Century-old ‘war’ reopens ethnic wounds

A “war” with the British a century ago has reopened ethnic wounds in Manipur.

Organisations of the Kuki tribal group have been celebrating the “Anglo-Kuki War” since 2017. But another group, the Nagas, have been critical of the concluding programme at C. Aisan village in Kangpokpi district scheduled on Thursday.

The celebration marks the Kuki uprising against the British move to make them join the Imperial Army’s Labour Corps during World War I. The uprising was from 1917-19.

Naga organisations in Manipur and Nagaland said the term “war” was distortion of history. They object to the Kukis erecting memorial stones inscribed “In defence of our ancestral land and freedom”.

The United Naga Council saw a bid by the Kukis to claim the land historically belonging to the Nagas. “Calling a rebellion war is giving the impression that the conflict was in defence of a Kuki political homeland,” a council spokesperson said.

“Kukis are non-indigenous recent immigrants to Manipur,” said the Naga Students’ Union, Delhi, on Wednesday, pointing out that Kukis fled powerful tribes of Burma and were given refuge by the Manipur kings in the 1840s.

Sensing trouble, the Manipur government on Monday ordered the district authorities to uproot all the memorial stones. Chief Minister N. Biren Singh asked Kuki Inpi Manipur, an apex Kuki body, to refrain from actions that may create misunderstanding among different communities.

“Representatives of the government were invited to the centenary celebration but we had no idea of what would be on the inscription stones,” Chief Secretary J. Suresh Babu said.

Kuki leaders have said they will take a decision after discussion with all the stakeholders.

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