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Row Over Cross And Flag Atop Manipur’s Sacred Thangjing Hill In Moirang, Police Case Filed

Row Over Cross And Flag Atop Manipur's 'Sacred' Hill, Police Case Filed

Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum denied encroachment on Thangting (Thangjing); objects not on sacred site

Imphal/New Delhi:

The appearance of a cross and a community flag atop a hill near Manipur’s Moirang town has raised a massive controversy, as the hill has a sacred site of the residents of this lakeside district, 60 km from the state capital Imphal.

Moirang’s Meitei community had been going for pilgrimage to Thangjing hill, the home of the deity Ibudhou Thangjing. They believe the Thangjing hill site to be at least 2,000 years old. The tribes call this hill range Thangting. The renaming to Thangting in December 2015 by the then Congress government in the state had led to tensions among communities.

The alleged encroachments were seen on camera for the first time on September 11, a Moirang resident told NDTV. The community flag also worn as a shoulder patch by an insurgent group has been removed now, though the cross remains, the resident said, requesting anonymity.

Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum (ITLF) spokesperson Ginza Vualzong denied any encroachment on the sacred site of the Meitei community.

“The cross is a sign of Christianity; it is seen in many parts of our land, be it in churches or homes. As it is a symbol of our religion, to erect a cross at the Thangting range is normal and an expression of our faith. Since it does not encroach on anyone’s land, I do not see an issue here,” Mr Vualong told NDTV, denying encroachments on the sacred site of the Moirang residents.

Thangting (or Thangjing) hill and Moirang town (in red circle), near Loktak Lake in Manipur

Thangting (or Thangjing) hill and Moirang town (in red circle), near Loktak Lake in Manipur. Click here for high resolution pic

Several civil society groups including the Association of Meiteis in the Americas (AMA) have, however, requested the government to clear the alleged encroachment from Thangjing hill.

“To make a comparison on why this is an extremely serious matter, we would like to point out that the desecration of Thangjing hill would be the same as the desecration of Bharat’s holy sites in the mountains like Kedarnath, Badrinath, or the Amarnath shrine,” AMA said in the statement.

This hill range lies between Moirang and Churachandpur districts, 40 km apart. Churachandpur is where ethnic violence between the hill-majority Kuki tribes and the valley-majority Meiteis began on May 3.

The people in Moirang under Bishnupur district – home to the northeast’s largest freshwater lake Loktak – consider the deity Ibudhou Thangjing the area’s guardian. Photos taken with powerful zoom lenses and drone footage show the objects on the hill, giving it the appearance of a place that has been desecrated, Moirang MLA Thongam Shanti told NDTV.

Mr Shanti alleged the cross and the flag came up on the same spot where the shrine of Ibudhou Thangjing stands, though Mr Vualzong denied any such thing.

“This is what terrorists do, encroaching upon other people’s sacred land. We grew up living in harmony with other communities and yes, we have been living peacefully with the tribes too. Only in recent times a lot of infiltration has taken place from Myanmar. These people don’t know the land, don’t respect the land. They want to break up Manipur. The tribes we have been living with wouldn’t desecrate our holiest shrine,” the MLA told NDTV.

Mr Vualzong said the allegations by Moirang residents that a flag of an insurgent group has been installed atop Thangjing hill is a blatant lie.

“As for the flag, it is not the ZRA flag, but a Zomi or a community flag,” he said.

Thangting (Thangjing) hill, Churachandpur (bottom red circle) and Moirang (upper red circle)

Thangting (Thangjing) hill, Churachandpur (bottom red circle) and Moirang (upper red circle). Click here for high resolution pic

The Manipur cabinet in October last year took a decision to include four hectares of Ibudhou Thangjing, two hectares of Koubru Laipham and four hectares of Lai Pukhri under Section 4 of the Manipur Ancient and Historical Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1976, which protects these places from encroachments.

A Moirang committee on protecting the Koubru and Thangjing ranges has filed a first information report over the alleged encroachment. The committee alleged the Kuki Students’ Organisation in May last year told Moirang residents to take their permission if they wanted to offer prayers at the hilltop shrine. This has led to tension between the two communities.

Ibudhou Thangjing’s shrine on the hill was not visible from Moirang valley in the past, but is visible now with binoculars since a large part of the hillside has been deforested, a Moirang resident who grew up in the lakeside town and who has done studies on deforestation told NDTV, requesting anonymity.

He said communities had been living peacefully until the Thangjing hill subdivision was renamed to Thangting, a name recognised by the hill tribes. “I think that created the ground for confrontation over Thangjing hill. Even then, through negotiation, the Ibudhou Thangjing committee went to the hill shrine last year,” the Moirang resident said, adding deforestation is clearly evident.

People have to cross a few initial lower-height ranges, then a middle spot before finally reaching the hilltop shrine. After the government built a road from Kwakta side to the hilltop, insurgents began misusing the road to travel up and down fast, the Moirang resident alleged. Earlier, only a dirt path existed till the hilltop. Kwakta saw major ethnic clashes in the past months; it lies between Moirang and Thangjing hill.

“Thangjing hill is believed to be the abode of the Ibudhou Thangjing, one of the most revered deities of the Meiteis and Moirang clan in particular for over 2,000 years. The legend of Khamba and Thoibi and the ancient Moirang principality are inseparably linked to this ancient site,” Lieutenant General Konsam Himalay Singh, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM YSM (retired) – the first officer from the northeast to become a Lieutenant General in the Indian Army – told NDTV.

“Being in Hill areas of Manipur, this sacred site was included in the newly created hill district of Churachandpur in 1969. This sacred site became a friction point in the last few years, when contested rights and claims hardened over the site between a few hill villages and the believers of the deity. I am sanguine that the parties involved will respect the faith of over a million people,” Lt General Singh said.

Maheshwar Thounaojam, a Manipur resident and the General Secretary of the Republican Party of India (Athawale), said Thangjing hill is a cultural heritage site for the Meiteis.

“Ibudhou Thangjing is a primordial deity of the Meiteis, for which we celebrate the first Sunday of the Meitei New Year or Cheiraoba. I and every Meitei strongly condemn the hoisting of the ZRA flag at our cultural heritage site,” Mr Thounaojam told NDTV, referring to the insurgent group Zomi Revolutionary Army’s flag, which the ITLF spokesperson Mr Vualzong has already denied is not the insurgent group’s flag but of a community, indicating the linking of the flag with the insurgent group is misleading.

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