By G.S. Oinam
Today, the kuki are hardly remembered as the same people who had played prominent roles at various juncture of history. They are the people whose past had been a story of warlords, Chieftains, heroic struggles and sacrifice. They are perhaps denied the place they deserve in the history, particularly of the recent past. Perverted minds have projected the Kukis as a people with no significant history. This is utter nonsense, and rather a manipulation of historical facts. The Kukis should be given a fair deal before such distortion of history crosses the limit. There is hardly any serious acknowledgement of the existence of kuki living space or lebensraum. This might be owing to lack of information or lack of enthusiasm on the part of academics and others concerned.
Kuki lebensraum is the ‘land of freedom’, a land where one can freely move about. The linguistic survey of India, Vol. III, part III, by G.A. Grierson, published in 1904 by government of India, provides a general idea of the geographical spread of kukis’ living space. An excerpt is reproduced as follows:
Territory inhabited by the kuki tribes extends from the Naga Hills in the North down into the Sandoway district of Burma in the south; from the Myattha River in the east, almost to the Bay of Bengal in the west.
Who are the Kukis?
The tribes Aimol, Anal, Chiru, Chongloi, Chothe, Hangsing, Doungel, Gangte, Guite, Haokip, Hmar, Kipgen, Kom, Lhungdim, Lamkang, Lunkim, Changsan, Lenthang, Thangeo, Kolhen, Lhangum, Lhanghal, Milhem, Maring, Mate, Mozo-Monshang, Paite, Sitlhon, Lhouvum and Singsit, Simte, Baite Tarao, Touthang, Vaphei, Zou, etc., may loosely be put under one egalitarian ethnic entity called Kukis.
However, some of these tribes mentioned above have been assimilated into Naga. This is because of a fear psychosis perpetrated by the bloody ethnic cleansing carried out by the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM). However, they are racking back their genealogy to define themselves as Kuki or Naga.
Freedom and Sovereignty was what Kukis possessed in their land. Their territory stretch from the Chindwin River in the east, the Naga Hills in the north, North Cachar Hills in the west and the Chittagong hill tracts in the south. Until about a century ago these hills were not largely populated. The Kukis reigned supreme over these hills and moved about freely as an eagle in flight.
The erstwhile kuki lebensraum, as indicated earlier, still remains identifiable. By signing the treaty of 1834, the British handed over a huge part of it to Burma (Myanmar), only in order to appease the Burmese king. The kukis resisted the British advance into the Chittagong hills and lower Assam during 1840s to 1860s. But they could not withstand the colonial might and were pushed into the eastern interiors. Nevertheless, every now and then the kukis continued to menace the British imperialistic designs. Therefore, the British instituted a boundary commission to weaken kuki, and so ignoring their living space, demarcation between Manipur (India) and Burma came into effect in 1898. By this demarcation the kukis were put under two separate administrations and their territory was dismembered
During First World War, the Kukis started rising with a new vigour against the British, whish lasted for here years (1917-1919). This time, too, the kukis could not do any substantial damage to the mighty British Empire. They suffered untold miseries and vigorous repression at the hands of the British. Then, in the early 1940’s, hundreds of kukis joined the Indian army (I) and fought the British, yet again. More than one hundred and fifty INA (Indian National Army ) pensioners are still alive.
Both India and Burma were given political emancipation in 1947. Even then the same political dispensation of the British raj continued. Administrative arrangements of the previous colonial regime became the edifice upon which the new orders were built. The boundary lines of the new nations and their states fragmented the entire kuki lebensraum. This is a tragic reality. To make matters worse a series of ill conceived, half-hearted, myopic, legislations and policies made things worse for the kukis, both in India and Myanmar.
The state law and order restoration committee (SLORC) of Myanmar have been exacting forced labour from the kukis in the Kabow Valley. Many kukis have been dispossessed of their land by the Myanmar army; for instance, waksu village was completely wiped out in 1992. In 1967, the government of the revolutionary council, headed by Ne-Win, severely punished 20,000 kukis in the ‘Khadawmi operation’. This operation, which was led by U Muangi, was carried out under the pretext that these kukis were holding bogus national registration and family registration cards.
Consequently, many kukis were forced to leave Burma even though they were natives of the country. In the beginning of 1993, Nung Kam , a kuki village was burnt and bulldozed, and in its place, ‘Saya San Ywo’, a new military settlement was set up. The ostensible reason for this was that kukis refused to convert to Buddhism. The kuki students’ democratic front, Burma, has been highlighting these human rights violations committed by SLORC. All these incidents of harassment and discrimination by the Myanmar military regime have been a matter of great concern.
In the recent past the Kukis entered a most gloomy phase when the NSCN-IM started its ethnic cleansing campaign against them, particularly in the hills of Manipur. This process of ethnic cleansing, which began in 1992, wiped out hundreds of Kuki villages and eliminated over a thousand innocent Kukis. The victims included prominent Kuki Chiefs, leaders and educated youths. This was perhaps done as a strategy to instill a kind of fear psychosis in the minds of all the Kukis.
The NSCN-IM also extracted land tax from the Kukis, even though they had inhabited the land since time immemorial. One can easily verify this truth from the folk tales and legends of the Meiteis, Mizos, Awas (Burmese), Tripuris and Ahoms (Assamese).
Discontentment, sufferings and frustration led the Kukis to resort to armed resistance. But, they are a people who really love to live in peace and dignity. They believe in communal harmony whether it is in the Indian states of Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Tripura, Mizoram or in Myanmar (Burma).
Kukis armed insurgency movement is the result of cummulative effect of Naga insurgency coupled with its integration movement in North-East. Issues on Naga’s territorial integration have created a serious problem in Kukis integrity in north-East. Now, kukis are tracing back their genealogy with the help of Culture, Folk-tales etc. They can’t forget age old Naga- Kuki clashes and ethnic cleansing. Any attempt to pamper Nagas at the cost of Kuki’s interest will not be tolerated and may lead only to violent uprising. Home Ministry should put up the Kuki’s problem on the table before Centre and NSCN (IM) peace talk. Only then, Centre can regain the gradually losing faith of peace loving Kukis.
Kuki identity should be protected, Kuki dignity should be maintained,
Kuki socio-politico-economic rights should be safeguarded,
Kuki tradition and culture should be respected, and above all
Kuki Lebensraum must be recognized.
Then, and only then, will the Kukis be able to live in peace and dignity in their Lebensraum, i.e. between Chindwin (Myanmar) and Brahmaputra (India).