This land is my land

Aheli Moitra

A tussle broke out between a Naga and a non Naga autorichsha driver the other day at Nagaland State’s sole airport in Dimapur. They were attempting to compete over who will secure a passenger. Both quoted offensively high prices; the passenger had no option but to choose one. As both put forward their not-so-competitive arguments, the matter was settled thus—one slapped and punched the other and said, “Are you in my land or am I in your land!

Migrant workers everywhere in India are familiar with this treatment—Naga migrants have confessed to discrimination while working in India’s cities and Bihari or Bengali Muslim migrants face discrimination almost everywhere they go to earn a living. At the Dimapur airport, such an argument broke out at all because the State’s administration and the autoricksha unions have not been able to standardize a fair rate for customers by putting up meters in these public transport vehicles. A meter-system is a simple way to democratize the disbursement and use of public transport, creating a queue system wherein customers are not cheated and drivers get their due share.

But this problem is not plaguing just the public transport system in Nagaland’s commercial capital. Democratic mechanisms seem to be missing from every sphere of public life in the State, thereby producing new cycles of conflict to add to the ones that already exist.

Take the Inner Line Permit (ILP) regime, for instance. While its necessity should not be debated as long as the Nagas feel a need for it, its implementation has been found questionable for years now. The online portal for ILP application in Nagaland has finally taken off but one has to physically go to the government office concerned to pay the fees. At the office, one is at the mercy of the sanctioning officers’ load for the day. Government checks of the ILP are adhoc so non government institutions often take up the responsibility—this is not just unconstitutional but makes the process unaccountable to ethics that a State mechanism must adhere to.

The recent Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed in the Supreme Court arguing against the implementation of the ILP regime to Dimapur is set to create misunderstanding among the people who inhabit Nagaland State but should have been seen coming if anyone was looking for the signs. Non Naga/Non Local indigenous inhabitants of the State have spoken about the exclusion of their voice when deciding on matters like these for a while now. It is such matters that need public debates and discussions instead of attacking or defending positions and sweeping them under the rug—the absence of this space would eventually lead minorities to seek other means of justice if they find it lacking. And while the means for this justice delivery may not arise in time, it will create space for distant actors to take advantage of the situation as in the case of this PIL.

The final answer to whether ‘this land is your land’ or ‘this land is my land’ or ‘how best to share it’ will be decided through negotiations between the Government of India and the governments of the Naga people; in the ensuing period though, the arguments are flowing into autorickshas and courts which should be signal enough that people are reaching a breaking point in their life of political and democratic uncertainty. Leaders ought to take note.

Comments are welcome on