight, CP Anto. CP Anto is is a Catholic priest and very important in the Peace field in the northeast of the country. So he is from the adjoining state of Manipur, which is known as Naga land. And he is the founding a founder of an institute called the northeastern Institute for Social Science Research. We also have CP Anto’s colleague, Lily Khawbung, Lily, is part of the faculty in Nagar in this Nagaland Social Research Center. And we also have with us Rajagopal from India who is the founder of a group called Ekta Parishad. And Reggie [Rajogi] as he’s fondly known as is a been part of an organization which has a chapter in Manipur and has worked from I think the last 20 years the the actor parish that has worked in Manipur, particularly on the issue of land. Okay Jill would you bring me up to date with what you know about these people and the conflict going on in Manipur. So money poor, as our audience probably knows, is a state in the north eastern part of India. It’s one of the Seven Sisters so there’s seven states which spans north of Bangladesh and touches the borders of Myanmar, China Bhutan and, and so on. So it’s a it’s a set of seven sisters and…
Metta Spencer 03:37
Wait, what is that expression seven sisters from I’ve seen it before.
Jill Carr-Harris 03:43
It’s just the name given to the seven states of the Northeast. And what is interesting is that most of the states whether you say Assam or Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, they all have a large number of Indigenous groups, and many many, and there have been lots of ethnic strife in that region of India. It’s it’s it’s been long time, a Naga strike and so on. So Manipur is within this northeastern region of many ethnic groups. And it is been primarily people who have lived in the plains and people who live in the hills. So it’s a mountain it’s the Himalayas that are stretching eastward from Nepal. So some of the hill tribes in Manipur involve the Kuki’s and they form about 25 have percent of the Manipur population. And then there are other tribes, now Nagas and so on in the plains is what were also Indigenous people, but never recognized as tribals. And they’re called Meiteis. And they were an amalgamation of Indigenous peoples. And so what you have in this population of Manipur is you have about 53% of the Meiteis, and about 25% Kuki’s, and the rest are other communities. So what effectively happened was, the land disproportionately is in the hands of the cookies, they have the majority, because the hills are many of them vertical nuts. So when we say land, not all of them are cultivatable land, or arable land, but they have more of the hill regions. And the Meiteis consequently, have a rich Valley. But it’s only about 11% of the state. Right?
Metta Spencer 06:24
Even though like you say something like 52% of the population
Jill Carr-Harris 06:28
53 on roughly 11%. Of course, there are Meiteis that live in the hill regions. It’s not that they all live, but the majority do. Now, the because of the nature of the development. And the way the politics works, is that there are 60 members of the Legislative Assembly for the state of Manipur. And 50 of them come from the Meiteis community, and 10 come from the Kuki community. Oh, so there’s a disproportion of lawmakers, which reflects the fact that the development policies have been largely benefiting the Meiteis more than the Kuki’s. And the Kuki’s have taken this as a point where they don’t see the government working for them. They’ve lost some trust in the governance structure added to this. In 2017, the BJP won under the Biren Singh government and he continued in to win the recent election. And Biren Singh has looked like his his government has favored because they’re the majority of legislators, the Meiteis community. And so he particularly looked weak in terms of trying to extend an olive branch to the Kuki’s because he’s created a and BJP as you know, has a fairly strong agenda to promote.
Metta Spencer 08:22
Hold on. You’ve got me confused a moment. He looks like he’s favoring the Meiteis, presumably he is a Meiteis. And and but But now, he extended an olive branch to the Kuki’s and somebody’s mad about it, who the Meiteis.
Jill Carr-Harris 08:40
No, he’s he’s not able to, because the Kuki’s have lost faith in his government, because they feel the development projects have all gone to the meetings. All right. So there’s already a distrust, right, right. So now, what happened was the government of the Supreme Court of India suggested that the Meiteis could apply, they haven’t received they could apply for a status like the Kuki’s have, which is an S T a schedule tribal status under the reserve under the Constitution of India, there is a reservation. So you can apply to become an ST a scheduled tribe, under that you get the benefits of an ST tribe.
Metta Spencer 09:38
Are there many?
Jill Carr-Harris 09:40
And that means, because Manipur and the Seven Sisters are governed by what is called the sixth schedule of the Constitution of India. The Indian tribal people have rights over the land they cannot sell the land and non tribals cannot live on that land. So by making the Meiteis, an SD they have not made, they only said you can apply, and no decision has yet been taken. But the fact that they were given the possibility to apply, the Kukis wanted to preempt this because their fear is that the government is positively partisan to the Meiteis, given their majority, and that they would get that scheduled tribal status, and then they would be able to move up into the hills and get land. And the Kukis felt that suddenly their land rights would be in jeopardy. Yeah, that even though there’s probably enough land for more people, but this would give many openings, as far as the Kuki’s were concerned for, for people to grab let their land this is.
Metta Spencer 11:05
The rule is that if you’re scheduled tribe, you do not. You have your own land, and nobody can go on it. But now suppose you have two different Scheduled Tribes? Well, that doesn’t mean that one of them can then go on the other tribes land, or is it inter interdependent then and they can move around to other tribes.
Jill Carr-Harris 11:27
They can move around, they can move around you. It’s not a tribal group. It’s a reservation category of all tribes that have land rights, and they have community land rights. So there’s a special part of the Constitution because this was a part of the India that is the Himalayas. And so there’s many forests up in the Himalayas. And so they gave the community rights of those Himalayan forest lands, to the tribals that was deemed under the Constitution. So this by giving a non tribal suddenly becoming a tribal, they would have the same rights as and so the Kuki’s, who anyway had lost a sense of feeling that they were important under the existing governance structure. They then forcefully showed that they were not willing. And so the actual event on May 3, I believe, but I’m not sure I’ve got all my facts quite correct. There was a march of Nagas, and they were attacked. And then that led to a brawl. And that was the first day, which is now 90 days ago.
Metta Spencer 12:58
Why are the Nagas involved they are not …
Jill Carr-Harris 13:01
Right, I meant the Kuki’s. The Kuki’s had an inter a tribal march to show their strength for having the tribal land rights, they were attacked by some Meiteis. And then there was an altercation. And from the Third of May, there’s been a very, very serious killing and counter killing process going on. And this has been in the form of mobs coming around and circuit sir, circling people and and then killing them. So it’s been this new technique of mob violence, you know, 800-1000 people coming around or two to 300 people coming around targets and removing the target. It’s been happening on both sides. And there’s been 150 over 100 Some people say 150 people on the website, I noticed it was 100. But I’m not sure the date of that. 100 people have been killed and, and about 70,000 have been forced because they live in mixed communities so they have to flee. Or their houses have been burned down so they can’t return to their shelters. 70,000 of them have moved into 349 relief camps. Half of them on the Kuki side, in a place called Shuma [Chandrapur] and the other half in the info is the Meiteis relief camps mostly in the valley area. So A total of nine districts have been affected. And so the relief camps must be accessing populations from the…
Metta Spencer 15:12
Now what are these relief camps, like are they tense? Or who built them? And who brings them and who, who feeds people and stuff.
Jill Carr-Harris 15:21
So, it’s not like are you, you know, UN camps. These are schools, colleges, community houses that had been converted into housing people. And they’re very poorly managed, and the facilities are very poor. They’re overcrowded. There’s now forthcoming disease. So now it is summer in Manipur, which is cool, like, say, Sudbury or you know, northern part of Southern Ontario. So it’s cool. But it’s not winter. And they’re managing. The government is providing some food. And but not a sufficient amount. And schools have stopped for these districts, affected districts. And, and so the children, the mothers, and so on, are in these 349 relief camps. So people want to go home, people want their life back. It’s been three months. And meanwhile this there is now drones, there is now huge guns. I mean, we’re not talking about just pistols now. Arms have been coming. So 800 arms, I believe, was came from Myanmar. So that must have been held 8000 guns from Myanmar or coming across the border to help the Kuki’s. 4000 guns have come from artillery banks. It looks like the government has been a little unwatchful of people grabbing the police guns. But that’s…
Metta Spencer 17:19
I was just wondering where they got the guns, and these are our weapons that the police in Myanmar would have been using?
Jill Carr-Harris 17:26
Yes. So then, I don’t know which guns came across from Myanmar, I just read it on the website, but 4000. So there’s various police centers that have their munitions, and they’re their guns and these have been stolen, or they’ve been taken by the different groups. So there’s a huge amount of weaponry that are now in the hands of the Kuki’s and Meiteis. So they’re, they’re, you know, not just mob violence, but they’re shooting. There’s drones being sent that are blowing up. So it’s moving into full scale civil war. And if you if we see what the government responses to the government clearly did not act early enough to to stop it early enough. And now it’s it’s very, very difficult. There is 40,000 paramilitary troops, what we call the CRPF, the central reserve police force, these are not army, not police, but come in for these purposes. There’s the Assam rifles, so there’s many paramilitary groups. Plus, there’s now talk about the Indian Army getting involved. So or maybe they have already. I’m not completely up to date on that. So it’s a it’s very chaotic. There is to arate. So there’s a buffer zone that has been created. The Kuki’s are on one side, the Meiteis are on one side. And it’s difficult to cross that buffer zone.
Metta Spencer 19:20
Are the people that tried to stay separate or is there a government force or somebody trying to keep them separate?
Jill Carr-Harris 19:28
Government forces trying to paramilitary forces keeping them separate? Correct. One of the big concerns is food is so because of this civil strife, and because the growing season is from May onwards, no food has been cultivated across Manipur so pretty soon they’re going to run out of food supplies. So this is a very difficult moment.
Metta Spencer 19:57
What kind of population size are we talking about?
Jill Carr-Harris 20:00
I actually don’t know, if five and a half million is the correct figure. So I better not say I don’t know. i All I know is that there is 70,000 refugees in the refugee camps. And, and it districts have been affected, not the full population.
Metta Spencer 20:28
What I’m wondering is other factors that may have some bearing on their hostility or their their relationship, their ethnically separate, but how different are they? Do they look different? Do they dress different? Do they have different language? Do they have different religions? Do they? Are there cultural differences that would that would play into this? Are they couldn’t they see each other on the street? If they if they pass? Can they each identify who is a Kuki and who’s a Meiteis?
Jill Carr-Harris 21:04
Not always, but because they have to hear the name, but they do have some characteristic facial differences. So you know, they’re not always sure of, of, which is a Kuki and which is a Meiteis, but the name and the location of their where they live is usually within those communities. So it’s the location of their place. It’s also their dress, and it’s their language. And some facial characterstics…
Metta Spencer 21:40
How different are they in appearance or like language, or they’re totally different?
Jill Carr-Harris 21:45
Different, because when you work in the hills, you have to have a different kind of way you have the Sarii and different quality of Sari may be thicker, it’s cooler, you know, so definitely, there’s a dress difference. Of course, there’s been a lot of amalgamation, too, because they’ve coexisted for a long time. So that’s why it’s also necessary that they go for the shelters and burn the shelters, right? Because they feel that by burning the shelters than they’re getting rid of, they’re fleshing out the community from those areas, which they feel should not be there.
Metta Spencer 22:30
And I’ve seen some reference to some incident where women were abused to women.
Jill Carr-Harris 22:39
So on the I think it was around the seventh of May, there was one incident, but they there have been periodically different media that have brought up different rape incidents. So this was an incident of two Kuki women who were naked, who were surrounded by 800 to 1000, Meiteis men, and they were moving them. And they had been gang raped. And some of the gang rape was on film. And then they’re walking naked was filmed, and men groping their body parts was filmed as they were walking and very ugly, verbal interaction. And this was filmed but only went viral about two weeks ago, two, three weeks ago. For some reason, it was put under wraps, nobody saw it, but somebody found it. Put it on the social media. And it happened before but two months, two months before, yeah. Yeah. To over two months before.
Metta Spencer 24:00
And that exascerbated the tensions for sure.
Jill Carr-Harris 24:02
So that immediately woke up international interest, like what’s happening here, and also got women across India, to, to basically, stand up and say, This is not on this is this has gone too far. And the Kuki’s maintained that they have not raped Meiteis and, and it’s only happened to Kuki women. But I think this is just a perception, you know, because once violence gets to that extent, anything goes, you know, but that is the perception that you hear from Kuki’s is that we haven’t raped anybody I mean, this is this is sort of beyond what what should be done. So yeah, so this is this is what to hear, but I would, I would caution people to say that it’s, you know, both sides.
Metta Spencer 25:06
Okay, now the main thing says I hear it are mostly Hindu and the Kuki’s are mostly Christian is that right? And, and clearly the BJP government is known to be favorable to, to Hindus generally just, you know, really discriminatory.
Jill Carr-Harris 25:27
Yes. I mean, I think it would be a mistake to see it as a Hindu Christian violence, I think it’s much more ethnic, because even the Christian Kuki’s are also animus, you know, so it has a lot more to do with their culture, than it is just their religion, you know, their culture of Hill people, their culture wanting to be preserved in the forest, them not wanting the this other ethnic group to come into their areas take their resources. So I think it’s much more that. But some people would like to make it Hindu Christian struggle to because it’s a minority and a majority, and then it would fit a narrative of the majoritarianism. I think that would be very unfortunate, because they’re also Meiteis who are Christian, and they’re, you know, etc. So it’s it’s much more nuanced, much more nuanced.
Metta Spencer 26:36
Well, so it does not,…
Jill Carr-Harris 26:39
But, I have to say, I have to say that 120 churches have been burned down. So but that’s because they know, it’s close to the Kuki sentiments. But 17 temples have also been burned down. So it’s, it’s, it’s also, you know, a way to get back at the people. Yeah.
Metta Spencer 27:06
It does not look as if it’s going to be easily cooling off by itself. And something needs to be done from outside. Is that right?
Jill Carr-Harris 27:20
So the first in terms of containing the conflict before any kind of reconciliation, I think that would require humanitarian aid. So I would make a plea to anyone watching this, that if there’s any Manipuri groups that you can contact to provide some assistance to, because the relief camps desperately need shed tin sheets, bedding, clothes, food, and any money towards that would be welcomed. Of course, there’s also a need for medical because a lot of women and children have been injured, traumatized, raped. So medical and health facilities is very important. You know, living in relief camps is not going to last long, people will soon need livelihood in order to continue to survive without mass starvation. So livelihood support for women in particular. But then I think peacebuilding also has to has to begin and peacebuilding is seen in terms of intra religious harmony. So bringing the cultures via the religions together. And in a spirit of greater understanding, getting a certain officials to set up peace teams, you know, in earlier areas in an adjacent struggle in Nagaland, some years back. Gandhian’s went there, and they did, they walk through villages and try to go person by person, village by village to bring some solace and sense that peace is more important. So this long term engagement, particularly with the youth and to work with the political leaders to try to be more balanced in their development efforts with the minorities, you know, so that the majority is not just inflamed. Yeah, so these are all measures which fortunately, the group I’m associated with Ekta Parishad has a team there now. And they’re working on the humanitarian aid, they met the governor and so I think there are many groups who are trying to see how to respond.
Metta Spencer 30:07
Thank you so much. And let’s go on now and talk to our guests who are I believe some of them are there in in Manipur.
Jill Carr-Harris 30:15
I think we should start with Deben to really speak about what can you really begin to describe Deben for the audience? What has happened after maybe a third that has ignited this giant conflict? And can you talk a little bit about the long standing difficulties that may have been substratum to this conflict but which have really erupted today.
Deben Bachaspataimayum 30:50
Tensions were building up before May too, for us over two three months, when the present government, which is also ruled by the same party, that rules are the center have you know, like, the withdrew from a from a ceasefire agreement, which are signed between the government of India the Kuki armed group known as KNO, Kuki national organization, and the UPM that stands for United People’s Front and these two groups sign a ceasefire agreement known as SoO, this was signed in the year 2008. Prior to this, armed groups are operating all over kill area, which are predominantly inhabited by Kuki populations. So, they, these groups also have their own political aspirations. Namely, they have been sort of demanding and fighting for something called Kuki homeland within the Constitution of India by carving out a certain portion of money poor largely and maybe a little bit of adjoining states area. So, this is what has been going on as a background Kuki ungroup the political organization had certainly very clear political aspirations. So, when this was signed in 2008, it was signed between the two key militant groups and the governor of India, but later on Governor of Manipur decided to join in so then it became tripartite agreement not to you know, like act upon one another. So, it became a tripartite. So a lot of I think, number of you know, series of peace talks happen in Delhi, but at the same time, Manipur also has been Manipur has been badly impacted by the this drug business from across Myanmar. What a what is what used to be known as the Golden Triangle, based in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. These are the countries who are involved in manufacturing drugs, and then these drugs used to pass through Manipur. And so, from 1980s, you know, generation of youth came under the influence of drugs, and many people became traffickers, and big business people also came in. So there’s a whole nexus of political, political leaders, the security forces and armed groups all linked together, you know, got into this business. And so and so like, so all of these armed groups got involved into it, in connivance of the security forces or the government at times and eight times in direct, you know, partnership with unholy Partnership, which they don’t want the public [to know when] things are going on. Because there is a lot of kind of publications, official documents, which are revealed that this kind of Nexus is going on, within the political class, the bureaucracy and also the security forces and armed groups. And so so, so then, when this golden triangle actually died down the 30,000 square kilometers, no acres of area in the hills, had Poppy plantation all of a sudden. And these Poppy plantations were happening mostly in the Kuki area out of the partly in the Nada area. So But then people in Manipur particularly civil society organizations begin to realize there was something very big problem in future waiting for them.
Jill Carr-Harris 35:11
Can I ask you to talk about the Myanmar struggle and how that may have also impacted?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 35:18
Yeah, yeah, during the COVID. The the military coup that took place in Myanmar, dislodging the elected democratic government on [inaudible] There was the military buildup begin to put a lot of pressure on many of the tribal groups in the periphery of the country, Myanmar. So, all over the periphery, starting from the Nada joining China to areas which are going to India, from the north to the south, and towards the south are the competing people who also have their own armed groups and they also have been struggling or fighting for their own political space, there in Myanmar. So they came they came under quite a heavy pressure when many military junta took place. And so, a lot of military action took place very recently because of which lower population also started fleeing towards Manipur, illegally. So, like in the in the in the south of Manipur, there is a state called Mizoram, which is the last in the northeastern region. Northeastern Region state one of the step and this step called miserab is mostly limited by Mizo people who has very close affinity with the Kuki people, they almost can communicate with the same language with slight variation here and there. So, there’s a lot of activity close affiliated with this [inaudible] decided to host a rather [inaudible] shelter to housing of these you know, like people who go who are fleeing from Myanmar in Manipur, where those Hill area foot hill area, which are joining to Myanmar and also inhabited by two people have a lot of this infiltration going on and also they also decided to give shelter to them. And some of these, according to the government report says were also involved in the present crisis, because they also were, you know, kind of fighting for their survival and, and when they saw their own [inaudible]were fighting for their some kind of security or land in India, under pressure without orphans. I think they also they were also put pressure to join in the in the in the inner circle.
Jill Carr-Harris 37:49
When these refugees were coming and taking shelter, there was a greater population and maybe then when the Meiteis felt that they wanted to expand their land it was becoming more difficult was it not because the population had increased.
Deben Bachaspataimayum 38:08
A little slight correction in the lane, Lane population proportion between the hill and valley, Manipur is Manipur is Manipur comprises of hill and valley Hill area comprises of 90 90% of the total Lane area which is about 20 to 22,722 square kilometers. So, almost 22,000 square kilometers are the hills they are [inaudible], which actually surrounds the valley Valley is located in the center of this [inaudible] and these hills are run from south from the north to the south, it is Eastern in the eastern Himalaya falling down to the south. So, if you look at the density of population within the Valley, which is a small portion, this is not even 11 This is like some of the latest research here in Manipur says it is just a person where my days have some kind of effective presence but do not have any policy or any legal right to protect over it. Whereas Meiteis as a population. Undoubtedly without any dispute is Indigenous people of the valley.
Metta Spencer 39:29
What are they fighting about? And what should what should be done about it?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 39:34
Culturally Meiteis people who Jill has said now comprises of 55 or less than that this population is on a decline because the reproductive rate has fallen down to 1.7 which is below the optimal by which they cannot grow their population anymore. On the other side, we have more In a politically well well organized group of people called the Naga and in most of the northern and northern hills, Eastern hills and Western hills and Kuki’s on the southern hills and partly Eastern and Western hills, you can imagine a valley surrounded by hills. And that’s how I’m describing it. And remaining population that is about 45%, are Kuki’s and Naga’s. And when we say Naga, they are not a single tribe.
Metta Spencer 40:30
What Why do we need to even think about the Naga people? What are they about?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 40:37
It’s about land. The conflict is about land. Okay. And there have been there, there has been a similar fight similar violent conflict between the Naga and Kuki between 1992 to 1996. And then this time Nagas were trying to create a larger Naga area under under independent government. And that time, they realized that many Kuki people have already gone into their land ancestral domain in their, into the into the territory. So they were trying to push the Kuki populations from the Naga area. So that resulted into death of more than 1000 people and displacement of 80,000 people at that, at that point of time. And this and the burning of some 2030 houses 30,000 houses at that point, a similar incident took place. So a lot of the relocation of the population took place at that point of time. The Kuki’s had to face the [pressure] actually. And so they had to leave several villages. Which which were which the Nagas claim is their ancestral area and the Kuki’s are forcibly or by, by the by hook or crook they have settled here so a lot of relocation took place. So they were they actually got pushed back towards the south.
Metta Spencer 42:02
I want to know who is fighting whom? What are they fighting about?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 42:08
Okay, this is about the land only the same question. Now, what is happening here is that the Meiteis people is Jill has said, were demanding for ST status that they struggle trial status, several tribes status allows or gives you the right to protect the land that you claim to be your ancestral land, that that gets a constitutional protection. And the reason why methods were demanding for this is that they realize that although they live on their own ancestral land, but they have no control over it, they have no right to partake over it. Any person from race of India, any tribal group from whether or not our Kuki can come and buy a piece of land and settle there for permanent once a piece of land is gone to to any of the ST person, then it is gone permanently, you cannot reclaim it, you can’t even buy it, buy it back, because the law doesn’t allow except Except for the government who has uploaded on the on the land. So,…
Jill Carr-Harris 43:13
Rajigi, I’m just wondering if we can look at the actual refugee camps, the gun running, what is going on now in terms of the violence?
See a conflict, like Deben said is not happening in one day, this is building up. So this was already building for quite some time. And this was a failure on the side of the system, the government not to take note of it and try to contain it. So somehow we allowed this to grow and grow and grow. And finally, we have come to a situation where it is becoming very difficult to control. So the failure was also on the side side of the state not to really take notice of it when it was building up. And the second thing is that, you know, northeast has too many ethnic groups, you know, there’s not just Kuki’s and Nagas are Kuki’s and Meiteis. There are many ethnic groups and they all have their own aspiration for separate government and separate state etc. So, anytime attention can flare up a problem can come up in northeastern state. So, the way we govern the way India governs northeast without a real policy to take care of different aspirations, different ethnics languages ethnics interest, I think we are we are giving possibility for more and more such struggles to come up so I think one should be very careful One should learn from this that the governance or policy for northeast need to be drawn in a way keeping the aspiration of different ethnic groups and their interest in mind and which is which is urgent to my mind it is an urgent need. And even now, I think you are asking about what needs to be done, we will come to that soon, but then I think there’s a lot to be done outside like Deben was also proposing that the wounds are very deep now, because of so much of killing and conflict and mistrust. The wounds are so, so deep, that probably a dialogue should begin outside where Meiteis and Kuki’s are not directly involved in this conflict, but the dialogue can begin outside and from there, the message can go back, if you remember when we when we were having a dialogue between people from Azerbaijan and Armenia in Georgia, how difficult it was to begin because that is a kind of mistrust that that happens in in course of time. So, a dialogue outside will be a very good idea and today, when Mr. Durbin and group met the honorable governor of the state, she also suggested that and at the moment this fight is going on that needs to end so that some very very positive interventions can can begin in that area. So, like Jill said, there is a an element of land conflict that because Meiteis don’t have as much land as Kuki’s, but the court order was only allowing the Meiteis is to apply for a status nothing was decided the Meiteis went to the court and the court said okay you can apply if you want you can you can start your procedure the government of India or President of India will decide ultimately whether that status can be given to you or not. But even this elevance that you can go and apply made Kuki and people very, very unhappy and they began to fight. So, I think it was too early a provocation to my mind to earlier provocation and this must have happened because of a lot of building up in the past. So many houses are erased to the ground and rebuild all these houses will mean quite a bit of work. And then people are not able to go to the agriculture agriculture field. So this year they will not get into agriculture. So there will be no food no crop this year. So the food crisis are going to come. So there is already a crisis of shelter, winter is going to come and there will be a real crisis of food in the in the in the long run. So some of the relief operations are also very, very important. While we continue to work on peace building and trust building between these two communities. And and Anto is in the field so I probably you can also get some feedback from and yeah, thank you.
Jill Carr-Harris 48:17
Just ask CP Anto to give his perspective I believe you were in Manipur a couple of weeks ago, Anto G and how you see the situation.
CP Anto 48:30
I personally visited on 21st of June. During the during the tree in the Kuki resided come up. And it was so disheartening for me to see the people have children, the women are all struggling in the camp. And it was very discouraging, and heartening to see that the youth and women they wanted to get back into their own homes. But we know that they have no place to go back at the same time. They are not happy to be in the camp. Not that you will have it to be in the camp. The philanthropists are doing something to get things done. But at the same time, many villages, the camp, the relief camps were set up in many interior places. And the foot provisions were not able to reach them and they were literally struggling. And immediately we did a lot of relief services in collaboration with the Christian forum, the Marpole and the peace channel, a youth peace movement and we could reach to the villages and we also could interact and play with the youth and children. And in the evening hours. We also had very interactive sharing The Christian forum, Manipur, the 26th of July, we visited three camps in in fall. That was very again, they are deprived of even human rights, the pride of basic human rights, they were not able to get sufficient food.
Jill Carr-Harris 50:26
I think I’ve understood there’s 70,000 people in refugee camps, just to the scale of the issue now. And I’ve also understood there’s a buffer zone between the Meiteis communities and the Kuki communities that is being guarded. So they’re absolutely kept separate. So you’re traversing over to the Meitei’s side? Did you find that people were open to you coming back and forth, and giving them help, and, and so on? How did you feel in terms of this aspect?
CP Anto 51:11
Anyone who is suffering are our brothers and sisters. And rather than labeling them so as of now we know that 181 In record have lost their life, over 300 churches were also destroyed. But unfortunately, 1988 houses of Meitei’s also were destroyed. Along with the 1425 Kuki members, families also lost their houses,
Metta Spencer 51:42
Who has suffered the most, are they equally having their houses burned down? Is one group more dominant than the other? Is it in these refugee camps? Are they equally, Meiteis and Kuki and they’re segregated so that they’re not in contact with each other? And somebody is providing food to them, but not enough is can we get some, you know, just general overall picture of what it looks like there now.
CP Anto 52:12
[Inaudible] a map it is true, they’re completely segregated from each other, they don’t have any interaction with each other, the Kuki committee members have gone to their villages of in two districts, that is Congo P and [inaudible]. And they are far away from the Meiteis community, as of now, the buffer zone, what we have been talking about, that area is completely evacuated. And the people don’t stay in that buffer zone, the cookie communities, Kuki tribals who were staying there earlier, they are no more staying and they have moved to their villages. At the same time, the Meiteis and Kuki’s, they have no connection as of now,
Metta Spencer 53:08
Refugees are more one group than the other or are they equal? And who’s burning whose houses down? Are they equally earning each other? Or is one group being more victimized and more more abuse than the other one? Is one group attacking the other are they equally fighting each other on their own each other’s land.
Deben Bachaspataimayum 53:31
Ah, three, almost three months after this began? There is no letter from any intention to get engaged in further fight. And what has been destroying one another actually, but in terms of number of houses destroyed and number of people displaced, Meiteis people are getting more.
Metta Spencer 53:55
They’re refugee camps, who’s running the refugee camps? Who’s taking care of these people? And what kind of intervention is being made to try to stop the fighting, if any? And what is this all about the women being raped?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 54:10
So let me first answer you will be who is running the camps. When the displacement began, all of a sudden from May 3 When this trouble begin. border communities started making their own arrangement later on. The government responded allotted places like for example school colleges and government facilities. They move the displaced people in into those camps into those camps. Now, we almost do not have any community provides improvised camp but all government run camps and government is making all efforts on both the sides to reach out whatever provisions they have, including food and health services on order. But the problem is because there is a physical separation between the two total separation and no Kuki can go to Meiteis area no methods can go to a Kuki area. So therefore, outsiders neutral people, like for example, Father Anto and his group could come and go across border communities to deliver the services, but then in the heat of this conflict, say, in the in the past past one month, nothing was moving.
Metta Spencer 55:26
Is there any negotiation? Is there any conflict resolution process? Are there police are there is the army is protecting people, what is being done to actually stop the fighting and protect people?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 55:42
This is very disappointing for us also, we have submitted several several representations to the governor and to the central government to stop the violence. And in fact, when this fight began, in the first week itself, the central government started moving in load of troops. Now, we have around 70,000 troops on the ground, including rapid action force, which is a paramilitary forces. This is what people have been questioning the government after what these troops are doing it they are not able to stop the violence, stop the fight between the two communities, whether they are and if they are not able to locate themselves in those strategic areas where shootings are taking place one against another. That’s a big questions. And in fact, the Kuki people thinks that the Manipur police forces are taking sides with the with the Meiteis people, along with the government. On the other side, many people think that certain paramilitary process central parameter forces are taking sides based on the fact that there has been a suspension of operation and agreement between the Kuki armed group and the Government of India. And these Kuki armed groups are, were kept in certain designated camps under the supervision of Para Military Force called Assam rifle. And so they almost look after them so many think that these paramilitary forces are helping the Kuki’s fight the Meiteis. So the security process itself, their neutrality itself is being questioned.
Metta Spencer 57:16
Do the leaders they have they been doing any negotiation?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 57:21
No, no, no, not at all. No.
Metta Spencer 57:24
And does the government deal with these leaders separately? How does what’s the relationship among the people who should be making decisions for the whole communities are they are they interacting is the government trying to help the facilitate their dialogue or what?
Deben Bachaspataimayum 57:42
Yes, no, the government is not helping any dialogue process but rather they are trying to meet some growth on Kuki side and also Meiteis side separately, the Home Minister visited a month after the trouble broke broke out, he stayed in the state for three days, during which time he visited both sides. The Kuki dominated area Imphal, which is a capital city where he met number of civil society leaders. He also tried to meet the Kuki side also the armed group as well as the civil society leaders to the some of these leaders were called to daily, he had called couple of times the political leaders elected political leaders from both sides separately. And they talked to one another, they did not talk to one another the Home Minister engage them in separate talks, not together. So the Home Minister has not been able to put both the parties together on a single table. And that’s that’s unfortunately, what is happening.
Jill Carr-Harris 58:44
I think picking up on what Rajagopal said that a team went to meet the governor today of which Deb and I believe you were there. So there is an effort to work with the governor of the state.
The discussion was interesting, according to the delegation, and the governor has shown interest that civil society organizations especially with some Gandhian peace, background, people should come and help in this process. Why is it important now, because the Kuki’s have no faith in the state, as Kuki’s feel that the state is completely with the Meiteis and which may not be true, but then the perception is that and some people are trying to show that this is more of a Hindu Christian struggle, but this is not actually Hindu Christian struggle. This is more of a more of a struggle that was going on for so long about territory and status, etc. So I think the more we tried to make it a Hindu Christian struggle, the more polarization that is happening in the country will become complete. But try to bring peace immediately by moving on one side engaging in relief operations because that is urgent to care for their housing and food etc. At least help the government in the relief operations and then try to see the peacebuilding process by bringing young people together, having dialogue and then slowly expanding this dialogue base and bringing about peace between these two groups. Otherwise, it is going to go for very, very long, because the wounds are so deep.
Jill Carr-Harris 1:00:36
Lily, do you want to say anything, since you’ve not spoken so far about ways of building peace among women?
Lily Khawbung 1:00:46
So Manipur violence that was that erupted on the third of May lead to destructions of more than 359 churches and quarters and 197 villages belonging to a Kuki so community were totally burned down. And it left more than 50,000s tribal displaced not only from the house, but displaced from the livelihood. And there are more than 100 confirm that, and some of the debt are still lagging at inFile in dreams hospitals, and their bodies are still unclaimed and because nobody can go in because nobody from the Kuki’s community could venture into in full value to claim their dead bodies and even dead bodies haven’t received the proper burials. And this will ensue the Manipur violence after post May is the violations or the crime against women and children. So that leads the grave violations of human rights. For instance, it was only because of the viral video where two Kuki’s so woman’s were paraded naked, grow gang rape, that the nations understood the intensity and the grave situations that is happening in Manipur, especially to the minority and tribal communities. Because after the violence, internet connectivity was sucked down, there was no place for the tribals to voice out their concern, nor there was any channel where they could bring out the issues that they are facing. Because at the end of the day, what happened is that all the media’s are concentrated in in fall, and it is under the hands of the majoritarian. So that was the plight, and it was only when the video was viral that even India so nations wake up to the gravity of the human rights violations that is happening. And there are many instances of rare cases, men hands, and especially children, even a seven year old children who was endure and where his mother and his relative were on their way to access health care services. The mob prevented them. And along with the along with the ambulances, they were burned down. These are some of the instances. But nobody was there to report even though so many eFlyer has been fine. But no license was taken by the state government.
Jill Carr-Harris 1:01:02
And what we’re trying to do both for the sake of Deben and Lily is to use this to raise awareness here and possibly some support we can look into to help the relief camps which are in dire situation to help with the 6000 FIR’s that are being filed to help with the medical treatment for rape victims and children who have been harmed. So obviously there’s a huge effort that the Indian government and the state government largely responsible for but in in which if there was any international support would give a little extra support and show that anywhere. We would like to see this secession of hostilities and the process of reconciliation; we want to thank everybody for this heartfelt interaction. I know Deben, we were not able to give time to fully understand the context. Lily, we were not able to hear your full story. But you’ve given us enough to begin. And I hope we can learn more and have more of these to show solidarity and support for a more peaceful Manipur.
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