By Alex Guite
CCPUR, January 3: Though there have been claims and counter-claims about the chieftainship of Tuinuphai village and alleged involvement of a militant group and powerful people behind the scene, visiting the refugees at Zogal Hall was a touching moment. The future of the 100-odd villagers including children and infants who have been exposed to the chilly winter awaits the return of the Deputy Commissioner, who is on leave till January 3, 2014.
It is interesting to learn that except philanthropic organizations like UCM, (who promised to help) and some individuals no other help has come so far according to one of the refugees. In this regard, the IFP correspondent took an exclusive interview with the chief of Tuinuphai. With the implementation of court order likely to be complicated by the intervention of some powerful politicians, officers, militant groups as told by John (name changed), one of the villagers who were driven out.
On being asked about the genesis of the contentious issue of chieftainship during an exclusive interview, the present chief Tungdim, 72, said it had started with the involvement of Thangso Baite ( sitting MP of outer Manipur). He claimed that he believed the MP who was an MLA of 60 Singhat A/C in 2002 and added that the MP will belittle himself by involving in such mischief.
He continued that he went to him requesting his help in procuring duplicate copy of his village record which had been lost/destroyed during the ethnic clash of 2007 in Churachandpur. Thangso Baite, informed him that he had done the work and now all the documents are with him and can be collected on payment of Rs 1.3 lakhs. I was taken aback and due to my poor financial condition I sold all my cows and with the help of a relative and collected the required amount for getting the document from Thangso Baite. He lamented that when he went to pay the money to Thangso Baite at his MLA quarter at Lamphel the MLA went inside a room for a while and came back and told us that `actually all the money he had spent or told them to pay belonged to one Letsei Vaiphei , the present claimant of Tuinuphai chieftainship, and that he better talk to him. “So we come back without the document as Letsei nont want the money in cash” said the chief.
On being asked who Letsei Vaiphei is and how he is related to him, he answered “ No…no… he is a Thadou-speaking Zou and not Vaiphei as he had claimed“. When we first met in 2006 he belonged to Suantak clan of Zou tribe and was a refugee from Lakhan Village in Ukhrul district . `we do not have relationship with him while he was related to the sitting MP“ the chief replied.
When asked how did Letsei Vaiphei claimed to be the village chief in his presence, Tongkhogin answered that he was sick and bed-ridden in the year 2008. Letsei came in a Tata Sumo to take me to Imphal. I refused the offer but could not resist him and followed him to Imphal and after arranging for doctor and the subsequent check up, in the afternoon on the pretext of dropping me at Churachandpur bus stand he took me to a hotel room where he took out some written document for me to sign which I primary refused as I cannot read and do not know the content of the document in English. He said that the document is about mortgaging my properties for the money he gave it to me through Thangso Baite and reluctantly and helpless I put my signature which later on come out in some newspaper as `sale deed` for my village by the order of DC, Sumant Singh, in 2009 from which time I only begin to know the real intention of Letsei who is in touch with Thangso Baite. He said the change of chieftainship was without his knowledge and in no case the DC asked for his opinion which ultimately was cancelled by the court of CJM and session court.
Tungdim further said that when they fought in the court one Thangzapau Baite claimed to be present in 2006 December 12 on the “Gamsa Thah” which literally means handing and taking over of chieftainship and three other witnesses had different version which were rubbished by the court as their version was proven to be doubtful. He further elaborated that as per Zomi-Kuki custom when new villagers entered they are supposed to offer tea/wine. But Letsei killed a livestock which he claimed as not to be counted as plea to be counted as villagers but as handing and taking over as he has already proceed document/sale deed to ousted me. “ It is interesting to note that he mischievously, with the help of Thangso Baite ,performed Gamsa Thah/handing and taking over in 2006 in December 12 while the DC Sumant Singh, conspicuously ordered change of chieftainship on 23rd May, 2009, which Tungdim said is issued against all norms.
On being asked, what prevented him and his villagers to enter their village on the basis of two successive court orders in their favour, he said that` we thought the court has restored justice but it is true that we were not allowed enter our village by Letsei and his men who are guarding our village. He continued, police acted against us when we once tried to enter our village. And not the least, the chief said, we are beaten by Letsei and his men right in the presence of the police who later brought us back to our temporary shelter at Zogal Hall in favour of Letsei. The district administration told us to wait till the January 3, 2014 as the DC is on leave. Tungdim said that as his opponents are much influential and stronger than them and are backing Letsei Vaiphei our only hope is with Almighty God who is stronger than them.