The Hills and the Valley

Entrepreneurs harness trade and vibrant highways for peace!


Manipur and Nagaland’s land-linked geography, politics and history ensure they are interdependent and interconnected with each other. Highways are the arteries through which goods and services are transported. They also provide the means through which cross-cultural interactions are nurtured and relationships are cultivated.


However, remnants of the colonial project in this region are still visible through state boundaries and governmental structures. We are often unaware of its longstanding impact on our cultures. The imposition of boundaries without people’s informed consent has had far-reaching consequences. The roadways built during the colonial project supported militarization, as means of invading, exploiting, and controlling local people. Nonetheless, it provided opportunities for the people to connect and facilitated moving people, goods and ideas.


Keeping this in mind, we can explore the areas of commerce and trade for new patterns of relationships based on mutual respect. This can also stimulate the economy and benefit everyone.


Today, the People-State contest has been effectively reduced to People-People. The Naga and Meitei relationship is such a case. Now the Indian State not only re-defines the problem to suit its own purposes, but assumes the role of a peace mediator. Maintaining the contested colonial boundaries seems to have become the functional political goal of the Indian State.


Unfortunately, this means the root causes of the problem have misplaced positions that have become entrenched, severing relationships between neighbors. Traditional relationships of mutual interdependence and overlapping boundaries that existed long before this intrusion into our space and land are now in limbo.


It is within the backdrop of this complex and unfolding situation that vibrant highways need to be explored. Any initiative needs to meaningfully assure that the basic question of justice is at the center of the process.


The hill peoples’ sense of deliberate denial and systematic marginalization needs redressal. Furthermore, the perception that political power and economic resources are concentrated in the valley should be examined and rectified. Similarly, the constant economic blockades have destabilized the people’s well-being in the Imphal Valley. They are the cause of deep anguish and humanitarian concerns which need to be addressed.


Empirical evidence shows that in times of crisis the highways have constantly been used as a political bargaining tool. This approach weakens and undermines people’s legitimate rights. It also deepens the divide as it tears at the broken relationship between the hills and the valley.


The contentions around the highway are but a reflection of the broader and deeper issues that remain inconclusive. The stakeholders have polarized perceptions on the same issue and are unable to understand the problem from the position of the other. Ingrained in their own narrative, all the stakeholders are in danger of being consumed by their single story.


So, from a peacebuilding perspective, the Highways bring into focus the broader cross-cultural interaction of exploring new relationships. The vibrancy of the highways is directly related to the question of peace. Since, peace is a process, not an end in itself — it needs constant nurturing. This happens when we talk with each other, have relationships and build trust. Entrepreneurs are in the unique position to build economic links across this cultural and political divide.


Such partnerships become the glue for cultivating cross-cultural relationships and overcoming exclusive divisive perceptions of each other. The stakeholders need to engage with each other and map the root-causes of the issues that are dividing them. More importantly, they need to take ownership of defining the problems from their own perspectives and partner to explore solutions together.


E. F. Schumacher observed that, “Development does not start with goods; it starts with people and their education, organization, and discipline.” Furthermore, economic growth needs to reflect “social cohesion, cooperation, mutual respect, and above all, self-respect, courage in the face of adversity, and the ability to bear hardship.”


Ultimately, cross-cultural trade is inherently about cross-cultural relationships between people. It is also about understanding differences which requires mutual respect, reciprocal trust, critical cooperation and establishing partnerships. The relationship between cross-cultural trade and peace presents a means for harmonious co-existence among neighbors. In essence, cross-cultural trade is an opportunity to make a difference and to build peace through entrepreneurial collaborations.