Kuki-Zo Tribe Faces Healthcare Crisis and Substandard Living Conditions
In India’s northeastern state of Manipur, a prolonged conflict between the Kuki-Zo tribal community and the majority Hindu Meitei community has left tens of thousands of Christians displaced, with over 80 individuals, including women and children, losing their lives due to inadequate healthcare and substandard living conditions.
The conflict, rooted in disputes over land rights and identity, ignited on May 3, 2023, following a state high court order suggesting economic benefits and land purchase rights for the Meiteis in Kuki-Zo territories. The violence has resulted in at least 158 deaths and displaced nearly 41,000 Kuki-Zo individuals, according to the Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum.
Over 21,000 displaced individuals find themselves in more than 110 relief camps in Churachandpur district, where the Kuki-Zo people reside. Tragically, at least 80 individuals, including vulnerable women and children, have succumbed to illnesses due to the absence of specialist doctors and essential medicines.
Mary Beth, associated with the Rural Women Upliftment Society in Churachandpur, highlighted the dire situation, stating that most victims had pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, cancer, renal issues, and diabetes. The government’s aid, limited to one blanket and mattress per family, proved grossly insufficient for families averaging four members each. Despite the state capital, Imphal, being less than 40 miles away, no essential supplies have reached Churachandpur since May 3, 2023, forcing locals to depend on assistance from Aizawl, Mizoram’s capital, situated 220 miles away.
The violence persists despite military presence, with Meitei civilians reportedly blocking key routes to impede security personnel. Accusations have also been made against the local police, predominantly Meitei, for attacking the Kuki-Zo community. In response, some Kuki-Zo residents, known as village volunteers, have taken up arms for self-defense.
The conflict has led to the destruction of over 7,000 Kuki-Zo homes and more than 350 churches, with reports of heinous crimes, including gang rapes against Kuki-Zo women. On December 20, a mass burial was held for 87 victims of violence in Churachandpur.
Criticism has been directed at the state government for its inadequate response. The European Parliament, in July 2023, passed a resolution urging the Indian government to urgently restore peace in Manipur. The resolution expressed concerns about politically motivated policies promoting Hindu majoritarianism and an increase in militant group activities. Distrust in authorities has grown due to alleged partisan involvement by security forces in the killings.
As the Kuki-Zo tribal community continues to endure displacement, violence, and a healthcare crisis, international attention remains focused on the urgent need for peace and humanitarian aid in the region.
The plight of these Christians calls for concerted efforts to address the root causes of the conflict and provide essential support to the affected population.