Arabs of Nagaland in dire straits

M.L Ngullie, PhD

1.     Introduction:
Changpang village is a home to about 200 households belonging to Lotha Naga tribe. It is situated in Wokha District, Nagaland. The village was established about 270 years ago according to oral tradition. It was originally built on the highest peak of the area called ‘natokuri’for reasons of defense against wild animals and fellow Naga head hunters in those days. Later on, the village was shifted to the present location as the British made an inroad to the Naga country and established a firm administration, making the place safer from head hunters. Being one of the first villages to be established in the region, the village occupied and owned a large area of land both in the plains as well as in the hills. 

2.     Administration Headquarter:
Changpang is the administrative headquarter of the Changpang Circle consisting of 17 villages. Those villages belong to both Lotha and Sema communities. It is manned by Extra Assistant Commissioner as the administrator. 

3.     Border with Assam:
On the western side of the village bordering Assam, the village possessed a wide expanse of plain area. As long as the village was under Assam (Nagaland was only a district in Assam till 1963), Changpang people could dwell and till the plain lands which they inherited from their forefathers and had been cultivating it since time immemorial. However, the moment Nagaland state was carved out from Assam, the villagers could no longer lay their hands on their own terrace fields in the plains. The villagers’ fate was sealed by the self-defeating 1972 Agreement between Assam and Nagaland. The most pathetic situation is that Oil and Natural Gas is still being extracted form this area (our traditional terrace fields) without acknowledging the ownership of land by the exploration agency. They choose to do so under the pretext that those fields lie beyond the 1925 line. What we fail to understand is whether the infamous 1925 Notification was authentic Boundary Settlement Notification or not. Legal experts will tell.

Another disturbing development surfacing presently in the area is the fact that certain community from Assam side is burying their dead bodies in the hill that is well inside Changpang village jurisdiction. It is the designated area given to the government of Nagaland as the proposed EAC headquarter in the 1980s free of cost.  

4.     Resources:
a)     Agricultural products:
The main occupation of the people is agriculture. Unlike other conventional agriculture, however, the one prevalent in the area is jhum cultivation better known as shifting cultivation. This involves shifting of the field every year. 

The village has a very fertile land that is suitable for cultivation of many crops. Being one of the earliest built villages, it has also a big expanse of land under its control. The villagers are very hard working and accordingly they produce various crops every year. However, most of the agricultural productions do not reach the market due to non-existent communication system.

b)     Forest Products:
There are also various items of forest products in the village like Timber,Bamboo, Medicinal and Herbal plants etc.. Quite a few mini Saw-mills and Ply wood factories are located in the vicinity of the village.  

c)     Mineral Products: 
According to ONGC reports, the village has about 20 million metric tones of Hydrocarbon (petroleum ore) reserve which makes the village the richest village in Nagaland. True enough, this is the only village in Nagaland that has given Rs.35 Crores on a single day as revenue. The ONGC explored and partially extracted Petroleum from this village during the period 1971-1998. Unfortunately, it had to wind up its operation in the hills as the company was licensed only for exploration and not for extraction of Oil. 

5.     Facilities:
a)     Electricity:
Electricity was installed more than 10 years ago. However, supply of electricity current still remains a distant dream for the inhabitants. As a case in point, it may be mentioned that electricity current that was snapped on 9th March 2005 is  yet to be restored.

b)     Water supply:
The village has no water supply facility, hence, the inhabitants are compelled to draw water from the nearest natural water source. Some of the villagers have to fetch water from a distance of more than one kilometer away from their homes. 

c)     Road and communication:
There is hardly any road that connects the village. The Foot-hill road that was intended to connect Changki-Dimapur via Changpang remains illusive till date. While from Changki side atleast kutcha road is through, the remaining portion between Changpang and Dimapur is not even started, reportedly, on the plea that Assam government objected its construction. 
The main road which is the life line of the villagers has been blocked because the Assamese neighbours have started cultivating the disputed land through which the road was constructed.  It is normally opened only for temporary period i.e, during the dry season after the harvest and before the new agricultural season begins. 

d)     Health care:
Health care activities began in 1960s when the first Medical Dispensary was set up in the village for the whole administrative circle. The government posted a Pharmacist and two Medical Attendants and a Midwife to man the centre. It was a great service to the people because even patients from distant villages came to the village to take treatment for their various physical ailments.  However, this remained stagnant in the sense that it could not be upgraded even to the level of Primary Health Centre till today. Besides that, as there has not been any maintenance and repairing work done on the buildings, the same are in a deplorable condition.  

e)     School:
There is only one school in the village. It was started as a private school in 1954 but waqs subsequently taken over by the government in the early 60s The same school was upgraded to cl-IV after a decade and it still remains so. 

6.     Conclusion:  
Observing the above facts, one can easily conclude that the residents of Changpang, who are supposedly the richest people in Nagaland, are in fact, the poorest of all. After all, what one needs to live a decent life in modern times are besides others, the basic needs like Water, Electricity, Road, School, Health care facilities etc.. Unfortunately, all these amenities are missing from the village. To put salt to the injury, these poor villagers do not have even a proper road to go to the weekly market across the border. Consequently, they are compelled to walk through the residence of Assamese settlers in the disputed area belt by paying passage fees. Thus life in Changpang, supposedly the land of the Arabs of Nagaland, is not only nasty, brutish and short ,but also humiliating.