Zomi Chief’s Association petitions to PM Modi for conducting a referendum among Zo tribal Village Chiefs for conclusive determination of its political trajectory

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Esteemed Sir,

We, the undersigned present this memorandum, fortified by rationale and factual underpinning, beseeching your attention to a matter of paramount significance; the necessity for orchestrating a referendum amongst the Zo tribal village chieftains, with the explicit aim of elucidating their path forward.

The annals of history chronicle the relentless oppression borne by the Zo tribes (Kuki-Mizo/Zomi) domiciled within the present state of Manipur. In an endeavour to engender an equitable and harmonious resolution to the multifaceted challenges confronting them, the United People’s Front (UPF) and the Kuki National Organisation (KNO), within the framework of the Suspension of Operations (SoO) agreement with the Government, originally concurred upon a settlement within Manipur. After prolonged and assiduous negotiations spanning a decade and a half, all substantive issues were amicably resolved, ushering the political discourse into a pivotal juncture by the advent of May 3, 2023, poised at the threshold of a momentous peace accord.

Regrettably, on this very day, agents of discord precipitated communal tensions by fanning the flames of strife during the peace rally convened by the All Tribal Students’ Union Manipur (ATSUM) across the tribal hill districts of Manipur. This disruptive fervour resulted in a staggering toll of over 150 lives, the conflagration of innumerable tribal residences and sacred edifices, alongside the forcible displacement of more than 50,000 individuals till date. In hindsight, genesis of the on-going ethnic turmoil is vividly clear; it is a sinister machination orchestrated by vested interests, entrenched in power, intent on sabotaging the prospective tranquillity that an accord could bestow upon the beleaguered Zo community.

The orations proffered by Mr. Biren Singh, since his assumption of the mantle of Chief Minister, were laden with commitments to bridge the gaping chasm between the hill and valley segments within the state. Such assertions naturally generated expectations of the impartial restoration of law and order by the state apparatus, in the wake of the violence’s eruption. However, the veracity of his promises stands questionable, as his statements undergo a mercurial transformation each passing day, oscillating between labelling the upheaval as a crusade against narco-terrorism or illegal immigration, assuming full culpability for the turmoil, feigning resignation, and other such stratagems.

While many Zo tribals seek refuge across the border in Mizoram, it is appalling that Mr. Singh’s solicitousness is conspicuously reserved solely for the safety of his Meitei compatriots residing in Mizoram. By such conspicuous disregard for the well-being of the Zo tribals, his title as Chief Minister of Manipur now stands discredited, emblematic of representation for the Meitei populace exclusively.

The sufferings endured by the Zo tribals are unfathomable, yet, despite their travails, faith in the Indian Government and Constitution remains unflagging. The commitment of the Government to deliberate upon the ethnic conflagration in Manipur during the recently concluded monsoon session of Parliament invoked optimism for comprehensive discourse, redolent with prospective resolutions. Disappointingly, these hopes were crushed beneath the wheels of inter-party political vendettas, relegating Manipur’s ordeal to a paltry allocation of time amidst extensive deliberations.

During your extensive address in the parliamentary session which spanned over two hours, it was discernible that the time allocated for discussing the intricate matters pertaining to Manipur was regrettably limited to a mere fraction of your speech.

Moreover, the Hon’ble Union Home Minister’s assertion in Parliament, attributing the unrest in Manipur to the intrusion of the “Kuki Democratic Front,” ostensibly engaged in counteraction against the junta in Myanmar, stands bereft of corroboration. The conspicuous apathy demonstrated by both the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister of the country towards the tribulations of the Zo people has begun to erode the bedrock of faith in the Indian administration. These circumstances propel a disconcerting query; whether the Zo populace genuinely constitutes an integral facet of the Indian polity and if their ancestral territories remain an indelible part of India.

In a state of sheer desperation, we are constrained to present this correspondence.

  1. The historical legitimacy of the Meitei Ningthouja principality’s existence since 33 AD is highly questionable.
  2. Historically, the principality stood as an ineffectual and inconsequential entity, hamstrung by internal strife for power and beset by external apprehensions, notably an acute dread of Burmese incursions – termed Burmaphobia.
  3. The Meitei principality was defeated by the Burmese forces in 1819, resulting in a seven-year occupation (1819-1826) of the Imphal plains. The salvation of the principality hinged on the British triumph in the First Anglo-Burmese War, an event which retroactively validated Gambhir Singh as Raja.
  4. From the establishment of the Political Agency (1835) to the awarding of protectorate status (1851) and granting of princely state status (1891), the British undertook strenuous efforts to empower and shield Manipur. Regrettably, these endeavours proved inadequate in invigorating the Meitei Raja against external threats.

For the sake of administrative expediency, a succession of treaties were executed, followed by the constitution of boundary commissions, culminating in the excision of substantial swathes of hill terrain from independent Burma (1826), the Naga hills (1842), Chin Hills (1894), and Lushai Hills (1901). These territories were placed under the purview of British Political Agents stationed in Imphal. The cumulative territory thus governed collectively assumed the designation “Manipur.”

Nonetheless, it is imperative to underscore that these territorial delineations neither amounted to cession to the Meitei Raja nor conquest by him. Rather, these delineations were a product of colonial strategies, wherein borders were delineated to further colonial objectives. Notably, the newly incorporated hill regions remained under direct British administration, helmed by officers occupying roles such as Political Agent, Vice President, and President of the Manipur State Durbar.

Regrettably, this colonial schema of demarcation persisted even post-independence and was perpetuated by the Union of India. This trajectory of events led to the erroneous assumption that the entire expanse of the erstwhile British princely state of Manipur had been formally assimilated into India through the Manipur Merger Agreement of 1949. The factual verity remains that while the Meitei Raja relinquished his sovereignty and rights to the Union of India, the Zo tribals and their territories never underwent formal cession to either Manipur or India.

The Zo people administer a distinctive system of governance and land tenure, a legacy handed down through the annals of time. The British acknowledged the efficacy of their administrative structure, entailing the institution of chieftainship, within the fabric of tribal society. This acknowledgment translated into empowering village chiefs with the responsibility of upholding law and order within their domains. The British, in accordance, demarcated village boundaries and officially validated these land rights. This legacy of tribal land ownership remains sacrosanct to this day.

Given that the village chiefs have not relinquished their land rights to either Manipur or India and in light of the enduring validity of their land ownership claims, they retain the inherent prerogative to chart their political trajectory.

Having undergone governance under the auspices of the Government of India for an uninterrupted span of 77 years, it is hereby submitted for your esteemed consideration that the Government of India must duly convene a definitive referendum, encompassing the entirety of Zo tribal chieftains, for the conclusive determination of the Zo people’s political trajectory.

Should the Government of India, regrettably, abstain from undertaking this democratic course of action, alternative avenues to exercise the right to self-determination and delineate the fate of our people shall necessitate exploration.

With profound regards

(PUMZADOU THANGSING)

President

(G. KHAMKHOHAU)
General Secretary
Zomi Chiefs Association GHQ

Published on August 30, 2023

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