Dissertation Abstracts

Kuki Identity, Land-Use, Authority, and Ethnic-Nationalism in Manipur, India

Author: Kipgen, Ngamjahao , nkipgen@gmail.com
Department: Humanities and Social Sciences (Sociology)
University: Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, India
Supervisor: Dr. Vibha Arora
Year of completion: 2013
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Kuki Identity , Land-Use , Ethnic-Nationalism , Authority
Areas of Research: Environment and Society , Racism, Nationalism and Ethnic Relations , Political Sociology


Land and ethnic identity issues have seriously impacted and fuelled ethnic conflict and secessionist movements in Northeast India. Today, Manipur state in Northeast India is not only suffering from innumerable armed ethnic movements but also from a complex ethnic crisis. The main inhabitants comprise the Meitei, the Naga, and the Kuki. The harmonious existence of the state is being threatened as the interests of one group clash with the other. This has given rise to the assertion of group identity, inter-group competition for resources, political instability, insecurity, and underdevelopment. An understanding of the ongoing crisis requires a serious study of the growth (politics) of identity formation and the growth of ethno-nationalism. This thesis explains the growth and process of Kuki identity by drawing largely from historical materials (primary and secondary) and from ethnographic fieldwork.
Traditional land use and control over resources has shaped ethnic identity of the Kukis. Land use and control of land is the basic foundation of the social, cultural, economic, and political life of the Kuki tribes. Within a given village territory, traditional values, belief and cultural practices of the Kukis even today regulate their everyday life. Landscapes have become the critical arena for expression of Kuki identity and their ethnic struggles against the Nagas and others in the region. The political economy of land and rituals associated in jhumming shape the Kuki cultural identity. My thesis analyses the political economy of control over land and socio-religious practices connected with it among the Kukis to analyse their politics of identity. Also, the socio-cultural practices connected to their land use have been recently revived and politicized in order to organise their ethnic-nationalism. I conclude by raising the need for safeguarding their ethnic distinctiveness and addressing their aspirations for territorial autonomy or Kuki homeland within the Indian federalism.