Respected Pu L. B. Sona, Chairman Zomi Council, K. G. Tungnung, Secretary ZC, Dr Pu R. Sanga, Convenor of the OC of this 3rd WZC and Pu Suanmoi Guite, Co-convenor of the OC, Pu Khaizasong Guite, Advisor ZC, All Presidents of the 9 tribes of the ZC, invitee dignitaries, leaders of communities and participants of the 3rd World Zomi Convention .
I and my colleagues from the UNC bring greetings to this convention from the Naga Peoples in Manipur and also from the Naga Hoho, the apex pan Naga organisation of the Nagas.
We thank the Zomi Council and the Organising Committee for the invitation to this historic convergence of the Zomis. The UNC is here in attendance this afternoon in respect and honour of the invitation and of this great event.
The Organising Committee in its letter of invitation had mentioned that since the 1st world Zomi Convention held at Champhai in 1988, significant geopolitical changes have taken place in the north east region of India and in neighbouring Myanmar. In the light of such changes it is indeed relevant to focus on the theme “ Moving Forward” of the Convention. The cultural exchange programme which stages different communities of the region reflects the reality of the changing world where isolation is a thing of the past and of history.
In this coming together of Zomis’ and other communities at the World Zomi Convention, we would like to strike a different note from what must have been shared and was shared by earlier speakers in the convention with due respect to their office and standings. The Zomi and the Nagas have a similar historical situation in that both our people were divided without our free, prior and informed consent when the demarcation of the subcontinent into India and Burma took place, which left us in different states within India and also in different countries. My message will be with reference to the past and the present situation of the tribals of Manipur.
We the tribals in Manipur are placed in an impossible situation where in a house of 60 MLAs, 40 comes from the non-tribal and dominant community. The equation is such that the 20 tribal MLAs, who are again divided on tribal and party lines, cannot assert for the rights of the tribal people when it is perceived to be detrimental to the interest of the dominant community in the state. While the spirit may be willing and good intention will definitely not be lacking, the equation and configuration in the system simply does not allow tribals to muster strength in unity. It is rights of the tribals versus the interest of the dominant community, in a system which weighs heavily in favour of the latter. All throughout the so called shared history, the identity and dignity of the tribals has not been respected. Be it on our ownership of land and resources, our traditional institutions and culture, our political aspiration for empowerment, representation, employment opportunities within the system, development etc, whatever makes for good life – there has been relentless marginalisation and the same will continue should no changes be secured.
As we are all aware, today there is a demand emanating from the Imphal valley for recognising the dominant community as tribals and declaring Manipur as a hill state. The distinct identity of the tribals which finds its essence in their unique cultures and tradition is being proposed to be nullified in a new construct of “Manipur” and “Manipuri”. The ramifications are obvious : protection of our land, our employment opportunities and our representation will cease to be operative by law. It was this common concern that led to the institution of the Manipur Tribal Peoples’ Co-ordination Committee in August this year by the apex tribal organisations in the state. This demand for ST status of the Meeteis may come or may not come into place, but the tribals must not fail to discern the interest which has spawned this demand, for it is with the same disrespect with which our rights are being obliterated through laws, enactments & notifications. Therefore the “Moving Forward” of the Zomi people and the tribals in the state of Manipur will continue to be scuttled should changes through an alternative arrangement be not secured.
Taking this opportunity we also appeal to the dominant and majority community to look afresh on the situation, where the sharp social divide is very, very real. We can work together to be strong people and communities. The state is not the property of any individual or any particular community. An alternative arrangement that brings changes to accommodate the identity, dignity, rights and political aspirations of all will be a boon for all the stakeholders. Without respect for the human person and our people, development cannot take place. Without respect development will and can only pretend to happen. The magnanimity of recognising this imperative will push up all of us collectively to the brotherhood of mankind, where there is mutual respect and honour, free from oppression, subjugation and dominance upon each other.
On behalf of the Naga people, we also appeal to the tribal communities in the state and region for respect of each other’s genuine aspiration so that we can move forward to a shared future with the rest of humanity. We cannot wish away history. But history should not be interpreted selectively and to one’s own convenience. If we are to conditionalize our relationship with perceived aberrations of the past, the way forward together would indeed be perilous. It would be unfortunate if position are taken by factorising equations, as in electoral politics, where one lands up with strange bedfellows and throw spanners upon each other’s movement, to please other factors in the equation, be they state or non state, and win the argument of the day but loose what is truly cherished.
When it becomes more difficult to suffer then to change, the human spirit urges for change and to struggle for change. We have to make changes possible and that is the only option before us – the change that empowers our people. This is hard Politics and must be carried forward in spite of the overwhelming odd that we have spoken of. Towards this struggle for change, the UNC will support the rights of every tribal community. We would also maintain that the tribals must today prove themselves and be recognised for the aspirations and the rights that they uphold.
We therefore extend our solidarity to the Zomi Council and assure of our continued cooperation and support for the aspiration of the Zomis.
Thank you once again for this opportunity and this privilege in the 3rd World Zomi Convention.
Long Live Zomi Council ! Long Live Zomis !
( L. ADANI )
United Naga Council