Self-Proclaimed Village Chief Claim On Protected Site Fabricated, Concocted, Says Manipur Government


'Self-Proclaimed Village Chief's Claim On Protected Site Fabricated, Concocted': Manipur Government

Kuki-Zo tribes deny Thangjing is sacred site only of Meiteis, but both Kuki and Zo also claim ownership

Imphal:

The Manipur government has intervened to put to rest claims and counter-claims by two tribes that the sacred Thangjing hill near the lakeside Moirang town belongs to them.

The government in a strongly worded statement, citing several laws, said the claim by a “self-proclaimed” village chief that the hill’s ownership comes under his chieftainship is a “fabricated and concocted one with a malafide intention to mislead the general public.”

“The present-day Thangjing hill range falls within the Churachandpur-Khoupum protected forests… The present-day Ukha-Loikhai settlement falls within the boundary of this protected forest,” the government said in the statement on Monday.

It said an order to remove the Ukha-Loikhai settlement from the Churachandpur-Khoupum protected forests was cancelled on November 7, 2022, a matter that is under investigation.

“Thangjing (Thang Ching) is a hill of historial importance because of which the government of Manipur had declared it as a protected site under Section 4 of the Manipur Ancient and Historial Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976…” the government said.

Thangting (Thangjing) hill, Churachandpur (bottom red circle) and Moirang (upper red circle)

Thangjing hill, Churachandpur (bottom red circle) and Moirang (upper red circle)

Thangjing is the same hill range where a large cross was installed in January, an act that was seen as destabilising in the violence-hit state, as the hill has a shrine that the residents of Moirang, 60 km from the state capital Imphal, consider sacred and ancient.

Thangjing falls under the Kuki-Zo-dominated Churachandpur district. Manipur’s Congress government in 2015 had created the Thangting sub-division (now Kangvai sub-division) in the Thangjing range, which had then led to tension among communities.

The latest controversy started when the Zomi Students’ Federation (ZSF) in a statement on February 15 said the Thangjing hills belong to the Zo people, who will continue to exercise their constitutional right to religion and “will continue to erect whatever religious symbols their religious fervour drives them to.”

The ZSF pointed to visuals that surfaced on social media, which it claimed showed “the desecration of a church at Golvajang, Moreh (sic, Khamenlok), where Meitei militants even had the audacity to make a video inside the church, mocking the living god, (which) is an extreme example of sacrilege.”

The matter, however, took a sudden turn from the ZSF’s criticism of the valley-majority Meiteis to alleged encroachment of land belonging to the “chief” of Ukha-Loikhai village.

Thenkhomang Haokip, the “self-proclaimed” village chief, refuted ZSF’s claim that the Thanjing range belonged to the Zo tribe. He said Thangjing falls under the jurisdiction of his chieftainship, and the “ZSF in distorting the century-long history of Haokip-Kuki of Ukha-Loikhai and Thangjing is very unfortunate and derogatory.”

“A certain student body needs to respect and not interfere in the matter beyond history and traditions, and not repeat baseless Zogam/Zoland or Thangching or Thangsing in the historical Haokip reserved of a Haokip-Kuki village of Ukha-Loikhai,” the village chief said in a statement on February 16, following which the Manipur government sought to end the feud by citing the state law that protects ancient sites.

The twist doesn’t end here.

Thadou Leader Questions “Self-Proclaimed” Village Chief

An influential leader of a section of the Thadou tribe that has for decades been opposing the Kukis’ attempt to bring the Thadous under the Kuki umbrella – to call them Thadou Kukis – told NDTV that the “self-proclaimed” village chief’s use of the words Haokip-Kuki is also misleading.

This section of the Thadou tribe has been asking the government to remove the recognition of “any Kuki” as a tribe since this definition leaves the interpretation of who is a Kuki wide open to misuse – as in theory anyone can be “any Kuki tribe”, the leader told NDTV, requesting anonymity due to security reasons.

“The chief of Loikhai has to prove that the government’s claim of present-day Thangjing is wrong, and his claim of Haokip Reserved, 1907 i.e. present-day Loikhai village is correct, in a court for clarity,” the Thadou leader told NDTV. “This is so to avoid any confusion and claimants in future. The matter is not even sub judice, so the government seems to be correct this way,” the leader added.

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Thangjing hill comes under Churachandpur district, and is near Moirang, where the large freshwater lake Loktak is located

Moirang’s Meitei community had been going for pilgrimage to Thangjing hill, the home of the deity Ibudhou Thangjing. They believe the Thangjing hill site to be at least 2,000 years old.

The Kuki and Zo tribes – who are seeking a separate administration carved out of Manipur under the banner of Kuki-Zo tribes – call this hill range Thangting and Thangsing, respectively.

The Kuki-Zo tribes deny the hill is exclusively a sacred site of the Meiteis. Ginza Vualzong, the spokesperson of the Kuki-Zo group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), had denied encroachment on any sacred site of the Meitei community.

“The cross is a symbol of Christianity and can be seen in all the houses of a Christian. Erecting a cross at Thangjing hill is also a form of showing our faith and religion. This should not be taken as something done against any other religion,” Mr Vualzong had told NDTV on February 3.

The cross was installed on January 25 despite a Supreme Court order on December 16, 2023 that the Manipur government should ensure all religious buildings including churches and temples are protected. The Supreme Court order came in response to vandalism of 386 religious structures – mostly churches and some temples – following the outbreak of ethnic clashes between the hill-majority Kuki-Zo tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis.

The Kuki-Zo tribes that have 10 MLAs in the 60-member Manipur assembly have been demanding a separate administration carved out of Manipur since May 2023. They have cited complete breakdown of trust between them and the Meiteis as one of the key reasons behind their push for a separate administration. Over 180 have died in the violence, and thousands have been internally displaced.

For a long time, however, Kuki insurgent groups have been working for separation from Manipur. At least 25 Kuki insurgent groups have signed the tripartite suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the Centre and the state. Under the SoO agreement, the insurgents are housed in designated camps. There have been allegations that full attendance at many of the SoO camps has not been observed.



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