Kuki people can’t be expected to simply forget the massacres carried out against them by Naga militants.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of Kuki Black Day or Sahnit-Ni. The day commemorates the thousands of Kukis who were killed by Naga militants of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). The NSCN(IM) is a secessionist underground movement, which aims to create a greater Nagalim and bring all Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast under one administrative unit.
In 1993, the Naga militants murdered more than a hundred innocent Kuki citizens in the Tamenglong district which came to be known as the ‘Joupi massacre’. The Kukis consider it a genocidal act. The incident took place after Kuki households were served a notice to vacate their homes in the hill districts of Manipur but they did not. The bone of contention being that the militants wanted the Kukis to pay taxes for living in a Naga territory—an area that falls under their claim of Greater Nagalim—and the Kukis refused, terming it unreasonable to pay taxes for living on their own ancestral lands.
The mass killings of the Kukis were carried out mostly between 1956 and 1987, and again from 1992 to 1997. Although tension had been mounting as early as the 1950s, the spark of enmity between the Nagas and the Kukis was ignited by the violence unleashed by the militants in 1990s resulting in a bloodbath. Over a thousand Kukis lost their lives and thousands more were displaced. The Kuki militants retaliated as well.
Those villagers who had to flee their homes have not returned. Many Kuki villages remain abandoned.
Kukis can’t simply be expected to ‘forget’ the incident. The relationship between the Kukis and the Nagas, who once used to be neighbours inhabiting the same geographical boundaries, now remains strained and blotted. And there seems to be no way out. Kuki Black Day will forever be a bitter reminder of the massacre and a day of mass mobilisation against the NSCN(IM).
For the Naga militants, the movement for a Greater Nagalim is more crucial than reaching out to the Kuki people for peace. For them, the killings were mere collateral damage in the journey to achieve their goal.
A memorial has been erected this year at Tuibuong Churachandpur, Manipur, for the hundreds of victims. Chairman of the Black Day organising committee, Letzamang Haokip, told me that “it is a day of prayer and mourning, and most importantly, a prayer for justice to the departed souls”.
For years, the Kuki community has been demanding justice for the victims. Other demands have been ex gratia compensation to the families of the affected and rehabilitation for the displaced. None of these has been granted so far. Kuki National Organisation (KNO) spokesperson Seilen Haokip said, “The demands fell on deaf ears”. Several representations had been intimated to the state and central governments. Letzamang Haokip said that “more than 60 memorandums have been submitted to the government of India – to the President, the Prime Minister and to the state government”. He lamented the utter lack of response.
The Kuki people claim that both the central and state government had allowed the ethnic pogrom to go on for five years. The Kukis are also upset about the government holding talks with the NSCN(IM)—the perpetrators of the genocide.
The NSCN(IM)’s peace negotiation with the government, which has been going on for a decade, is now said to be in its final stage.
The Kukis have firmly stated that the problems of their community must be settled before the closure of the Naga talks.
The situation now is relatively more peaceful with both the Kukis and the Naga militants engaging in talks with the Centre. But tensions simmer. The Kukis believe that the government is ignoring their sentiments in favour of the Nagas. The Kuki Black Day, therefore, becomes an important stage for voicing grievances.
The author is a journalist.
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