A CNN-IBN Special Investigation into India’ s Hidden Wars in northeast India

Full interview transcript of Seilen Haokip, Spokesperson, Kuki National Organisation 

There are competing histories. The Nagas have a different historical outlook on the Kuki issue, the Kukis have a different outlook on Naga issues, and so on and so forth and it seems to be spread over all ethnicities in the Northeast. At some point in time the competing histories will have to cooperate. How do you arrive at that position? 
Seilen Haokip: I agree with you there are competing histories, and in a sense that is inevitable because both communities rely on the oral traditions and its difficult in that context to say that this is right and that is wrong. However what has been problematic is our histories in the recorded sense were started by the British. There is no other recorded history that is accessible to both communities at the moment. It is from the perspective of the colonialist. What is written by the British is not complementary toward the Kukis as much as they are towards the Nagas.

Effort is being made by the Kukis themselves, to present their own history in their own way. Books are being written and so on. 
Seilen Haokip: True. But we are relying on sources, again which are lying largely based on oral traditions. And if you pit that against what the British have written, it’s a bit difficult to balance the two. One specific reason for that is, for the time that the British moved to the Northeast, the Kukis sort of opposed them, they didn’t want them to come into their lands. And they record this in their books as Kuki raids, I mean that’s their perspective, from our perspective it’s defending our territory, our area of influence, etc. Naga nationalism, no offense meant, was promoted by the British. 

All of this, including your views on Naga nationalism is colored by or in the context of the Kuki-Naga clashes. Isn’t that kind of a reality, fact of life that those clashes fundamentally altered the way that Kukis looks at Nagas and visa-versa? 
Seilen Haokip: I think that’s true, but at the same time we are discerning about our history. We shouldn’t forget that during the time of Phizo’s leadership, Phizo was a politician and he had a vision and he was inclusive of other ethnic communities as it were. And he didn’t communalize Naga nationalism. In fact in 1929 the famous Simon Commission was submitted, and a Kuki was a signatory. So Kuki was integral to the Naga movement at the time. Its unfortunate that that took a change from the time when NSCN (IM) came up, and even with regard to NSCN (IM) in Ukhrul district, where Thuingaleng Muivah comes from, he has a lot of Kuki friends. Kukis and Tangkhuls live together. With the rise of Naga nationalism, mainly started by Muivah, which had gained a certain momentum by the time by the time Muivah came into power. Unfortunately whatever prompted him, that elevated Naga nationalism, was directed on the Kukis. And so from 92-97, about 900 Kukis were killed and before that a total of almost 40-50 Kukis were from the 1940’s to 50’s were systematically eliminated. So this has put Kukis in a very disadvantageous position. And their claim that Kukis are immigrants from Burma, that is a very erroneous perspective because you cannot say Kukis came from Burma because before the British came and the international boundary was drawn all that area was areas where Kukis lived. They moved about freely within that area and also the Nagas. The Tangkhuls are from Somra tribe. So if you say that today, Kukis migrated from Burma, essentially what you are doing is projecting today’s norms into the past. Now that is a completely blurred, obscured, so if Kukis are migrants so are Nagas. When NSCN (IM), with the momentum set by Phizo, was able to be in a position superior to the Kukis because at the time in ’92 Kukis were not in a movement. They had surrendered all their weapons after the MNF movement, they were living as loyal citizens of India to be protected by the Indian security forces as any other citizen of India. 

That’s an interesting thing you said about projecting present day norms into the past. But that’s really part of the problem because when you look at the solution now, how do you get these claims about the land out of the way? 
Seilen Haokip: I think that is something that has to be mutually agreed upon. If the Nagas claim these are our territories, which they are doing now, I’d like to refer to a specific example: Chandal district in Manipur. Chandal district has a population which is 100% Kuki. Unfortunately when the British were here they divided the Kukis into two categories; old Kuki and new Kuki. Now Chandal has a big population of the old Kuki group. What happened about 20, 30 years ago the Tangkhul Christian missionaries went there, preached and converted a number of them into Christianity. So now there is a disintegration of Kuki identity with the sections of the population identifying with for example Naga. Now more groups from the old Kukis have adopted the Naga identity, in the same way as Naga people. Now in present day situations, NSCN (IM) is claiming Chandal district as part of their dream of or their goal of Nagaland, or sometimes referred to as Greater Nagaland

What are the resolutions the KNO would be happy with? 
Seilen Haokip: The KNO from my understanding, the late chief of army staff, Viten Haokip, made a profound statement. That he was not looking at just Naga and Kuki issues, because currently in Manipur there are 3 communities: Kukis, Nagas, and Meithei. So you can’t have solution for one and ignore the other, if you want the entire region to be in a situation where there is peace, stability, and tranquility, then you need to have solution for the three. So suggested a tri-part tribe solution in Manipur; one for the Nagas, one for the Meithei, and one for the Kukis. From what they are saying of course they want their territories to be integrated with the exiting state of Nagaland, but if they go on the basis of what they claim to be Naga territory then they come into direct conflict with the Kukis not the Meithei. The Meithei are talking about talking about Manipur territorial integrity from a sort of emotional and also political perspective.

Just to bring you back to that question, before we come back to the Meiteis, what do you think will make the KNO happy in terms of a resolution. Whats the plan in your mind? 
Seilen Haokip: KNO now on the one hand they want their historicity to be recognized, that they were independent people not under Burma, India, Meithei, or Naga, not anybody. They were an independent people. That should be recognized and the second point is that they want their problems to be resolved under the framework of the Indian constitution. And they are saying if India, and for that matter Burma, because we are in Burma because the British divided us into two groups, is saying if India wants us to be part of the Indian Union we are happy to do that. Then recognize our territory by way of statehood and that is administrative. That will have an impact on the Meithei community because they would interpret that as Manipur being divided. We are not asking for the valley to be part of the Kuki state. 

What about the demand for a Kuki state in the Burmese side? Isn’t that an impossibility? 
Seilen Haokip: No it should not be an impossibility because its politically sound, its historically reasonable. Kuki areas in Burma are, is concentrated in the Segang division, Tamu is part of that across Moreh. Now what KNO is saying, same thing to the government of Myanmar, you want us to be a part of Burma we are happy but recognize our area by way of according us statehood, and its an administrative request. We are not trying to secede from Burma nor from India. And the likelihood of that coming to pass is more because the Kukis in Burma support the NLD, the National League for Democracy.

So you would not settle for an autonomous head council or something to that effect. 
Seilen Haokip: No I think there has been too much bloodshed, too many disadvantages faced by the Kukis to sort of be content with an autonomous district or whatever. 

The UNLF says that it is secular, that it has a multicultural, multiethnic approach. They do not see Manipur separated by Kukis, Meitheis, or Nagas or whatever. Why doesn’t that vision fit in with your vision? 
Seilen Haokip: It will not because in terms of the recent past developments etc, when the NSCN (IM) addressed on the Kukis in the 1990’s, we were in a severe disadvantage because as I told you we were vulnerable because we did not possess arms, we were not in a movement.

But UNLF is opposed to NSCN (IM)… 
Seilen Haokip: When IM aggressed on us, and from ’92-’97 slaughtered us, where was UNLF? Did they ever prevent IM from killing Kukis, were they able to protect them if they did? 900 would have not died. 350 villages were uprooted, more than 50,00 have been displaced. 

Were they in a position to come to your rescue because they only declared war in 1990, but actual engagement was in 1995? 
Seilen Haokip: Well they are the dominant group by population, and as you know by UNLF they are far more well equipped than an NSCN (IM) or a KNO I would think, because they are far more affluent. They can purchase much more than NSCN (IM) or KNO combined.

Is the KNO happy with NSCN (K)? 
Seilen Haokip: Politically in principle yes because NSCN (K) in their ideology do not call for territorial integrity for the so-called Naga people, which NSCN (IM) which is asserting. So in other words they are not going to affect Kuki territory. That’s the implicit understanding of their ideology by KNO. 

KNO is politically ok with NSCN (K), but radically opposed and at war, literally, with NSCN (IM). On the other hand UNLF cannot see NSCN (IM) because it is more friendly with NSCN (K). In fact they co-habit together in some places because of water. It is a weird combination of all these ethnicities’ short-term interests, bringing people together and nobody is looking at the long term. 
Seilen Haokip: I think KNO is definitely looking at the long term. And UNLF is also from their point of view. But what, perhaps you have not observed is with regard to the UNLF, in Chandal district, in Churchandpur district their presence is still there. They took shelter there because they couldn’t be secure in Imphal valley with Indian army being on their absolute gung-ho offensive to encounter them or contain them. So they moved to the hills. We’ve heard number of things about them doling out food items to the village people, specially in the interiors who are poor. As time went on we began to hear of atrocities committed by them, even chiefs being sort of whipped, beaten, forced labor, killings. Now you hear about rape in Churchanpur in Parbung. And then we also began to hear about encounters with UNLF guarders and KNA, especially Samtaal area. And the tragedy about their, UNLF’s opposition to the Indian army is such that they come to a place like Maurice for example, set mines, Assam Rifle personnel get blown up, and Assam Rifle reacts takes it out on the Kuki population who are living there.

To present the other point of view, Sanayaima, he made 2 or 3 points categorically and took great offense to the fact when a question was posed to him saying you are basically a Meithei, valley-based organization, what are you doing in the hills- saying that we are not a valley-based organization, that we are a Manipur based organization. 
Seilen Haokip: Well in that case he is forcing himself on the land of the Kukis. If they and took shelter and we as historical sort of communities which were on good terms, you can’t come into my territory today and start imposing your views, your laws, and because you have superiority in terms of military power, you can’t intimidate people. 

The UNLF says it places mine to protect its camps and its personnel. But if it ever places mines on civilian areas it warns the local villagers not to go there. 3 civilians have been killed from the mines that it laid, and they were killed because they failed to obey the instructions. But they find that using mines to deter the security forces is in fact a legitimate form of warfare. 
Seilen Haokip: It may be legitimate for them, but its in Kuki territory and its killing Kuki civilians. How can that be legitimate, how can that be acceptable to the Kukis? I’ve heard of pregnant women who go into the forest to pick up roots, vegetables for their livelihood. She gets blown up with her baby etc, and KNO by the way has signed the Geneva call Anti-mine Program. They don’t believe in setting mines. Now when we have done that as Kukis, and KNO has formally, officially been a signatory for this, how can they tolerate another group in our territory planting bombs, and killing Kuki people whether they dictate or they say, pass out instructions.

You were saying with your negotiations with the army, with the other agencies and what’s really happening on the ground. 
Seilen Haokip: If I may just talk about something in that context. We often hear allegations of the Kukis conniving with Indian army. I see that as a complete misunderstanding of the situation. The Kukis, the KNO’s objective as I mentioned is the find solutions within the framework of the Indian constitution. Then why should they be at odds with the Indian security forces. And if the Indian security forces protect them, they are protecting them as loyal citizens whose objectives are clear. Why do they wield arms within India? Unfortunately, considering the terrain etc and the remoteness of the region, despite the deployment of battalions of whatnot, the Kukis was evident since ’92- ’97 IM slaughtered them and the Indian security forces could not protect them. So we have to wield arms for our own protection. We don’t wield arms to gain an independent country because we have articulated our ideology. 

That point is well taken, but what’s happening now. 
Seilen Haokip: The government of India is talking to NSCN (IM) who were the perpetrators of, in fact it is being called Kuki genocide. Kukis are the victims they are not being engaged in any political dialogue despite the fact that KNO has sent numerous memorandums. Talking to the army, signing a ceasefire with the army is clearly something that was initiated by the army, which we appreciated and we observed. We were to be taken to the negotiating table within 6 months. That has elapsed, now the ceasefire is not extended officially although the status quo remains as mentioned. But political dialogue has not started either so whilst NSCN (IM), NSCN Khaplang have their ceasefires renewed, extended, political dialogues carry on. With Kukis ceasefire is not extended yet, there’s no political dialogue. Although we want the problem solved within the framework of the constitution, we feel completely ignored. But if the government continues to ignore KNO, which has now 8 organizations with it. In the past we had heard rumors that the state cannot talk to the Kukis because they are disunited, there are too many factions. Now that excuse is completely irrelevant. 

If that does not happen?
Seilen Haokip: I cannot speak about because I do not know. But hopefully if they go for an alternative, it’ll be something that is not anti-national because we firmly believe in being Indian. We are born in India, we are raised up. I’ll just elude briefly to a historical perspective. When India gained independence and Sardar Patel went around the nation and brought the princely states at that time Manipur was a princely state. When Sardar Patel went to bring Manipur princely state into India, the Kukis opposed. They said if you go, our territories will become part of the Indian Union as well. But there was quite a strong pressure from the Meithei public which forced the king to go to Shillong and sign the accord. After that Kukis chose to reconcile with the situation and became loyal citizens of India. Up till that point they thought that now that India was independent they would regain their historical status of being sovereign in their own context. Now that dream came to pass. 

That dream went away. What’s the new dream? 
Seilen Haokip: The new dream now, as I mentioned earlier is just two points. Let me preface that with after that merger agreement, the Kukis reconciled to be a part of India. One is recognize our historicity that we were a free independent people. In principle that should be recognized so that our history is preserved. Second is, if India wants our territory, which is more than half of the state of Manipur as a part of the Indian Union, secure us by recognizing that area as Kuki statehood. Simple as that, nothing more nothing less.