Kuki Tribes Insurgency in Manipur [Latest News]

The Kukis are a multi-tribal ethnic group that live in India’s north-eastern regions of Manipur, Mizoram, and Assam, as well as parts of Bangladesh and Myanmar. The different Kuki tribes of Manipur, who live primarily in the hills, currently account for 30% of the state’s total population of 28.5 lakh people. The rest of Manipur’s population is composed primarily of two other ethnic groups: non-tribal Vaishnavite Hindus who inhabit the state’s valley region, and Naga tribes who live in the state’s mountainous areas. The latter has historically been at odds with the Kukis. 

Kuki militancy has its roots in ethnic identity struggles. They want Kukiland, which comprises Kuki-inhabited territories in Myanmar, Manipur, Assam, and Mizoram, to have self-determination primarily for groups belonging to their ethnic fabric. The second cause of insurgency in Manipur is intercommunal violence between the Kukis and the Nagas.

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History of Kuki Insurgency

  • Manipur, a former princely state, became a full-fledged Indian state in the year 1972.  As a princely state, it included parts of Burma before joining India.
  • Various insurgent groups arose as a result of resentment over the “forceful” integration into India and the delay in giving statehood.
    • The problem was exacerbated in the year 1980 when Manipur was designated as a “disturbed area” under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which grants the military broad powers and is said to have led to excesses.
  • In the 1980s and after the Kuki-Naga skirmishes of the 1990s, the Kuki insurgency in Manipur intensified in actual terms. The Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and its military wing, the Kuki National Army (KNA), were founded at this time. Other Kuki units, such as the Kuki Commando Force and the Kuki Independent Army, were also founded.
  • Since signing an agreement with the Indian Army in the year 2005, the Kuki insurgent forces have been under Suspension of Operation (SoO).
    • In 2008, the organisations reached a tripartite agreement with the State government of Manipur, and the UPA-led Central government, led by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, to temporarily halt their operations and allow political discussion a chance.

Also read: Naga Insurgency

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Reasons behind Kuki Insurgency

  • Kuki militancy has its genesis in ethnic identity struggles. The first was the quest for self-determination purely for ethnic groups, i.e., the idea of forming a Kukiland consisting of Kuki-populated areas in Myanmar, Manipur, Assam, and Mizoram. The second cause of insurgency in Manipur is intercommunal violence between both the Kukis and the Nagas.
  • While some insurgent Kuki groups wanted Kukiland that included portions that were not part of India, others demanded Kukiland that was entirely within India.
    • Presently, there is a demand for the creation of an autonomous district “Kukiland Territorial Council” within the Indian constitution, modelled after the Bodoland Territorial Council, which was established under the sixth schedule of the Constitution after militant groups in the state of Assam entered into an agreement with their state government.
  • The Kuki-Naga tussle began over securing identity as well as land, as some Kuki inhabited regions coincided with areas inhabited by the Naga tribes.
    • The two communities frequently engaged in violent showdowns, with villages being burnt, civilians being slaughtered, and so on, in order to gain control of commerce and cultural activities in those regions.
    • Despite the fact that confrontations between the two ethnic groups have decreased in recent decades, tensions between them still remain.
  • The Naga movement in the neighbouring state of Nagaland spread to Manipur’s hill regions, with the NSCN-IM commanding the majority while pushing for “Nagalim” (Greater Nagaland), which is seen as a “threat” to Manipur’s “territorial integrity” in the valley.
  • Despite the fact that the hills cover nine-tenths of Manipur’s land area, they are sparsely populated, with the majority of the state’s people located in the valley.
    • The Meitei community dominates the Imphal valley, while Nagas and Kukis live in the neighbouring hill districts.
  • The Assam Rifles as well as the army undertook operation “All Clear” in the hill areas, neutralising most militant hideouts and forcing many of them to flee to the valley.
Facts for UPSC Prelims:

Who are Meitei People?

The Meitei, also known as the Manipuri, are an ethnic group from the northeastern Indian state of Manipur. The Meitei ethnic group accounts for around 53% of Manipur’s total population. The group is made up of non-tribal Hindus who practise the Vaishnavism cult of Hinduism.

Note: To read more about Bodoland Territorial Council and the Bodo Accord, visit the linked article.

Note: To read more on the list of bhakti movements during the medieval times of India, visit the linked article.

Challenges in Restoring Peace in Manipur

  • Because Manipur is a border state with a permeable international border as well as a harsh forest environment, militant organisations that rely on external nations for training and other logistical support continue to infiltrate the country.
  • The state’s troubles are exacerbated by the link between politicians, militants, and criminals. Extortion, abduction, and contractual assassinations are all common activities for some groups. 
  • Miscreants reap the benefits of the disturbance and use it to extort money while posing as militants. Furthermore, most security issues are politicised by political parties in order to earn vote bank mileage by escalating conflicts.
  • Given the ongoing peace discussions with the insurgent organisations, there has been a propensity for the factions to continue the armed revolt by creating a new proxy group or changing its name.
  • The central government’s strategy of reaching a negotiated solution with insurgent groups has backfired. Because many of the outfits’ goals conflict with one another, any conventional arrangement with one organisation causes agitation among the others.

Kuki Insurgency Recent Developments 

  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration last extended the Suspension of Operation (SoO) pact in September 2021, till February 28, 2022.
  • The Union Government of India recently stated that it is willing to engage in conversation with insurgent groups in Manipur in order to achieve long-term peace in the region.

In March 2023, the Manipur government has withdrawn from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with two hill-based tribal insurgent groups. The state government has alleged them for influencing agitation among forest encroachers. The matter is related to the ongoing unrest in the Kuki-dominated hills of Manipur which are facing eviction drives for encroaching forest land. 

News in detail:

  • There have been notices sent out by various departments under the Manipur government, since August 2022, for illegal settlement and encroachments in 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area.
  • The eviction drive started in the K Songjang village on February 20 and resulted in violence and clashes between residents and the administration.
  • The apex tribal body of the Kukis in Manipur called for a peaceful rally in Kuki-dominated districts of the state: Kangpokpi, Churachandpur and Tengnoupal. 
  • Recently, this led to violence breaking out in Kangpokpi.

State government allegation:

  • The protests were held for “unconstitutional” purposes.
  • Reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries are being encroached on for poppy plantation and drug businesses and this goes against the law and creates law and order problems in the state.

Kuki tribal bodies’ stand:

  • It was a “peaceful” protest against the dilution of Article 371 C, which confers some administrative autonomy to the tribal-dominated hill areas of Manipur.
  • Evicting them is against their existence and the protection of their customs.
  • The tribes residing here stayed here much before the enactment of the Indian Forests Act, 1927, the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and other acts of the government. Hence they consider the eviction not legal.

About Suspension of Operations
  • It is a tripartite agreement signed by the Centre, state and the groups. 
  • This ceasefire agreement was signed between the State Government, Central Government and two groups – the Kuki National Organisation (KNO) and the United People’s Front (UPF).
  • The agreement was made to end violence and hostilities from all sides. It facilitated political dialogue.
  • The Manipur government withdrew from the Suspension of Operations (SoO) and it has raised questions about this arrangement. It will be seen what happens next after this stage.

Why does the Manipur government want to withdraw from the agreement?

  • The reason cited by the state government to the centre for withdrawing from the agreement was:
    • Support by outfits for the influx of immigrants from Myanmar.
    • Involvement in the drug trade and encouraging poppy cultivation.
    • The belief of the state government that these outfits were behind the protests against eviction from illegal encroachment of forest land in Kuki villages.       
  • Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh met Union Home minister Amit Shah and urged him to clarify the clauses of the agreement and to enforce the regulations strictly on the ground.     
  • According to experts, the issues involved are more complex than land encroachment and evictions were more about incoming immigrants from Myanmar. 
  • The state administration is finding it difficult to differentiate between Indian residents and illegal migrants of the Kuki-Zomi group of tribes. There has been a sharp rise in illegal immigration from Myanmar and all of them belong to Kuki-Zomi tribes.
  • There were also reports of the emergence of new villages overnight and continuous infiltration might change the demography of the state.
  • The issue also led to political outrage where several student outfits including the All Manipur Students’ Union (AMSU) and the Manipur Students’ Federation (MSF), organized protests to implement the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in the state.
  • The government also claims that many leaders and cadres of the insurgent group belong to Myanmar or are of Myanmarese descent.
  • The government also accused that forest lands were cleared by the insurgent groups to cultivate poppies and villagers pay ‘tax’ through these trade.
  • However, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), the umbrella group of armed Kuki organisations rejected the allegations as baseless.

What is the opinion of the Union Government?

  • The Union government is of the opinion that concerns related to the illegal activity of the insurgent groups are serious and must be dealt with sternly but withdrawal from the Suspension of Operation agreement needs to be decided after thorough thinking.

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