The battle for the possession of Kohima which was started on o4, o4, 1944 at 4:00 p.m. was a very crucial battle for seizure of world power by the world’s super powers of the 1940’s. At the global level, the whole world was aflame with the flames of the 2nd World War. But in the battle for Kohima the fate of a diminishing world power and that of an emerging world power, clashed in bloody combat around a small hillock. For Britain, after ruling over India for over 200 years, if her army was defeated in the battle of Kohima, she would be forced to beat a hasty retreat from her south Asian empire in a debacle similar to her retreat from the shores of Dunkirk France in May 1940. As for Japan, though she had scored initial victories like the strike at Pearl Harbor in Dec. 1941, she too had also suffered disasters like the defeat at Midway and the Solomon Islands in 1942. But by April 1944, she had conquered the whole of South East Asia and was poised to strike India via Imphal and Kohima. If their victory could be assured in the battle of Kohima, there was every possibility that Japan could become the next super power in Asia. But unfortunately the Japanese troops alienated the Nagas who were initially trying to help them. When the Nagas turned their allegiance to the British, Kohima became a Japanese graveyard. In the battle as well as the retreat from Kohima and all across the Arakan, it is estimated that almost 70,000 of her best troops perished from the whole misadventure. Japan was never able to recover from this terrible blow and finally surrendered to the Allied Forces on Sept. 2, 1945.
As for the Naga contribution to the British victory at Kohima, Field Marshal Sir William Slim wrote the following words in connection with the battle of Kohima:
“There were the gallant Nagas whose loyalty even in the most depressing times of the invasion had never faltered. Despite floggings, torture, execution and the burning of their villages, they refused to aid the Japanese in any way or to betray our troops. Their active help to us was beyond the value of praise. Under the leadership of devoted British political officers, they guided our columns, collected information, ambushed enemy patrols, carried our supplies and brought in our wounded under the heaviest fire-and then being the gentlemen they were, often refused all payment. Many a British and Indian soldiers owe his life to the naked head hunting Naga, and no soldier of the Fourteenth Army who met them will ever think of them but with admiration and affection.” (Field Marshal Sir William Slim, Defeat into Victory, pp. 336 to 337).
In line with this tribute, the following acknowledgement is inscribed on the memorial stone of the 2nd Division who fell in the battle of Kohima:
“Without continuously loyal aid from Naga stretcher bearers, porters and guides, this victory could not have been won.”
However, despite all these tributes paid to the Nagas, when the British left their South Asian Empire on August 15, 1947, they left the Naga territories dissected into Burma and India. They also armed both India and Burma with massive weapons. But they knowingly abandoned the Nagas to a fate they clearly foresaw. Next, to quote B.N. Mullik who was then Jawaharlal Nehru’s Personal Secretary, the following words were found in his book “My Years with Nehru”:
“Troops moved into Tuensang (Nagaland) by October 1955 and the war with the Nagas started from then.” (B.N.Mullik: My years with Nehru p.308).
These Indian troops assisted with heavy artillery and Jet fighters burned hundreds of Naga villages into ashes in the early 1950s. They also raped, tortured and murdered thousands of innocent Naga villagers in their mad rampage all across Nagaland for the past over 6 decades. When this Indian military onslaught began, Nagas had no anti aircraft guns or any piece of artillery to fight back this massive invasion of Nagaland by India. In helpless desperation, Nagas again and again pleaded for British intervention for the sake of yesterday’s friendship with the British Government. But to date, the British had never intervened on behalf of the Nagas. We Nagas, had assisted the British Government in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars. In the 1st World War, over 4000 Nagas went to Europe to assist the British in their fight against Germany. Coming to the 2nd World War, as stated earlier, Nagas saved the British from a tragic end of empire in 1944. However, when the battle for Nagaland started in 1955 (with its roots in 1947), the British just abandoned us and watched the horrifying war in Nagaland from across the seas. This is precisely what I have called as “The greatest British betrayal of the twentieth century.”
Yes, we Nagas have all watched the 75th anniversary of the battle of Kohima and have also heard and read the many words of reconciliation expressed by the British, Japanese and Indian delegates. We however, wonder if any of these delegates ever heard the silent cry of every Naga father, mother and child whose lives have been shattered by the impacts of the battle for Nagaland. Their silenced hearts will continue to silently beat for justice and restoration of their rights and national dignity long after you are all gone.
Kaka D Iralu