12th October 2016
Respected Pu PS Haokip,
It is with immense appreciation that we read your response to our rejoinder on pressing issues pertaining to our people. We would like to thank you for sparing the time and offering us an insight into the rationale upon which your vision for our people is founded. Your 'candid and straightforward, but honest clarifications' has helped us recognize the vitality of your vision to 'restore and strengthen our bonds' and 'consolidate oneness' amongst our people, and understand anew the challenges of seeking to promote the call of '_One identity, One objective, One people_', at least amongst the 'relatively small community in Manipur.'
Your continued efforts in seeking a way forward from our clannish fragmentations, and move beyond the divisive elements that hamper our collective flourishing is immensely admirable. It is precisely within this concern for a way forward – from our 'clannish impudence', our 'chauvinistic politics', our 'internal differences', 'sectarianism and self-promotion', and our 'contesting identities for the same people' – that we locate the purpose of our rejoinders, even as we continue to critically and respectfully engage with your accounts and your proposal.
Believing that a humble exercise in dialogue such as this can contribute a great deal towards the formation of a more 'holistic' understanding of the challenges that confront us today, and can, therefore, help explore varied possibilities and informed means to meet those challenges; we pose a primary question which in our understanding, ultimately concerns us all. The question, whose practical meaning we wish to explore together is thus posed: how can our people move forward collectively towards a shared objective in the context of our present political circumstances, and what are they ultimately moving forward to?
In other words, how can we come together collectively as a people, in such a way that the participation is fuelled by responsible ownership, towards a realizable goal? It is with this question in mind that we revisit your accounts concerning (a) we, as a people (b) Kuki as a viable political identity in the context of Manipur state and (c) the UPF-KNO objective and the rationale for statehood.
We, as a People
Your affirmation (as well as the affirmation by other leaders) of 'Zo as an identity representing the entire nation' who have generally been categorized as 'Chin', 'Kuki' or 'Lushai', is indeed our unique foundation which allows us to narrate our rich and diverse history of shared cultures, customs and traditions, as one people.
From F.K. Lehman (1963) to Fan-cho (a diplomat of the Tang dynasty in China, 862 AD), to Father Vincentius Sangermano to Col. T.H. Lewin (1885), to Bertram S Carey and H.N. Tuck (1896) amongst many others, the self-designation of the Chin-Kuki-Lushai people as Yo (Zo), Shou (Ysou), Jo is well accepted. This foundation, of being 'blood brothers' of the Zo family, will always be our starting point to talk about 'we, as a people'.
The conviction and acceptance of this brotherhood as one that is true to our past, our heritage and our present experience is not in doubt. It is this foundational understanding of 'oneness' that allows us to engage with one another as one people irrespective of dialect or clan differences. Whether you are a Biete in Khaddum, Meghalaya or a Manlun in Tahan, Chin State, there is no denying that we are one people, bonded by forces stronger than and predating the modern state's recognition/construction of our identities in their respective registers and census reports. It is this basic premise that enables a Kom from Sagang and a Thadou from Kangpokpi to consider themselves as belonging to the same community as brothers, in much the same way as you describe the oneness of a 'Pastor Ngaihte in Mizoram' who sees himself as a Kuki and 'a Ngaihte from the University of Oxford' who sees himself as a Zo. Our identity as one nation, one people far surpasses the state-induced ascribed recognitions that we see today. It is this undeniability of our oneness that is our strength and the core of many of our political movements. We begin from this same conviction - that we are one as a people.
Kuki as a viable Political Identity in the context of Manipur
Having stressed that the notion of Zomi as a conglomerate of 'hundreds of kindred clans' as once proposed by Pu Gougin is far removed from the reality of what it has become today as represented by a 'handful confined to Churachandpur district', where Zomi is taken to be 'opposed to Mizo and Chin, and projected as different from Kuki to represent a different community', you proposed Kuki not only as a terminology that can serve as 'a tool to leverage our political demand' but one that is 'inclusive' and 'federal' in nature in regard to Manipur.
While we are not opposed to the manner in which the notion of Kuki as a shared 'common identity' has been used in your revised edition of Zale'n-gam: The Kuki Nation (2008), where it is used to represent and encompass the plethora of Zo communities spread as wide and as far as 'present-day Northeast India, Northwest Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh', however, we also agree that the Kukis of today, as you rightly point out, has enigmatically become the 'sole identification' of 'a particular group', so much so that the last general census records 'any Kuki tribes' as numbering only 28,342 in Manipur. Therefore, the idea of Kuki that you proposed as 'an indigenous people of Zale'n-gam' comprise of 'numerous clans' who once occupied the vast terrains mentioned above can also be seen to undergo the same transmutation as Pu Gougin's Zomi.
It is this reality of our historical development, substantiated by the social institutions on the ground today where several groups using the Kuki terminology appears to represent only a section of the numerous kindred clans, that throws caution from the collective acceptance of Kuki as an all-encompassing terminology for the Zo clans and tribes especially in Manipur hills. The usage of 'Kuki' as a term to refer to all our kindred tribes by the Bengalees, Assamese and later by the British, is strikingly different from the 'Kuki' used today as a tool for political mobilization. The floating of this uncritical Kuki identity as the unquestionable and organic umbrella under which we must find our way forward may, in light of the present political reality, be imprudent and could be detrimental to the very purpose of finding directions for our goal of standing united as one people.
In between the supposed past glories of what Kuki once represented and the vision now to return to this romanticized, glorious past, is a significant 'historical stage' that calls for our judicious and fearless engagement. The Mizo and Kuki mobilizations, punctuated by a brief Khulmi phase, can be seen on the one hand as failures (incomplete experiments) in their inability to usher oneness. To recognize their achievements till date cannot be an excuse to be unmindful of the exclusivity of their processes. That these are processes, remains inconclusive and therefore, are subject to revision is rather what strengthens our movements. The consequences of these experiments, and the resultant 'fragmentation' that led to 'tribe recognitions' and Bible-translation ushered tribe-based church divisions (Khup Za Go, 1996), especially in Manipur can on the other hand, be seen as the beginning of our reclaiming our uniqueness and particularities, albeit under the Zo family.
Tribe-based recognitions need not necessarily be seen as the breaking apart of the 'once united' Kuki, but the recognition and celebration of our particularities within the Zo family. It demonstrates the richness of our diversity, where even the smallest tribe or clan (irrespective of how they mobilize and assert themselves) is consequential in strengthening the larger Zo-ness. It is this remarkable potential of ours which merits attention. The emergence of Zomi as a form of political mobilization therefore, can be seen as an acknowledgement of this phase of history. Zomi, even if represented only by a handful of clans in Manipur today and is not without its flaws, can be appreciated for its attempt to practically work out a way of respecting differences and promoting a plurality in oneness. While the kind and level of ethnic mobilization is open to critique and challenge (and must be), it would be fair to say, even if rather harsh, that the Kuki experience today, does not possess this form of federal structure on the ground. Therefore, the usage of Kuki in the context of Manipur, while inclusive in ideology, remains an unrealistic choice in praxis. As such, there seems to be an ambiguity in what the term Kuki connotes. For instance, while the 'Kuki' in Kuki National Organization claims to represent all the Zo clans/tribes, the 'Kuki' in Kuki Inpi Manipur, as a supreme house, applies mainly to the Thadou-speaking members. Does the Kuki Inpi imply that all other Inpis such as Simte Tribe Council, Paite Tribe Council, Hmar Inpui, Thadou Tribe Council and others are federal units of its main body? If so, are members of these tribes automatically members of Kuki Inpi, say, by being a Paite or a Vaiphei? This is not to question or challenge the legitimacy of the Kuki Inpi but rather to request a clarification, as an example, on how we commonly use the term 'Kuki' and the meanings we attach thereto. It is this uncritical usage of the term 'Kuki' which demonstrates the gap between the ideology that it carries and its currency on the ground. This is where we remain unclear and unconvinced on the adoption of 'Kuki' as a platform through which all Zo people can realize a political solution. This vision, we sincerely hope, will not commit the same mistakes as the Mizo movement did, wherein for securing a passionate Mizo identity, it ended up excluding our own kindred brothers out of the fold.
Any attempt to disregard our historical experience of being divided along clan affiliations through tribe recognitions (although never watertight), churches and elections, would be unhelpful in the quest for an enduring oneness. Unfortunate as the period may have been, it is our request to the current leadership in UPF-KNO to take the positives of this rather unwelcome but significant period on board in any proposal for our common future based on a shared past. Any vision that involves the overriding of that historical reality with which people have identified themselves for decades, and mobilized themselves for noble community pursuits and growth, would do us a great disservice, and work against the oneness that we all seek to realize in our Zo brotherhood. At this juncture, it might be worthwhile to recall that the 1997-98 Unau Melhaih (misunderstanding between brothers) or Kuki-Zomi conflict was resolved according to customary practices, with both parties of the Kuki Inpi and Zomi Council accepting a peace agreement on October 1, 1998 whose first and foremost point read as follows: '_That, the nomenclatures Kuki and Zomi shall be mutually respected by all Zomis and Kukis. Every individual or group of persons shall be at liberty to call himself or themselves by any name, and the nomenclature KUKI and ZOMI shall not in any way be imposed upon any person or group against his/their will at any point of time'_.
In all fairness, Zomi as promoted today is not an attempt or an endeavor to usher in more clannish division or represent sections of the Zo family at the cost of others, but it is an attempt to re-unify the Zo family, in whatever form that re-unification is viable for us today. The use of the terminology 'Zomi' is only an attempt to translate our being 'Zo people' in a language that is meaningful to us (rather than one that is imposed or given), and the associated politics of 'prefix' and 'suffix' is hardly the central concern that the re-unification is focused upon.
Our interest in writing this response is not in championing a particular nomenclature, but in the policies that follow that usage. Our only appeal is for a nomenclature (or any encompassing term) which will enable collective and responsible ownership of our political fight, from the so-called 'smallest' to the 'largest' clans/tribes, and as you rightly urged, it is only by fighting together that we can achieve our objectives.
*UPF-KNO Objective and the Rationale for Statehood*
It is out of this concern for 'fighting together' that we seek clarifications on both the objectives and the rationale for statehood that is apart from Manipur.
The manifesto of KNO in the revised edition of your book Zale'n-gam: The Kuki Nation (2008) states that '_the present political objectives of KNO is statehood of Kuki ancestral land, each within the Union of India and Union of Burma._' You also mentioned in your response that the rationale for statehood, in accordance with KNO's articulation, is for '_primary concerns of security, security for people and land_' and administrative convenience is secondary.
With regard to the former, you claimed that the demand for statehood is based on who we are and who we are is based on what defines our 'indigeneity' and 'ownership of lands'. You also claimed that 'Kuki is the only identity, which bears indisputable records in relation to Manipur that will stand scrutiny to questions over our political legitimacy, status and rights' and you suggest that Kuki is an 'an identity, which provides affirmation and corroborates authenticity, particularly in relation to ownership of land.' In the context of Manipur, ownership was, to the best of our knowledge, never in the name of the term Kuki. Rather, our society being village centric, our ancestral lands were and are still registered under the ownership of the chiefs who belongs to different clans. While the Pooyas may have mentioned the term 'Kuki', it is well-known that the Meeteis have also referred us as either Khongjais or Haos, both of which we would be hesitant to use today to claim a common identity for all of us.
The other question concerning ancestral lands that concerns and confuses us is the disjunction between the vision of seeking statehood, each in Indian Union and Union of Burma, and the understanding signed between the SoO groups to maintain the 'territorial integrity' of present Manipur state. If this understanding and agreement is the basis upon which the tripartite talks are initiated, will it not be a futile exercise to negotiate statehood within a framework that does not allow it? What do you see as the way forward here which will ensure we do not fall into the trap of prolonging the talks longer than necessary, or worse, prolonging the talks to allow the status quo to remain? You were right in alluding to the Bodos' demanding a state. However, it might be worthwhile to appreciate that they are demanding it from the standpoint of already having a constitutional protection under a territorial council since 2003. And it is this tendency to 'jump the boat' that we are apprehensive about and serve the basis upon which we urge you to re-think the demand for a state as a solution to our current political predicament though, as mentioned in our previous rejoinder, we are not against the state demand per se.
Pertaining to the concern for security, we would only like to point out that a political demand based on fear insecurity will always stand on the foundation of fear. We cannot allow ourselves to depend on the existence of an external threat as the force that qualifies our movement. To us, our long history of struggle – including the historic Kuki Rebellion/Zo Gaal of 1917-19, Chin Liberation Army under General Tun Kho Pum Baite_in the 1960s and others - is not one based on security concerns as framed by you. It is a claim to our rightful status as a free people. That, we hope, is what Zale'n-gam promises – the land of the free. We ought not to let the echoes of our forefathers be reduced to pre-emptive concerns over being controlled or out-manoeuvred by supposed 'others' or enemies. Our politics, therefore, is not reactionary politics but one grounded on the firm belief that we are a people who possess a collective wisdom and inalienable right to govern ourselves. It is the quest for the Zo spirit of autonomy and freedom that ought to guide our movement and not mere security concerns or the existence of perceived threat. It is with this same spirit that we can channel our collective efforts in bringing out the best possible arrangements for self-governance and develop our land and resources – both human and natural. It is with this conviction and hard work that we can strive for and achieve greater heights in all spheres of human endeavors and contribute to the human race as a people who dwell in the land of their forefathers.
We hope and pray that your efforts in securing a rightful place for our people in Manipur achieve, without further hindrance, its due success.
Sam G Ngaihte and Golan Suanzamung Naulak