The recent events in Manipur, preceding and succeeding this new year, has altogether been very intriguing for every community hailing and calling the state their “Home”. For those interested in politics, the socio-political milieu would be eye catching and vibrant, while for some others it would seem a do or die situation, where every single mistake could wreak their political aspirations and spell misfortunes whose penalties are too high to pay and, of course, too many years in the waiting once again. A golden opportunity of favorable environment at this magnitude and a pseudo-favorable government might not strike together again for the next few decades. Hence, it all boils down to how the players of this vexing political and territorial turf draw their cards and hit the deck.
As the race for territory and political aspirations draw towards an end, following the talks between the Centre and the NSCN (IM), the momentum and intensity of the race for these vexing claims has already heightened. While the Nagas eagerly await the few more steps to their aspiration (or so it seemed), the caste Hindu Meiteis would take any necessary steps to avoid this from happening; and between this are the tribals other than the Nagas, who by nature and by all means are slow learners of the art of this game and have the habit of ending up being the appropriate and convenient leverage between the two.
While knowing well that sheer numbers and unified commitment to common aspiration is one of the major keys to the game, the Zo (read as Zou) descendants of the hills of Manipur would still choose to divide, engaging themselves in skirmishes and competing against each other, sometimes even ending up being a puppet to the Indian Army as if it is not enough to serve, incognito, the other communities. It is such a sorry state that these tribes who speak the same language and have more or less the same custom, tradition and ancestry could not unite, while the Nagas who have huge language barrier could somehow unite at the political front for their common goal. And what saddens one the most is the fact that many of the present tribes under the Naga nomenclature belongs to the old Kuki group who were the vanguard migrants amongst the Zos; today the same tribes desperately get tossed over between nomenclatures—somewhere Kuki, somewhere Naga, somewhere Zomi—in order to get the protection and security from the larger nomenclatures. However, the number and sizes of these tribes are still shrinking and might soon be categorized as “endangered”. To survive and struggle for a land to call it “Home” is one thing but to see a brother diminishing to oblivion is sheer negligence—negligence by the larger and more responsible tribes, be it the Kukis or the Zomis, a negligence that might amount even greater than the negligence the different groups of the Zos so vehemently protested. This being mentioned, one must wonder why the government is no where mentioned; this is not because the government’s role is not needed nor called for but because of the fact that none can trust nor expect anything from the state. If the state was responsible enough and quick to respond, the situation in Manipur might not have spiraled out to this devastating situation.
Keeping aside the state, the issue here requires introspection by the Zos in integrating with their brothers, taking serious note of experiences and learning from the past. To flip back into the pages of contemporary history, a thing or two can be very evident which need to be addressed at the earliest in order to achieve their long-term shared goals and aspirations. The questions of identity assertion and being inclusively exclusive need to be slogged upon with a serious tone. This needs a critical inquiry into the inter-tribe misunderstandings (read as conflict) and skirmishes that had happened over the past few decades, more important are those agreements/truces that had been signed and sealed through the customary practices of feasts by the concerned leaders. Exemplary of such agreements is the hard earned “Final” Peace accord between Kuki and Zomis for restoration of peace and normalcy in which several vital issues of mutual respect and trust were touched upon. This agreement not only is operative and binding to the engaging parties but also the state government as the third party mediator and deponent. This, being one amongst many others, needed to be fully respected and operated by the agreeing party without which an air of mistrust is created and leads to subsequent failure in unity.
The steps taken by both the umbrella organizations namely UPF and KNO deserves more than mere appreciation from the people; however, giving ample opportunity for the Zo desendants to give undivided support and synergy is something that is still lacking all this time. Respect and follow up of commitments can be the key words here and being inclusively exclusive is a must. To be inclusive in demands and accomodating in nature for the bigger tribes and not necessarily asserting ones identity to the other relatively smaller entities in order to attain an exclusive demand.
The formation of the KUKI state demand committee (KSDC) and the subsequent demand for a separate Kuki state is none the less a development and step towards the goal but to garner full public support at every corner of the hills is something that cannot be assured, mainly because there can be tribes smaller or different nomenclatures who might not and cannot readily accept Kuki as a nomenclature due to reasons stated earlier as well as commitments and agreements at certain point of time in the past. Therefore, a more conducive and acceptable term such as the Poetic “Zalengam” can be more practical at this juncture than Kuki land/Kuki state or a “Tribal state” might be more inclusive and digestable than Zogam. To reach this far and close enough to the goal needs practicality for the concerned authorities and therefore must be played out with utmost care, giving attention to the minutest of details and clearing away any room for mistakes of whatsoever.
While arguing for the demand of a separate state or a separate district, one tends to cite hitorical evidences such as the Kuki rebellion, Kuki war of Independence, the Zogal, etc., to assert that we are the proud owners of this land who toil with blood and sweat to protect what rightfully is ours. Mention may also be made of the considerable amount of effort and contribution the Zo people made in protecting and integrating present day Manipur; each community should be made aware that the Zos have always been the neglected protégé of the Meitei Kings, the buffer between foreign invaders and always been the first line of defence and sometimes even offence for the valley kingdom. Therefore, the ownership of the land need not be a question in concern anymore; rather, the debt of gratitude being owed to us by the flourishing kingdom needs to be paid through respect and understanding if not co-operation.
At the political front, twin demands by the same group of people with the same objective have become a barrier to each other. Even before the formal political tug-of-war and the whole drama of barricading by the other communities initiates, the tribals have already met enough barrier within themselves. Therefore, the yin and yang have to stop being apart and start working together at the earliest, realising the fact that without the complement of the other, the latter can never be whole and the goal would never be achieved. It is time to converge the ideas and realise that family comes before anything else, and instead of running around to others for help the tribes should realise the potential they have missed out on for not running to themselves for aid and support.
A student of Social work at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. He can be contacted at