The arrest of an activist in Manipur has resurfaced ethnic tensions

Activist Mark T Haokip has now spent a month-and-a-half in jail. On May 24, the Manipur police arrested him from his residence in Delhi for social media statements that allegedly damage the “religious sentiments of lots of people, particularly the Meiteis”.

Brought again to Manipur, the 37-year-old was rearrested for heading the “Government of the People’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland”, a separatist outfit. He is accused of waging warfare in opposition to the state to ascertain a homeland for Kukis, a tribal group based totally within the Manipur hills.

“Mark T Haokip is actively present on social media and analysis of his facebook posts from time to time also reveals that he is not only anti Government but also abets, instigates common People to fight against the Government established by law,” mentioned the primary info report filed on May 30.

According to Haokip’s lawyer, Thangboi Khongsai, there are seven FIRs in opposition to him, the earliest filed on April 17, 2021.

The arrest of Haokip, who was additionally state president of the International Human Rights Association, based mostly in Manipur and Myanmar, led to protests in his native Churachandpur district.

The Kuki Inpi, the apex tribal physique for Kukis in Manipur, additionally issued a statement on May 29, elevating an alarm a couple of “groundswell of Kuki-Chin-Mizophobia” in Manipur, warning in opposition to “fringe groups” that indulged in “hate and racial profiling”. It additionally prompt they have been backed by the administration, which discriminated in opposition to the “victimised ethnic group”. The Kuki Inpi adopted this up with a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on July 1, complaining of Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s BJP-led authorities and of “outright abhorrence and racial discrimination” in opposition to Kukis in Manipur.

Matters escalated additional. On June 3, the People’s Alliance for Peace and Progress, Manipur – an Imphal-based physique – shot off a letter to Modi. It claimed the People’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland represented a brand new “Kuki sovereignty movement” that threatened the coexistence of various communities, to not point out nationwide safety. It additionally alleged that the emergence of the People’s Democratic Movement of Kukiland was driving unlawful poppy cultivation within the Manipur Hills.

Haokip’s arrest has evidently opened up the outdated rift between the hills and the Imphal Valley. Kukis and Meiteis, the dominant group within the Valley, have lengthy working disputes. This time, allegations {that a} “majoritarian” state authorities backs Meiteis has added to the bitterness.

Competing histories

For many years, Manipur has been residence to numerous militancies – Kuki, Meitei, Naga. Each ethnic group has fought for its personal concept of a homeland. Conflicts between teams have typically arisen due to competing claims to land, which emerge from competing histories.

For occasion, militant teams which are predominantly Meitei have fought for a sovereign state of Manipur. But Kuki teams demand a separate ethnic homeland that will span many of the Manipur Hills, claiming this space as ancestral land belonging to the group.

Haokip’s statements and social media posts stepped into these disputes. Manipur Inspector General of Police Themthing Ngasangva informed that Haokip was arrested for a spread of posts – a lot of them criticised authorities initiatives at the same time as they contested Meitei histories.

First, there have been the posts on Mount Koubru and Mount Thangjing. While the Kukis say the 2 hills are tribal land, the Meiteis declare them as holy websites. In April final yr, when the Manipur authorities began the method of declaring components of Mount Koubru as a protected website, Haokip protested that the federal government had “illegally grabbed Tribals’ land in the name of religion”.

A map of the areas that will be lined by the proposed Kukiland.

Ngasangva additionally mentioned Haokip was “distorting history” by attempting to assert Manipur correct was solely 700 sq. miles – Outer Manipur, consisting of the hill districts might probably not be counted as a part of the state, he had claimed. According to Kuki histories, the tribal chiefs who dominated the Manipur Hills didn’t comply with the merger settlement of 1949, signed by the Maharaja of Manipur. The settlement – signed underneath duress, according to some accounts – joined the princely state’s lot with the Indian Union. But the maharaja’s realm was restricted to the Imphal Valley, Kuki histories declare.

Ngasangva additionally name-checked posts in opposition to Rani Gaindinliu, the Naga chief who joined the Heraka spiritual motion, led a revolt in opposition to the British, and is now feted as a freedom fighter by the federal government. Posts like these, in line with Ngasngva, “promote enmity” between teams. When Haokip was produced on the Imphal court docket on June 9, ladies from the Kabui Mothers’ Association – who belonged to the identical Naga tribe as Gaidinliu – protested against his posts.

Meitei teams additionally accused Haokip of distorting historical past as he protested in opposition to the declaration of sure components of the Manipur Hills as reserve forest space. Haokip had tweeted that the federal government was “uprooting settlements of the Kukis by derecognizing more than 790 villages & declaring all their lands as Reserved Forest is purely an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Kukis in Manipur”.

In response to the posts, Meitei teams just like the People’s Movement for Resurgent Manipur warned against “Myanmar nationals” like Haokip who created disaffection between “indigenous groups”. “It is also the Myanmar Nationals who claim ownership of the sacred sites at Thangjing Hill Range and Mount Koubru, thereby causing misunderstanding among the indigenous people,” the group alleged.

‘Myanmar national’

Meitei-dominated teams have responded to Haokip’s posts by calling him a “Myanmar national”.

“Mark Haokip originated from Myanmar,” mentioned L Ratankumar Singh, co-ordinator of the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity. “After coming to Manipur, he disguised himself as a human rights activist. He wants to distort our history by expressing his views that the area of Manipur was just 700 square miles during the merger agreement. It was one of the biggest mistakes and blunders which is creating communal tensions between Meiteis and a section of Kukis, who are following Mark’s doctrine.”

Kukis have typically been attacked as “immigrants” or “foreigners”, suggesting they migrated from Myanmar and are usually not native to the Manipur Hills – one other disputed historical past. Singh conceded all Kukis couldn’t be termed “foreigners”.

“We can’t say all the Kukis are refugees in the true sense because some Kuki groups have been settling in the land of Manipur since a very old time,” he mentioned.

But the outdated accusations obtained a recent lease of life final yr because the coup in neighbouring Myanmar and the following navy crackdown despatched 1000’s of refugees throughout the border.

“Some Kukis have come recently from Myanmar and we have to call them refugees and foreigners,” Ratankumar Singh.

Chief Minister Biren Singh also called Haokip a “Myanmarese” national when he referred to his arrest, saying he wouldn’t be allowed to threaten the integrity of Manipur.

Chief Minister N Biren Singh. Picture credit score: Facebook

Ngasangva, nevertheless, claimed the authorities had by no means known as Haokip a Myanmar nationwide.

“We never said he is a Myanmar national,” he mentioned. “The government said that he is supposed to be the president of the International Human Rights Association, Manipur, and coordinator of its Myanmar chapter. There are lots of photos in which he was seen with many illegal immigrants during the clash [the Myanmar coup]. We are investigating the matter thoroughly.”

Haokip’s brother, 34-year-old Paolal Haokip, hotly contested the police costs.

“He is fighting and representing various people from the Indo-Myanmar areas, specially the victims of the expansion of the Trans-Asian highway who did not get compensation for land acquisition,” mentioned Paolal Haokip.

He added that his brother fought for tribal land rights on the request of village chiefs. “He was arrested because he speaks on behalf of the various tribal chiefs and the people who don’t have a voice. The government is one community centric,” mentioned Paolal Haokip, alluding to the favored notion that the federal government favoured the Meitei group.

He added that the police had saved his brother in “illegal detention” as he had not been convicted in a court docket of legislation.

Waging warfare

According to the Ngasangva, the police’s actual curiosity in Haokip was due to his alleged “terror” actions. He was charged with “waging war” in opposition to the state, conspiracy, elevating funds for terror and offences underneath the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.

Ngasangva claimed Haokip had shaped the “Government of the People’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland’ in 2019 to fight for an independent Kuki country and ran a website to spread his ideology.

“He was under police observation for some time,” mentioned a senior police official, who didn’t wish to be named.” We have named three extra individuals within the UAPA FIR. They have been engaged in elevating funds for the separatist group for the final two-three years.”

Haokip has described the People’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland as a “Human Rights based Non-Violent Political government of the Kuki Nation”. Established on January 1, 2018, it aimed to search out diplomatic methods to “bring back the free state of Kukiland”.

In Churachandpur, the place Haokip is a well known determine, few have heard of the Kuki authorities apparently established by him.

“Many believe that linking him to the claimed government is part of a plot to smear his reputation and character,” mentioned a Kuki scholar chief who didn’t want to be named. “People are still waiting for the court to hear the case, as his supporters have little faith in the state police to investigate the case fairly.”

The senior police official, who additionally spoke on the situation of anonymity, mentioned Haokip was “wanted” by different Kuki militant teams. “That’s why he has been hiding here and there in Delhi for a couple of years,” he claimed.

Kuki militant teams are divided into a number of factions, most of which return many years. Internecine conflicts have typically damaged out between these factions. The authorities has signed suspension of operation agreements with the 2 main Kuki umbrella teams, whose members are actually quartered in camps in Manipur.

Meanwhile, the International Human Rights Association initially defended Haokip and his statements. In a press release issued on May 25, it reiterated the declare that his arrest mirrored a “majoritarian shift… towards a Meitei-centric government”.

But the organisation terminated Haokip’s membership on May 31, after he was rearrested on terror costs.

However, Mang Vaiphei, a member of the organisation, mentioned Haokip was “never a terrorist but a brave human rights activist” who was “being framed”.

“Pressuring and intimidating Dr. Mark Thangmang Haokip through unfounded criminal investigations and bogus charges is a shameless bid to silence critical voices and clamp down on peaceful activism,” he mentioned.

A majoritarian shift?

Political scientist Thongkholal Haokip additionally mentioned Haokip was a “political” sufferer of the “majoritarian” politics of the Manipur authorities. “He discusses on social media about territorial politics in Manipur, drawing from [the] colonial census accounts a century back, and other academic works in recent years,” he mentioned. “The majority Meitei community take it as a challenge to the territorial integrity of Manipur.”

While Kuki teams now accuse the BJP authorities of a Meitei bias, Kuki militant outfits have proven help for the social gathering for some years now. Relatives of Kuki underground leaders have joined the social gathering and stood for elections. Before elections, Kuki militant teams have been recognized to difficulty diktats ordering individuals to vote for the BJP.

Earlier this yr, Union Home Minister Amit Shah promised to hold peace talks with Kuki insurgent teams and finish militancy. Haokip himself has been recognized to appeal to the home minister to intervene in opposition to “communal threats” from the state authorities.

It just isn’t but clear if his arrest now portends a widening political rift between the state authorities and the group. However, observers within the state are frightened that it’ll escalate ethnic tensions as soon as once more.

“I am concerned that his case is unnecessarily becoming a contentious point of blaming the [whole] Kuki community which is not a good thing,” mentioned Babloo Loitongbam, who heads the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert. “This whole bogus thing about [Haokip] being a Myanmar citizen is totally uncalled for. As a citizen he has all the rights and liberties and should be given a fair trial. He should have freedom of opinions and expression.”

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