In our quest for sovereignty, many Nagas have succumbed to the outsiders’ definition of who Nagas are and what Nagaland is. Today, our narrative as a people is getting smaller; both in population and land mass. Few educated Naga leaders are being used by the adversaries with magnificent payoff. They double-cross yet remain indifferent even when labelled as traitors. These are the group of people responsible for all kinds of mess in the Naga nation building process. They do it knowingly what would be the outcome. But there are also people who have fallen into the trap ignorantly, while some are left with no option but follow for the sake of survival. Many of these Naga elders and the forces that are breaking the Nagas/Nagaland into pieces know who the Nagas are and what Nagaland is. Yet, for the sake of the people who have misread or are ignorant, one must revisit the questions – Who are Nagas and what is Nagaland?
Terminology is important. The term “Nagas” refers to over four million people, and the term Nagaland refers to the land mass of more than one lakh square kilometre in the eastern frontier of Himalayas. The British in 1947 left some portion of Nagaland in disorganised state of affairs. Taking advantage of Nagas non-violent approaches, the newly independent states, India and Burma, invaded and forcefully occupied Nagaland and thereby divided the land into two as trophies. The divisive policy of the Indian and Burmese government has created confusion for many people because now there is more than one interpretation about what actually comprises Nagas/Nagaland.
When Indian government used the term “Nagas”, they often mean the people living in ‘Nagaland state.’ And the term ‘Nagaland’ means a piece of area sliced out from Nagaland to make it a political state as per the 16 Point Agreement. It is a creation of state under Union of India’s ‘divide and rule policy’, without the consent of the larger Naga people. History has proved that administrative division do creates disunity. It was also a calculated game to show the world that Nagas are a small group of people unfit to be an independent nation, in term of land mass as well as in term of population. They could also sometimes mean the Nagas spread across the four states of India: Nagaland, Manipur, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. In recent years, Indian government conducted certain test to check their progress report by trying to identify the Nagas spread across the four states of India as ‘Nagas’ and as expected, the result was fairly good from their perspective, and fairly bad from ours. To the happiness of the Indian government, some Naga leaders refused to accept Nagas outside certain administrative jurisdiction, based on the Indian definition of the term ‘Nagas’ and ‘Nagaland.’
When Myanmar government uses the term ‘Nagas’ they often mean the people living within the ‘Naga Self Administered Zone’ (NSAZ) under Sagaing division. And the term Nagaland is not commonly used, as they, Myanmar government, believe that all land under the Union belongs to the government, which is still a big contest. The hilly area near the haphazard international boundary of India was carved out from the Myanmar occupied Nagaland to be called as NSAZ, applying the same formula used in Indian occupied Nagaland. The vast and resourceful Nagaland valley was divided into different administrative regions so as to meet the selfish ends of the wealthy Myanmar capitalist and also to bring misunderstanding among the various ethnic communities who have been Nagas’neigbours for ages. After all infighting among the ethnic communities, if it so happens, could be an advantage for the Myanmar government to continue their brutal and quasi-military governance.
When Manipur state used the term ‘Nagas’ they mean the Nagas living in the hills of Manipur state, approximately 30% of the state population. They could sometime refers to the Nagas living in ‘Nagaland state’ and also to Nagas in Myanmar under Sagaing Region. And the term Nagaland means ‘Nagaland state.’ The Nagas in the state of Manipur occupy around 70% of the land mass, with all the natural resources in Nagaland (hill areas). However, the state government has no say on the resources as the land purely belongs to the people, not the state. Manipur was a beautiful valley based kingdom before the British controlled the Indian sub-continent. Change came to the size of the kingdom when some portion of the hill areas of southern Nagaland and a little portion of the northern region of Chin-Mizos were brought into the new administration under the Manipuris/Meeteis.
When Assam state used the term ‘Nagas’ they mean the Nagas living in the district of NC Hills (changed as DimaHasao), Rengma hills of KarbiAnglong, and the foothill districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Sivasagar, Charaideo, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia. They could sometimes mean the Nagas in ‘Nagaland state’ or the Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh. To the politicians and the wealthy business people of Assam, Nagaland means only the ‘Nagaland state’ and there is no Nagaland outside the sixteen thousand square kilometres. The thinly populated Nagaland under Assam state is abundantly blessed with fertile soil, natural gases and other resources. So, the affluent class continues to send illegal immigrants and the landless labourers to forcefully occupy Nagaland. Those poor labourers only occupy for some time, as in due course of time, the rich-capitalists dig their heels in.
When Arunachal state used the term ‘Nagas’ they mean the people living in the Indian controlled ‘Nagaland state’ and invariably to the Nagas living in NSAZ and Kachin state of Myanmar-controlled Nagaland. To them, the people living in the three districts, namely, Changlang, Tirap and Londing are Arunachalis. They recognised the Tangshang living in Myanmar occupied Nagaland as Nagas but not the Tangshang living in Arunachal Pradesh. They recognised the Konyak in ‘Nagaland state’ as Nagas but not the Wanchos (Konyak) of Arunachal Pradesh. And Nagaland means ‘Nagaland state.’ Arunachal Pradesh, a terminology alien to the people inhabiting within the controversial administrative boundary seems to have accepted their identity according to the definition of Indian agencies, like some Nagas do. The exploitive politicians failed to logically accept the fact that some of their brothers are spread across China, Tibet, Bhutan and Assam. Apparenty making the public realise the seriousness of one’s identity could lead few leaders to fall from their golden throne.
When Kachin used the term ‘Nagas’ they mean all the Naga people across the arbitrary boundaries. But the term Nagaland is limited to NSAZ alone. They are of the opinion that Myanmar government have gifted them the vast valley on the eastern river banks of Chindwin and also the Hukawng valley. Nagaland was always revered by the Kachin people but when Myanmar government, which they never recognised, played the divisive game to their advantage by demarcating vast portion of land into the Kachin state administration, they happily accepted it as a gift.
When Chin, Shan and Red-Shan used the term ‘Nagas’ they mean the Naga people living under NSAZ. And the term Nagaland means NSAZ. They believe that human occupation is the ultimate and legitimate owner of the land. Thus, they are happy when they are strategically placed in mineral rich-sparsely-populated Nagaland by the Myanmar government. The massive incursion in the south and south east Nagaland has made the Nagas minority in own land.
People in uniform and guns are not the only enemy. Nagas’ enemies come in different avatars but many have miserably failed to recognise them; though some understand yet they are unable to speak out. We Nagas are left at the mercy of foreigners to decide – who we are, what we are, our genuineness, and which direction to go. Naga leaders are badly divided on the basis of clans, tribe, administrative boundaries, political parties, factional politics etc. An outsider would calculatively throw a seed, and the ever ready opportunistic leaders would happily let it germinate and hand it over to frustrated-jobless-youth to be planted on the fertile soil of Nagaland. The vicious cycle of hatred continues among the ignorant youth at the rhythm of few vested leaders. It is time for the Nagas to think beyond the present for the sake of our posterity.
However, the term Nagas means the entire Naga population. And the term Nagaland means all the ancestral land of the Naga people. In the recent years, Naga organisations; civil, revolutionary and political, have started using the word ‘Lim’ which means land. There should not be any confusion with the two, as Nagaland and Nagalim have the same meaning. Unfortunately, some Naga elites have comfortably started classifying ‘Nagas’ according to the administrative jurisdiction and conveniences making our antagonists extremely delightful. Nagas struggle for self-determination is a legitimate right, supported by all the veracious political thinkers and struggling communities across the globe. Apathy sowed by the colonial government is nonetheless making someone somewhere somehow prosperous at the cost of future. High time Nagas define terms for ourselves!
BP Duomai Naga
Viola Colony, Dimapur