‘Ready to assist’ in Manipur: US Ambassador to India Eric Garcetti; Manipur & NE in World Wars

Imphal: The US ambassador Eric Garcetti has said the United States is ready to help Manipur if asked upon. The ambassador was interacting with students on his visit to Kolkata on July 6.

According to a report in The Hindu, Eric Garcetti was quoted saying that the violence and killings in Manipur are a matter of “human concern” and the U.S. is “ready to assist” India in dealing with the situation “if asked” on Thursday. The ambassador further told The Hindu, “Let me speak about Manipur first. We pray for peace there. When you ask us about the concern of the United States, I don’t think it’s a strategic concern. I think it’s about human concern… You don’t have to be Indian to care when you see children and individuals die in the sort of violence that we see [in Manipur] and we know that peace is the precedent for so many other good things. There have been so many good things in the northeast and the east here and those can’t continue without peace,” said Mr. Garcetti in response to a query on whether the U.S. establishment was concerned about the violence in Manipur.

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It is worth noting that the Northeast India ties with the United States and the British, especially in the context of Manipur in the the two major World Wars brings the state into focus. Manipur, one of the eight states in the Northeast region has been roiled in ethnic-conflict since May 3 has claimed over 120 lives and displaced at least 60,000 people. There are at least over 90 temporary relief camps housed in different districts of the state.

History of WWI & WWII

Northeast region’s Manipur state played a vital role in the formation of Indian Labour Corps in 1917 in response to the British Army’s need for manpower to aid in the war efforts. The Labour Corps played a crucial role in constructing and maintaining infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and railways, to support military operations.

A group of 2000 men from Manipur were recruited for the Labour Corps who assembled in Imphal before they were deployed in France. John Comyn Higgins was the President of the Manipur State Durbar (PMSD) who also became the Political Agent of Manipur from 1917 till 1918, and from 1924 till 1933.

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According to World War I Tangkhul Naga Labour Corps Association (WWITNLCA), after a short period of rigorous intensive physical training and on basic warfare knowledge set off to France. Out of 2000 Labour Corps, 1200 were from the Tangkhul Naga tribe from Manipur. Six Christian workers and students were among the contingent to act as interpreters. R. S.  Ruichumhao led the 1200 strong Tangkhul Naga contingents. Porachao and Angom Porom Singh of Phayeng led the Meitei contingents. Teba Korung led the Kom contingent. Thomsong Ngulhao, an evangelist led the Non-Thadou Kuki recruits. Out of 1200 Tangkhuls, around 90 of them died during journey as well as the war and their grave could be found in Yemen, Egypt, Italy and France. Some of their bodies were thrown into the ocean. The 22nd Battalion, Manipur, Indian Labour Corps comprising of four companies namely 40, 45, 65 and 66, each company comprising 500 labour corps. The 66th Company was constituted of only Tangkhuls (500) and the rest of Tangkhul Labour Corps was inducted in 40, 45 and 65 company.

Tangkhul Labour Corps Manipur

The ties with the United States in history was further strengthened in the WWII where Northeast India became the battle ground for the Allied forces — Battle of Kohima, Battle of Imphal and Battle of Shangshak was one such point in history where the British [V Force] and the Indian troops fought with the advancing Japanese Army.

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According to The Arunachal Times, the V Force led by Major Bob Khathing was posted at Jorhat as the local captain, Manipur sector, to operate behind enemy lines on the Burma front. He effectively mobilized the Tangkhul youth and leaders as volunteer aides. With 5000 youths, he moved his HQ to Sunle in Kabaw Valley in southeast Manipur, which was under threat from Japanese forces. He organized an intelligence setup, passing information of Japanese movements. He purportedly slew about 200 Japanese soldiers during his command in 1942-1944. He also faced a bullet when Japanese overran Shangshak and Ukhrul. The report further added that Major Bob Khathing operated in the battlefield at the frontline and in just three years (1942-1945), he was awarded the prestigious Member of the British Empire in December, 1943, and received the Military Cross in August 1944 for valour, bravery and initiative. He was only 32 years old when he got the Military Cross in 1947. He resigned from the army on insistence of his tribe and to work for their welfare.

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