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Kuki rally in Churachandpur. Dipping national flag violates the Flag Code, people posted on social media

Imphal:

The Kuki-Zo-Chin tribes’ civil society groups did not join the Manipur government’s call for celebration of the 77th Independence Day on Tuesday, and organised their own celebration in Kuki-majority Churachandpur, 65 km from the state capital Imphal.

“By these celebrations, we have shown that we are separate from the Manipur government and that we can rule and govern ourselves. We want to show the rest of India we would like to be a separate entity under the Indian Union,” Chinkhenpau from the Zomi Council Steering Committee said.

Visuals of the event show young people marching in military battledress holding ‘assault rifles’. They wore the shoulder or chest patch of the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), a Kuki insurgent group with whom the Manipur government ended the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement in March this year, two months before violence broke out between the hill-majority Kukis and the valley-majority Meiteis over the Meiteis’ demand for Scheduled Tribes (ST) status.

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Kuki civil society groups, however, claimed the men in battledress who participated in the march were “village defence volunteers” and the guns were not real.

The optics of the Churachandpur event that indicated the participation of ‘armed’ men, however, has sparked a massive controversy in Manipur amid a tensed environment after the ethnic clashes that lasted three months. Sporadic fights continue to be reported every day.

The marches in Churachandpur has been criticised on social media over alleged disrespect shown to the national flag. In one of the videos of the event, the national flag is seen installed at an angle, with the stick jutting out quite a bit, giving it the appearance of a flag flown in half-mast.

In another video, a guerilla uniformed man in a group of marchers, instead of holding the national flag upright as mandated by the Flag Code of India, 2002, is seen dipping it to the side when he approaches some people standing on a podium, which is a violation of the law that says, “The flag shall not be dipped in salute to any person or thing”.

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“What has the unified command done about this open display of deadly weapons – toy gun as Kuki claims? If others too form such militia, will they be also allowed to display their illegal might in national parades? Will we allow ‘Ranbir Sena’ or ‘Bhim Army’ etc to do similar act?” Lieutenant General L Nishikanta Singh (retired) posted on X, formerly Twitter.

“… Only security forces display weapons on parade. Kukis sending a message – can get away with anything,” said Lt General Singh, who also headed the Intelligence Corps of the Indian Army before retiring in 2018, after 40 years of service.

The Kuki civil society groups have claimed they are not secessionist, though they have been demanding a separate administration. They did not want to be a part of the Independence Day celebrations under the aegis of the Manipur government, sources said. The Kukis have some 25 insurgent groups that have signed the suspension of operations (SoO) agreement with the centre, military and the state government. The SoO insurgents live in designated camps and claim they have kept their weapons under lock, being monitored by the authorities regularly.

The Kukis also screened the Vicky Kaushal-starrer ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ in Churachandpur, billed as the first public screening of a Hindi movie in Manipur since 2000, when a valley-based insurgent group banned Bollywood films in the state.

However, many pointed out Hindi movies have been screened in Manipur in relative safety, the most recent being Shah Rukh Khan-starrer ‘Pathaan’ at a theatre in March this year in Ukhrul district.

The Hmar Students Association said it screened the film to express its opposition to the ban on Hindi movies imposed by the Revolutionary People’s Front, the political wing of the valley-based insurgent group People’s Liberation Army.

“It has been over two decades since a movie was screened in our town. The Meiteis have banned Hindi movies for a long time. Today’s move is to defy the anti-national policies of the Meitei groups and to show our love for India,” Ginza Vualzong, spokesperson of the Kuki civil society group Indigenous Tribal Leaders’ Forum (ITLF), said in a statement.

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Vicky Kaushal-starrer ‘Uri: The Surgical Strike’ was screened in Manipur’s Churachandpur

Champion boxer from Manipur Mary Kom’s own biopic was also not released in her home state.

Meiteis on social media, however, condemned the coining of their entire community with valley-based legacy insurgent groups whose support base no longer exists. They pointed out that though no public screening of Bollywood movies has been held due to fear of the insurgents’ diktat, they said Hindi movies and music made a comeback in a big way in cable TV and other media from the mid-2000s and people have been openly consuming Bollywood content, except through public screening.

Over 180 have died in the Manipur ethnic clashes that started on May 3. Thousands more have been internally displaced.

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