The tale of Meitei-Naga-Kuki
The tale of Meitei-Naga-Kuki clashes in Manipur

In Manipur, a prolonged clash between the tribal groups, the Naga and Kukis and the Meiteis, has resulted in widespread violence, numerous fatalities, and a large-scale displacement of people. More than 50 people have been reported dead, while over 40,000 individuals have been forced to flee their homes, with many lacking a safe place to return to. In addition, the divide between the communities has become increasingly pronounced, with deep-seated mistrust, anger, and even hatred prevailing on both sides for quite a long time now.


The outbreak of violence can be traced back to May 3, when a tribal solidarity march organized by tribal civil society groups in Churachandpur turned violent. The main trigger for the clashes was the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status. Presently, the Meiteis, who constitute around 60 percent of the population, are confined to just 10 percent of Manipur’s land area. The Meitei tribe has a rich historical legacy that stretches back several centuries. They are believed to have migrated to the Manipur Valley around the 1st century CE. The remaining territory, encompassing the hill districts, is predominantly inhabited by tribal communities, particularly the Kukis and Nagas, who have the ST status. While all Kukis have been violently expelled from Imphal, no Meiteis can be seen in Churachandpur or other Kuki-dominated hill districts.


Ethnic tensions between the hill communities and the Meiteis have existed from the time of the erstwhile kingdom, but the friction started escalating with the advent of the Naga national movement in the 1950s and the call for an independent Naga nation. The Naga insurgency was countered by the rise of insurgent groups among the Meiteis and Kuki-Zomi. Amidst the clashes, state’s 10 Kuki MLAs have raised the demand for a separate state. The demand for a separate “Kukiland” dates back to the late 1980s, when the first and largest of the Kuki insurgent groups, the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), came into being. The demand has surfaced periodically ever since.


However, recent years have witnessed a resurgence of “Meiteism” in Manipuri society, characterized by a concerted effort to revive Meitei identity, religion, and culture. This movement aims to establish the Meiteis as the original inhabitants of Manipur. The Nagas have also joined in this narrative, further exacerbating tensions. The Naga and Kuki tribes make up about 40 percent of the population of Manipur and fall into the ‘Scheduled Tribes’ category, enjoying certain benefits such as land-owning rights in the hills and forests and make up the majority of the people living in the hills. The tribes believe granting “Scheduled Tribe” status to the Meiteis would infringe their rights as they claim to be the marginalized part of the population and not the Meiteis.


The Meitei tribe holds a unique place in India’s cultural tapestry. With a rich history, vibrant traditions, and a distinct identity, the Meitei people have contributed significantly to the region’s social, artistic, and political landscape. The violent clashes between the Kuki-Nagas and Meiteis in Manipur are a cause for grave concern. Efforts must be made to foster dialogue, understanding, and reconciliation among the communities. A comprehensive approach that addresses historical grievances promotes inclusivity and ensures equitable access to resources and opportunities is essential to restoring peace and harmony in the region. The government must find lasting solutions and prevent further loss of life and displacement.


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