Understanding, empathy, action

Aheli Moitra

Living in the most privileged of Naga areas – in Nagaland State that is—most people can easily get news and information published in a newspaper. With five English dailies and at least four vernacular ones, on any given day, people have access to information from Nagaland State about education tours, farmers training activities, values children learn, the current pest management techniques, who is not being paid their salaries, which band will perform next, how much formalin is in the fish, exams that students are taking, how many employees the government has, which prayer meet is underway, what crime was committed on which day, who received what award, which college is hosting a farewell, which one is hosting a thanksgiving, which road was built or not, by whom so on and so forth. People see photographs of what the daily lived reality looks like; they can respond to these items whenever they want.

If people living in the marginal Naga areas in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur or Myanmar read Nagaland State-based newspapers, it is enough to give them an in-depth idea of how Nagas in Nagaland State live their lives. From the personal, spiritual, political to the social, entrepreneurial and entertainment aspects of life in Nagaland State can be understood in a fairly holistic manner through its newspapers.

What if we reverse the gaze? What do we know about the life of Nagas living everywhere else as marginalized communities? While ad-hoc activities of students’ and other organized bodies in cities such as Delhi or Bangalore can be accessed every now and then, there is little to no information available on the daily lives of Naga people living in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur or Myanmar. Newspapers in these states cover precious little from these regions of Naga habitation.

Of these, we often hear about life in the Naga hills of Manipur State in terms of protest statements, the aggression that led to the protest, election of new office bearers to various apex or civil society organizations or when a big government leader visits and inaugurates a major State project. News published in Nagaland State’s press about the lives of Naga people in Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Myanmar pertain, most of all, to armed conflict.

Over the course of the last days of February and first week of March, thus, a refreshing change came in the form of a report released by the Resource Rights for the Indigenous Peoples (RRtIP). Titled ‘Land and Forest Governance in the Naga Village Republic,’ the report was released in Yangon on February 27.

Instead of hearing the age old narrative of which army destroyed whose camp, readers were able to get a glimpse into the customary land tenure system that Naga people in Myanmar practice, the pressure of State policies on the land and livelihood of people, indigenous forest management, the articulation of rights in the local context, how civil society is organized, how people propose to adapt to the new market, the international principles they are committed to, women’s role and status in society, their political destinies or how the communities look to achieve these.

With limited resources available to newspapers in Nagaland State, reporters are unable to travel to the widespread Naga areas in the North East of India or North West of Myanmar to tell people’s stories. But to curb the lack of understanding among the Naga people spread across the hills, information pertaining to daily lives can provide the key to better understanding, empathy and action. The efforts of groups like the RRtIP are invaluable in providing this perspective, laying ground for future collaboration.

Ideas are welcome on moitramail@yahoo.com