Beyond Borders, bearing the Naga ‘crown of thorns’

Beyond Borders, bearing the Naga ‘crown of thorns’
In 2015, the Pisgah Eco-Park was established in Hungpung village, Ukhrul. Two statues carved from monoliths—the Naga Warrior and the Naga Thinker—by sculptors Soreishang and Themreishang are central installations. “We have done too many things without thinking,” Dr. Nelson Vashum had told The Morung Express when the Park came into being. As ensconced by the Naga Thinker statue, it is time to spare a thought for the Nagas living Beyond comfortable Borders. (Morung Photo)

 

Morung Express News

Tahamzam (Senapati) | November 28

 

The Naga people had once set out on a journey to find a common nation based on the right to self-determination. As the struggle continues over the Indo-Naga negotiating table, many Naga people find themselves as partitioned minorities in various states of India and Myanmar. In the relative discomfort of being a political Naga, the worst burden has fallen on Naga people living on their lands beyond the borders of Nagaland State.

 

At the recently organized Conclave on The Naga Journey (November 19-21) by the All Naga Students’ Association, Manipur (ANSAM), at Katomei Village in Tahamzam (Senapati), the voices of youth from Naga communities spread across the Naga-lands rang loud and clear, as bearers of the Naga “crown of thorns.”

 

As a collective of Naga students and youth in Manipur, the ANSAM brought these voices together with the message of “solidarity and cooperation, to build peace and to foster development with dignity in the region.”

 

The Morung Express presents some of the voices here.

 

All names have been withheld to protect the identity, and ensure the safety, of the people who have chosen to speak up.

 

Arunachal Pradesh

The Arunachal Naga Students’ Federation (ANSF) faces a strange conundrum. Even the Naga people living in parts of Arunachal Pradesh—Changlang, Longding and Tirap districts—hesitate to be identified as Naga.

 

“People are reluctant to take the Naga name. There are many internal and external forces operating to suppress our Naga identity,” stated leaders of the ANSF.

 

In a surprisingly hurried process earlier this year, the Government of Arunachal Pradesh moved the Indian Ministry of Tribal Affairs to remove the reference to ‘Naga tribes’ in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the State, replacing it with the individual names of the ‘tribes’ that were previously identified as Naga—Nocte, Tangsa, Tutsa, Wancho. The Economic Times observed this move as intended to “undermine” the integration of all Naga-inhabited areas.

 

Leaders of the ANSF, the only civil body among Nagas in Arunachal that continues to use the word ‘Naga’ in its title, are routinely persecuted by state authorities. They, and former leaders of the ANSF, are “picked up, interrogated and tortured by Indian security forces simply for associating with the word Naga,” they alleged. This, while the Nagas of Nagaland State have moved on from the days of persecution with the signing of various Indo-Naga ceasefires since 1997.

 

“We are carrying the Naga crown of thorns,” lamented a leader of the ANSF, stating, “Arunachal Nagas are being forgotten; the younger generation of Naga people elsewhere does not even remember us.” The leaders were thankful to the Naga Students’ Union, Delhi, and the ANSAM for inviting them to speak about the trauma faced by the Naga people in Arunachal.

 

They appealed, “Please tell our story to others. We are trying our best to affirm the Naga identity of our people. Hopefully, someday, God will help us all live as one.”

 

Assam

In some parts of the Indian State of Assam, the condition of Nagas is not very different from the Nagas of Myanmar. Malaria outbreaks are an annual fare, people have to cross bridge-less rivers to access a doctor and electricity is yet to reach some villages.

 

Parts of Assam’s hills, in Dima Hasao and Karbi Anglong, are home to the Zeme and Rengma Nagas respectively. “We have become a microscopic minority in our own land. General backwardness, non-availability of medical facilities, lack of proper immunization programs, life saving drugs and lack of schools has led to depopulation of the Rengma people over the years,” stated a leader of the Rengma Naga Students’ Union.

 

“With the negligence of our people by the government concerned, our identity is slowly fading away and fear psychosis has gripped our people since the violence perpetrated on us in 2013.”

 

What more, “since the formation of the Autonomous District Council, attempts are being made to wipe out the existence of Rengma Nagas from Karbi Anglong historically and physically by distorting historical facts and evidence, and depriving the people of even basic amenities.”

 

Under Assam’s autonomous district councils, nominated seats are reserved for minorities that are unable to put up a candidate for elections. This representation has continually been denied to the Rengma Nagas.
“We should have a forum to push for the rights of Naga people who are minorities in other states,” suggested a leader.

 

Manipur

The Nagas of Manipur remain the only block with an audible voice despite their minority status. But the battles are endless. In its latest attempt to undercut the rights of peoples residing in the hills, the Government of Manipur earlier this year passed the Manipur People’s Bill, 2018.

 

“This Bill is even more dangerous than the previous ILP Bill that created a furor in the hills,” said an advocate of the Manipur High Court about the Bill that awaits the President of India’s consent.

 

Not only does the recent Bill propose 1951 as the cut-off date for citizenship to Manipur State (even though Manipur State came into being only in 1972), it uses various legal sections to “render the indigenous peoples foreigners in our own land,” warned the advocate. Some of the problematic sections include 3, 8, 10 and 11.

 

The Manipur People’s Bill, according to another senior advocate, “will ultimately vest all decision making powers of the hills with the Government of Manipur making the Autonomous District Councils and Village Authority obsolete.” The Bill purportedly exploits loopholes in the Manipur (Village Authorities in Hill Areas) Act, 1956, and the Manipur (Hill Areas) District Councils Act, 1971, to “reverse the protection given to Manipur tribals through Article 371 (C) of the Indian Constitution.”

 

“The Bill, if enacted, will breach the standing customary laws of the Nagas that governs the whole land (tenure) system in the Hill Areas of Manipur,” maintained one advocate, asserting that “We have no university, industry nor factory in our lands. We only have the land and forests given to us by our foreparents. We must protect them by all means.”

 

Myanmar

For the Nagas partitioned to Myanmar, the list of injustices is long. In their daily form, they are educational, cultural, social.

 

“Only 30 percent of our people are educated. Most have to go to cities to study; only some can afford that,” informed leaders of the Eastern Naga Students’ Association (ENSA) from Myanmar, also referring to those left behind, falling prey to drug addiction.

 

Not only are there few schools in the Naga areas of Myanmar, those present impart education in Burmese, mostly about Burmese culture and way of life. “There is no training in culture and values of the indigenous people, the Naga way of life.”

 

“Economic discrimination” ensures that Naga people are not equipped to make their own policies even in the Naga Self Administered Zones of Myanmar. “The massive development of the Burmese ensures that their people have all the skills and hold all the jobs.”

 

In other ways too, the Nagas have been pushed to the peripheries. Every year, on January 15, the Nagas in Myanmar observe a collective celebration of the ‘Naga New Year.’ “But this celebration is not allowed in the ancestral Naga towns of Khamti and Homalin as the government claims that they are not included in Naga territory. So we observe it in hill towns like Leyshi,” noted an ENSA leader, adding that without the towns of Khamti and Homalin, it is difficult to improve the economic situation of the Nagas.

 

While 85 percent of the Nagas in Myanmar profess Christianity, there is a constant pressure to accommodate Buddhist Pagodas inside villages, even making it a condition for extension of development.

 

“It is not enough to just listen to our stories. You must visit the Nagas of Myanmar to understand reality,” the leader appealed to Nagas everywhere.