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Manipur Violence: “The untold story of Moreh”

The meticulously orchestrated and well-devised strategy set in motion to gradually annihilate different communities in Moreh, Manipur: Driven by vested interests.

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By: S. J. Meetei

Nestled along the border of India and Myanmar, Moreh emerges as a town of profound historical significance within the Indian state of Manipur. Even in recent decades, particularly during the 1990s, Moreh earned the reputation of being a miniature India, showcasing a remarkable coexistence of diverse communities. Meitei, Tamil, Malayali, Bengali, Jain, Punjabi, Manipuri Panghal, Nepali, Naga, Kuki, and many more harmoniously shared this unique space. Its geographical location bestowed upon it an esteemed role as an ancient trade route, fostering cultural exchange, commerce, and political interactions between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia. With a deep-rooted historical backdrop spanning centuries, Moreh represents a testament to the intertwined narratives of Manipur (then known as Kangleipak) and Myanmar, exemplifying the enduring bonds forged through trade, diplomacy, and shared heritage.

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In the 1990s, the population of Moreh was predominantly Meitei people, with significant numbers of other communities such as Tamil, Marwari, Naga, Punjabi, Bengali, Muslim, and Nepali also residing in large numbers. The population of Tamil and Kuki communities in Moreh was approximately equal during that period. The town exemplified harmonious coexistence through various significant Hindu temples and celebrations. Notable examples include the Kondong Leirambi worship, the Lord Krishna Temple belonging to the Nepali group, Bengali Durga Puja festivities, Pongal celebrations observed by the Tamil community, Gurupurab celebrated by Sikhs, and Bodh Purnima. These diverse cultural practices showcased the unity and tolerance among the different communities residing in Moreh. While Christmas celebrations were also observed, they did not reach the same extent as the Kondong Lairembi and Pongal celebrations. These festivities serve as a clear illustration of the Hindu majority that prevailed in Moreh before 1993.

Kuki-Naga clash

The year 1992-93 bore witness to a tumultuous period marked by fierce clashes between our brothers  Kuki and Naga communities, leading to a devastating outbreak of violence, loss of lives, and the forcible displacement of numerous individuals from their cherished homes. In a tragic display of hostility, both sides unleashed a wave of destruction through acts of arson, looting, and targeted assaults on individuals and entire villages. The intensifying clashes swiftly spiralled out of control, as incidents of retaliatory violence exacerbated the already simmering tensions, plunging the region into profound turmoil.

Following the Naga-Kuki clashes in 1992-1993, a significant transformation occurred in the population dynamics of Moreh. The town opened its doors to Kuki refugees, hailing from both Myanmar and Indian regions where they faced displacement due to Naga-majority areas. The collective efforts of diverse communities including Meitei, Meitei Panghal (Muslim), Tamil, Sikh, Nepali, Kuki and various communities played a pivotal role in providing support and settling the Kuki refugees in Moreh. The Meitei community, being the majority, played a crucial humanitarian role in facilitating the resettlement process. Even the school-going Meitei youth contributed by clearing jungle areas for the settlement of their Kuki brethren who had been uprooted from various places. The displaced Kuki brothers who found refuge in Moreh underwent training by the Central Govt Security forces , equipping them with the necessary skills for self-defence against potential attacks from Naga Group. In order to ensure their safety, the Govt provided firearms and ammunition to the Kuki groups.

The occurrence of the Kuki-Naga clash triggered a reevaluation of Kuki policies, specifically concerning the consolidation of smaller tribes and their pursuit of an independent state. Seizing the moment and armed with determination, the Kuki conglomerate initiated a relentless campaign aimed at gradually eradicating non – Kuki communities residing in Moreh. The tensions escalated further in 1995 when clashes erupted between the Kuki group and the Tamil population leading to death of 9 persons in Moreh, followed by subsequent conflicts among various smaller tribes within the Kuki community itself like the Paite-Kuki clash in 1997. In 2007, driven by a desire to displace the Meitei community from Moreh, some Kuki group-initiated attacks resulted in the tragic loss of 11 lives. This was followed by a disturbing incident in 2015 when the Kuki community brazenly vandalised and looted Meitei shops and houses during broad daylight, disregarding the presence of numerous state as well as central security forces. 

Impact of violence in Myanmar

In recent times, Myanmar has been plagued by various forms of hostility and conflicts, leading to the displacement of communities such as the Rohingyas and Chin-Kuki. Notably, these conflicts have direct repercussions on the neighbouring border regions. The displaced Chin-Kuki population has become a significant challenge for areas like Manipur and Mizoram in India, as well as Chittagong in Bangladesh. However, Mizoram, although impacted by the situation, has leveraged the tensions to assert its territorial ambitions by fuelling unrest in neighbouring states with the support of the Chin-Kuki mindset. It is important to recognise that Myanmar has been under military rule since gaining independence from British colonial rule in 1948, and the political instability shows no signs of subsiding in the near future. This understanding is shared by many intellectuals within the Kuki community residing in Myanmar, particularly. It is worth noting that the media has claimed several political leaders of the Kuki community in Manipur have origins in Myanmar, and for the preservation of their own existence, they seek to establish a land of their own, employing tactful methods to gradually suppress or eliminate certain communities.

Contrary to the prevailing tensions and conflicts, the older generation of Kuki, including communities like Vaiphei and Gangte and so on, have been living harmoniously together in Moreh for many years. Their presence in the town has fostered a shared vision of peaceful coexistence, which has been recognised and acknowledged by numerous other communities residing in the area.

Since the events of 1993, the Kuki communities in Moreh have experienced significant and rapid growth. The absence of stringent immigration controls and the shared language between the Chin communities from Myanmar and certain Kuki communities in Moreh have facilitated an unchecked influx of Kuki immigrants from Myanmar. In Moreh, it is evident that at 5:00 AM in the morning, a bustling activity begins as Myanmar vendors commence their shop operations, despite the official opening time of the border gate being 6:00 AM according to Indian Standard Time. Consequently, the population of Kuki tribes in Moreh has multiplied manifold, leading to the destruction of many forests to accommodate their settlements. A striking observation awaits anyone who travels to Moreh, as numerous villages have recently emerged along the highway, situated approximately 5 kilometres away from Moreh. To name few, the Kuki villages like Zion Veng, Kanan Veng, Chavangphai, Chikim, Ngankhai Veng, T-Yangnom, Heijang Veng, Lhangkichoi, Thangcham, Sahei, Govayang, Mojo, and Haolenphai and so on have recently emerged due to the rapid growth of the Kuki population. These villages predominantly consist of immigrant Kuki populations from neighbouring Myanmar and some are displaced from within Manipur during Naga-Kuki clash. It is disheartening to note that even the original Kuki settlers in Moreh before the Naga-Kuki clash in 1993, have become marginalised within their own Kuki communities. 

Kuki targeting Meiteis

The Kuki miscreants orchestrated a deliberate and systematic campaign to remove various communities in Moreh, with a particular focus on targeting a Meitei group. This led to heightened conflicts and tensions between different ethnic communities. Residents of Moreh can easily comprehend the underlying factors responsible for the decline in the population of various communities such as Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi, and Nepali residing in Moreh. On the 18th of August, 2015, during Manipur’s demand for Inner Line Permit to safeguard the indigenous people of the state, the Kuki group unleashed destruction upon more than hundred houses and properties belonging to the Meitei community. Subsequently, the Kuki miscreants resorted to tactics of extortion, gradually imposing fear and insecurity on different communities. As a result, communities such as Punjabi, Malayali, Tamilian, and Marwari were forced to flee Moreh to safeguard their lives. Beyond extortion, the Kuki group also imposed their own laws and initiated a taxation system targeting various communities in Moreh. Individuals seeking to engage in activities such as labour work/ coolie were required to obtain permission from the Hill Tribal Council (HTC), a Kuki council in Moreh. Additionally, a tax collection gate was established in Moreh under the supervision of Kuki miscreant.

Multiple news outlets have already covered reports from various forums alleging the presence of a Myanmar militant group called the People’s Defense Force (PDF) in Moreh, Manipur. It is claimed that the PDF, which is not a signatory of the SoO (Suspension of Operations) agreement, is stationed in close proximity to Moreh, with the State Forces as well Central security forces being fully aware of their presence and operation. Many have reported that the armed Kuki National Army (KNA/KNO) is allegedly providing training to PDF cadres in Sahei Village and B Bongjang Village near Moreh, with the State Forces as well Central Security Forces having full knowledge of these activities.

The purportedly peaceful event on the 3rd of May, 2023, was, in fact, a meticulously planned and orchestrated endeavour by Kuki militants with the intention of ethnically cleansing the Meitei community from Kuki dominated areas. This plan has been meticulously nurtured, and envisioned for countless years, transcending the confines of mere moments, for it is a testament to enduring dedication and unwavering commitment.  Little did we Meitei know, while our gaze was focused on the path of peace and integrity of Manipur irrespective of caste and communities, the other parties had stealthily orchestrated their cunning scheme, born from the depths of their deceptive minds, long before we could fathom their twisted intentions. The unfolding of events on 18th August, 2015 in Moreh, which vandalised 100s of shops and houses of Meitei during Inner Line Permission movement is also served as an eerie confirmation that it was not a mere coincidence, but an intricate thread woven within the fabric of this grand conspiracy, solidifying the unsettling realisation that every detail had been meticulously orchestrated to serve their ulterior motives of separate Kuki Land.   

It was on the afternoon of May 3rd, 2023, following the unsettling Torching of Meitei village at Torbung by Kuki miscreants, the building of Moreh Meitei Council, along with shops, houses and hotels owned by the Meitei community, fell victim to acts of vandalism, all of which unfolded in the immediate presence of the Assam Rifles as well as state police commando and police. The first casualty in the incident that occurred on May 3, 2023, was reported in Moreh, where an elderly woman lost her life due to a fire that engulfed her house. Given Moreh’s status as a border town, a significant contingent of Central Security Forces is also stationed in the area and its surroundings. Filled with concern, my heart sank as I received a frantic call from my family members, informing me of a ruthless attack by the Kuki Militant, resulting in the devastating destruction of their homes. Despite the presence of the fully equipped Assam Rifles and state police in the area, the Meitei communities found themselves fleeing from one dwelling to another, seeking refuge. Tragically, by the 3rd of May, 2023, nearly hundreds of Meitei houses and shops had been reduced to ashes, and the brutality extended to claiming human lives. The elderly, unable to escape, met a grim fate, who tragically perished in the flames that engulfed her home. Thankfully, I later received a reassuring call, informing me that the Meitei people had been safely evacuated and sheltered at the police station, thanks to the valiant efforts of our beloved state police commando forces. However, to our disbelief, on the following day, May 4th, 2023, the Kuki militants continued their rampage, burning down the remaining Meitei residences, even in the presence of heavily deployed Central Forces, Assam Rifles and state police commandos. 

The disturbing silence of the institutions and authorities raises grave concerns for many of us, leaving us apprehensive about the fate of other communities in the future. On May 27th, 2023, the destructive rampage and burning of Meitei houses persisted. Around 800 houses of Meitei were tragically reduced to ashes. What adds to the dismay is the revelation that rather than pursuing the Kuki militants responsible, we have received information that the Assam Rifles, a Central Security force, called upon the Meitei residents and cautioned them about the possibility of their houses being set on fire by the Kuki community. As a border town, Moreh requires heightened vigilance and security measures, as the compromised national security is a pressing issue that demands urgent attention.

Let’s not surrender

Despite the passage of 75 years since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, Moreh finds itself trapped under the oppressive grip of Kuki miscreants, many of whom have migrated from neighbouring Myanmar. The once-majority Meitei community has been reduced to a minority in their own land. The Naga communities have been forcibly displaced from Moreh due to violent clashes with the Kuki population and similar other minority communities like Nepali, Bengali, Tamil, Sikh, Muslim have fled Moreh due to fear of repeated rampages and extortion by Kuki Militant, mostly of Myanmar origin. The Kuki friends who had been residing in Moreh for a long time faced marginalisation upon the arrival of their new fellow Kuki brothers. This dire situation is a clear failure of the government, as they have been unable to effectively implement an immigration control system. However, the Meitei communities also bear responsibility, as they have overlooked the challenges faced by their fellow Meitei in Moreh. It is important to recognise that Moreh is an integral part of Manipur, woven into the fabric of our folklore, where our folklore of 12th Century like Khamba Thoibi remain incomplete without its presence. The miscreant showed no mercy even towards the ancient and revered Devi Temple (Ima Kondong Leirambi) situated in Moreh, as it was subjected to vandalism, arson, desecration, and complete destruction then and now. The Thoibi Pat, (then in Manipur) in Myanmar built in memory of our 12th Century Princess of Moirang is merely a kilometre away from the town of Moreh. 

To my beloved Kuki friends, with whom we have cherished our bond over food and the playground for decades, let us preserve the extraordinary beauty of Moreh. Our intentions are not against you or your families; rather, we must unite to protect our land, your land, from the encroachment of neighbouring influences. For countless generations, our forefathers and yours, have safeguarded the splendour of Moreh. Let us not surrender it to the hands of new encroachers. To our dear Meitei brothers also, it is important to acknowledge that numerous Kuki friends sincerely yearn for peace and do not wish to engage in this conflict. May we embrace peace and let it prevail among us.  

The writer is a resident of Moreh. The opinion, facts and interpretations published are that of the author.

Disclaimer: The credit for the image goes to the original owner and The North East Affairs does not claim the ownership and/or the infringement.

Writer’s Note: I want to emphasise that my article aims to foster understanding and does not seek to harm any communities. It simply depicts the practical realities I have personally witnessed over the span of 40 years. Regrettably, my family members have experienced victimisation for the second time, both in 2015 and presently. Nevertheless, our unwavering resolve remains focused on promoting peaceful coexistence among different communities. Let us envision Moreh as a harmonious microcosm of India once again.

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