Imaginary pillars, real fences

Aheli Moitra 


The Khaimniungan Naga people are hurt, and rightly so. The Government of India and the Government of Myanmar are once again busy mowing down the humanity of the people in the name of a fence.


As the people of the neighbouring (Khaimniungan Naga) villages of Pangsha and Pounyiu villages straddle a fence, the New Pangsha Village Council observed that people who have never had a history of dispute, are part of the same peoples group, yet living in India and Myanmar respectively, now stand to be divided by “imaginary lines from border pillar nos. 139 to 146.”


These pillars continue to be imaginary for the people of these two villages because they were instated from capitals (New Delhi, Naypyidaw) where policy makers assume that the people living on the lines they draw on a map are imaginary.


But the fence and its effects are real, even within the realms of the imaginary. The Village Council noted that despite the “imaginary line 146,” Pangsha and Pounyiu have lived in peace and respected the “fundamental concept of international boundary line till today”—a fence, even when invisible, becomes a symbol of separation. Today, as the fence takes shape, its physical destruction has come along. Construction of a ‘border trench’ has been done by breaking water pipelines that must have been hard earned in regions like these, and forests that the indigenous peoples have nurtured through generations.


This is just the purpose of a fence, or even a wall. It is meant to divide and destroy peoples by creating an insider and outsider of those who once lived together. It brings along the infrastructure of violence. Eventually, peoples’ histories will be replaced by a reality of military units that will house luxurious camps on borderlands to fight an unknown war with an unknown enemy. If nothing is found, one village will be made to fight the other. Arms will be supplied through the fence, or even the wall.


A news item appeared right next to the one about the fencing that hit the real point home. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act will be extended to all of Nagaland State. The story of Pangsha, Pounyiu, the fence, AFSPA and the resultant violence are directly related to each other. The imagination of one leads to the construction of the other.


These arbitrary lines drawn from a distant seat of power have, alas, defined the way we understand justice and rights in the region today. Naga apex tribe based bodies that once stood against these lines, today base their basic arguments on rights around Article 371-A. In itself, this Article of the Indian Constitution holds the history of how lines have raised havoc in Naga history, contemporary politics, and even the Naga psyche. Thus the work of the wire in the fence has been achieved—today as some Naga people struggle in Manipur, other Naga people in Nagaland, products of the same movement, have negligibly stood up for them, instead consumed by dilemmas produced by a non-evolutionary Article 371-A.


Pangsha and Pounyiu are not the only ones on the fence here.


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