Last Updated on January 14, 2024 by SPN Editor
In the unraveling narrative of migration, rehabilitation policies, and the recent surge in violent clashes in Manipur, the People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress, Manipur (PAPPM), a dedicated voluntary social organization committed to fostering peace and progress in the region, sheds light on the historical and political factors contributing to the present crisis in Manipur. PAPPM emphasizes that the current violent crisis in Manipur stems from the unchecked influx of Kuki refugees (deemed illegal immigrants) into Manipur, particularly from Myanmar (formerly Burma), and their rehabilitation in Manipur, along with the conferment of voting rights, occurred following the state’s integration into the Indian Union in 1949. Union Home Minister Shri Amit Shah also apprised the Indian Parliament on August 9, 2023, indicating that the ongoing crisis in Manipur is triggered by the influx of Kukis from Myanmar into Manipur.
Historical Context and Political Dimensions
The roots of the current violent crisis in Manipur, according to PAPPM, trace back to the uncontrolled influx of Kuki refugees from Myanmar, previously Burma. The rehabilitation efforts, including the granting of voting rights, were initiated after the merger of Manipur into the Indian Union in 1949.
PAPPM points out that the initiatives for rehabilitating Kuki refugees in Manipur, including the granting of voting rights, were instigated by successive Congress-led central governments. The underlying motive behind these efforts seems to be the strategic aim of solidifying political support by assimilating the refugees (considered illegal immigrants) into a potential voter base for the Congress party.
In the file note from R. C. Iyer, Under Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, dated 04/06/1973, concerning the Rehabilitation of Kuki Refugees, it is stated that –
Towards the end of 1967, the Chief Commissioner, Manipur had written to this Ministry
stating that a large number of Kukis had entered into Manipur from the adjoining
Burmese territory and require immediate rehabilitation. The Kukis are nomadic tribe who
had been moving across the Indo-Burma border from time to time. This movement was
facilitated by an agreement between the Government of India and Burma to allow tribal
population residing on either side of the border to go across up to a limit of 25 miles
without any permit or restriction. As a result of new policy of Burma, however it appears
that the Burmese authorities were sending out of Burma, particularly from the border
areas, all those who did not have a Foreigners Registration Certificate. Thus, a total of
500 families consisting of approximately 2400 persons had crossed over into India. It was
difficult to establish the nationality of these migrants and efforts to stop their influx had
also not been successful. The matter had been taken up with the Burmese Government
through MEA. In the meanwhile, a sum of Rs 1 lakh was sanctioned to provide relief at
the rate of Rs 100/- per person, and the Government of Manipur were requested to meet
this expenditure from their existing funds, Subsequently the Chief Commissioner also sent
a proposal for rehabilitating the 500 families and suggested a loan scheme for settling
these persons on land @Rs 725/- per family. A total requirement of Rs. 3,62,500/- had
been worked out. The notes from file 14/145/67-HMT placed below explains this case
completely. A sanction for incurring expenditure to the above extent had been issued by
the Government of India, in an order dated 20th March. 1968 (Sl. No. 117 of the file).
During this period, with Smt. Indira Gandhi leading the Congress Party as the Prime Minister of India, the number of Kuki refugee families had surged to 1500 by 1973. Shri Paokai Haokip, the then Member of Parliament from Manipur and a member of the Congress Party, addressed a letter to Shri K. C. Pant, the State Minister of Home Affairs in the Government of India, on June 20, 1973. The letter conveyed:
The refugees numbering one thousand and five hundred families (1500) were living
in Burma for a number of years and all of a sudden in the month of December, 1967
they were chased to leave the territory under the brute force allowing them to carry
their bodies and souls. They travelled all the way to Manipur. It is a matter of great
gratification to mention here of the prompt measure taken up by the Govt of India and
the State to take care of the unfortunates. a sum of Rs 392775.60 was given to them in
1972 for business and agricultural purposes …
The total amount of Rs 392775 when distributed among 1500 families at the rate of Rs
725/- for agriculture only 499 families were covered …
PAPPM draws attention to a notable period in 1973 when the Chief Commissioner of Manipur raised concerns about a significant number of Kukis entering the region from Burma, leading to rehabilitation efforts sanctioned by the Government of India. Despite reservations from the Department of Rehabilitation, these refugees were eventually settled in Manipur with full voting rights.
The Department of Rehabilitation at that time declined to undertake the rehabilitation efforts for these refugees, citing its responsibility as limited to dealing with repatriates from Burma, among other regions. The individuals in question were not considered repatriates but identified as Kuki migrants with uncertain nationality. Despite this, through a series of manipulations, these Kuki refugees were ultimately rehabilitated in Manipur, complete with full voting rights, a deviation from established norms.
This approach by the Government of India inadvertently facilitated the infiltration of Kuki refugees from Myanmar into Manipur, allowing them to settle and eventually acquire Indian citizenship. The migratory nature of the Kukis is evident, lacking a specific ancestral land in Manipur or elsewhere. Their initial arrival in Manipur traces back to the mid-nineteenth century when they sought refuge after being displaced from Lushai Hills and Cachar by the Lushai tribes, finding shelter under Maharaja Narsing (1844-1850).
The trend of migration persisted post-independence, with Kuki and other tribes continuing to move to Manipur from Chin and Saigang states of Myanmar. This migration, prevalent among various tribes from the Chin Hills to different parts of India, has been an ongoing process, making it challenging to distinguish migrants from earlier settlers. Commonalities such as speaking the same Tibeto-Burman languages, indistinguishable appearance from earlier settlers, and acceptance by the existing population further complicate the identification of these illegal immigrants.
Migration Phases and Political Influences
The intricate history of Kuki migration to Manipur post-independence unfolds in four distinct phases, each marked by unique geopolitical events, displacement, and resettlement. PAPPM delineates four distinct phases of migration that have contributed to the demographic shifts in Manipur:
A. First Phase (Migration just after independence in the 1950s and early 1960s during civil war in Burma): Following Burma’s independence in 1948, a prolonged civil war erupted between the central government and various ethnic armed groups, notably the Chin National Front (CNF). The Chin people, concentrated in western Myanmar bordering India, faced discrimination and persecution from the Burmese military junta. Thousands of Chin refugees sought refuge in Manipur. The exact number remains debated, ranging from 10,000 to 20,000. The Indian government, local communities, and aid organizations responded by establishing refugee camps in Manipur to provide shelter, food, and medical assistance. However, the majority of refugees, despite initial expectations of repatriation, were resettled in Manipur by the then Congress Government.
B. Second Phase (Before and After the 1988 Uprising in Burma): The significant political event of the 8th August 1988 uprising in Burma triggered widespread protests against the military government. The brutal crackdown that ensued resulted in the displacement of many, including those from the Chin Hills region. Seeking refuge in neighboring countries like India and Bangladesh, the Chin refugees never returned to Myanmar, and there was no concerted resettlement effort during this period.
C. Third Phase (After Informal Ceasefire in 2005 and Subsequent SoO in 2008): An informal ceasefire in 2005 between the Assam Rifles and Kuki militant groups, facilitated by Church leaders and civil society organizations in Manipur, marked the beginning of the third phase. This period of mutual understanding led to a cessation of hostilities between Kuki militants and security forces. Subsequently, the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement in 2008 involved over 25 Kuki militant groups, settling Chin-Kuki people in Manipur. The leader of Kuki National Organization (KNO), Shri P.S. Haokip, not originally a domicile of Manipur, aimed at self-determination for Kukis in India and Burma/Myanmar.
D. Fourth Phase (After the 2021 Coup in Myanmar): The aftermath of the 2021 military coup in Myanmar precipitated the fourth phase, witnessing a surge in refugees seeking safety in northeastern India. By 2023, India hosted over 74,600 refugees from Myanmar, with more than 54,100 arriving post-coup. Mizoram harbored over 40,000, while Manipur sheltered 8,250 refugees. In response, the Government of Manipur, directed by the Central government, initiated a Cabinet subcommittee in February 2023 to identify illegal immigrants/refugees from Myanmar. The collection of biometric data aimed at facilitating their return once normalcy was restored. However, tensions escalated on May 3, 2023, as Meitei houses in Kuki-dominated areas were attacked and burned by Kuki Militants and their supporters, sparking an ethnic clash in Manipur.
PAPPM firmly asserts that the current violence, causing loss of life and displacement, stems from the policy of successive central governments encouraging the settlement of illegal immigrants from Myanmar in Manipur, coupled with the granting of voting rights. The organization places responsibility on the Congress Party for supporting these illegal immigrants and alleges that the violence was initiated by the rehabilitated immigrants attacking the Meiteis, who had sheltered them for years.
In conclusion, M Bobby Meetei, President of PAPPM strongly contends that the ongoing violence in Manipur, leading to the tragic loss of hundreds of lives and the displacement of thousands, is a direct consequence of successive central government policies encouraging the settlement of illegal immigrants from Myanmar in Manipur, coupled with the grant of voting rights. The Congress Party bears full responsibility for this situation, given its known support for illegal immigrants. Those immigrants, rehabilitated by the Central Government under the Congress Party, initiated the violence in Manipur by targeting the Meiteis, who had provided them refuge and protection for an extended period. The Bharat Jodo Naya Yatra led by Shri Rahul Gandhi can aptly be characterized as a journey in support of illegal immigrants.