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Manipur: After MHA Appeal, Tribal Body Defers Burials of 35 'Kuki-Zo Martyrs'

The appeal came in response to a Manipur High Court order with respect to a petition filed by a Meitei group.

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Amidst the ongoing ethnic violence in Manipur, a burial ceremony to "honour 35 Kuki-Zo martyrs" at S Boljang village near Haolai Khopi in Churachandpur district has become the latest source of dispute between the Meiteis and the Kukis.

These are members of the Kuki-Zo community who have died in the ongoing ethnic clashes that erupted in the state on 3 May. The bodies of three women and 32 men are to be buried.

The burials are to be conducted by the Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) and were initially supposed to happen on Thursday, 3 August.

An appeal from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), however, led to the postponement of the burials by five days.
The appeal came in response to a Manipur High Court order with respect to a petition filed by a Meitei group.

The appeal, which came in response to an order by the Manipur High Court, after hearing a petition filed by the International Meeteis Forum to suspend the burial ceremony, stated: "Government of India has appealed to all concerned to maintain peace and communal harmony and assures that it will spare no efforts to resolve the aforesaid issue amicably to the utmost satisfaction of all parties within a period of seven days."

On the day the burial was scheduled, in a statement to the media, the ITLF said, "We had a marathon meeting last night till 4 am due to a new development. The MHA requested us to delay the burial for five more days and that if we comply with that request, we will be allowed to bury in the same location (Haolai Khopi) and the government will legalise the land for the burial. The Mizoram chief minister had also made a similar request."

Meanwhile, a programme to honour the aforementioned martyrs took place in the Peace Ground at Tuibuong in Churachandpur district. [Note: Tuibuong and Torbung are different locations. The former is located in Churachandpur while the latter is located at the boundary between the Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts.]

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Why Meiteis Are Protesting

Civil society organisations like the Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI) and the Manipur Women’s Convention have expressed strong opposition to the burials at a site that they claim is situated in a Meitei area in Torbung Bangla under Torbung Gram Panchayat in Bishnupur District.

A video posted by The Ukhrul Times showed a huge group of Meitei women protesting against the same.

A leader of an interfaith forum based in Imphal told The Quint that the "proposed site in Torbung has its roots in Meitei language and culture, and that the decision to choose it as a burial site is a strategy for expansion."

Additionally, Heigrujam Nabashyam, chairman of the World Meitei Council, told The Quint that while he and Meiteis are not against any burials, "it was not acceptable for it to happen in an area that is significant to Meitei history and folklore."

On the other hand, Kuki-Zo leaders said that the decision to conduct the burials at Haolai Khopi village was to assert it as a part of Churachandpur district and not Bishnupur (as denoted in the aforementioned claims).

Additionally, a Kuki academic told The Quint that the Meiteis' issue is not with the location, but the act of the burial ceremony itself. "They are scared that the burials will strengthen our unity and resolve. The Meiteis don't want that," they said.

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The Petition and the Court Order

The proposed burial site is Haolai Khopi village. The aforementioned petition submitted to the Manipur High Court states that the proposed land belongs to the Sericulture Department of the Government of Manipur.

The petition accessed by The Quint reads, "The Government Sericulture Farm and its land are public properties and it belongs to all the people/communities of the State," and that it "cannot be used as a mass graveyard/burial site for a particular community i.e., Kuki-Zo without [the] authority of law."

This sericulture farm, proposed as the site, is near the boundary between Churachandpur and Bishnupur districts, a buffer zone between tribal and Meitei districts respectively. Both communities have asserted a claim to the site.

In response to this petition, a bench of the Manipur High Court led by Acting Chief Justice MV Muralidharan directed the state and central government forces on 3 August, to maintain the status quo at the proposed burial site.

The order, also accessed by The Quint, further stated that "appropriate effective steps" should be taken "to control the law and order problem in and around of the land in question," and that "any aggrieved parties are directed to make amicable settlement in this matter."

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ITLF Lists Five Demands

In response to the MHA's request to postpone the burials by five days, the ITLF has made five demands. In a letter addressed directly to Home Minister Amit Shah, the demands listed by Pagin Haokip and Muan Tombing, chairman and secretary of the ITLF, respectively, are as follows:

  • Legalisation of the proposed burial site

  • Prevention of the deployment of Meitei state forces in hill districts

  • Return of dead bodies of the Kuki-Zo communities from Imphal to Churachandpur

  • Speeding up of separate administration for the Kuki-Zo communities

  • Transfer of tribal jail inmates in Imphal to other states

According to a report by The Hindu, additional forces of the Assam Rifles, the Rapid Action Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, and the Indian Army have been deployed around the disputed Haolai Khopi village area to prevent violence.

The Quint reached out to Churachandpur Police Station for a comment. The article shall be updated as and when the authorities respond.

The bodies of the 35 Kuki-Zo deceased are currently at Churachandpur District Hospital, and most of them are being preserved using ice slabs, given the limited number of cold storage units, according to sources in the ITLF.

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Topics:  Manipur violence 

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