Abnormal population growth of Chin-Kuki-Zo in Manipur since 1881

K Yugindro Singh, M. Manihar Singh and Sh Janaki Sharma

The Government of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs vide their letter F. No. 12026/02/2023-C&LM (E:25198) dated 26.12.2023, addressed to the Addl. Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur, Secretariat Tribal Affairs & Hills Development expressed their keenness to process the deletion of the nomadic Chin Kuki from the list of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur and accordingly, asked the Government of Manipur to submit a recommendation in this regard to process the case further. It is hopeful that the present article may be relevant for understanding who the Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes of Manipur are.
1. Who are Kukis ?
The term ‘Kuki’ is a Bengali word meaning ‘hill-men’ or ‘highlanders’ (Reid, 1893, pp.5) and it denotes “the various tribes who had successively been driven out from the Lushai and Chin Hills into the neighbouring country to the north and west” (Grierson, 1904, pp. 2). The earliest British record referring to ‘Kuki’ was mentioned in a letter dated 10th April 1777 written by the chief of Chittagong to Warren Hasting, the Governor General in which the chief made a complaint against a ‘large bodies of Kooki men’ who attacked the British subjects (Lewin, 1870, pp. 56).
According to Grierson, “the words Kuki and Chin are synonymous”; “Kuki is an Assamese or Bengali term, applied to various hill tribes, such as the Lusheis,  Rangkhols, Thados,  etc.”; “Chin is a Burmese word”; “The name (Chin) is not used by the tribes themselves, who use titles such as Zo or Yo and Sho.” (Grierson, 1904, pp.1-2). Accordingly, the words ‘Chin’, ‘Kuki’, ‘Zo’ are synonymous.
Further, according to Carey & Tuck, the words Kukis, Chins and Lushais (now called Mizos) are synonymous as they said : “Without pretending to speak with authority on the subject, we think we may reasonably accept the theory that the Kukis of Manipur, the Lushais of Bengal and Assam, and the Chins originally lived in what we now know as Thibet and are of one and the same stock” (Carey & Tuck, 1896, pp.2). This fact is now confirmed by the definition of ‘Kuki People’ provided by Wikipedia, the world Encyclopedia available at the weblink, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuki_people, which categorically states that the “Chin people of Myanmar and the Mizo people of Mizoram are kindred tribes of the Kukis”.
2. Who are nomadic Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes in the context of Manipur ?
The first Nomadic Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes who had entered and taken settlement in Manipur were Thadou and their co-tribes (called Khongzais in Manipur) on being driven out from the Chin Hills by the Soktes during the reign of Maharaja Nar Singh i.e., during 1844-1850 (Johnstone, 1896, pp.45; Grierson, 1904, pp.59; Risley& Gait, 1903, pp. 271-272). According to “The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur : The Cheitharon Kumpapa”,  the first recorded village of Khongzais came up in 1847 at Takhen as a border defence : “Two hundred Khongzai Haos from Mutung Khunlen, the main village in the southern region, arrived at the court. A royal order was given to settle them in Takhen as a border defence to guard from any possible attacks from the Haos in the northern region” (Parrat, 2009, pp.19).  Likewise, the same Royal Chronicle reports that in 1848 one hundred Khongzais from the southern region were allowed to settle in Wairi, Thamnong, Sanahal Lokchao and another one hundred Khongzais from Khutingkai to establish a new village in Takhen Chirang (Parrat, 2009, pp.25).
As per the Census 1881 the Khongzais in Manipur had population of 17,204 and their best-known clans were: Thado, Vunson, Changsen, Shingsol, Mangvung, Khlangam, Chungloe, Changput, Haukib, Simmte and Kamhau (Dun, 1886, pp.32-33). Historical records of authority and the census data depicted that many other Nomadic Chin-Kuki-Zo tribes from the Chin and the Lushai Hills such as Mhar, Vaiphei, Ralte, Sukte, Paite, Gangte, Simte, Zou etc. entered Manipur at different times in the past taking advantage of weak administration of the State at relevant points of time and the prolonged open borders between Manipur and the Chin and Lushai Hills.
3. Enumerated Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes List of Manipur State, 1949
With reference to a letter dated 28th April 1949 received from the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of States, New Delhi addressed to the Advisor to His Excellency, the Governor of Assam on the subject “Enumeration of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes”, the Dewan, Manipur State vide his letter bearing No. 2/AG/49/0695-96 dated 6th June, 1949 furnished to the Government of India, Ministry of States, a list of twenty four Scheduled Tribes and two Scheduled Castes by their  particular names, in respect of Manipur State, as follows :
“Scheduled Tribes:- (1) Kuki, (2) Kabui, (3) Kacha Naga (4) Tangkhul (5) Mao or (Angami), (6) Maring (7) Kom (8) Chiru (9) Koireng (10) Maram (11) Lamgang (12) Anal (13) Chothe (14) Purum (15) Khoiroo (16) Tarao (17) Noyon (18) Khoibu (19) Monsang (20) Aimol (21) Kharam (22) Thang-gan (23) Wainem (24) Kwatha and  
Scheduled Castes :- 1. Yaithibis, 2. Lois.
Notably, the tribe name ‘Kwatha’ at entry 24 in the above Scheduled Tribes list of Manipur, 1949 is the ‘Meetei/Meitei’ community resided in Kwatha Village, Tengnoupal, 20 km from Moreh and 129 km from Imphal (Bharat,2014, pp.127). The tribe name ‘Kuki’ is synonymous with Khongzai and it comprised of Thadou and their co-tribes. Further, the ST list of Manipur, 1949 enlisted 22 other tribes including those categorized under Old Kuki by the British Administrators viz. Kom, Chiru, Koireng, Lamgang, Anal, Chothe, Purum, Aimol.
5. Some relevant historical records of authorityrelevant to the Kukis of Manipur
Some historical records of authority proved beyond doubt that all Chin-Kuki-Zo people of Manipur were refugees/illegal immigrants from the Chin Hills (Myanmar) and the Lushai Hills (Mizoram) as briefly outlined below :
i. According to Major-General Sir James Johnstone “The Kukis are a wandering race consisting of several tribes who have been working up from the South. They were first heard of as Kukis, in Manipur between 1830 and 1840; though tribes of the same race had long been subject to the Rajah of Manipur. The new immigrants began to cause anxiety about the year 1845, and soon poured into the hill tracts of Manipur in such numbers, so as to drive away many of the older inhabitants.” (Johnstone, 1896, pp.45).
ii. Alexander Mackenzie reported that “The Kookies are immigrants from the south, and formerly inhabited the hills south of Cachar, from which they were driven by the advance northward of a more powerful people from the unexplored country between British territory and Burma.” (Mackenzie, 1884, pp.146).
iii. Grierson reported that “The Lushai Chief Lallula began, about the year 1810, to move northwards, and the Thados were gradually expelled from the Lushai Hills, and settled down in Cachar somewhere between 1840 and 1850. About the same time, the Thados of the Chin Hills were conquered by the Soktes under their chief Kantum, and were driven towards the north into Manipur, where they settled down in the hills to the south. There are now only six Thado villages left in the Chin Hills.Thado is the name of their original progenitor, but it is also used by the Chins to denote the tribe itself. In Assam and Bengal, they are known as Kukis, a name which also comprises other tribes, such as the Rangkhols, Hallams, Betes etc. The Thados and their co-tribes are usually spoken off a new Kukis, owing to the fact that they came from the Lushai Hills at a later date than the other hill tribes, the so-called old Kukis. In Manipur, they are called Khongzais.”  (Grierson, 1904, pp.59).
iv. According to Carey & Tuck, over 2000 Guite Kukis (first mistaken as Sootis Kukis) from the Chin Hills migrated into Manipur in 1876 and were given settlement in the neighborhood of Moirang, to the south-west of the Manipur valley 1876 (Carey & Tuck, 1896, pp.140).
x. Col. E.B. Elly reported that “In 1882, some 3,000 Paites who have been much oppressed by the Lushais, moved off into Manipur territory.” (Elly, 1893, pp.15).
xi. Notably, in two separate letters dated 6th June 1968 - one addressed to the Under Secretary (Settlement Branch), Government of Manipur and another addressed to the Sub-Divisional Officer, Ukhrul and the Sub-Divisional Officer, Tengnoupal, SC Vaish, the then Deputy Commissioner, Manipur clearly mentioned issues concerning to the settlement of Kuki refugees from Burma. Thus, the above letters speak for itself that Manipur had large scale influx of Kuki refugees from Burma into Manipur in 1968.
xii. The letters dated June 20, 1973, written by P Haokip, then MP (Lok Sabha) to Shri KC Pant, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, Government of India and another  bearing No. 11/30/71-HMT(NE) dated August 25, 1973 written from the Ministry of Home, Government of India to the Chief Secretary, Government of Manipur clearly mentioned some details about the relief and rehabilitation of a huge number of Kuki refugees from Burma numbering 1500 (one thousand and five hundred) families in Manipur.
6. Self-admission of scholars and apex bodies of the Chin-Kuki-Zo communities
Many leading scholars and apex bodies of the Chin-Kuki-Zo communities taking settlements in Manipur have acknowledged that they came from the Chin and Lushai Hills as nomadic tribes. For instance,
i. In his book ‘The Paites: A Study of the Changing Faces of the Community’, Dr Th Siamkhum who himself is a Paite admits that “bulk of the Paite population in Manipur migrated from Myanmar and Lushai Hills at different periods of time, but mostly during the late 19th century and early 20th century. Most of the Zo ethnic tribes of Manipur were nomadic in the past. The Paites, like any one of them seldom stayed at a particular village site forever.” (Siamkhum, 2013, pp 248).
ii. Ngamkhphao Haokip, a Thadou scholar wrote the following in his book “The Thadous of Manipur”: “It is believed that the Thadous had indeed come from the south of Manipur. They had languished in Lushai Hills in many decades. They were believed to have been pushed into the Lushai Hills from Upper Burma regions. Chin Hills and Chindwin river basins were believed to be their home for centuries.” (Haokip, 1893, pp.25).
iii. In the ‘Memorandum of the Paite National Council (Demanding the recognition of the Paites as a distinct tribe of India)’ dated 18th November 1955, submitted to the Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs, the said Council stated that the Paites had their original home in Burma (now called Myanmar) acknowledging as follows: “The Paites claim to have originated according to their legend from the Sun to be progenitor of their fellow tribes. They left their home at ‘Chimnuai-Geltui’ in Burma and came to Manipur State and Mizo District. The bulk of their population therefore still lives in Chin Hills Burma and a large number in the Mizo District today. In Manipur, the Paites have their settlement chiefly in the South-West. Well over 60,000 Paites live in both Manipur State and Mizo District occupying an area of nearly 3000 square miles.”
iv. In their book ‘The Indigenous Zomi’, SK Ngaihte & K Vungzamawi both belonging  to the Kuki-Chin-Zo communities have categorically admitted that setting “1951 as base year to qualify as Manipur People” under Section 2(b) of ‘The Protection of Manipur People Bill, 2015’ would make “almost eighty percent of the Tribal population in the hill areas will be excluded from the purview of section 2(b) of the Act and will be treated as ‘Non-Manipur’ persons under section 2(c) of the Act with disastrous consequences.” (Ngaihte & Vungamawi, 2018, pp. 194-195).
7. Kukis of Manipur are not qualified for ST status
In a Judgement passed on 5th January 2011 in Criminal Appeal No. 11 of 2011, arising out of Special Leave Petition No. 10367 of 2010 in Kailas & Others versus State of Maharashtra TR Taluka PS, the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India observed that all Scheduled Tribes (Adivasis) are the descendants of original inhabitants of India.
Further more, in another Judgement passed on 9th January 2024, a Division Bench of the Delhi High Court held that “… foreign National cannot claim that he has right to reside and settle in India in terms of Article 19(1)(e) of the Constitution of India. Reference be made to Hans Muller of Nurenburg Vs. Superintendent, Presidency Jail, Calcutta: AIR 1955 SC 367 wherein the Supreme Court has observed that power of the Government of India to expel foreigners is absolute and unlimited and there is no provision in the Constitution fettering such discretion. Fundamental Right of any such foreigner or suspected foreigner is limited to the one declared under Article 21 of the Constitution of India i.e. Fundamental Right for life and liberty and there is nothing which may suggest that his liberty has been curtailed in an illegal or unlawful manner.”    [Kinadhan Chakma v. Union of India and Ors.]
In the light of the said Judgement of the Apex Court dated 5th January 2011 and Judgement of the Delhi High Court dated 9th January 2024, all Nomadic Chin-Kuki tribes taking settlement in Manipur are not qualified for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Tribes of Manipur.  
1. ‘Chin-Lushai Land’ by AS Reid (1893).
2. ‘Linguistic Survey of India Volume III: Tibeto-Burman Family, Part III (Specimens of the Kuki-Chin and Burma Groups’ by G.A. Grierson (1904).
3. ‘Wild Races of South-Eastern India’ by TH Lewin (1870).
4. ‘The Chin Hills, Vol. 1’ by B. S. Carey & H. N. Tuck (1896)
5. ‘Kuki People’ at Wikipedia:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuki_people.
6. ‘My Memorable Collections Volume-II’ by P. Bharat Singh (2014).
7. ‘Census of India Volume I India Part I-Report’ by H. H. Risley& E. A. Gait (1903).
8. ‘The Court Chronicle of the Kings of Manipur: The Cheitharon Kumpapa’ by Saroj Nalini Arambam Parratt (2009).
9. ‘Gazetteer of Manipur’ by E.W. Dun (1886).
10. Letter bearing No. 2/AG/49/0695-96 dated 6th June, 1949 the Dewan, Manipur State addressed to the Secretary to the Government of India, Ministry of States, New Delhi.
11. ‘My Experiences in Manipur and the Naga Hills’ by J. Johnstone (1896).
12. ‘History of the Relations of the Government with the Hill Tribes of The North-East Frontier of Bengal’ by A. Mackenzie (1884).
13. ‘Military Report on the Chin-Lushai country’ by E.B. Elly (1893).
14. Two letters bearing Nos. B-R/67/DC/1318 dated 6th June 1958 and D.O. No. B-R/57/DC/1314-6 dated 6th June 1968 issued by S. C. Vaish, Deputy Commissioner, Manipur.
15. A letter dated 20th June 1973 from P. Haokip, Member of Parliament addressed to KC Pant, Minister, Ministry of Home Affairs and another letter bearing No. 11/30/71-HMT (NE) dated August 25, 1973, issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
16. ‘The Paites: A Study of the Changing Faces of the Community’by Dr. Th. Siamkhum (2013).
17. ‘Memorandum of the Paite National Council (Demanding the recognition of the Paites as a distinct tribe of India)’ dated 18th November 1955.
18. ‘The Thadous of Manipur’ by Ngamkhphao Haokip (1893).
19. ‘The Indigenous Zomi’ by SK Ngaihte & K Vungzamawi (2018).
20. Letter F. No. 12026/02/2023-C&LM (E:25198) dated 26.12.2023 from the Govt of India, Ministry of Tribal Affairs addressed to the Addl. Chief Secretary, Govt of Manipur etc