Problems in Manipur’s Sadar Hills: Interview with General Secretary of Kuki International Forum
08 September 2011 – [CG Note: The ongoing situation in Sadar Hills District, Manipur, India has attracted attention of not only the ethnic peoples in Northeast India but also the Chins from Burma.
The Chinland Guardian has conducted an interview with Nehginpao Kipgen, a researcher on the rise of political conflicts in modern Burma (1947-2004) and general secretary of the U.S.-based Kuki International Forum (www.kukiforum.com).
He has written numerous analytical articles on the politics of Burma and Asia for many leading international newspapers in Asia, Africa, and the United States of America.]
Chinland Guardian: We have read a lot about problems arising in Sadar Hills District in Manipur, India. Tell us briefly about it.
Nehginpao Kipgen: It is a demand for the implementation of the Sadar Hills Autonomous District Council into a full-fledged district. It is an exercise of democratic rights by the people of Sadar Hills. On the eve of Manipur attaining statehood status in 1972, the Indian parliament passed the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. According to the Act, all the hill areas were to be divided into six autonomous districts, with the ultimate goal of a full-fledged district each. The six autonomous districts were:
1. Manipur South (Churachandpur)
2. Manipur North (Senapati)
3. Manipur East (Ukhrul)
4. Manipur West (Tamenglong)
5. Sardar Hills (Kangpokpi)
6. Tengnoupal (Chandel)
Of the six autonomous districts, only Sadar Hills is left to be accorded a full-fledged district status. Autonomous district council is a sub-administrative unit of a full-fledged district that has to seek the approval of the district administration on all matters concerning executive, legislative, judicial and financial matters.
There is too much interference by the district administration. For example, the deputy commissioner of a full-fledged district can modify or change the budget passed by an autonomous district council administration. All taxes collected by the council are sent to the district administration.
The basic requirements for autonomy and self-government are lacking in autonomous district councils. On the other hand, a full-fledged district is an administrative unit headed by a deputy commissioner, a district magistrate, and a superintendent of police. The Sadar Hills district headquarters will come under the Kuki-majority urban town in Kangpokpi. In addition, Sadar Hills will enjoy all the benefits and privileges of a full-fledged district.
Chinland Guardian: Do you think this is also part of disputes and misunderstanding among tribal or ethnic groups dwelling in the area?
Nehginpao Kipgen: Unfortunately, politics in Manipur is largely driven along ethnic lines. The three major groups of people are the Meiteis, the Kukis, and the Nagas. They are of the same Mongoloid race, speaking Tibeto-Burman languages. The unbiased solution would be the implementation of the district in accordance with Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. You cannot demarcate a district boundary based on ethnicity in a state like Manipur. For instance, you can find all the three major ethnic groups in all districts of the state. If Sadar Hills district boundary were to be drawn along ethnic line, it can engender a chain of other demands in existing districts.
Chinland Guardian: Chin people expressed their concerns over the hunger strike in India, where more than 40 Kuki women also got involved. What happens now?
Nehginpao Kipgen: The hunger strike continues. Some are hospitalized; some others are arrested and incarcerated because of refusing medical aid. Both Manipur and Indian governments should take serious note of the gravity of this non-violent form of agitation. Mahatma Gandhi, who is regarded as father of the nation and highly revered around the world, successfully led independence movement against the British with his non-violent political weapon. The government has the responsibility to protect the lives of its citizens.
Human rights organizations such as National Human Rights Commission of India and National Commission for Minorities should assess the condition of the hunger strikers and extend any possible help. Human rights campaigners around the world should speak up for these voiceless peaceful hunger strikers. The international community must ensure that the lives of peaceful hunger strikers in India are not jeopardized for a legitimate political demand, and their fundamental rights should be protected. In this regard, pressure must be put on both the state and central governments to take urgent steps.
Leading international human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International should use their influence to help the peaceful hunger strikers. In this regard, I have personally spoken to a number of officials.
Chinland Guardian: How have the local and Indian authorities responded and what could be the best solutions to this problem?
Nehginpao Kipgen: As mentioned earlier, the unbiased solution would be the implementation of the demand in accordance with Manipur (Hill Areas) District Council Act, 1971. You cannot demarcate a district boundary based on ethnicity in a state like Manipur. The central government has advised the state government to expedite the process, but lacks concrete step. If the state government is unable to handle on its own, the central government needs to step in to resolve the problem at the earliest possible.
Chinland Guardian: Historically, it is said that Chin-Kuki-Mizo is a group of peoples with the same root being divided into different countries during the colonial times. How can the historical relationship be survived and strengthened in modern days?
Nehginpao Kipgen: We share the same root, and belong to one family. We need to focus on how and where we can work together. We should encourage on socio-cultural exchanges. Our unity can be strengthened by organizing international seminars and conferences, especially for the younger generation. In this regard, our leaders and academics should take the initiatives. We should focus on inclusive activities, and stay away from exclusive and detrimental activities. Every individual should use his or her talent and resources to promote peace and fraternity among us.
Chinland Guardian: Tell us more about a brief history of Kuki people and the Kuki International Forum.
Nehginpao Kipgen: Because of the British colonial administration, the Kuki people have been forced to live across international boundaries, notably in India, Burma, and Bangladesh. Many have also now lived around the world. The Kuki International Forum (KIF) was founded to serve as a common platform for the Kuki people across the globe. The main goals are:
(i) To safeguard and promote the cultural heritages of the Kukis around the world.
(ii) To uphold peaceful co-existence and mutual understanding with other nations.
(iii) To educate and preserve the KUKIS’ national identity.
(iv) To represent the issues of the KUKIS.
Further information on the KIF and the Kuki people, you can visit www.kukiforum.com.
Chinland Guardian: Many thanks for your time and answers.
Nehginpao Kipgen: It’s my pleasure as well. Thank you!
Interview by Van Biak Thang