September 22, 2023


Nobody Expects Ethnic Cleansing (Manipur): Lien Gangte

Hosted by

Pieter Friedrich
Nobody Expects Ethnic Cleansing (Manipur): Lien Gangte
Dialoguing on South Asia (DOSA)
Nobody Expects Ethnic Cleansing (Manipur): Lien Gangte

Sep 22 2023 | 01:48:05


Show Notes

With Lien Gangte, president of North American Manipur Tribal Association (NAMTA)-Canada, discussing the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Kuki-Zomi tribe in Manipur, state complicity in the violence, his experience growing up in Imphal, the history of the region, and much more.

The views expressed are Mr. Gangte's and do not necessarily represent the views of NAMTA.

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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Speaker A: Dialoguing on South Asia. We explore the lives of its people, hear their stories and the histories of the land, discover its beauty and encounter its conflicts, complexities and harmonies in a search for liberty, peace and prosperity. Interacting with leaders, activists, academics, and common folk from the South Asian sphere about their work and their passions, their dreams and their life journeys, their immigrant experiences, advocacy efforts, religion, politics, and so much more. With this, your host, journalist and author, Peter Friedrich. Hand in hand, we meet and stand with South Asia. This is dosa. Welcome to the show. And we're here at Dosa. We're speaking today with our guest, Leon Gante about his life, his experiences in Manipur, the northeastern state of India, and his journey to the US. To North America, and also about what's happening in Manipur today. So, Leyn, welcome to the show. [00:01:13] Speaker B: How you doing? Thank you so much for having me. It's a privilege and an honor to be here. I really appreciate the invitation. [00:01:23] Speaker A: Well, of course, and it's great to see you again. I think that the first time that we met was in Washington, DC in June, a few months back when we were both there protesting Indian Prime Minister Modi's trip to the US. And you were there with fellow members of your own Kukizomi tribal community from Monapur. How did you feel that protest went? What kind of impressions did you walk away with from that protest? [00:01:59] Speaker B: I think that was probably one of the major milestones that we had because at that point, everything was still so fresh or relatively fresh, and we were still trying to come to grip with what had happened. And in a lot of ways, we were also still very naive to think, oh, we just need to present our case in front of the world and in front of Prime Minister Modi and his ruling party, and that surely they would do something that's sensible and surely they would hear our concerns and our voices. So I think in a lot of ways, we were really very hopeful at the protest. Even though we were at the protest and raising our concerns, I think we were still very much full of hope. And in a lot of ways, also, I guess you could say naive in some sense, because we were very passionate about what we were doing. But we were also very, I guess hopeful was probably the best know that something would come of know. [00:03:20] Speaker A: Well, I know that for yourself. And from my experience, meeting a lot of the other members of the Kukizomi tribal community here in North America, that unlike a lot of the other members of the Indian Diaspora. You are pretty new to the whole protest scene, the whole activism scene, and you've been drawn in for a very specific reason of personal impact due to what's happening in Monapolis right now. And I want to get around as we work through this conversation to talking about what's happening in Monapa right now and also talking about issues like how that's personally impacted you, what you've been doing in that regard, and how maybe you've gained some experience beyond that naivete since back then, in June. But before then, I really want to get to know. So I know you're, I believe, an engineer. You currently live in Canada, somewhere in Canada, but I want to hear some of your story. When did you come over from Monipur, for instance? [00:04:28] Speaker B: It was fall semester of 1999. University of Tennessee at Chattanooga was my introduction to life in the US. So I think before then, I was born in Impal Manipur in a hospital that used to be called RMC at that point, which is now Rims. And most people from Manipur or even the Northeast would immediately recognize that acronym. So that's where I was born. I went to school in SENEC, school in Fal, which is like a military prep school, and finished my high school in Delhi. And then, yeah, I had my own little experience before I ended up in the US. And yeah, I don't know if you want me to just keep going on. [00:05:22] Speaker A: I want to hear about those experiences like Mfal, Delhi, et cetera. Let's get to that in a minute. Absolutely. I want to dig into it. But on the US. Front, you came to Chattanooga, University of Tennessee, and what pulled you over from India? Why did you come? [00:05:43] Speaker B: At that point, my elder brother, my second brother had been in the area. He had kind of gone ahead years ago, I believe, maybe in 1986 or 87. So he had been there quite a while, and he was at Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, which is maybe just an hour outside of Chattanooga in the Bible Belt. Yeah, I mean, I used to call it the buckle of the kind of that's what kind of drew me to Chattanooga to follow him. So we're definitely from a very evangelical, 70 Adventist Christian family. We kind of followed that trail from Tennessee, I think. [00:06:44] Speaker A: You've told me you ended up in Texas and then maybe elsewhere, and now you're in Canada. I mean, as you were telling me that, it reminds me of the song you know that song, I've Been Everywhere, Man. I've been everywhere, man. From India to the US. Canada. Tell me about some of that journey. [00:07:07] Speaker B: Yeah, so after getting through college and I started working in the Chattanooga area. So I think a majority of my experience in the US. Was in the Chattanooga area, and I think I moved to Austin, Texas, only in early 2013. And before then, a few years earlier, I had applied for permanent residency both in the US. And Canada. In fact, I probably applied to the US. Program at least three years before I applied to the Canadian one. But while I was still waiting for the American one to process and get approved or whatever you call it. The Canadian one came through, so I decided to kind of take the Canadian bet and moved from Austin, Texas to Canada in 2014. I feel like I've kind of made a diagonal journey from the southeast in the US. To I guess many people in the US. Would call it the Northwest, but on. [00:08:29] Speaker A: The west coast of Canada now completed that triangle finally. And you were an engineer the whole time when you came over? [00:08:38] Speaker B: Yeah. [00:08:39] Speaker A: You said you already had a brother here too. Did you have other family here? Did you bring family from India and that sort of thing. And then also on top of that sorry to load you up with questions, but when you tell me about you applied earlier for US versus for Canada, that is one of the aspects that I've heard in the past before talking with a lot of Indian immigrants is that the Canadian process is just so much simpler and faster. [00:09:11] Speaker B: Yeah, it's way more streamlined. And I think in a lot of ways you can make arguments with the pros and cons of each program because I think the last I checked, has a significant amount of family reunification component of it. Whereas the Canadian system, I think is a little bit heavier on like a points based system where there's an active encouragement of trying to get people who are more like white collar workers and who the government deems will contribute to the economy, I guess. And I guess I am a beneficiary of that mindset, but I think there's something to be said about giving importance to family reunification aspect as well. [00:10:14] Speaker A: Was there any aspect of mean, did you bring family over from India with you? [00:10:20] Speaker B: Well, in the US. It was practically impossible because I was struggling to get my own status more on a permanent basis. Right, because otherwise you're just kind of having to constantly renew the H one B work visa every three years and so on. So far from bringing your extended family. But thankfully, since I've been in Canada before my mother passed away in 2021 at the height of the COVID Delta wave, my father and mother had the opportunity to come and stay with us in Canada for a good two years at a stretch. So I think of those times as one of the very fortunate blessings for us to be able to spend that time together. [00:11:19] Speaker A: Very grateful to hear that you got that last chance with your mother, especially right before COVID when travel was shut down and probably would have been very difficult to reunite in that sense. Well, I want to hear about Monipur and about India and your life there. So you grew up it sounds like you mostly grew up around infall the Infall Valley, which is like the main metropolitan area in Monipur. And you're from the Kooky Zomi tribal community, which I think is like 16, 18% of the population in Monipur, if I'm not mistaken. What was life like for you growing up? You said you went to military prep school and all of that, but then you ended up moving on to Delhi for high school. Tell me a little bit about your time in Monipur. And also can you for our listeners explain what exactly is a Kukizomi? And in context of India, what is a tribal community? [00:12:24] Speaker B: Right, right. Yeah, that's quite a bit. So if I miss any of the points in the question, I might have to ask you again. Of course. So let me just start Manipur and what my experience was growing up. And to be honest, again, it's this very naive notion that we had, especially looking back because we had differences. Manipur is no stranger to violence. So in the context of what's going on today, everybody loves to say that we're a peace loving community, everybody's a peace loving community and all this kind of which I don't disagree with. And I think if given the chance and opportunity, everybody would want to have a peaceful existence. So that I agree with, but we had our share of violence. But what is very strange about what's happening this year is there is a huge element of questioning each other's existence which growing up, I could have never imagined the state like my home state, Manipur to devolve into at any know. Because had we had the Mete community, the majority community in Manipur and we had all the various different tribes like what you had mentioned the Kukizomis from the most recent census in 2011, I think about 16% is roughly what most people agree with. I wish they had more up to date data, but that's what we have. In terms of growing up there, it was very much like you grew up with your own identity, but it was like a collective. I don't think there was any sense of questioning the indigeneity of anybody. And when I look at the discourse now, it's crazy because especially the Kukizomis in Manipur are being historical. The revisionism is taking place especially at least the vocal section of the Methy community, questioning our very belonging to the land and to that area and kind of almost as if we can somehow be erased out of the history of that area because it's almost like these like a bipolar kind of argument. On one hand we're presented as the these immigrants, these people who were brought in, but then there are also academics who would argue that we are all from one stock, one ethnicity. Right? If you go far back enough so it's like, which one is it then? If we're all from the same stock, then we can be like foreigners in our own land if we share the same common ancestry. So that aside, so I think that's the sense I grew up with is we're all one people. Like, okay, we have different dialects we have different languages, but anybody from the outside even forget about outside India, but even just within the country itself, if people from other states come, or especially outside the Northeast states come, I mean, we all kind of look about the like. And even for me, before somebody starts speaking, it's very difficult for me to identify, oh, this person is Kukizomi, or this is a Naga person, this is a Mete person. [00:16:24] Speaker A: Especially there in the Impala Valley, for instance, where you grew up. Now, my understanding is that I think a majority of the Kukizomis, or large portion of them, they live primarily up in the hills, in lands that are actually, because they're a tribal community, are constitutionally protected and reserved for them only as a tribal community. But down within infall in the valley, it sounds like everybody's pretty much just all mixed together. [00:16:55] Speaker B: Yes, absolutely. I think I'll kind of just get on to that, what it means to be a tribal in the Indian context, because it's not just a generic thing about, oh, you feel a belonging to this community and you become part of that tribe. Right. It's a constitutionally recognized, scheduled tribe. There's a very well defined list of people who have this constitutional protection because they've been historically marginalized and need some kind of upliftment, societal upliftment. So in terms of its nature, like an affirmative action like nature, those things are kind of what is enshrined in the Indian constitution to kind of uplift. [00:17:47] Speaker A: Like affirmative action in terms of college admission, government jobs and stuff like that as well, right? [00:17:52] Speaker B: Yeah, correct. So I think, if I'm not mistaken, about seven and a half percent of jobs and different institutional reservations are kind of allocated for the Shadul tribe. And again, this goes back and our appreciation and gratitude goes back to one of the founding fathers of our country, Dr. Abhimra Umbedkar, who's probably the greatest Dalit leader, and I would even call him the greatest Indian leader above everybody, bar none. That would be my statement. There is no other leader in Indian history who is more important for Shadul caste and Shadul tribes than Dr. Bheem. Rao. Ambedkar. And because of his vision and because of his forward thinking mind, we have had the protection and this kind of opportunity for the whole community. [00:18:58] Speaker A: It was all enshrinement of reservations in the constitution, especially being one aspect. [00:19:03] Speaker B: Correct. [00:19:04] Speaker A: Yeah, we'll jibeam to that for anybody that is listening and understands what that means, and actually hoping to get an embedkarite on the podcast within the near term and dig into the whole issue of embedkarism and who embedkar was, and the Dalit movement and caste issues then, caste issues now, and so on and so forth. Now, it's interesting for me then to hear that you're from Infal, because I was going to ask you to paint me a picture of what village life is like in a Kookizomi region. But it sounds like you grew up as more of a city boy. So I'm not sure if that will be something you can quite so easily do. But I am interested a couple of things within that context, whether it's for the Kukizomi people, I guess, in particular, or Manipuris in general. How would you describe the situation? Because I know the Northeast is very geographically cut off from the rest of India, and I've heard people say that it sometimes seems like it's kind of ignored as far as the life of the people and the opportunities for them, and especially, of course, for people that are more and more of a minority, like getting down to the Kukizomi tribals. What are the opportunities like for jobs, for education, for social mean? Obviously, you became an engineer, you traveled internationally, you settled in North America. How much is that sort of thing, that type of higher education, that type of international professional possibility, something that's present there for Monteparis in general or for Kukizomis in particular? [00:21:04] Speaker B: Yeah, I think I probably give you a little bit of a long answer on that one, Peter, because first, if you just look at the size of the demographics itself, we're not even barely even if you put everybody together, the highest estimates would be maybe like a million and a half. Maybe. [00:21:27] Speaker A: Zombies or manipuris. [00:21:30] Speaker B: No, Manipuri. Like Manipur as a whole is probably less than 4 million itself. So it's like we're just a very tiny fraction of the Indian population in most cases. In most calculations, we're not even the margin of error. So in that sense, if you kind of extrapolate that to India is a billion plus and you extrapolate the diaspora community in other parts of the world, or especially we're talking about the US. North American context, it's still a very small fraction of the larger billion plus people in India. Right? So when you start thinking about it in that sense and we look at our community and then in a lot of ways, my story is a very common immigrant story in North America. But in a sense, for my people or for people who come from the Manipur or from this part of the world, especially from the tribal folks, it's also like a very unique story because not too many of us have that opportunity to venture where we did. And I just happened to have the fortune of my parents being connected to seven day Adventist missionaries and through their connection, my brother finding his way to Tennessee and me following them. It's only a handful of people, and we can almost count the families because we all kind of know each other. It's a very small community. We kind of know each other. So in terms of opportunities, I think what has happened over the decades since independence and because of Dr. Ambedkar's grand vision for all the oppressed communities of like, there have been significant number of people within tribal communities, and specifically within the Kukizomi society who've been able to work hard and take advantage of these reservations and kind of uplift themselves. Right? And part of the reason why the recent violence starting on the 3 May is so hurtful is that all those decades and generations of people who worked really hard and who made something of themselves and who advanced themselves economically, they built their nest eggs in the Infal Valley, right. And there were only a small number of people who kind of went back to the hill districts because obviously it's just a human nature. You go where the facilities are, right? So if there's no infrastructure and economic development and services and different things in the hills, very few people want to live and settle there. So my family was one such example where we've lived in Infal, you can argue. Right. From independence, maybe even pre independence, right. So even though we are Hill tribals, our connection to Imfal, if not stronger, is as strong as to the hills itself. And so much so that my sister in law is a Mete, for example, and our family was the only family for a long, long time in the middle of a Mete community. We didn't even live in a tribal colony or a tribal settlement in that sense. I guess what I'm trying to get at is one of the factors that has caused this kind of resentment, or the way I understand the resentment between resentment from the meteor site is this argument that because of this Shadul tribe reservation, we've progressed too much. Right. We've taken up all the government bureaucratic positions, whether it's in civil administration or in the police service or what have you, which I would argue that's also a bogus argument, but let's say for I'm just saying what I've heard the other side say, play devil's advocate. Yeah. So it's sad because it's like whatever progress we've made, it's been taken away in an instant. You'll hear all kinds of stories. Like even the Namta president, Florence Lowe and Niang Hangzhou, their parents were one of the pioneer people in Imfal, in Tivang, who were the founders of these colonies and the churches they built, the homes they built after decades of their own work that's been kind of destroyed overnight. [00:26:48] Speaker A: And just a sidebar for our listeners, Nyong and Florence, as you just mentioned, nanta is North American Monipur Tribal Association. [00:26:59] Speaker B: Right. I'm sorry, because I've kind of met you before, so I'm kind of talking as if everybody knows that finer details, I apologize. [00:27:10] Speaker A: That's what I'm here for is to hone in on unwrapping those finer details for broader. [00:27:22] Speaker B: And the pity is, for those of us in the state of Manipur, I think mostly we're reliant on government sector jobs, right. And the private sector is still very young and pretty much for all practical purposes, you can say nonexistent, because anybody who wants to progress in life, I think the option you see as viable is getting a government job to get a steady income and all that kind. [00:27:58] Speaker A: Of security benefits, pension. Yeah, I've also seen that. I can imagine it being actually, to a certain degree, being maybe bigger issue in Manipur, but I've seen that kind of more broadly within India. Of course, within the whole of India, there is a lot of private sector, but that many people, especially from middle or lower classes, that's what they see as really the biggest thing to strive for because there's so much security offered there within an unstable environment. [00:28:38] Speaker B: Right. I don't know if you want me to elaborate more on that, because if you allow me, I think I'll just keep talking about that. [00:28:50] Speaker A: Sure, yeah, go ahead. [00:28:58] Speaker B: The issue for us in terms of not having that economic opportunity, even though I think a lot of people would argue that in the last decade or so, there have been more call center jobs and that kind of stuff, but even for that, people have had to leave their home states, go to Delhi, Bangalore, elsewhere. So the reinvestment in the local economy, especially for the tribals and when I say tribals, I mean not only the Kukizo means, but even including the Naga community is very bleak. And in fact, in terms of just comparing the state government budget in terms of the infrastructure, I believe Alfred Arthur, who himself was a member of the Legislative Assembly from the Naga community himself, is a dunkul. He presented like a very detailed budgetary breakdown when he was an elected member. And I think what he clearly showed was I think maybe 90, 95% of the budget was permanently allocated to the valley districts and like five or less percent was thrown as scraps to the hill districts. And that is like when you visit the state of Manipur and you just do a basic survey, it's apparent for anybody to see. So that was kind of the backdrop of before the violence that erupted this year. So that's kind of the backdrop of what we had. And not to mention the permanent political Imbalance, where in a legislative assembly of 60 seats, 40 of them are, for all practical purposes, permanently in the hands of the majority mete community. Right. So, yeah, but having said all that, the thing is, before May of this year, we still had a sense of belonging. My whole family, including my in laws, who are Irish Canadians here in Vancouver where I live. We had planned to go to India to visit my mother's tomb and for my kids and my spouse to go and visit IMFA. We were supposed to visit end of July and stay there for three, four weeks. And it never felt like a foreign land. We always saw ourselves as indigenous as anybody else. [00:32:15] Speaker A: I want to lead into some of those feelings. I mean, you say it never felt like a foreign land. You were just planning this, felt so welcoming that you were just about ready to take your whole family there, including, it sounds like, your wife's, not even of Indian origin, like that safe, that welcoming that you wanted to go and clearly very different today. But as you've already hinted at, there's a number of ways in which there's not been peace in the past. And just for our listeners, I want to lay a little bit of background. From what I understand is way back when India was under the British colonial rule, under the British Raj, Monipur itself was not actually directly under the British Raj. It was what's called a princely state, which was like nominally independent, had basically some level of sovereignty due to treaties with the British. Then in 40, 719, 47, when India, when the Republic of India got independence, the Maharaja of Manipur acceded signed over the country to join the Republic of India, which apparently, from my research, not every resident of Monipur was entirely happy with. And over the ensuing years, as the Republic of India has developed, especially, I believe since the 60s, there's been a level of conflict, including violent armed conflict, within Monipur. In 1980, as I understand it, the government of India, the central government, actually declared Monipur to be, quote, unquote believe they called it a disturbed area or an area of disturbance. And they slapped over law, national law, which is known as AFSPA AFSPA or the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which gives the armed forces of India basically impunity to operate as they will without really any restraint of law within the region where that law is applied. So in this case, within the region of Monipur, and then that was 1980, then come about 91, I believe there was an actual armed insurgency which broke out in Monipur with some groups seeking actual independence from India. Within all context of all of know there was ongoing ethnic conflicts as well that were also, I guess, tied to this insurgency at the same time that was being waged against the Republic. And obviously every region is different in its own unique, special way. But this does in some ways remind me of the situation in Kashmir and far north India where there's just been ongoing conflict for decades. They've also had an insurgency and it's been almost like a war torn zone to a large extent, with a lot of fatalities, a lot of brutalities being committed by the armed forces and by the militant armed groups as well. But the key issue that I'm here interested in hearing your perspective on Lean is were you in Monipur? So I believe you would have been about eleven when this insurgency broke out. And I understand you did go to Delhi for high school, but I'm sure you still maintained quite a bit of connection back to Monipur. Were you in Monipur during any of this? Did you experience any of this or directly or indirectly. How did you feel about that then? How do you feel about that now? How do you feel like that shaped your psychological perception of what Monapur is like as a place? And then we'll get to some of the details of this as well, but kind of touch on a little bit. How is that different then versus now? What's happening? [00:36:34] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm not going to claim to be a historical expert in any way, but I think going back to the administration of the region, even during the British Raj, I don't think it's totally correct to say, well, that itself is not a settled issue. Right. Because the argument is always like when you say Manipur was administered as a princely state, a lot of the tribal academics will vehemently argue that the hill districts were never under the jurisdiction of the you know, sometimes the tribal chiefs allied with him. Sometimes they fought with know, and maybe during different conquests and different wars, the size or the periphery, the definition of the valley kingdom might expand and contract. [00:37:40] Speaker A: Yeah, I think that's one of the things general as modern thinkers familiar with the nation state concept that we've had for quite a while now, that's one of the things that we tend to draw this have this kind. Of black and white hard cut view of these territorial boundaries of not even the ancient world, but like the world 100, 200 years ago where we don't keep in mind that administration was not always so neat and pretty as it tends to be today. [00:38:12] Speaker B: It has been a very difficult administratively, it's been a difficult region. Right. Especially also because the Kukizomis are very proud of this fact that from 1970 to 1912, there was a huge rebellion against the British themselves from the Kukizomi tribes, and they fought, you said, 1870 to 1912, 1917 to 1919. Okay, so there was a two year guerrilla warfare waged on the British administration by the Kukizomi tribals. Right. But even that, for example, there are attempts at even wiping out that historical fact as well. But it's a very clear there are way too many too many historical markers for that to be just so easily erased. But what I'm trying to get at is that the history is much more deeper and more complex than what people try to present it to suit their own narratives or propaganda. Right. When you think back in those terms, when the British left India, obviously they left a big mess. But then the integration of the area that we now think of as Manipur, that itself requires a much more like we could probably spend a whole podcast just addressing that issue, like the integration of how that happened, how Manipur was initially a union territory. Well, there is a phase between independence and the merger agreement that was signed by King Budhichandra, for example, because even that, like what you mentioned, even within the Mete community, there's a. Huge disagreement between because I don't have the resource with me right now. But there's a group in the UK who had declared independence of Manipur from the Indian Republic. This is like a couple of years ago, they had a press release and all kinds of like this group, from what I remember, don't even recognize the current the titular king of Manipur, like the Rajya Sabha MP Sana Jawba. So it's almost like they have their own thing going. So when you look at this whole. [00:41:17] Speaker A: Northeast, did you say the current king of Manipur? [00:41:22] Speaker B: Yeah. Who is also a member of the Rajasthabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament. Okay. Yeah. [00:41:28] Speaker A: Because I'm aware in areas around India so technically Manipur still has a maharaja, but I'm guessing probably ceremonial power only. But he's also from the royal family and now he's a member of Rajya Sabha, which is upper house of parliament. [00:41:49] Speaker B: Correct. [00:41:51] Speaker A: Interesting fact right there, but yeah, not to derail too much. [00:41:56] Speaker B: Yeah, I know. I think it's really easy to get sidetracked because especially this is a point that I cannot brush aside because his father, the current young king, his father, Maharaj Okendrajit Singh, was the one who gifted our family home in Imfal to my mother with his own handwriting, handwritten stamped paper, which I have a copy of. And even though I was very young when he was still alive, I still remember him being one of the nicest people, one of the most down to earth royal you ever meet in your entire life. So he was such a sweet and humble character. And then to see his son become some sort of like the leader of the Arambai TENGOL, which is one of the militant groups who have been spearheading this ethnic cleansing of the Kukizomis and leading the attacks on my tribe, it's really strange. [00:43:15] Speaker A: The king is today now connected to this Arambai Tangal, which is this militant yeah. [00:43:21] Speaker B: That's been very clearly established because a lot of their Facebook pages and different things. Because initially when all these militant groups, for example, the Arambai Tingol or the Mete Lipun when they first kicked off, I think most people, at least in the tribal community, thought it was just another cultural revivalism, like an attempt to kind of bring back the old culture and tradition. And it was viewed as, oh, it's really neat. Right, okay. It's a great attempt at trying to revitalize your culture and kind of like. [00:44:04] Speaker A: And I've seen that comparison before with another group that we've already talked about on this podcast before the restria swaym Siddhak Song, the RSS within mainland India, which has been compared to and itself calls itself a cultural group. But Eileen, can we put a pin in that for a minute? Because I want to preface with your thoughts wrapping up on the insurgency just a little bit because you were alive when that broke out and then moving on to I want to ask you about Sharmilla and a little bit about. [00:44:39] Speaker B: That perspectives. [00:44:42] Speaker A: With the insurgency. You were young then. Like I said, it sounds like you may already have been in Delhi, but. [00:44:51] Speaker B: If you were in yet not quite yet, Peter. So if I may just jump in there, because I think I have a habit of kind of extending the answer and kind of losing the original question a bit. But I guess what I was coming to is this whole insurgency movement. I think the Naga insurgency movement will probably be the oldest, if I remember correctly. Right. So the insurgency movement under the Naga leadership that had been kind of ongoing pretty much since Independence. Right? And then you had, like, what you were saying, the meteor insurgency groups starting in the, if I'm sort of correct, with the UNLF and PLA, KCP, all these different groups. So it's been an ongoing thing. But what you were talking about in the early 90s, that's kind of actually when I started sending school. So it was right around that time, in the early 90s when this thing kind of exploded. And actually, one of my fond memories is like, coming down from Kohima in Nagaland where my mother was posted and I was staying with her. But I had to go to Imfal for my semic school interview entrance exam interview, and I had to walk from Mao Gate, which is the first town when you enter Manipur, from Nagaland, Mao to Sinapati district, the headquarters. I had to walk there. I don't remember exactly. It was a little over maybe 40 plus kilometers. And when we walked, I had a cousin with me, like, the two of us walked together with other people who were stranded because there was a blockade, like a Bun, we call it. So at that point, there was insurgency had started up, but I remember spending a night in this Naga village called Maram along the way, along the highway, and it was just random. We just kind of asked for shelter overnight. Never met them. They invited us into their homes, let us sleep on the floor, and that was kind of a very common thing to happen. And then a few years later, the Gukinaga conflict broke out. And then around that same time, there was also, like, Meteys and the Mete Pangals, the Muslim community. There was also a big clash that broke out between the Mete Pangals and the Meteys as well. So we had these conflicts, but at the same time, there was also a level of recognizing your opponent. Even while you're fighting them, you recognize and you respect their being kind of. [00:48:09] Speaker A: Like fighting with honor. You're not dehumanizing the opposition, sort of. [00:48:14] Speaker B: For lack of a better example or better analogy. Yeah, you had this way of having a conflict with some honor. Right. Whereas now the dangerous, or like, I shouldn't even say dangerous, but the alarming thing that I'm finding right now is that the lack of even the basic dignity of kind of for example, like the people who have been lying dead since early May, they're still lying in morgues. They're not even letting us claim the dead bodies and whatever pretext it may be like. I think the state government even had the audacity to argue that it could be like some illegal infiltrators or different things where it's absolutely beyond belief that this is the level of animosity that has kind of cropped up even in death. There is no decency. But anyway, sorry, I didn't mean to get off on that. [00:49:29] Speaker A: No apology necessary. I think that's very appropriate to dwell on and we're going to get to very soon here some of the details of what's happening in Monaco right now. But just that point that even in death there's no treatment with dignity because I've heard this, that the bodies of the dead are being left there to rot. Nobody's allowed to even go out and bury them. But last thing before we move on to digging into what's happening in Monipur right now this year is I wanted to ask you about this woman, Irom January Sharmilla, who I'm sure you're familiar with. And I'm interested to ask about your perspective also because I personally know her husband. I've been a guest in his house in the past, when she was still on hunger strike before he was her husband. Now, Irom Sharmilla, she's from Monopol, from Mfal, I believe she's known as the world's longest hunger striker. She was on hunger strike for 16 years, force fed throughout that time period, but refusing to eat or even drink water. She started hunger strike in response to a massacre, I believe, the Molom massacre, if I recall correctly, Malone massacre in 2000, where armed forces in Monipur, in Impal, in Molom, I guess they gunned down ten civilians at a bus stop. There was no repercussions for them. They had impunity. And so Irom went on hunger strength. Now, interestingly enough, in context of what's happening today, and I always have to, since I began learning about the ethnic conflict and the dispute there that's happening, I always have to make sure I get this correct because I know cookies owe me. But earlier on, before I got the pronunciation down, I kept saying my Thai, which is the drink, not the community, as Mayte Irom is from the Mete community, the majority community, but she went on hunger strike. She became known as the Iron Lady of Monapur because of her refusal to give up this protest. And I wanted to ask your perspective in context of what she did back then and considering what's happening mean, you have already described how growing up that you had a sense of identity, but there wasn't really this animosity or lack of intermingling when she was doing that. What kind of response did she get from the people of Monipur? Especially the people of Monipur across ethnic lines. Yeah. [00:52:13] Speaker B: I think in some ways it's a complicated question, but it's also a very important question because it ties in many, many different things together. And before I answer that, if I may also kind of go back to because I don't think I touched the AFSPA question that you had asked earlier with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. [00:52:42] Speaker A: Yeah. The more groundwork laid, the I mean, as an engineer, I'm sure that's always something on your mind anyways. If you want to build something, you have to do it in a certain order. [00:52:56] Speaker B: Yeah, I think you've already alluded to many times. It's an extremely draconian law that I think most people would trace its origins to the British colonial days, and it's been updated several times and applied conveniently where the central government deems necessary, whether it's in Nagaland to counter the Naga insurgency or in Kashmir or in Manipur and so on. So in a and as a cookie person, I'm also a little bit conflicted, because as a normal, decent person, I think anybody should be opposed to giving the state that kind of power because it's such a huge draconian. Law. And it gives such a free hand to the armed forces that I think it would be very fair to say it's a very anti democratic law. Right. But we're in a position right now where there are certain segments of the Kukizomis who are demanding AFSPA to be applied throughout the whole state because AFSPA has been lifted from the Valley districts, but they're still in effect in the Hill area. So there is a huge conundrum there. Right. So it's almost like saying, I'm in this crap, and you're pitting me against somebody else who is not in this crap. So I want all of us to be in the same crap, that sort of argument. So I feel very conflicted because at a basic human level, I think we should all condemn AFSPA and any laws as such. But again, in a very specific context, there's also a valid argument to say, okay, this is not fair, and if you want to treat us all equally, then apply the law equally as well. [00:55:07] Speaker A: Especially in a situation where, like today, you said it's been lifted from Mfal, which is not facing the bulk of the violence right now. And so in the area which is not facing the bulk of the violence, where the army is not needed, there's no impunity for the army. But in the area that is facing the violence, where the army is needed, but they're not acting. And if they are acting, we're going to touch on that. They're acting in support of the attackers. There is impunity. Yeah, it's very uneven. [00:55:36] Speaker B: Yeah. That's there and bringing it back, I think that's something I think is very important to note about AFSPA, what AFSPA means in the present context in Manipur. But then on the question of Irom Sharmila, I think she's probably one of the most well respected activists, and I have the utmost respect for her because I feel like she was very ideological and she truly believed in the work she was doing. Right. So even to the point where I remember she had written an opit piece or like some sort of article and she was on the record when I think the Chief Minister if I'm not I mean, I'm not exactly sure on the timeline, but the Chief Minister back then was Ibobi Singh from the Congress Party. Again. Amiti. CM. But nevertheless so under his rule or under his Chief Ministership, I think the know was being lifted from the Valley districts. And I think he had approached Irom Sharmila and asked her to stop her hunger strike because it had been kind of lifted. And I remember her making this beautiful point mean, don't we want AFSPA to be lifted from the entirety of the state of Manipur and not just from the Valley district? So as long as AFSPA is still in effect in the Hill district, how can I stop my hunger know? So I think that was a very beautiful argument that she made. Unfortunately, I think she was truly a lone voice, not only in the state of Manipur, but even within the, you know and I believe the Merabaibis, the women torch bearers now who have kind of become more like a vigilante group. They were very proactive in her strike effort, hunger strike effort, where that kind of lifted her up as a deity. Right. And it was almost like when she decided to break her fast, they were. [00:58:04] Speaker A: Angry at her for deciding to break. Yeah, actually, I think she's commented on that before. Irom has commented on that before, about her upset about being treated that way. [00:58:16] Speaker B: Yeah. So it was almost was and I think there are many other writers and journalists who have done a much better job of describing the situation than and I'm just paraphrasing what I've heard them say is it was almost like they had given her up to die. And the fact that she refused to die and she wanted to live a normal life really upset them, which is kind of like at that point, I was puzzled, but given the fact of what I've seen in the last few months, I was like, okay, there's a huge radicalization that has taken place in society, right under our noses, that human lives, individual human lives don't seem to matter anymore. And the fact that she wanted to get married and she wanted to lead a normal life after 16 years, like you said, 16 years of being on a nonstop hunger strike that should earn you 16 lives in heaven, if you ask me if there is such a thing. All that to say, I have a huge amount of respect for her and what she had done. Unfortunately, I don't think I can say the same thing about the society that she comes from and what it has kind of devolved into, because all the sane minds, I think they've kind of either been drowned out or they're too afraid to say anything rational and sane. [00:59:58] Speaker A: You know, of course, at the present moment, what the world with manipur needs? In my opinion, probably. I would think in your opinion as well. Is somebody like the Iron Lady of Monipur to step forward and become the new one? To hunger strike for hopefully not 16 years, but hunger Strike for an end to the conflict, somebody from Monipur, somebody maybe even again from the mete community, and call for an end to the violence through that form of protest. But you were talking about the radicalization, how these things have devolved and now is the time, finally, all this groundwork laid. Let's get around to some details on that. So on May 3, 2023, violence broke out against the kooky zomi community and it's still ongoing. And now I want you laying a little bit of groundwork for what's happening before we get into some of the reasons for why and some perspectives and opinions on it. What's happening, what's the level of violence, at least as far as what we know? And also there's been a lot of pretty horrific incidents of sustained, systematic violence just in the past 20 years. 21st century in India, going back to 2002 in Gujarat, 2008 in Odisha, you had 2020 in Delhi, and then you've had a whole bunch in between musafarnagar in Up, Uttar Pradesh, and elsewhere. But what's happening right now in manipur is far and away worse than any of those incidents that have occurred over the past 20 years. Can you describe layout a little bit? What is happening and just how bad is it? [01:01:52] Speaker B: Yeah, I think Peter, I won't go into too many details because I feel like where the violence started and the sequence of events, I don't really place too much importance on that because a lot of people would agree that the explosion of the violence happened on may the third. Right. So that's when colonies of kukizomi tribal homes in the impal valley were raised to the ground. [01:02:28] Speaker A: For non south Asian listeners, like, a calling is basically like a neighborhood, right? [01:02:33] Speaker B: Yeah. Think of it as a settlement or like a neighborhood. Pretty much, yeah. So my own family home was burnt by a mob over 1000 strong. They almost killed my father, my eldest brother's entire family has been kind of dispossessed everything they own. They barely escaped with what they had on themselves. Right. And the violence started before, the night before it reached my family home. And right now, as we speak, my mother is buried on our family property in impal, and we don't have access to her gravesite right now. And every single thing that my parents generation worked for, every single thing has been destroyed and kind of zooming out. We're not the exception. Like everybody's house, maybe somebody will argue there are a few homestanding here and there, but okay, but out of 100, if you destroy 90, then okay. If you say it's not complete unless 100% is destroyed, then okay, I don't mean to argue that. So I'm just saying, for all practical purposes, everything the Kukizomis have owned in Impal Valley has been destroyed. Right? What kind of started off as a destruction of property very quickly devolved into individual attacks, rapes. And on July 19 20th, in that time frame, there was also that viral video that came out of the two women who were paraded naked, gang raped and all that kind of stuff. So the violence, at least for Manipur, it's not something we've seen in the past, this scale of violence. And today, I think it's not an exaggeration to say we are entering a civil war because the violence, you can say it has subsided, but that's just because there are central security forces in the buffer zones, kind of keeping the two sides separate as best as they can. So to set the stage, I think it's always very difficult to just briefly describe what has happened so far without going into a lot of the details. And part of what you said about it being very intentional, kind of an attack, is because the way we've been targeted, the way there were these quote unquote surveys marking tribal homes with do. [01:05:50] Speaker A: You want to go into that? Because of course, we can talk all about the details, how many dead, what incidents of violence, that sort of thing. But the why is maybe more important question, and that you mentioning these surveys and that sort of thing. You want to talk a little bit about this belief that it wasn't just like this spontaneous outburst of one day? [01:06:19] Speaker B: Definitely, yeah. It felt very premeditated because a lot of the tribal homes, I think months before the violence actually broke out, there are so many accounts of different people kind of being asked different questions as to their ethnicity and different things by. [01:06:45] Speaker A: Government officials being asked. [01:06:47] Speaker B: We don't really know. Right, because it's like some random person shows up at your house, starts asking you questions, seeing that they're surveying this or that. Most people don't think that they're being prepared for ethnic cleansing. You just say, oh, you're just chatting away, and you're just telling them, okay, whatever. I'm from this tribe, that tribe. Nobody ever in our wildest imagination would have thought that, okay, we're going to be wiped out in a few months. Right. So there was no paranoia. And maybe part of the problem was being so naive about it and not being aware of what was brewing, because all these things, because there's no way that every single Kukizomi settlement in the Infal Valley could have been wiped out in a day or two in the way it did. And there might be some special intelligence people who might know where everybody is. They might have their own databases built up. But for a mob to know precisely where each person lived and go and single them out, there has to be coordination. It cannot work like that. Or you either need time or you need coordination. Over time, maybe a mob can figure it out, but not in that precise way, in that short amount of time. And now there are also several video evidences that have shown that there are these little red paint markings on all the tribal houses, for example. Right? And not only that, but there are also many video evidences now showing that the state police, the Manipur State police leading the crowds, the mobs into the tribal settlements, tribal neighborhoods, making sure that they don't have any resistance and then letting them do their thing. Right. [01:08:56] Speaker A: With the pre planning, though, with the markings on the houses and the strange people showing up and doing these surveys in the community were there some other things I think I've heard about from the governmental level that there was some changes that were implemented in the few months leading up. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think one having to do with even like gun ownership or something like that. [01:09:25] Speaker B: A lot of people will even like, okay, that is what you're saying is true. But before we come to that, if we want to talk about it from that perspective I think it's only fair to go all the way back to even the founding of the state because Manipur only became a state in the 70s, early 70s, right. So ever since then, the hold on power and as far as the political and the economic representation of the Kukizomis, we've always been underrepresented and we've always been the underdogs in this setup. Right. And going back to what we had talked about previously about the scheduled tribe status and the constitutional protection of what we had was a protection of the right to our land, our ancestral land, the hill districts that we call our ancestral lands. So this was one of the provisions in the constitution that kind of protected the tribal people from being completely annihilated. Right. Because until barely a few decades ago, most of our people were illiterate. We didn't have the basic tools to kind of even fight for our own rights. And the reason why I'm saying this is that the stuff that BR Ambedkar made sure was there in the constitution to protect us was denied to us. Like, for example, the 6th shadow of the Indian constitution which is basically the autonomy that is guaranteed to all these different tribal groups. It was completely denied in the Manipur instance. In fact, we even have a specific article in the Indian constitution, 371 C, which was specifically designed for the hill districts of Manipur so that we could govern ourselves. They had these toothless hill area council that the state government set up, but it was never really authorized to have any real power, for example. So it has been ongoing. Right. It has been an ongoing thing since, you could argue, independence and the formation of the state. [01:12:04] Speaker A: And so ongoing as far as disenfranchisement of cookies. [01:12:09] Speaker B: Yeah. Firstly, we also talked about the budgetary imbalance where there was no infrastructure development in the Hill districts, there was no investment, whether in terms of health care, whether in terms of any sort of facility, education or sports, like, whatever you name it. Right. So there was never anything of that sort to kind of establish some kind of equity. There was nothing to level the playing field for the people who were historically advantaged and people who were historically disadvantaged. So the effort in that regard was minimal to nonexistent. Then I think, if I'm not mistaken, 2015 comes and there's this controversial three bills that were passed which had to be rescinded because there was a huge opposition in the Hill districts which was kind of seen by a lot of the tribal people as an attempt by the state government and the majority community to grab even the last little piece of protection we had, which was our land. Right. And this I think a lot of people would also hold the current chief minister, nbirin. Singh, as one of the main masterminds in kind of trying to structure those I mean, they call it some kind of land reform bill and tying it into some inner line permit issues and an attempt to basically completely disregard the tribal ownership of these historical ancestral lands. Right, so it comes from that. So it comes from that. And then we have a few years of something that resembles peace. Even in that time, there was that build up of the radicalization that we were talking about. Right. So stuff that started off as cultural. [01:14:12] Speaker A: Organizations rmbai Temgal and. [01:14:20] Speaker B: Yeah, so all these things started happening. And then what you're talking about is, I think maybe in late 2022, early 2023, a lot of the licensed arms from the Hill districts were being taken back. [01:14:38] Speaker A: Which I just want to preface, because my impression, not deeply informed, but my impression from what I've seen of Monipur is that it seems like it's somewhat different from a lot of the rest of India, where gun ownership is very limited. In most of India, it's legally very heavily restricted. But in Monipur, is it generally easier to get a gun? [01:15:05] Speaker B: To be honest, yeah, I'm probably not going to be I don't know the specific facts on the ground, so I'm probably not qualified to answer that question in any direct way. But just from the numbers themselves, yes, because we have a tradition of being hunters and gatherers, for example, especially among the tribal population. So gun ownership and when we say gun ownership, I think before at least the American audience, we have to make sure these are like, single barrel double. [01:15:54] Speaker A: We're not talking about assault rifles. [01:15:55] Speaker B: These are not AR 15s or what I've seen. [01:16:00] Speaker A: I mean, we're probably talking about, like, early 20th century style weaponry. [01:16:06] Speaker B: Something yeah, I don't even know the name the brand names properly, like the Winchester types. [01:16:16] Speaker A: But, yeah, old style weaponry. Not definitely not modern materials. [01:16:20] Speaker B: But at the same time, there were, like, record amount of new licenses that were being issued in the Valley districts. So there's this imbalance again, right? So now, in hindsight, people are saying, so if all that's happening, like everything that happened starting on May 3, was it pre planned or did it just automatically organically explode because the groundwork was laid quite well. Right. To be honest, the arguments I've also heard from the other side also has some validity to it because everything it's kind of a build up in some sort of way, right? Because we've not even touched on the poppy cultivation. And what a lot of people are screaming about, quote unquote, the narco terrorism, they call it, that itself is a huge element of, I think, what has happened in Manipur. [01:17:30] Speaker A: Would you like to touch on that for a minute? Because basically, from my perspective, what I'm hearing familiar with the narrative that I've seen all over the place is that the Kukizomi people are primarily, mostly narco terrorists engaged in cultivation of poppies to produce heroin for cross border drug smuggling. And that, in addition to that, many of them are also residing illegally in Monipur and are not actually from Monipur but have crossed over the border, that sort of thing. And that argument I've seen very widely used as some kind of, like almost like a justification, although they don't call it that, but a justification to excuse or overlook the violence that's being used against the. [01:18:33] Speaker B: Think it's again, anything to do with Manipur. Peter. It's never a simple matter to discuss. [01:18:40] Speaker A: It's never a third cut case, if you don't mind. [01:18:43] Speaker B: Yeah, let's unpack that. Maybe one by, you know, with the poppy cultivation. I think there's no denying that there's poppy cultivation in Manipur, especially in the hill districts, definitely in the Kukizomi areas. Right. So I don't think anybody denies that. But the point is also it is not only in the Kukizomi areas, and the people involved are also not only Kukizomis who are involved. First of all, I think people have to understand that these farmers who are cultivating poppy, they've been traditionally what they call, like, June farmers who kind of burn down sections of the forest and grow something and then move on to the next patch. I'm not arguing that that is something that is to be upheld in some sort of way as in an awesome customary thing that we should never improve on. But the point I'm making is that these are people who are highly impoverished. They don't have a way of supporting their livelihoods. And in the midst of. This. If somebody comes to them and says, hey, if you grow this poppy, you're going to make so much more money because the land needs refilization and such. And these are like unless the government is helping people gain their livelihoods in some other way, in kind of encouraging different kinds of other kinds of industries, they're kind of left to their own, right. So in that mix you can kind of imagine how easy it is for somebody to come and say, hey, if you grow this, you make two, three times more the money you would normally make or whatever. I'm not an expert on how much more money they make or not, but I'm just making the general point that first, it is not only the kooky Zomis who are involved in this so called poppy cultivation. [01:20:56] Speaker A: And if I may interject, I think that idea because it's being used to kind of smear the cookiesomis as almost like as a prejudicial or a dehumanizing argument. The cookiesomes are somehow naturally predisposed to grow poppies. Also, that argument ignores the reality of the global drug trade, which is no apologetics for it, but the reality is that the global drug trade is the great equalizer. It's an equal opportunity business where there is no race, religion or creed. [01:21:33] Speaker B: Yeah, it's funny in a very sad way, which is true, what saying is true. And also, I think even when Brinda Thunaljam, who is the ex police officer herself from mete community, a lot of her work has kind of proven the fact that people involved in the drug trade, in the narco trade, are not just cookiesomies. There are substantial chunk if you break it down into the percentages and we can go into the specifics of what she had reported and all, but there's no doubt that the main people who control the industry live in the infal valley, they don't live in the hill districts like cultivating poppy. People who run the show are not from the cookies. No means. And I'm not saying that there's zero involvement. There might be some people at the higher levels of the trade too. I'm not saying that. But what I'm seeing, however you cut. [01:22:47] Speaker A: It, the drug bosses are not usually the farmers. [01:22:50] Speaker B: Yeah, exactly. Even the chief minister himself has been accused of being one of the major kingpins in this whole thing. Right. And I don't know enough about the specific personal connections, so I'm going to just try to stay away from talking about that aspect. [01:23:12] Speaker A: But it is an allegation that's been rather credibly raised. [01:23:16] Speaker B: Absolutely. And with some very strong evidence and especially with this Brenda. She's on the record saying that she was pressured by the chief minister to release one of the major drug kingpins that she arrested know. So that is not something that's not my opinion. That's her report. And she is one of the most vocal critics of the chief minister in that regard. I'll leave it at that. All that to say that the drug trade is a problem in Manipur narcoterrorism, I'll even accept the term narco terrorism. Okay, it is a problem in Manipur. But the Kukizomis are not the only ones to blame. The problem is much bigger than just one small community. It's much deeper than that. And if we want to address this in a constructive way, we have to go beyond labeling an entire community of that. [01:24:20] Speaker A: It's more a monopoly problem, not a cookie zomi problem. And I don't think you're probably going to be able to deal with the issue of the drug trade existing as an underlying social issue within Manipur if you have this ongoing anti Kooky conflict. [01:24:40] Speaker B: Anti Kooky? I wouldn't even call it a Manipur problem. I would call it an India Myanmar problem. It's a regional problem. So it's not something that the Manipur is just a small little section in this much larger problem. The whole thing about the illegal infiltrators and all this kind of argument. Yes, that's true. I mean, there might be some, but even by the state government's own account, they cannot prove more than 2000, 3000 people. And if you look at the other neighbor to our south, Mizoram, they've had refugees in the tens of thousands who have taken shelter there. It's kind of a very strange argument for them to make because it's just a way of rationalizing humanizing yeah, exactly. And just kind of saying that these people don't even belong here, so even if we kill them, then it's okay. That's the end to that logic. Right. And the other very interesting point, I think, Major Amit Bansal, I believe he's an ex army person who's served extensively in the Northeast and specifically Manipur. He's also made a really interesting argument that this whole debate around narcoterrorism and poppy cultivation, it's actually kind of a moot point in some sense because lab manufactured drugs have apparently overshadowed the natural cultivation drug way more. And it makes sense. Right. So why would you farm something, wait for months for it to mature, risk. [01:26:55] Speaker A: Losing your harvest anyway? Because you're working with the seasons. [01:27:00] Speaker B: Yeah. Where you can just buy a bunch of chemicals and manufacture something in the lab that you can control much tighter. Right. So he's arguing that the percentage of the poppy based drugs, less than 5% of that whole trade. So it's very interesting, is all I'm saying. And I'm by no means the expert in what goes on in the background there, but I'm also saying that's something to be considered. Right. So all these things, I think it's just an attempt to find different things to dehumanize others and just kind of set them up so that when you go out to annihilate them, it's acceptable. [01:27:51] Speaker A: And you can live with your own conscience as well if you buy into your own propaganda. Now with this dehumanization, this conversation, lean, I'm feeling right now, this can't be the only time we talk about Moniper because there's so much to unravel here. But as we begin to move to wrap up, there's some more aspects I really want to get to and ask you about, like this dehumanization that is being used to maybe help to kill the consciences of the attackers and allow them to live with themselves. The attackers, a lot of them are these groups like the Armed by Tengal and the Mete Lipun, these basically militant, or it sounds like Armed by TENGOL is practically a paramilitary organization, which is now armed because they've raided police armories. They're now armed since the launch of the conflict with modern weaponry. We were just talking about how broadly within Monipur, a lot of the weapons tend to be these older style. I've seen the pictures. I think they're probably like early 20th century British Army type of weapons, very out of date. The weapons that Armed by Tangle and the attackers are armed with today are much more like basically looks like modern AK 47s or that sort of weapon assault weapons, military style. So I've seen, for instance, talking about the Dehumanization, I believe it was the head of Armed by Tengal. He was on show with the senior journalist in India, Karanthapar, where he basically outright said that the goal, his desire, is to wipe out the Kukizomi people. And I want you within that context, knowing that you've used the term ethnic cleansing a couple of times already. [01:29:51] Speaker B: And. [01:29:52] Speaker A: You'Ve talked already about the police a little bit. Just from your perspective, from your opinion and what you've seen, the evidence, the feelings, sentiments of the Kukizomi people in general, does this come across as one? Is it ethnic cleansing that's occurring with and I especially want to know this in context of international listeners who may not be familiar with the specifics of what's happening right now. It's a context that's happening in complicity with the police. You described how in some of these colonies neighborhoods, the police are actually entering in in company with the mobs and preventing the Kukizomi people from defending themselves, complicity at the state level with the police, with the state government. And then also there's been almost total silence about this. No real action. Some military deployed, armed forces deployed, but no real action at the national level from the central government. And they basically kept their mouth shut about it. From the Kukizomi perspective, why do you think that that's the response from the national government? And yeah, go ahead. [01:31:10] Speaker B: Why? It's a very difficult question, but I'll go back to what you started with and I believe you're talking about Pramod Singh, who is the leader of the Mete Lipun, actually, who went on Karanthapur and basically threatened to annihilate the Kukizomis entirely from the state of Manipur. So it seemed like he wanted to escalate ethnic cleansing into full scale genocide. That's basically what he threatened, to be honest. [01:31:43] Speaker A: He made no secret of it, amazingly, on a national program. [01:31:48] Speaker B: Yeah. And the thing is, maybe you might disagree with me, but to me, somebody like him is easier to understand and kind of you know what to do because he just speaks the most outlandish things that you would never imagine anybody with a sane mind to even speak of those things. Right. And he's also gone to the extent of saying if you are like, the true identifying characteristics of who is a manipuri is somebody who likes nari, which is like a fermented fish. As if the mates are only people who like fermented food. Like the tribal people. We like fermented food as much as they do, if not more. So. He's that kind of a character. So I think on one hand, I think we have to take him seriously because even if he sounds, like, ridiculous and outlandish there are enough people that he has influence over. And we've seen from their actions that they're not afraid of massacring and inflicting violence to that level. Let's leave that aside. So, okay, whatever he said, we have to be very vigilant and keep that in mind. But at the same time, I'm more worried about people who try to seem balanced, middle of the road and kind of try to talk about this violence and this issue as if it's two equals fighting it out. No, we're not two equals fighting it out. The state government has taken a Blatant side and what started off as something that we anecdotally felt from people who had firsthand information on the ground. Now we have ample video evidence where the state troops are blatantly siding with the Mete side. There's no doubt. It's not like how I feel. It's like I've seen it. So there's no doubt. [01:34:05] Speaker A: I think the state's probably complicit. No, it's actually on camera. You could see the police are in company with the mouth. [01:34:10] Speaker B: Yeah, absolutely complicit. And the chief minister, most Kukizomis will consider him the architect of this genocide and this ethnic cleansing. But then in the monsoon session of the Indian parliament the home minister, Amit Shah was on the record on the floor of the Indian parliament saying that he was not about to dismiss the chief minister of the state because he has been cooperative. That's the word. He. [01:34:41] Speaker A: Says that the home minister for those home listening, the home minister in India is like the person in charge of internal law and order in the entire country. So when Amit Shah, the home minister, goes there and he basically says the chief minister in Manipur has been cooperative but then we're seeing this complicity of police forces on camera, one has to question what does the home minister mean when he says the chief minister is being cooperative? Cooperative in implementing this ethnic cleansing? One might ask. [01:35:14] Speaker B: Yeah, exactly. People might think you're just being provocative. But that is a real question. We're not being provocative. We're asking what do you mean by that? What do the state of affairs have to be in order for you to remove this person from office, this extremely divisive person from office and bring in some sense of law and order? Right? And as a travel person, it really feels awkward to me to even kind of talk about law and order in that way because almost kind of makes me sound like I'm part of the ruling class, where I want law and order. But in this way, our survival depends on it. [01:36:04] Speaker A: It's a very different one has to contextualize when we mean law and order, we don't mean like police patrolling the lower income neighborhoods and pulling anybody over that looks at them funny. We mean like police arresting armed militants that are wandering around slaughtering men, women. There's a big difference there. [01:36:26] Speaker B: And thanks for clarifying that, Peter, because a lot of the language, because in India also we use English a lot, but the context, especially for an American audience, it may lose a lot of the meaning, what we actually mean. So thanks for clarifying that. So I think going back to what we were discussing, so when you ask why, that's a really hard question to answer because it's like now we're in month five and still no end in sight. The Prime Minister has not even said anything more about it. And it's almost like after the G 20 summit, I really think they believe they can just get away with just ignoring the whole violence and they think they'll just not say a thing and people will just forget about it. And sadly, that's probably what's going to happen. And I feel sad about it, but I just have to keep doing what I can. [01:37:40] Speaker A: We live in the microwave microwave generation or beyond microwave. That was what, 50 years ago, but that type of a generation where our attention span is negative 5 seconds. And so I agree with you. And I think that reminds me because you were talking at the outset about DC, one of your first entrees into activism out there, kind of with you describe some feeling of naivete that you thought, all we have to do is just bring this information to the attention of the international audience of Modi, maybe even and certainly of the US. Government, and they'll be certain to take action. And that now, months later, that that sounds like it's faded. And we're looking at the conclusion of the G 20 and nobody seems to have raised anything. G 20 happened in India and the violence in Monipur, which is still ongoing, doesn't seem to have made any waves or act any boats as far as even making it onto the agendas of the world leaders that were coming to India for the G 20. So unfortunately, we are actually beginning to run out of time. But I wanted to wrap up because we got to come back to this end soon. But I wanted to wrap up with a couple of final thoughts from you. One is I have this question. What's your impression of the way the international community, especially the governmental level, has responded to this? But you're welcome to touch on that with a timely manner, but I think we've kind of already touched on that. The EU parliament, I think, did issue a rather strongly worded statement, a resolution, I believe, a month or two ago. They're the only major body that I'm aware of that's really done anything of that sort. Beyond that, from what I've seen, the international community is largely silent. But I wanted to ask you about your impressions of the social sphere and their response, especially here in North America. I know you've been involved in some protests, and the Kukizomi community in Monipur is already pretty small. The Kukizomi diaspora is infinitesimal, from my understanding, but it's also, because of that, it's also, from what I've seen, a pretty tight knit community. Now, they've been very active, and you and I've met many others who brand new to this scene, but nevertheless, they put their lives on hold, their professions on hold, as much as possible to a large extent, to mobilize and respond to this. What do you think of the response that's occurred so far? And how do you feel about the response beyond the Kukizomi community with the rest of the Indian diaspora, with the rest of the North American community, beyond the Indian American community? And then what has been done and how has it personally impacted you? Because you talk about what's happened with your family back in Monipur, but here in North America, how's it impacting you despite not living there amidst the violence of. [01:41:27] Speaker B: I think as far as let me just start by saying the outpouring of support from the diaspora community and other people who care about human rights in general. It's been very overwhelming and extremely beautiful. So let me start by saying that and even something as you inviting me to this podcast to just chat about stuff and have this long form interview or call it more like a chat. I think these are things that I feel give us hope. And I know it's unfortunately going to be a longer struggle because until this happened, people forget about the Kuki Zomis probably people didn't even know where Manipur was or if Manipur even existed. Right. So we have a long way ahead of us, but we're determined. We're very determined because it's the survival of our people and not just our people. The thing is, we have to start seeing this as we have to start seeing this for what it actually is, because this level of violence and attack on the very existence of my people. The Kukizomis would have never happened if it was not for the radicalization or the climate of hate in India with the BJP and RSS like Hindutva agenda going on right now. So it's really important. Even though there is a huge ethnic element to this, you cannot deny the overwhelming religious angle as well because most Kukizomis, I would say close to 100%, are Christians. I was brought up in a Christian family, even though, in full disclosure, I'm not a religious person, but I'm culturally still Christian, I'd say. So it is one of those things where if you care about humanity, if you care about religious freedom, if you care about democracy or making the world more democratic, you should care about what's happening in India, what's happening in you know, this is not just a tribal thing. This is not just st demand or like, you know, ancestral lands of the tribal thing because those are kind of like the tip of the spear. But the broader issue is do you want a more just world or do you want increasingly majoritarian autocratic world where there's democracy for the majority, but what do you call it for all the rest of the minorities? It's authoritarianism. So that's to me where the line is. And I think we have a lot of work cut out for us. But even as we speak, just this past weekend, there was a demonstration in Denver, for example. Zomi Inkwon DC had an event. And even as we speak, Nyang and Florence are in Geneva with the Human Rights Council, like, kind of trying to raise our concerns and question the UN community to see what we can do and hold India to account. For not being responsible and going around calling itself the largest democracy in the world and not even doing the basic, basic thing that you should do to protect your own citizens. And as far as the response from the Western governments, I think we're very grateful for whatever recognition or support or acknowledgment that we've gotten. Like, for example, we've heard back from the Canadian Prime Minister's office acknowledging the letter that we had sent initially. But again, we still have a lot of work to do on our end to kind of request for more specific things, like, we've got petitions ongoing, and I think in line with your own work, we've asked members of congress to talk about this issue on the floor of the House and what you had also pursued with Representative Rohana along those same lines. So I think it's a big wake up call for us. It's a wake up call for the body of Christ. It's a wake up call for indigenous people around the world. And we're not going to just lay down and die. We're going to fight to the best we can. And yeah, very much appreciate the opportunity and would love to talk more if there is room, but I'll leave it at that. [01:46:48] Speaker A: Any quick final thoughts? [01:46:51] Speaker B: No, Peter, I think to dive deep into the details of the issue, I think we can spend a lot more time. But like I said, we appreciate everybody's solidarity, your solidarity, and please keep us in mind and we'll keep reaching out and do the best we can and fight for our survival. We don't have much of a choice. [01:47:26] Speaker A: Maybe at one point when we're diving deep in, we can do it over a cookies only traditional meal, because I haven't absolutely I would love to discover what it's like. So with that said, Mr Lingan Gante, thank you so much for your time and we look forward to conversing with you again. [01:47:48] Speaker B: Same to you. Thank you so much. [01:47:50] Speaker A: Peter, thank you for tuning in. If you liked what you heard, please remember subscribe and follow for more to come as we look forward to dialoguing once again on Dosa.

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