The issue, I am told, is the tissue

How far away are we from the periphery? Alternatively, how can we ‘peripherize’ spaces that are central to its inhabitants and their ideas? If we don’t understand where our lines must run through, can we run them through wherever it makes administrative sense to us? Hey, what do I know, but the Manipur government is learning to answer these through a difficult debacle. As for me, it took minutes too many to figure out the shape of this iceberg’s tip.
I ran out of official time given to me in the Naga region couple of weeks back. I’d been to a few districts in Nagaland, and the plan was to proceed to the Southern Naga areas (administered by the government of Manipur) towards the end of my time here. But I ran out of it, and wasn’t completely expecting the visit as it came. Boy, am I glad the chance arose because I would’ve missed out on the following points to reflect on:
•    Two old men, each with their stories of the 2nd world war, both awed by the sight of planes and their droppings, even if bombs. One of them, through his childframe, was fascinated by how the Japanese gave each family a cow to eat—heck, he thought, the Japanese had much better sense of winning hearts and minds than the British or Indians! Obviously seeing maggot-infested bodies rotting in their forests, after the war came to an end, changed the way they thought of the world.
I have no background in army abuse so it came as a surprise as one of them recalled an incidence of all the men from his village being summoned to the local ground by the Indian army in the 60s, following which their hands were tied behind their backs. Their activity for the day was to jump in half-squats all day looking at the sun, wherever it went. I was surprised not by the story itself, but how the man narrated it with a grin on his face. As he finished, his entire family burst out laughing. Perhaps because this was the least of persecutions they, as persons and collectives, had faced through years, each generation piling a deposit of its own—metamorphosing in a way they might not want to, being pushed further into a nation-state’s ideas of periphery while continuing to remain central to their own lands.
•    A woman who had lost much of her family to death and exile as a result of war went through her family album with me in her quietly sunlit room—their history exemplified by her sophistication. Her father was killed by a mortar while he was returning from his field in May 1994 when a paramilitary battalion launched a strike on Ukhrul. He had gone deaf at the time, and oblivious to the attack was returning from his field like on a normal day, perhaps even whistling his way back home. Who knows what he might have felt when he saw the mortar’s trajectory trace his course. His memorial stands on a bend as you chart the road out of Ukhrul town. This is not the memorial of just this man, his daughter and her family. Through instance, it is the history of military occupation as seen from the other side of security.
•    And obviously the young ones. In most Naga areas, as in this, it’s been them who showed me (and made me feel) their home. When I came here, I was blind to the concept of a home. Through moonlight, torch and day they showed me what a home is, why they love it and what its vast physicality looks like as they repeatedly stopped and stared at the hillscape with me. None of the Southern Nagas complained or cribbed about their situation. Some of them could articulate meanings of homeland, freedom and justice through words, while others through music. Don’t miss the powerful voice of Theithei Luithui, for instance, singing out her words for the collective pain of Oinam (1987) and Mao Gate (2010)—expression that mere words couldn’t give to rights trampled upon, to the anguish of captivity at home.  
•    This strange territory has several layers of provisional problems. The current economic blockade in Manipur is the least of them, its burnt-truck face welcoming you into the hills at too many turns, its sadness made worse by paddy fields in the backdrop, in harvest. These hills neither have access to the provisions of 371(a) nor do they benefit from the corrupt state they were administratively made a part of. Not that being part of the Nagaland state itself would’ve made it hugely better, what with the corrupt state of the times. But for the Southern Nagas, it is a daunting challenge to find a place within a future Naga polity, be a part of creating it and still be able to move into a modern world that can at least be kick-started. It is this transition between maintaining old movements and ideating new systems that make for the most difficult zones—the tissue, between one world and the other, is indeed the issue in these hills. Not to say that they haven’t waded through it in style. Where, as in certain cases, they have had to apply their first world training in an alternative world paradigm. I don’t know if the challenge this presents has made these nuts come back home to work, or they have come back here to contribute to political, medical, sociological and other processes despite. When successful, there is no doubt some of them will bring about new equations and structures that will help the world think on alternative terms—freeing themselves (and us) from the winter muck and summer dust.
•    The United Naga Council (UNC), Manipur is one of the few Naga organisations that has a woman delegate; not just in her capacity through a women’s consultative body for traditional decision-making units, but as a delegate in it! It is through this active participation of women that organisations like these will be able to find coherent identities and play a better role in addressing the issues their society needs them for.  
•    I have to narrate this incident, much like a cherry on the damaged cake. On my way back from Ukhrul, I asked an Assam Rifles guy at a check post amidst stringent rummage-through of bags, “What does ‘Sun Down, Sleeves Down’ written on the wall of your check post mean?” “It means when the sun goes down, our sleeves come down. It’s cold here.” I was slightly confused, “Does it apply to all residents of these hills or just the AR? Does sun down mean gun down? Haha?” “Just the AR, it’s our motto of sort,” he said, clearly unamused. “Oh, that’s terrible then! Who wrote it for you?” “It’s not so terrible if you think about it.” “Fine, what do you think about it?” “When the sun goes down, so do the sleeves.” Can you believe this conversation? If you’re going to have a sub army reign, at least smarten them up. Either way, let’s hope we’re able to blake flee!

Aheli Moitra is an independent researcher. She travels to document conflict in personal and collective spaces.  (Contact: