Opinion: The ‘othering’ of Kukis in Manipur began well before the crisis
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It is astonishing how radicalised mobs turned into a militia, stripped women naked, and paraded them naked while killing their fathers and brothers who tried to defend their shame. It is perplexing to witness hatred so deeply ingrained in a community’s ethos, that which is obscene to the world, became a moment of their brightest day. It puts a doubt to every viewer that how did society become so radicalised to the extent that women encouraged their sons to rape another woman? 

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Only a few dare ask such questions. Among them was Amom Malemnganba Singh, who writes about how Manipur, under the regime of N Biren Singh, exerted majoritarian politics, and how “the Meitei with their majoritarian dominance in society controlled institutions like the media houses. This meant public debates became biased, journalists were sent to custody and critics were silenced, universities were affected, and even influencing the independence of the judicial system”. He further suggests: “Manipur must preserve its ethnic diversity to remain inclusive and unified, and prevent itself from disintegrating into numerous sub-factions.”

It seems his fears of Manipur becoming a Meitei-centric state came to fruition and the present Manipur crisis is its result. Previously, I had argued how the media became a tool to spread one-sided propaganda. But what led to it? The best explanation perhaps is in the elements of fascist nature: intellectuals and propagandists portray a threat to their existence by pointing towards a certain community, supported by the government machinery. This leads to the suppression and othering of a particular minority community in the state, and at the centre of it lies N Biren Singh.

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How N Biren Singh began maligning Kukis

N. Biren Singh was arrested in 2000 for sedition charges as a result of his newspaper, Naharolgi Thoudang, allegedly supporting the extremist group in Manipur. He later joined politics: first under the Democratic Revolutionary People’s Party ticket and then joined Congress under the leadership of the then Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh. 

One of the first things Biren Singh did after winning in 2022 was to malign and ‘other’ the Kukis by calling them names like Myanmarese and junglee, etc. In his interview with India Today Conclave East 2018 he claimed that there were no illegal infiltrators in the state

However, this narrative changed substantially. Hate speech on the Kukis runs free on social media, positing them as second-class citizens of the state or as outsiders. Moreover, critics were silenced because they were frequently forced to retract their comments or were arrested for doing so, but no similar measures were taken against those who openly threatened Kukis on social media. The state began to ostracise Kukis and it was the beginning of the majoritarian state.

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The rise of majoritarian extremist organisations

Hate speeches against Kukis are not limited to social media. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) leader of Manipur, Barish Sharma, and hundreds of his supporters, many of whom were armed with guns, forcefully attempted to carry out afforestation in Thangting Hills, an area predominantly inhabited by the Kukis. A BJP MLA openly stated this incident “to be the wrong approach to a noble objective of afforestation”. It was an imposition of power by the majority over the minority, who were hapless in defending their land. It also shows that the Manipur BJYM became a Meitei-centric youth wing, hell-bent on carrying out unlawful activities against Kukis. 

After Barish Sharma’s misuse of Manipur BJYM to unlawfully carry out Meitei interest, two other Meitei extremist organisations came into the limelight: Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol. The activities of both groups have been documented extensively. 

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But I must highlight an important distinction: even though the Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tengol are seen as extremist groups working largely for their community, there is a clear ideological difference between the two. As seen by their leader Pramot Singh’s saffron scarf in his interview with Karan Thapar, the Meitei Leepun are inclined toward Hinduism. Pramot Singh claims in his interview that “Only with a strong Meitei population, a strong Hindu population can India be a strong nation”. On the other hand, Arambai Tengol is bent towards the cultural revivalism of the Meiteis and promoting their original religion, Sanamahi. Additionally, they endorse their Salai Taret flag as a symbol of the seven original Meitei clans and the same was seen hoisted on top of the vandalised Kuki churches and localities in Imphal, and other Kuki-inhabited areas.

When the state begins implementing majoritarian politics, the critics are silenced even if they belong to the Meitei group.

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This is evident from Babloo Loitangbam’s interview where he claimed that in June 2022, about 20 members of Meitei Leepun threatened him for providing legal assistance to the Myanmar refugees who fled the Myanmar junta. He later filed an FIR against them but it was taken no notice of by the state police. 

The fear of Meitei Leepun and Arambai Tenggol stopped him from speaking the truth and he was not alone. This was visible in another Karan Thapar interview, where Mohammed Raees Tampak, a member of the minority Muslim community in Manipur, claimed the government turned a blind eye to these radical groups. As a result, the state, in the eyes of the Kukis, became complicit and Meitei-centric, thus leading the Kukis to demand a separate administration.

Views expressed are personal and do not reflect EastMojo’s stance. The author is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi.

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