The Impact of the Burmese Civil War on the Kuki-Zo People in Manipur

In the most recent event to emerge from the border between India and Myanmar, a crowd rushed an Imphal hospital on Thursday after news of a “Kuki militant” from Myanmar receiving medical attention for gunshot wounds. Tear gas was used to scatter protestors from Imphal, a largely Meitei area, when they gathered outside the hospital to voice their dissatisfaction with the medical attention given to the 23-year-old patient who had crossed the border into Myanmar with serious injuries from an ethnic conflict.

Khoantum from the Thanan village was recognized as the resident from Myanmar. According to the Assam Rifles, he was wounded during his country’s internal turmoil and made his way to the closest security force outpost near the Indian border in order to get medical attention. Later, Khoantum passed away from his wounds.

What is the situation in Myanmar and how does it relate to India?
Following the military takeover in 2021, the situation in Myanmar has swiftly worsened, characterized by an increase in violence and devastation. As a result, many of inhabitants of Myanmar have been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in neighboring nations, such as the states of Northeastern India. Manipur borders Myanmar in the south and east for 398 kilometers. The border between the Chin state, one of Myanmar’s most afflicted states, and Mizoram and Manipur

The security of the northeastern regions of India, especially Manipur, is seriously threatened by the worsening situation in Myanmar as a result of the recent concerted onslaught, known as “Operation 1027.” The Chin National Front (CNF), which is fighting for control of a portion of Myanmar’s border with India, adds to the complexity of the issue. Following the CNF’s successful occupation of two bordering military outposts, troops from Myanmar managed to cross into India, where they were captured by security forces in Mizoram.

Authorities are also very concerned about the deep cultural and historical links between the Kukis in Manipur and Myanmar. The instability in Myanmar may have an impact on Manipur and the stability of the surrounding area.

What people from Myanmar are An ethnic group known as the Kukis is located in the region that shares borders with Bangladesh, Myanmar, and India. They may be found in Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts area, Myanmar’s Chin State and Sagaing Region, and India’s Northeastern states of Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, Assam, Meghalaya, and Tripura.

These tribes were known as Chins by the Burmese, but Lushais by the British. According to historians, the name “Kuki” was probably given by foreigners rather than being a native of the villages; this means that it is an exonym.

During Warren Hastings’ tenure as Governor-General, in 1777, tribal members assaulted British colonists in Chittagong, giving rise to the word “Kuki” for the first time in colonial documents. Historian Tuisem Ngakang states that in his book Manipur and the Naga Hills, Political Agent Sir James Johnstone wrote about ‘Kukis’ in Manipur between 1830 and 1840.

Their past
Today Thirty-three Scheduled Tribes and seven Scheduled Castes reside in Manipur. The majority of the tribes included on the officially recognized ST list identify as Kuki or Naga.

Historically, Meitei dynasties have governed Manipur as an autonomous country. The Cheitharol Kumbaba, or royal chronicles, record Manipuri rulers from the Ningthouja dynasty as far back as 33 AD. Even though the Imphal valley has archeological evidence of human civilization dating back to 33 AD, it is challenging to link this evidence directly to the Meitei people.

According to historians, a ruler’s kingdom’s borders continued to grow and contract in proportion to their level of authority. Nonetheless, it’s thought that the Meiti monarchs’ supremacy was mostly limited to the valley despite their conquests. In 1826, the border between Manipur and Burma was established by the Treaty of Yandaboo.

The British administration’s 1881 Census found that there were between 30,000 and 40,000 Kukis and Nagas living in what is now Manipur. The “Old Kuki” who had historically resided in the state and the “New Kuki,” who moved from Lushai Hills in the early 19th century and were referred to by the Meiteis as Kongjai Kukis, were split apart by the British.

The state’s “Old Kukis” numbered roughly 8,000, according to the Gazetteer of Manipur (1886), while the early 19th century saw the migration of about 17,000 “New Kukis” from the Lushai Hills.

The ‘New Kukis’ were deliberately stationed by the British as mercenaries in the Manipur valley at the beginning of the 19th century to serve as a deterrent against attacks by the Naga tribe. Despite intertribal rivalry, they established Kuki and Naga settlements side by side as part of a strategy of balance amongst the tribes, resulting in a diversified population in the hills.

The Kuki-Chin migration from Myanmar to Manipur is said to have been occurring for many decades, according to historians. It has happened in three major phases: before and after the August 1988 revolt, during the civil war in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and during the ceasefire between Indian security forces and Kuki insurgents in 2005. Conflicts did not arise from these migrations in the past as they do today.

resentment of Kukis at being called undocumented immigrants
As Kuki communities cross the Indo-Myanmar border in search of safety, they encounter animosity from the Manipur Meitei minority and are called “illegal immigrants.”

The Kuki communities in the Chin and Sagaing regions, who have been impacted by conflicts the most, have been forcibly relocated and have fled into nearby regions.

The state administration has provided humanitarian treatment to the Kuki-Chin people, who were forced to flee to Mizoram, where they are the predominant population, but their migration to Manipur has caused controversy.

Athouba Khuraijam, the Coordinating Committee’s spokeswoman, informed Union Minister Amit Shah at a meeting that “narco-terrorism involving illegal Kuki-Chin immigrants from Myanmar, cross-border Kuki insurgent groups, and Myanmar-based drug cartels” is the primary cause of the present issue.

“Of course, some Kuki-Chin people have crossed over from Myanmar over the years due to the hostile situation there, but that has never been in any alarming numbers at all,” said Ginza Vualzong, a spokeswoman for the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF), in response. We have informed the home minister that the native Kuki community of Manipur is being forced off their land by immigration.

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