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The Kuki-Naga Conflict In The Light Of Recent Publications II

Some Critical Observations on the Recent Books

Recently two doctoral theses on the Kuki–Naga conflict have been published as books. Singh (2008: x–xi) identifies the Kuki–Naga conflict as an ‘extension of the conflict due to the claim over a territory as one’s own exclusive homeland by ethnic armies and resistance to it’. He observes that the expansionist design of the Naga ethnic army operated in collaboration with the legislators of Nagaland and they both sought to achieve a Greater Nagaland through constitutional means. While there have been peace and reconciliation efforts by the church leaders of both communities, most of the time, their efforts proved futile and ineffective, as tribal loyalty has a stronger hold than Christian fraternity amongst both warring groups (Singh, 2008: ix). Indirectly pointing a finger at some Naga elements, Singh (2008: 198) says that ‘during the initial years of the clash, some sections of the groups involved tried to reactivate and resurrect their past traumas at each other’s hand to instigate the crown sentiment’. Indeed, the Kuki–Naga clash of the 1990s, which rocked the whole of Manipur, cannot be attributed solely to one single factor. Singh (2008: 98) observes thus that it was the result of both historical as well as contemporary factors.

Tohring (2010) opens with a theoretical chapter which deals with approaches of ‘ethnic identity’ and the ethnic identities of the Kukis and Nagas. Tohring (2010: 27) disagrees with writers who regarded Anal as an Old Kuki tribe that joined the Naga identity. She pejoratively terms ‘Old Kuki’ as a misnomer, keeping aside the cultural and linguistic affinities that exist between what the British termed ‘Old Kukis’—the Anal, Aimol, Lamkang, Maring, Monsang, Moyon, Kom, Chiru and ‘New Kukis’—the Thadou, Paite, Zou, Vaiphei, Hmar, Gangte and Simte. Taking such a view at the outset insinuates that her academic work would be subject to deeply subjective tendencies. Both the Naga historian Kabui (2004 [1991]) and the anthropologist Zehol (1998) treat some groups as ‘intermediary tribes’.

Research in social sciences is of course often loaded with subjectivity. It usually tries to create the impression that the results of the research have objective character. In this view, scientific results are—or at least should be—independent from the person, the single researcher, who produced the knowledge. According to this perspective, objectivity is what makes the difference between valid scientific knowledge and other outcomes of human endeavors and minds (Breuer, Mruck and Roth, 2002). However, taking into account one fact and overlooking others remain a problem. Yet this is how ethnic politics usually gets reproduced in academic works.

Some of the stories that Tohring (2010) unfolds are fascinating. However, the primary problem that remains is the portraying of less intense beatings and humiliations of Nagas with exaggeration, while disregarding the rape and killings of Kukis in their hundreds (Tohring, 2010: 143). She also made a contradictory claim about the episode between Thawai Kuki and Thawai Tangkhul village where she states that the Thawai Kuki village was given a ‘Quit notice’ by the Thawai Tangkhul village. Th. Muivah, the General Secretary of NSCN-IM, who was in Nagaland for a consultative meeting with the Naga public at the time, condemned the incident and told the Nagas to restrain themselves. As a result, this conflict was pacified (Tohring, 2010: 145, 163). An interview with an eye witness, Lhaichin Haokip, a former resident of Thawai Kuki, about this same incident reveals, however, that armed Naga militants came to Thawai Kuki village and ordered the villagers to leave.4 The militants roamed around the village the whole night and due to fear and intimidation the people left the village and temporarily settled in the nearby Kuki village of Sikibung. After a month the Thawai Tangkhul villagers requested them to settle in the village again; it was not the NSCN-IM that was involved.

In contrast to the claims of Tohring (2010), NSCN-IM again served a ‘quit notice’ to the innocent villagers of Thawai Kuki on 23 November 2004. The Kuki Students’ Organization, while appealing to the Naga outfit to withdraw its notice immediately to avoid eruption of communal violence, pointed out that threat/quit notice was also being served before by the chairman of the Thawai Tangkhul village, named as R.K. Shangreishui, on 11 March 2004, threatening villagers against using the village land.5

Newspaper is an important source of information in social sciences about reported events. Nevertheless, there is a tendency of false reporting and therefore such reports need to be taken with due care, as the views and comments relating to a particular event can be biased. For instance, Tohring (2010: 110–11) quoted an overweening and sweeping statement made by Imphal based journalist Pradip Phanjoubam (1993), to the effect that ‘[h]istorically, the Nagas are the original settlers of the hill ranges and are extremely possessive about their land…. The Kukis are less passionate about a land of their own—in fact, the majority does not support the ideas of a Kukiland.’ The question to be raised here is whether Phanjoubam ever conducted any survey among the Kukis to draw the conclusion that the Kukis are ‘less passionate’ about their land or a majority of them are not supporting the idea of Kukiland. This statement seems to be more of a euphemistic edifice. It not only questions the analysis of the reporter, but also of the scholar herself who accepts such statements without further examination. While both A.K. Singh and S.R. Tohring are from Manipur, the epicenter of the conflict, more could have been done through interviews of community leaders and affected people and also by use of memoranda, resolutions and press releases of Kuki and Naga civil society organizations and human rights groups to clarify the evidence.

One of the prominent discourses on Kuki–Naga relations is the traditional rivalry between these two ethnic groups. It is, however, pertinent to raise the question whether there has actually been a traditional Kuki–Naga enmity earlier. Even though Chaube (1999 [1973]: 7) correctly identifies that ‘segregation’ was the initial British policy for the frontiers’, he does not go beyond the cliché of a ‘traditional Kuki–Naga feud’ theory which the British used for political purposes. The question again is, was there even a traditional Kuki–Naga feud before the British?

Singh (2008: 27) observes that ‘[r]ivalries were not totally absent in the traditional relationship of the Kukis and the Nagas’. Indeed, during the colonial period conflicts existed between some villages and tensions also arose due to the rejection to join hands in fighting British rule. Gangte (2011: 65) writes: ‘In fact there had been more of rivalries amongst the Tangkhuls themselves than with the Kukis; and the same is true of the Kabuis’. Notably, T.T. Haokip (2005: 142) also observes that ‘[i]t has been recorded with exaggeration that the Kukis and Nagas are traditional enemies.’

What is perhaps most intriguing about the analysis in Tohring (2010) is how this reproduces certain ethnic politics in academic work. Perhaps what will bewilder readers most is that Tohring repeatedly tries to find fault with the Kukis and quotes mostly what suits her intentions, thus engaging in the most tiresome Naga scholasticism. Regarding the Nagas as the oldest inhabitants of the hill areas of Manipur, Nagaland and its adjacent hill areas and the Kuki tribes as late arrival seems to be based on some selected colonial records (Tohring, 2010: 56).

Concluding Remarks

The Kuki–Naga conflict as the lengthiest and most destructive ethnic conflict in the North Eastern region of India has led to many publications focusing on ethnicity and identity. Some work has also been produced on other dimensions of the conflict, such as the consequences of internal displacement, livelihood and health of the displaced people. Nehkhomang Haokip was awarded a doctoral degree by the North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong in 2012 for his thesis titled Internal Displacement: A Study of the Kukis and Nagas in the Hills of Manipur. This studies the conflict-induced displacement of the Kukis and Nagas in the hills of Manipur, its consequences, the response of the government and non-governmental agencies. Ruth Nengneilhing submitted her doctoral research at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2012. Her study, on Livelihood and Health in the Context of Ethnic Conflict, also focuses on the Kuki–Naga conflict. Various pieces of action research were also done by the Indo-Global Social Service Society and the North Eastern Research Centre on the traditional conflict mitigation methods with special focus on the Kuki–Naga conflict.

Although both Singh (2008) and Tohring (2010) engage in some sort of respective ethnic scholasticism, they also explore plausible ways for peaceful co-existence between these two ethnic groups. Due to their dealings with an inherently subjective matter, a mea culpa is expected to be performed by both authors in the preface of the book or at least on the jackets, but this is not done by either of these authors. Nonetheless, the books largely encapsulate most of the pertinent issues and incidents which have occurred from 1992 to 2003. To have a clear and in-depth understanding of the Kuki–Naga conflict, however, one needs to go through the above reviewed essays and books, aware of the respective authors’ biases.

The Kuki–Naga conflict clearly needs to be understood in the wider context of historical settings during British colonial rule and the peopling of India’s North Eastern regions. In the post-independence period, competing demands for an exclusive ethnic homeland by both the Kukis and Nagas have clearly become one of the main causes of the ongoing conflict. Whatever the precise reasons for such claims may be, this troublesome scenario suggests the urgent need, identified in other recent studies on ‘ethnic’ conflict, to pay more attention to ‘increased exploration of perceived threat hypotheses’ (Bauman and Leech, 2012: 2,210). Such perceived threats easily generate further feelings of insecurity and ‘otherness’ and thus would create more ‘ethnic’ tensions. How to calm those hurt feelings and perceived threats remains elusive in the current scenario. Here, too, the management of diversity is a key issue. Academics have a significant responsibility to engage in responsible scholarship, rather than getting caught up in partisanship.

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*The paper is written by Thongkholal Haokip.

* Dr Thongkholal Haokip is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science, Presidency University, Kolkata. He edited The Kukis of Northeast India: Politics and Culture (New Delhi: Bookwell, 2013) and his authored book India’s Look East Policy and Northeast India: Potentials and Possible Impact will be published soon. His research interests cover India’s policy towards its Northeastern region, the Look East policy, ethnicity and ethnic relations in Northeast India.

*He can be reached at th.robert@yahoo.co.in

(Courtesy: South Asia Research/Sage Journals)

*You can visit the original site for further readings.

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Notes

  1. For a detailed discussion on the views of Foucault on identity see http://www.theory.org.uk/ctr-iden.htm (last accessed 19 July 2011).
  2. For more details on this, see Kipgen (2013) in the present issue of this journal.
  3. How Christian missions regarded the Kuki uprising merely as a form of local warfare is clearly described in William Pettigrew’s pamphlet of 1922, titled ‘Twenty Five Years, 1897–1922’, published by the Ukhrul Mission School, at pp. 12–13.
  4. Mrs. Lhaichin Haokip, a widow, now lives in Khokon village, Saikul Subdivision of Sadar Hills, Manipur, with her three sons. She was married to one (L) Doukam Haokip of Thawai Kuki village in the late 1980s. The data is derived from a conversation with her on 7 January 2011, at Khokon village, about what happened on the ground.
  5. These reports can be seen in the local daily The Sangai Express, ‘Quit Notice Worries KSO’, 30 November 2004 and ‘Foolproof Security at Thawai Village’, 24 December 2004.

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References

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