Of Hope & Reconciliation

Imkong Walling

Growing up in the nineties as a school kid was literally a mishmash of experiences. Landline telephony and cable television was taking root, broad-gauge rail was taking the place of metre-gauge, rear engine autorickshaw was replacing its predecessor, homegrown print news was picking momentum, a long road overpass like in the big cities was taking shape; Dimapur and Nagaland in general was embracing all the things possible the time could offer.

Enmeshed in the potpourri was the spectre of the Indo-Naga political uncertainty and the fear it perpetuated.

What the fight was all about was rather beyond the grasp of a juvenile mind but the apprehension in the air was palpable. Apprehension fed by conversations overheard of executions, ambush, gunfights between the “undergrounds,” “combing operations” and “public” falling prey over a subject fairly unfathomable to most children of the time.

Enigmatic and indistinguishable from everyday speech, it instilled fear in the child nevertheless.

And it was not long before the conversations overheard became real. The fear as imagined came closer home in the form of gun battles. The sounds of gunfire, though beyond hitting range, were enough to trigger a 10 year-old into imagining the worst.

Huddling behind a seemingly safe concrete wall as a gun fight ensued one night following an ambush on a military convoy, grenade attack one afternoon as children returned home from school and memories of a fatal assault on a civilian one morning following an IED blast remains.

Fresh bullet marks on the walls of homes in the immediate vicinity of the gun battles presented a grim reminder of the time but life and school went on.

Even more pervasive was the fear of the Army and its search operations but getting accustomed to the situation was all that was.

It was a jittery time, the anxiety prevailing reflected in a tragic killing of a boy of 10-11 years, one fateful evening. He was out to fetch candles from a shop near his home. As the story went, he was mistaken for an adversary in the dim light of dusk by a soldier manning a machine gun post in a nearby military cantonment.

Then something happened, there came talks of a “Ceasefire” and there was hope in the air.

Peace seemed to be in the offing but the “peace” was only with the Government of India. Internecine clashes did not seem to die down.

Fast-forward to 2009, there was another ray of hope, of reconciliation and of further peace. It was an agreement of understanding and empathy – called the Covenant of Reconciliation – between one people only conflicted by differing ideology.

Armed violence and killings have reduced and ten years to the day the Covenant, stitched together by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation, was signed on June 13, 2009, there prevails optimism that not only the individuals party to the Covenant but also the Nagas at large commit to reconciliation.

It is with hope that the consequences of the reconciliatory actions of today reflect in the future when 10-year-olds of today would have fear-free memories to speak of as adults.

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to imkongwalls@gmail.com