The majority are the people and the various tribal councils along with the Naga Mother’s Association and Naga Hoho who are crucial to bring about everlasting peace.
By Lt Col Manoj K Channan (Retd)
“The planet does not need more “successful people”. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, storytellers and lovers of all kind”. – Dalai Lama
Peace in Nagaland has many stakeholders; it’s the rebel groups and the security agencies that steal the limelight. The majority are the people and the various tribal councils along with the Naga Mother’s Association and Naga Hoho who are crucial to bring about everlasting peace.
The region has been isolated and was self- contained within the tribes and their head-hunting days. World War II and the Japanese march into the region saw many battles. Even this day in many areas ordnance in various forms is found while farming/development work in the hills.
The locals are hardworking and have simple requirements. The majority are Christians, as missionaries during the British days undertook conversions and had a head start. Many Hindu organisations too have sent their missionaries to work with the villagers and introduce them to Hinduism. This will take time.
There is a large number of migrant labourers from Jharkhand and Bihar. Marwaris and a few Sikhs from Burma are the local traders.
Farming is done on the hills; the staple diet is rice and pork. Surprisingly there is hardly any consumption of dairy products. Though the Nagas truly eat everything that walks, crawls, fly’s or swims. Travelling into the interiors there is an eerie feeling when you don’t see birds or hear insects and there is silence all along that you can hear the wind blow. The villages have banned hunting and one can see signposts on the fines that are imposed.
The fate of the majority has been held to ransom by those wielding the Gun. A state of active conflict from 1947 to 1997 kept the locals and the Government at the opposite end of the spectrum. A state of suspicion, lack of trust and the loss of many young men and women left almost all families hurt and grieving for the loved ones. The security agencies turned over their personnel but the locals had no respite.
Lack of infrastructure, roads and bridges, electricity, telephone lines, health care and education remain a challenge. Most Naga villages are on top of the hills and daily sustenance is by ferrying water from the rivers. The border areas close to Myanmar (near the Valley of Death) have locals suffering from MT Malaria. Other than malaria, AIDS and drug menace have adversely affected the youth.
The men and women are sturdy, lack of facilities to develop themselves in sports or other pursuits has affected generations. A few from affluent families have been able to go to Boarding Schools and get higher education to join the Government as IAS, Doctors and Engineers. Many have moved overseas to escape the daily strive of life.
The Government interlocutors and all sections of the society need to think out of the box to find a path of reconciliation and forgiveness and have confidence-building measures in place.
The Central Government along with the State Government must initiate steps to bring about all-round development by engaging with the stake holders as equal partners. The Government regimes in the past have been seen with suspicion primarily due to the corruption and the money-making by the officials and contractors.
The President and Prime Minister need to visit the region. This should be followed by the Central Cabinet Ministers who should fast track development programs.
The push to have a highway connection to the neighbouring countries will help increase the development in the region. The support system will help generate jobs as well as the entrepreneurs to start new businesses. Investment meets need to be held with projects keeping the development of the region in mind.
The current thought process of absorbing the armed cadres of the underground groups is a step in the right direction. While the pressure to sign the peace accord is there, consensus and the need to iron out the differences will ensure that there sticking points that may jeopardise the same.
(The author is a veteran of the Indian Army. Views expressed are personal.)