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Manipur Tribals in the U.S. to Mark ‘Global Week of Action’ to Raise Awareness About Ethnic Cleansing Back Home

Manipur Tribals in the U.S. to Mark ‘Global Week of Action’ to Raise Awareness About Ethnic Cleansing Back Home

  • Under the aegis of the North American Manipur Tribal Association, they are holding rallies and protests and calling on the U.S. Congress to intervene to end the violence and support their need for self-determination and autonomy.

Members of the North American Manipur Tribal Association are trying to create awareness about the ongoing violence and ethnic cleansing of the minority Kuki-Zomi tribal people in their home state of Manipur. They are calling on the U.S. Congress to intervene, put an end to the violence, provide justice for victims, and advocate for their support for self-determination and autonomy. Several rallies are being held across the U.S. to mark the Global Week of Action to raise awareness for justice and tribal solidarity being held through Aug.19 in cities across the world. 

For more than three months, the tiny picturesque state in northeast India has been witnessing violent ethnic conflict where the minority Kuki-Zomi tribal people have been subjected to a pogrom of ethnic cleansing by the majority Meitei groups. Over 120 lives have been tragically lost and more than 60,000 people have been displaced from their ancestral homes since May, according to the latest reports in Indian media. NAMTA estimates that over 359 churches and over 7,000 tribal homes were burned and looted.

The Kuki-Zomi community in the U.S. is minuscule. According to NAMTA vice president Niang Hangzo, there are “probably less than 500” Kuki-Zomis in North America. “There are barely over 500,000 in Manipur.” According to the 2011 Census, the total population of Kuki-Zomis in Manipur is 582,400, which is around 16 percent of the total population of the state. In fact, Hangzo who lives in Santa Cruz, California, and works in the semiconductor industry, is just one of four Kuki-Zomis in the Bay Area. 

Most of the founding members of NAMTA have been directly impacted by the atrocities. Hangzo’s entire family was displaced. “We lost our homes, they burned our homes and my family — ended up in camps,” she recalled. “Eventually we got them out to Delhi. So we were the lucky ones,” she said, adding that the group’s main mission is to help those who don’t have the means to escape the violence. Even if people manage to leave the state, she noted that “they are still traumatized because they’ve lost everything and suddenly they have to start with nothing.” 

Despite the small numbers, the community here in the U.S. is coming together and has been conducting rallies across California’s Bay Area, Washington, D.C., and other cities across the country. “What we want is awareness here in every form,” Hangzo told American Kahani. The organization is getting help from several human rights groups including progressive Hindus, and “the rest are the persecuted minorities of India.”However, the organization needs “more turnout, more support,” and is banking on “more Hindus to participate because they are the majority in India.” At the moment, we are “leaning on the shoulders” of those that reached out. 

NAMTA’s outreach is two-fold, Hangzo explained. One is to bring awareness to everybody. “It’s just that many in the Indian community reached out to us because we are Indians and they felt empathy for us. So they are the first ones,” she said. “But our target is the entire country.” The second step in the outreach is the U.S. Congress. Last month, the European Parliament passed a resolution saying that the Modi government failed to protect minorities and the persecution of Christians. “But they looked at it from just a religious angle,” she noted. “Our issue is a lot more than religion,” she continued. She wants the U.S. government to look at it from the point of view of human rights violation as well as religious persecution “because of the atrocities that have been meted out to our people.” 

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The Kuki-Zomis here might not have the hardships faced by those back home, but “we are doing everything for our people,” Hangzo said. She is supporting her family members who have fled to Delhi, which includes admitting two kids into a boarding school in Delhi so that their education is not interrupted. But there are many others who can leave or even want to leave. “They have lost their homes and can’t afford to go outside the state. They are living in camps, she said. “We have a very strong affinity to our land, we’ve always lived there,” she stresses. “It is our land.”

Hangzo is also critical of the Modi administration. “The Indian government has done absolutely nothing,” she said. After the horrific video emerged of two Kuki-Zomi Christian women who were paraded naked and sexually assaulted by a majoritarian Hindu Meitei mob, which “shook India and the world” Modi spoke, albeit cursorily. That was the 77th day since the torture began,” Hangzo recalled. “Modi came and spoke for 36 seconds and talked of his horror at seeing something that shamed India, but he never spoke about the underlying reasons, the ensuing ethnic cleansing and genocide,” she said. “He just talked as if it was an isolated event.” She criticizes the state government as well.Manipur chief minister belongs to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and “is very close to the central government is the architect [of the genocide],” she remarked. “Silence is complicity,” she asserted, calling out the apathy and neglect. 

Along with helping and worrying about her family in India, the circumstances in her home state have made Hangzo an activist, and a speaker. “I’ve never spoken (out) before, I’ve never been an activist, but I have to speak up because if I don’t, who will.” She’s involved in the cause emotionally. “It is my story, it is my family story and it is ultimately my people’s story.” So, along with others in NAMTA she is raising awareness and funds for the atrocities and helping to preserve and protect the heritage, lives and lands of the tribal people of Manipur. “We want to have these rallies because every time we do, we make connections, people see us,” she said. The organization is also seeking donations. “So it helps.” But the biggest thing we want is that everyone to talk about this so that when the U.S. Congress meets in September, they will speak and bring this motion to the floor.”

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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