By Tennoson Pheiray
We would have observed the 22nd Anniversary of my friends’ murder at Hengpung Kuki if there is such observance.
My friend Paul, Lovejoy and Xavier all from Hungpung Village were forcibly pulled down from the bus by the villagers of Hengpung Kuki. The villagers then handed my friends to Kuki Undergrounds and their dead bodies were found in the jungle after few days. This horrific incident happened on 12 February 1997.
We were travelling together in a bus belonging to Manipur Golden Travels- an inter-state bus service from Imphal to Shillong. We were all studying in Shillong.
I had gone home to attend a student’s union conference in Ukhrul and was rushing back to Shillong as my exam was nearing.
It was a miracle that I and so many of my friends SURVIVED. 18 of us were travelling together on the same bus. The people from Hengpung attempted thrice to pull me down from the bus. I lied to them that I was not a NAGA and I was visiting my father who was posted at Shillong. Yes. I lied to them I am not a Naga because it was either death or probably get murdered. Many of us denied being Nagas that moment because we wanted to make it out alive.
The bus we were travelling were blocked by two trucks in the middle of the highway. Women with daos (big knives) and men with utup (clubs) came inside the bus and started pulling whoever they thought were NAGAS. In the end they pulled down five of my friends. I believe it has to be DIVINE POWER that two of my friends were released after they were thrashed black and blue. Their clothes were torn and the money they were carrying with them were taken by the mob. Three of my friends never came back alive. Three days later their corpses were found in the jungle. Home they brought their mutilated and burnt bodies. A condolence service was held at TBC Imphal and TNL Ground Ukhrul. I heard my friend Paul was engaged and was supposed to get married soon. That never happened.
Do I feel lucky that I survived ? Definitely. But sometimes, it is difficult to get rid of the survival guilt. It creeps in when least expected.
Was I traumatized? I still am. And it becomes worse when I see this kind of observance such as “Kuki Black Day”. Will it be too much to admit that both sides suffered and lost many precious lives? Will all the Kukis be able to take a steadfast stand that they were the only ones who suffered?
We all made mistakes. Manipur has a history of mistakes. Giving away of Kabaw valley is a mistake. Allowing those who came seeking refuge to settle is also a mistake because now they are claiming that the land where they settled belongs to them. The Naga -Kuki conflict should not have happened. But all these are in the past. I wish we can move forward without letting our hatred, anger and bitterness crush the will to forgive each other because I believe that most of us still long for FORGIVENESS.
For me, the erection of such monoliths is only sowing the seeds of hatred, anger and bitterness. How can we hope for PEACE if this is our attitude? I cannot let what I went through be the reason for me to live within a box of jingoism. I cannot let it be the reason to start another conflict.
We were young and had we let our emotions got the better of us, we might have even sought revenge but we did not. We are still on the path to forgiveness. It could take much longer for some and quicker for others. It is a continuing process.
Tennoson Pheiray is an active community volunteer from Ukhrul. He is also a regular contributor for The Naga Republic