Interview with ATSUM President Pu Thang Zamuan Tombing

With the ongoing allegations and misunderstandings surrounding the ATSUM (All Tribal Students' Union, Manipur) and the recent 38 hours intense agitation called by ATSUM tzmuantombingon June 2013, Team have interviewed the ATSUM President Pu Thang Zamuan Tombing to shed some light on some of the issues and allegations. On a personal note Pu Tombing is a father of four and married to Esther Ching Tombing. Currently they reside in Dorcas Road, New Lamka, Churachandpur, Manipur. He has double MA degrees both in Economics (MU) and Political Science (IGNOU), and was the headmaster of Rayburn High School for six years. He has been actively involved in social and church as well (see his Bio Data in the footnote). Below is the excerpt of the interview.


What's your plan or strategy to address the current conflict between various Student Unions regarding the functioning of ATSUM?
Manipur Tribal consists of 38 recognised tribes and each tribe had been patronising their own tribe-based organisations, thereby neglecting the tribal apex student body - ATSUM. We the executive council of ATSUM worked and will continue to work to bring an understanding between each student organisation. We worked to create awareness about our rights, meeting with different organisation leaders, politicians and bureaucrats, through poster campaigns, pamphlets and write ups, speech, etc. to bring unity among the tribals. There is no conflict between ATSUM and any organisation as it is formed by the five constituent units. Our team is committed to issues related to the tribals that are accepted by everyone. I would like to change the trend, functioning and set up of ATSUM.

Would you clarify the various allegations made by other student bodies, namely KSO and ANSAM?
ANSAM and KSO are not the constituent units of ATSUM. Five hill district students’ unions viz. ZSUM (Tamenglong), TKS (Ukhrul), NSUC (Chandel), CDSU (Lamka) and SDSA (Senapati) who have voting rights constitute ATSUM.  ANSAM had no much say about ATSUM and keep themselves aloof (press release on 28th feb 2013) as their initiative had failed twice (election, search committee). But the KSO still continued to say things against their own decision for reason(s) best  known to them. I can’t digest their standpoint as I have approached KSO leaders for my candidature as president of ATSUM. I hope we will all realise one day to unite and strive together for a common cause.

I would like to elaborate the true chronology of its revival. Election Commission was entrusted for election of new executives in 2011, and on 4th June 2011 election was supposed to be conducted, where in the Election Commissioners proposed for the continuation of former leaders for another term which was objected by the house and the election commission was dissolved in Dec 2011. The house again endorsed ANSAM and KSO for a consensus, that too failed even after three months’ time. After the failure of the Election Commission (due to the KSO’s claim for equal voting  and disrupting  the election procedure) to hold election and the endorsement of the house to ANSAM and KSO for a consensus, a search committee with conventional practices for presidential candidate was set up and that too failed. After several rounds of emergency meeting to revive ATSUM, the house on 5th April 2012 at hotel Tampha, resolved to endorsed the five presidents of the hill districts based students organisations to revive ATSUM and appointed D.Stephen Zeme, Chairman ZSUM to be the convenor of the presidential council. Accordingly, D.Stephen, the convenor took up steps to revive ATSUM and on 19th April 2012, the Presidential Council resolved to share executive post as is now (President for CDSU, General Secretary/ Vice president for TKS, Ukhrul/ SDSA, Senapati to resolve between them at the earliest, Finance Secretary for NSUC, Chandel, Speaker for ZSUM, Tamenglong), where all the district based student organisations agreed and signed on the resolutions adopted. On 25th Oct 2012 election was held at ZSUM office and candidates send by each district students organisation for each executive posts were elected and accepted by the house. So on 2nd Nov 2012 an oath and commissioning of office by the new ATSUM executive was administered by the convenor in the presence of the Presidential Council. (Copies attached for authenticity). From this fact, I appeal to the right thinking citizens to decide what is right and what is wrong. It is my aspiration to work united for a strong tribal body for the cause of the tribal rights.


Given the people's perception about the bandh culture in Manipur, do you find it worth considering other forms of protest, such as, stalling railway project, picketing of Govt offices, which will have minimun effect on the public but maximum impact to the Government?
As stated in our press statements we are well aware of the bandh affect, socially and economically and that is not our first option. Since the public is not aware of the issues, to create awareness to our own people a 38 hours intense agitation was called on June 3 and 4, 2013 and it was a big success due to public support. Less public disturbance but effective means of voicing our legitimate demands is being initiated in different forms like office picketing, blocking office roads with music concert and speeches, closure of state and centre projects and ways to destabilising government functioning in offices.


What's ATSUM standpoint regarding the Oil Exploration project that has been in process in Tribal areas of Manipur?
Not only oil exploration, we are also concern with uranium, chromium, mica, etc. projects  taken up by the govt. which are initiated without prior informed  consent (as in the UN declaration of indigenous tribal right) of the land owners (tribal chiefs), will be opposed  by ATSUM unless the lords of the land agreed with the projects to be taken up in our areas.


What about the allegation of KSO GHQ about the President of ATSUM imposing as KSO leader to negotiatiate the release of ATSUM volunteers apprehended by police at Sekmai? How far is the truth?
They (KSO) are like that and don’t care about cook up lies. The truth is that I didn’t even step in to the Sekmai police station at all on the 3rd and 4th of June 2013. Instead,our patrons, advisers and well wishers are there who would never hide their identity, to oversee and seek the needs of our volunteers. I am who and what I am and not an imposter.(God knows). I pray, if they know a little bit of honesty, then things would have been much better.


Given the daily press attack and counter attack being played out in State media regarding the current ATSUM problem, do you think it is wise to sit together under one roof and find a lasting solution to solve the problem? Public perception is that, the Tribal students union were playing into the hands of the partisan state media.
I wish that could happen to show our tribal unity to the partisan majority community. The problem is when we tried to sit down and share our views and  some will , by making one excuse or the other will not be there, will not turn up for a good cause. When people allow themselves to being played into the hands of the majority community and playing a double role, say the crow is black, but were ready to turn it into white, or terming sweet as sour just because they were powerful and strong in paper, they are really not what you see.


What is your plan and strategy to take ATSUM to greater heights for the betterment of the Tribal population in Manipur as well as in bridging the wide division between the hill and valley people? And, how is your experience in spearheading the ATSUM in your capacity as  President of the Union?
To work for the tribal
– Education system, infrastructure and teaching should be at par with the valley. For example out of many instances, say Maokot high school has only one teacher with 182 students, whereas teacher student ratio is 1:4 in some valley schools.
- What is due to us must be given. Certain rights enshrined in the constitution should be given like article 371 C which clearly states  the powers and functions of our representatives (HAC).
- Article 338 A of the Indian constitution should be implemented and separate commission for scheduled tribes should be set up to safeguard reservation, education, distinct language identity, etc. according to census.
- All important national projects should not be concentrated in valley districts.
- To awaken our representatives towards their subjects.
- Development of transport and communication, equitable development, improve health facility
- protection of indigenous tribal people over land, forest and management of natural resources.
- unbiased administration, and manymore…
There are challenges ahead, which I love as it makes us active and responsive to issues. Let us awake, arise and stop not till our goal is reached. ( S.V.)

How did you become the ATSUM President? How long is the presidential term for ATSUM? Do you plan to continue in the next term?
Fully committed to the tribal issue, I approached  and obtained support from the SSPP (my parent student organisation), KSO and CDSU (my parent district student organisation) in my district and offer myself as a candidate, and later I approached  leaders of all the hill district student bodies. The CDSU has endorsed my candidature as resolved by the CDSU assembly and the executive meeting under the able leadership of Pu Lalkhohao Chongloi, the then president CDSU, and the presidential council of ATSUM and its constituent units accepted my candidature, elected me and other executives as put up by each units on 25th Oct 2012 (resolved by the presidential council on 19th April 2012). That's how I became the president of ATSUM for the term 2012-2015. And as for the next term let’s wait and see…


Some organization claimed that the present ATSUM body is fake and is not representing the entire tribals of Manipur. Is it true? Please comment.
That is a wonderful thing to term ATSUM as fake (For every units’ president had signed in all the resolutions in the process of its revival) as if ultra-constituent units. Let alone the constituent units have veto power to give terms to ATSUM.


Do you think the June 3-4 ATSUM bandh is fruitful and met its demands?
Yes, the June 3 and 4 intense agitation is very much successful though some of our brothers could not come to terms. We are more aware with our rights now, that is our unwritten demand to our people. The Govt. is now assuring to fulfil all our legitimate demands, this happened only because of our co-operation and unity.


Was there a peace talk regarding the Rengkai incident. Can you elaborate on it?
Why should we have peace talk when we are uniting? Isn't it the responsibility of the government for any untoward happenings during any protest? Are they not tribal? A brother should understand and co-operate his own brother’s deed for a good cause in the family. May be this strong opposition is due to vested interest from former leaders, leaders turn contractors.


KSO and HSA clearly do not support ATSUM. Do you think this will hinder any future plans and activities of ATSUM? Some people are skeptical that this disunity might flare up communal harmony. What is your opinion on this?
Please note that KSO and HSA are not a constituent member of ATSUM. But they do have the rights to express their opinion in the interest of the tribals or against it. But I hope narrow mindedness for personal gains will not work in this civilized society. Our future plans will go ahead very much as our legitimate demands are genuine. Every enlightened leaders of every community backed us for our causes. We are heading for unity- the darkest hour is just before dawn - there is time for everything in this universe. Our demands and issues are not for a particular community nor against a community. So, I don’t think such communal flare up will happen.


What student unions comprise ATSUM? Who are the executive members?
ATSUM is comprised of its constituent units viz. Churachandpur District students’ Union (CDSU), Naga Students’ Union, Chandel (NSUC), Senapati District students’ Association (SDSA), Tangkhul Katamnao Saklong (TKS) Ukhrul, Zaliangrong students’ Union, Tammenglong (ZSUM) and sister organisations. These students organisations based in each district have voting rights for election of ATSUM executive council. The present executive members of ATSUM for 2012 to 2015 are as follow:-

1.    Thang Zamuan Tombing: President

2.    Vareiyo Shatsang: General Secretary

3.    Paominlien Lhouvom: Asst. General Secretary

4.    Lovejoy Shimrah: Education Secy.

5.    Ginlallian Simte: Tribal Rights & Reservation Secy.

6.    Micah Kamei: Information Secy.

7.    Vum Khongsai: Asst. Fin. Secy.

8.    Lalmuan Hauzel: Asst. Fin. Secy.

9.    Leklai: Member

10.  Richard Huleng: Member

11.  Sumkhanmung: Member

12.  Majabung Gangmei: Speaker, Assembly

13.  Nehkholal Haokip: Secy. Assembly Affairs

14.  Ningthoudai: Adviser

15.  Paokam Haokip: Adviser

16.  Paulring Langhu: Adviser

17.  K. Zou: Adviser

18.  Ngachonmi Chamroy: Convenor, Advisory Board

19.  Ex officio: President and Secretary of each district student organisation


Some of our units are yet to send their representatives as the election of students organisation in the district is not completed and some are due to conduct within a month or two. Lastly, when one like to start good works, there are some who likes to oppose for fear of exposing their misdeeds in the past. And again our representatives who don’t care for the people’s welfare are our enemies in disguise. Once we approached the HAC chairman for our issues regarding article 371 (C), His reply is that ‘ the weapons are in our hands but we don’t know how to use them’. It’s really a shame for a legislator to occupy the seat without knowing its functions and powers. I would like to remind and appeal our elected leaders that they are elected by the people and for the people, not against their subjects.


Thank you Pu Tombing for your time and responses.
Thank you. All the best to May progress and prosper!!



icon ATSUM Formation (4.5 MB)





Father’s Name: Nengthang Tombing
Mother’s Name: Ning Douniang
Name of spouse: Esther Ching Tombing
No. of siblings: Three daughters and a son

Address: Dorcas road, New Lamka, churachandpur, Manipur

Date of Birth: 01/02/1975


1. Pre-primary to Class V: Singngat Govt. High School                    

2. Class VI to X: Hill Model High school, Singngat

3. Passed Class X: 1990
4. PUC: 1992, Lamka College
5. B.A. (Economics): 1997, Lamka College
6. M.A. (Economics): 1999, Manipur University
7. M.A. (Political Science): 2005, IGNOU
8. Educational Administration: 2007, New Delhi
9. Teacher Counsellor (Diploma): 2006

Social Activities:

1. Founder Secretary, Zounou Football Club (1986-1993)
2. Unit president, SSPP Hill Model School Unit (1988)
3. Contest Co-ordinator, SSPP Lamka Block (1996-1998)
4. Joint Secretary, YPA Gen. Hq. (2004-2007)
5. President, CCPur Private Schools Association (2007-2009)

Church Involvements:    

1. Moderator, Lamka Presbytery (2008-2010)
2. Ordained Elder (2006)
3. Moderator, General Assembly Working Committee (2010 till date)
4. Fin. Secretary, Churachandpur Evangelical Union (1993-1995)
5. Chairman, Inter Denominational Youth Fellowship (1998-2000)

Other Involvements/ Activities:
1. Assistant Headmaster, Rayburn High School (Jan 2001 to Aug 2006)
2. Headmaster, Rayburn High school (31st Aug 2006 to 11th Sept 2012)