How the arrest of an activist has resurfaced ethnic tensions

Activist Mark T Haokip has now spent a month-and-a-half in jail. On Might 24, the Manipur police arrested him from his dwelling in Delhi for social media statements that allegedly harm the “spiritual sentiments of a number of folks, significantly the Meiteis”.

Introduced again to Manipur, the 37-year-old was rearrested for heading the “Authorities of the Folks’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland”, a separatist outfit. He’s accused of waging struggle towards the state to ascertain a homeland for Kukis, a tribal neighborhood based totally within the Manipur hills.

“Mark T Haokip is actively current on social media and evaluation of his fb posts every so often additionally reveals that he’s not solely anti Authorities but additionally abets, instigates frequent Folks to battle towards the Authorities established by regulation,” mentioned the primary info report filed on Might 30.

In line with Haokip’s lawyer, Thangboi Khongsai, there are seven FIRs towards him, the earliest filed on April 17, 2021.

The arrest of Haokip, who was additionally state president of the Worldwide Human Rights Affiliation, primarily based 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 press release on Might 29, elevating an alarm a few “groundswell of Kuki-Chin-Mizophobia” in Manipur, warning towards “fringe teams” that indulged in “hate and racial profiling”. It additionally prompt they have been backed by the administration, which discriminated towards 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” towards Kukis in Manipur.

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

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

Competing histories

For many years, Manipur has been dwelling to numerous militancies – Kuki, Meitei, Naga. Every 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.

As an example, militant teams which can be predominantly Meitei have fought for a sovereign state of Manipur. However Kuki teams demand a separate ethnic homeland that will span a lot of the Manipur Hills, claiming this space as ancestral land belonging to the neighborhood.

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

First, there have been the posts on Mount Koubru and Mount Thangjing. Whereas the Kukis say the 2 hills are tribal land, the Meiteis declare them as holy websites. In April final 12 months, when the Manipur authorities began the method of declaring components of Mount Koubru as a protected web site, Haokip protested that the federal government had “illegally grabbed Tribals’ land within the identify of faith”.

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

Ngasangva additionally mentioned Haokip was “distorting historical past” by making an attempt to assert Manipur correct was solely 700 sq. miles – Outer Manipur, consisting of the hill districts may not likely be counted as a part of the state, he had claimed. In line with 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 below duress, in keeping with some accounts – joined the princely state’s lot with the Indian Union. However the maharaja’s realm was restricted to the Imphal Valley, Kuki histories declare.

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

Meitei teams additionally accused Haokip of distorting historical past as he protested towards 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 greater than 790 villages & declaring all their lands as Reserved Forest is only an ethnic cleaning marketing campaign towards the Kukis in Manipur”.

In response to the posts, Meitei teams just like the Folks’s Motion for Resurgent Manipur warned towards “Myanmar nationals” like Haokip who created disaffection between “indigenous teams”. “It’s also the Myanmar Nationals who declare possession of the sacred websites at Thangjing Hill Vary and Mount Koubru, thereby inflicting misunderstanding among the many indigenous folks,” the group alleged.

‘Myanmar nationwide’

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

“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 desires to distort our historical past by expressing his views that the realm of Manipur was simply 700 sq. miles in the course of the merger settlement. It was one of many largest errors and blunders which is creating communal tensions between Meiteis and a bit of Kukis, who’re 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 will’t say all of the Kukis are refugees within the true sense as a result of some Kuki teams have been settling within the land of Manipur since a really previous time,” he mentioned.

However the previous accusations acquired a recent lease of life final 12 months because the coup in neighbouring Myanmar and the following army crackdown despatched 1000’s of refugees throughout the border.

“Some Kukis have come not too long ago from Myanmar and we now have to name them refugees and foreigners,” Ratankumar Singh.

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

Chief Minister N Biren Singh. Image credit score: Fb

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

“We by no means mentioned he’s a Myanmar nationwide,” he mentioned. “The federal government mentioned that he’s presupposed to be the president of the Worldwide Human Rights Affiliation, Manipur, and coordinator of its Myanmar chapter. There are many photographs by which he was seen with many unlawful immigrants in the course of the conflict [the Myanmar coup]. We’re investigating the matter completely.”

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

“He’s combating and representing numerous folks from the Indo-Myanmar areas, specifically the victims of the enlargement of the Trans-Asian freeway who didn’t 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 as a result of he speaks on behalf of the varied tribal chiefs and the individuals who don’t have a voice. The federal government is one neighborhood centric,” mentioned Paolal Haokip, alluding to the favored notion that the federal government favoured the Meitei neighborhood.

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

Waging struggle

In line with the Ngasangva, the police’s actual curiosity in Haokip was due to his alleged “terror” actions. He was charged with “waging struggle” towards the state, conspiracy, elevating funds for terror and offences below the Illegal Actions (Prevention) Act.

Ngasangva claimed Haokip had shaped the “Authorities of the Folks’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland’ in 2019 to battle for an impartial Kuki nation and ran an internet site to unfold his ideology.

“He was below police remark for a while,” mentioned a senior police official, who didn’t need to be named.” We have now named three extra folks within the UAPA FIR. They’ve been engaged in elevating funds for the separatist group for the final two-three years.”

Haokip has described the Folks’s Democratic Republic of Kukiland as a “Human Rights primarily based Non-Violent Political authorities of the Kuki Nation”. Established on January 1, 2018, it aimed to search out diplomatic methods to “deliver again 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 imagine that linking him to the claimed authorities is a part of a plot to smear his fame and character,” mentioned a Kuki pupil chief who didn’t want to be named. “Persons are nonetheless ready for the court docket to listen to the case, as his supporters have little religion within the state police to research the case pretty.”

The senior police official, who additionally spoke on the situation of anonymity, mentioned Haokip was “wished” by different Kuki militant teams. “That’s why he has been hiding right here and there in Delhi for a few 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 federal government has signed suspension of operation agreements with the 2 main Kuki umbrella teams, whose members are actually quartered in camps in Manipur.

In the meantime, the Worldwide Human Rights Affiliation initially defended Haokip and his statements. In a press release issued on Might 25, it reiterated the declare that his arrest mirrored a “majoritarian shift… in the direction of a Meitei-centric authorities”.

However the organisation terminated Haokip’s membership on Might 31, after he was rearrested on terror expenses.

Nonetheless, Mang Vaiphei, a member of the organisation, mentioned Haokip was “by no means a terrorist however a courageous human rights activist” who was “being framed”.

“Pressuring and intimidating Dr. Mark Thangmang Haokip by way of unfounded prison investigations and bogus expenses is a shameless bid to silence crucial voices and clamp down on peaceable 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 again, and different tutorial works lately,” he mentioned. “The bulk Meitei neighborhood take it as a problem to the territorial integrity of Manipur.”

Whereas Kuki teams now accuse the BJP authorities of a Meitei bias, Kuki militant outfits have proven help for the get together for some years now. Kinfolk of Kuki underground leaders have joined the get together and stood for elections. Earlier than elections, Kuki militant teams have been identified to subject diktats ordering folks to vote for the BJP.

Earlier this 12 months, Union House Minister Amit Shah promised to carry peace talks with Kuki insurgent teams and finish militancy. Haokip himself has been identified to enchantment to the house minister to intervene towards “communal threats” from the state authorities.

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

“I’m involved that his case is unnecessarily changing into a contentious level of blaming the [whole] Kuki neighborhood which isn’t a great factor,” mentioned Babloo Loitongbam, who heads the Imphal-based Human Rights Alert. “This entire bogus factor about [Haokip] being a Myanmar citizen is completely uncalled for. As a citizen he has all of the rights and liberties and ought to be given a good trial. He ought to have freedom of opinions and expression.”

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