Vocal for Justice: Pandemic makeway for the observance of Kuki Black Day ‘Sahnit Ni’2020

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Observance of Sahnit Ni (Kuki Black Day) at Churachandpur, Manipur

T S Haokip

The year 2020 thus far has been a rough year for everyone. While people are busy acclimatizing themselves to the new normal, somewhere in the nook corner of the country, the villagers of Joupi, Janglenphai, and the surrounding villages in Tamenglong District of Manipur, silently wiped away their tears, perhaps much more in exasperation for the failure in the deliverance of justice to them than the unthinkable fate of having their beloved fathers, brothers, and husbands being butchered right in front of their eyes.

13th September every year has been observed since 1993 by the Kuki people as a tribute to more than a thousand innocent Kukis killed allegedly by the NSCN IM; 103 people were killed on the 13th of September 1993 alone. The 103 Kukis were killed while on their way, as they left their villages after being served quit notices (an order to leave their homestead) by the Manipur Naga rebels. The NSCN IM’s agenda of taking the lives and lands of Kukis to stake a claim for their greater Nagalim dreams have resulted in the loss of more than a thousand innocent Kuki lives including women and children.

In as much as the observance of Sahnit Ni is about remembering the departed souls, who were mercilessly killed just because they were Kukis and they have lands, it also concerns the noble quest of demanding justice to the victims of the NSCN IM massacre. ‘Sahnit is a sacred tradition of the Kukis, wherein the observance lasts until justice is delivered. In the case of the Kuki people, the justice we demand is that the victims and their families should be physically, emotionally, and economically rehabilitated and criminal proceedings have to be initiated against the perpetrators for their gruesome genocidal acts,’ said a Kuki Inpi Leader.

Churachandpur Sahnit Ni

The 27th Sahnit Ni (Kuki Black Day) was observed in all the Kuki villages in Manipur and different cities in India with the theme, ‘Lest we forget- Seeking for Justice and the way forward.’ A programme was held at Kuki Inpi Churachandpur, organised at the memorial site where monoliths were erected on the occasion of the 25th years of Sahnit Ni in 2018. In the event, the Kuki Chief Association paid a gun salute to the thousand massacred Kukis. Pu Khaimang Chongloi, President Kuki Inpi Manipur (KIM) delivered a brief speech on the significance of ‘Sahnit Ni’ and gave a rundown of how Kuki Inpi has been relentlessly pursuing justice for the victims of Kuki Black Day. Pu PS Haokip, President of Kuki National Organisation(KNO)- a conglomerate of 17 Kuki militant organisations, narrated how the Kuki people, who have a rich history of fighting the British during the Anglo-Kuki war 1917-1919  and who aided Subhash Chandra Bose’s INA in the Indian Freedom Movement were caught unawares by the onslaught of Tangkhul led NSCN IM. “First, they attacked us in Ukhrul District, then in Chandel, Churachandpur, Tamenglong, Sadar Hills, and even in Assam and Nagaland. It was a premeditated and systematic attack on the innocent Kukis.  They continued in 2020 and attacked Chassad. Many people blamed me for my silence. But I want to assure the Kuki people that we are doing the right thing by talking to the Government of India. Our concerns are well represented,” he said.  Various tribe representatives from -Zou, Paite, Vaiphei, Simte, Mizo and Gangte Tribes also delivered short speeches on the occasion. Upa Doungam Touthang, Asst. Secy. Relief and Rehab, KIC made a benediction to end the programme.

Mumbai Sahnit Ni

Undeterred by the pandemic, the Kuki Welfare Association and Kuki Students’ Organisation Mumbai organized a virtual programme to observe Sahnit Ni 2020. Professor TT Haokip of NEHU, Shillong graced the programme as a resource person. Speaking on the theme, Dr.TT asked the 76 online attendants to imbibe a sense of love and unity. He further urged the youths not to inculcate feelings of enmity but to work hard and be successful in life. On being asked by Pu Lett Lhungdim, Jt.Secy. Kuki Welfare Association Mumbai, about the concerns raised by some people and the allegations levelled against the observation of ‘Sahnit Ni’ as being an act of vengeance and hence unchristian-like, Dr. TT Haokip explained that the gathering of people with an intent to remember their beloved bygones and the act of praying and seeking God’s blessings cannot be termed ‘unchristian’. ‘Government of India is open to address our political concerns. It is not our duty to avenge the wrongdoings. The best way we can pay back to our enemy is to excel in our lives,’ said the Professor who is also the author of the book ‘The Kuki-Naga Conflict; issues and solutions’. After a worthwhile discussion, Kuki Welfare Association Mumbai Secretary, Pu John M Neihsial gave a vote of thanks to all the attendants and the resource person. The Pastor of KWS, Pu Rev. Mangminthang Haokip then led the prayer for the victims and their families.

Pune Sahnit Ni

The Kuki Students Organisation Pune organised a webinar to observe Sahnit Ni 2020 from 15:00 hrs to 17:00 hrs on 13th September 2020. Pu Rev. Onkho Haokip, the guest speaker for the day, explained how the observance of Sahnit is a non-violent traditional practice of the Kukis to seek justice for unnatural deaths and put to rest the conspiracies hatched by a few people that Sahnit Ni is a day of spreading the message of enmity and vengeance. The Development Co-ordinator of the Kuki Baptist Convention, Pu Rev. Onkho also stressed the importance of seeking God’s intervention for Justice. ‘We have a God who can do anything and everything; but in His own timing,’ he said. He further said that God promises His help to those who seek and cited a Bible verse as a reference; Psalms 50:15 ‘ Call upon me in times of trouble, I will rescue you and you shall glorify me.’

Shillong Sahnit Ni

Under the aegis of Kuki Inpi Meghalaya, the Kukis in Shillong too observed the 27th Sahnit Ni 2020. The virtual programme was attended by around 100 participants. Honorary Captain Jamkhai Chongthu delivered the Sahnit message, briefly narrating the significance of the Kuki Black Day. A one minute silence was observed to pay tribute to those innocent Kukis massacred on the 13th of September 1993 as well as the more than thousand Kukis killed from 1992 to 1997, which is also infamously known as ‘Ethnic cleansing’ or ‘Genocide’ of the Kukis by the NSCN IM.  Pu Pastor Seiminthang Chongloi of Kuki Worship Service Shillong rendered the benediction to seek God’s intervention to bring justice to the Kukis and to reform, reunite and revive them spiritually and physically.

Hyderabad sahnit Ni

Pu Rev. Lamkeng Lhouvum, who is one of the victims’ families of Joupi and Janglenphai incident on 13th September 1993, spoke as a Guest speaker at Sahnit Ni 2020 organized by Kuki Students’ Organisation Hyderabad. The Kuki Baptist Convention Pastor narrated the whole incidents of the massacre in detail and expressed his displeasure over how Kuki society has of late embraced clannish politics and said, ‘the enemy didn’t selectively killed any particular clan. They saw us as one. Today, we have too many internal conflicts amongst us.’ He urged the members to commemorate the day as a day of forgiveness, unity, and most importantly a day to seek HIM. ‘We should ask ourselves why the Government has not answered our pleas for justice; is it our lack of unity?’ said Pu Lhouvum. ‘It is time to retrospect and take a unified stance to achieve our goals,’ he further added. The programme concluded with a blessing prayer from Pu Rev. Bishop Paothang Haokip, who prayed for the victims’ families and the Kuki people in their pursuit of justice and seek God’s blessings to shower the Kuki Society.

Delhi Sahnit Ni

Pu Dr. Michael Lunminthang Haokip, Pu Luntinsat Kipgen, Pu Paolenlal Haokip, and Pu Dr. Paothang Haokip graced the Delhi Sahnit Ni 2020 programme organised by KSO Delhi & NCR as the main speakers. Pu Dr. Michael Haokip based his speech on the historical and societal roots of the Kukis while Pu Dr. PaothangHaokip discussed the prevailing Kuki society’s problems and how practical solution is the need of the hour to address the issues. Pu Dr. Paothang explained how a simple initiative such as promoting schools in remote Kuki villages will go a long way in shaping the future of the Kukis. Pu Luntinsat Kipgen expressed the importance of rebuilding and reinventing the political structure and its significance including chieftainship to reconstruct the Kuki society. ‘As justice is in the hands of the Chief, this system of justice in our society must be upheld rather than to just lie and wait for external interference,’ he added. Pu Paolenlal Haokip underscored the importance of Justice and said, ‘The Government of India must set up a tribunal for the trial of Th. Muivah and the collective leadership of NSCM-IM and UNC for the crime of Genocide. The longer the parties responsible for the death of innocent people take to repent and be forgiven, the greater the dangers of natural justice, or the wrath of God, to befall them. We Kukis don’t want that to happen to anyone, for according to traditional Kuki philosophy of life, all efforts must be made to avoid any human suffering by upholding justice to promote peaceful co-existence across families, communities, and nations. Injustice is the root of all conflicts, which can lead to confrontations, violence, and loss of precious human lives.’ Pu Rev. Paosei Kipgen, Pastor Kuki Worship Service Delhilater led the mass prayer, as hundreds prayed for the victims of NSCN IM pogrom.

KSO Delhi & NCR executives with Advisor Pu Paolenlal Haokip on Sahnit Ni 2020

Chennai Sahnit Ni

‘How to convert Black Day to White Day’ was the topic which Pu. Ngamlen Touthang delivered to the attendants of the 27th Sahnit Ni, Chennai organized by Kuki Students’ Organisation Chennai. Pu Touthang said, ‘we cannot expect to have a prosperous society with idle hands and minds. It is for us to shape our destiny the exact way we wanted. Sincerity and hard work should be our forte as we strive to establish a better future for us as an individual and as a society.’ Giving examples of many small nations, who irrespective of their size stay united and strong, he further requested the attendants to be united to avert any more Black days.  A one minute silence was then observed in remembrance of the departed souls killed by the NSCN IM. Pu Mangmin Touthang, Advisor KSO Chennai expressed his gratitude to all the participants and the programme ended with a benediction by Pu Lenpu Changsan, ChairmanKuki Worship Service Chennai.

Guwahati Sahnit Ni

Speaking at the 27th Sahnit Ni organized at Guwahati, Pu Dr. Ngamjahao Kipgen, Associate Professor, IIT Guwahati said that the Kukis have lived independently without any political boundaries during the pre-colonial era and it is a display of sheer ignorance of history to question Kuki people’s indigeneity whether it be Myanmar, India or Bangladesh. He further added that the attack on the Kukis in the 1990s had resulted not just the loss of Kukis’ lands and lives but gravely impacted the identity that is Kuki. ‘Due to the attacks on Kuki people, the erstwhile smaller Kuki Tribes either alienated themselves from Kuki or were forcefully assimilated into Naga fold. This process of disintegrating the Kukis had even resulted in inter-ethnic conflicts amongst the Kuki kindred Tribes,’ said Pu Dr. Ngamjahao. ‘It is time we ask ourselves what we as an individual can contribute for the collective growth of the society. It is our duty to seek justice for our brethren and the failure to do so would be akin to inviting the departed souls to literally haunt us,’ he further added.

Bangalore Sahnit Ni

Adhering to the social distancing norms laid down by the concerned authorities, the Kuki Students’ Organisation Bangalore observed the 27th Sahnit programme at KWS Bangalore Hall with 100 odd participants. Pu Rev. Silas J Haokip, Pastor Kuki Worship Service (KWS) Banglore was the main speaker of the event. He explained, why is Black Day or Sahnit Ni observed. Building his speech based on Joshua Chapters 3 and 4, he gave four reasons; 1. To shake our memory 2. To share our faith in Just God 3. To shape our future, and 4. To shatter our past. Following that, a one minute silence and candle lighting ceremony was held in memory of the more than thousand departed souls.

Similar events were organized by the Kuki Students Organisation at Kolkata, Ernakulam, Agartala, etc. and also in the United States, at Washington D.C where a silent procession was held by a few Kuki diasporas in the States with placards that read, ‘Justice to the victims of NSCN IM massacre’ and ‘Resolve the issue of 1000 plus Kukis killed by NSCN IM’ etc.

Justice and the way forward

The Kuki people have been observing Sahnit with a belief and hope that the GOI will hear and heed their silent cries. The Kuki Inpi in its latest memorandum to the Prime Minister of India, dated 12th of September 2020 said, ‘we express our hope that the Government of India will no longer remain indifferent to the constant pleas for justice of the Kuki Genocide and also for honourable political settlement for the Kukis under the purview of Indian Constitution.’

As the Government of India endeavours to resolve militant issues in the North East India in its bid to usher in peace and development, the long pending issues of the Kukis deserve the Government’s attention not just for the sake of peace, not just to resolve the Kuki militants and their political demands, not just as an acknowledgement of the Kukis’ rightful claim for self-administration but mainly to deliver justice to the Kuki people for their irreparable loss of thousand innocent lives, the uprooting of hundreds of villages and the displacement of tens of thousands Kuki families.

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