Kuki-Zo community in Manipur rallies for separate union territory amid ongoing crisis

ITLF flier. (Photo: ITLF)

In a significant development amidst the prolonged crisis in Manipur, the Indigenous Tribal Leaders' Forum (ITLF) has announced a rally to press for their political demands. The announcement, made through a press release on 20 June 2024 comes as the state continues to grapple with ethnic tensions and violence that have persisted for over a year.

The ITLF, representing the Kuki-Zo community, plans to hold a non-violent demonstration on 24 June 2024, coinciding with the commencement of the Lok Sabha's first session. The primary objective of this rally is to advocate for the establishment of a separate Union Territory under Article 239A of the Indian Constitution for the Kuki-Zo people of Manipur.

“What we demand is under the purview of the Indian Constitution - UT with legislation under Article 239A,” Ginza Vualzong,  spokesperson, ITLF told Christian Today.

The Article 239A of the Indian Constitution deals with the creation of local legislatures or Council of Ministers or both for certain Union territories.

This move comes in response to what the ITLF describes as a lack of political resolution despite significant losses suffered by the community. "We have lost numerous homes and properties and sacrificed countless lives in the past year and a half, but we have not yet received a political solution," the ITLF statement reads. The organization is calling for widespread participation in the rally to demonstrate the strength of their political demand.

The demonstration is set to take place simultaneously across various hill regions, including Pherzawl, Kanggui, and Tengnoupal. In conjunction with the rally, the ITLF has announced a total shutdown in these areas on the day of the event, underscoring the gravity of their demands.

The ITLF's press release also addresses several other critical issues affecting the Kuki-Zo community. One of the primary concerns is the government's decision to remove the Free Movement Regime (FMR) along the India-Myanmar border. The ITLF argues that this move, along with border fencing, would negatively impact longstanding family customs and divide communities residing on both sides of the international border. The organization has strongly advised against participation in any FMR-related activities by government departments, warning of potential consequences for those who disregard this advisory.

Another point of contention is the Manipur government's announcement of elections for the Autonomous District Council (ADC). The ITLF views this as a divisive tactic employed by the state administration to project an illusion of normalcy in Manipur. Given their demand for separation from Manipur, the ITLF has urged people not to participate in the ADC election, should it take place.

The press release also highlights the ongoing violence against the Kuki-Zo people in Jiribam, emphasizing the need for a buffer zone to ensure the safety of tribal residents in the area. The ITLF has called upon the Ministry of Home Affairs to establish this buffer zone promptly, similar to those in other hill districts.

These developments occur against the backdrop of a protracted ethnic conflict in Manipur, which has seen clashes between the Meitei community and the Kuki-Zo tribes. The violence, which erupted in May 2023, has resulted in significant loss of life, displacement of thousands, and destruction of property across the state.

The ITLF's call for a separate Union Territory represents a significant escalation in their demands, reflecting the community's frustration with the lack of resolution to the ongoing crisis. This move also underscores the deepening ethnic divisions within Manipur and the challenges facing both state and central governments in finding a lasting solution to the conflict.

“The central government can always give us solution if they want to,” said Vualzong.

As the rally approaches, all eyes will be on Manipur to see how the government responds to these demands and whether this latest demonstration will lead to meaningful dialogue or further exacerbate tensions in the region. The situation remains fluid, with the potential to significantly impact the political landscape of Manipur and the broader northeastern region of India.

“So, we will keep on praying, we will keep on hoping, we will keep on fighting till we reach our goal,” Vualzong told Christian Today.