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BRIDGING THE GREAT DIVIDE

The loneliness of alienation can best be understood by the “outsiders within” — a term that binds together all those who are on the margins of the national mainstream. Barring Assam, which shares the most robust link with the mainland, the whole of the Northeast shares this feeling of loneliness.

In more ways than one, Nagaland is the quintessential land of the “aliens” — the land that has fought the might of the Indian state for the last five decades. For the men at the helm of affairs in Delhi and Nagaland, however, this feeling of alienation is de-linked from the expressions of violence in the state. For them, the concept goes no deeper than the parchments of agreements on which they have created and re-created boundaries, and then touted these as invincible doctrines of peace.

One more such effort is now under way in Nagaland. The ceasefire declared by the Indian state has cleared the air a bit, the presence of the army has shrunk to pockets, and the people are breathing freely for the first time since 1997. How far this suspension of hostility will go in bringing about a lasting peace is still unclear. The National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) says that the temporary reprieve will turn into permanent peace only if the Indian government agrees to its terms of reconciliation. The Centre, for its part, is busy playing its favourite sport — pitching one insurgent group against another.

Although the government seems intent on killing peace again, hopes flicker in the efforts of Naga civil rights groups which have begun to address problems that go beyond the concerns of the official agreements. When these groups — be it the Naga-Hoho, the Naga Mothers’ Association, or the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights — talk about the need for reconciliation, they, unlike politicians and bureaucrats, also want to heal the wounds of alienation.

Since the Fifties, the story of Nagaland has been one of brutality and relentless bloodshed. The Nagas, who had wished at the time of independence that the British leave them “free” as they were before the colonial masters annexed their country, moved away from mainstream India the more the Centre tried to exert its will. Socially and culturally distinct from the rest of India, the people of Nagaland became gradually suspicious of Delhi’s rulers who merely saw them as “head-hunters”.

The school textbooks reinforce the stereotypes about the Nagas, who are most commonly represented as “headhunters” and then as rebels fighting the Indian state. Textbook writers and historians from both sides of the ideological divide have been more interested in settling scores than bothering about why an entire region — the Northeast — is so under-represented in school textbooks. The myth about a people tucked away at the outposts of India has been allowed to flourish. There are no footnotes that can heal the wounds of this alienation. This is why the role of the Naga civil rights groups has become a key factor in bridging the people-to-people gulf between Nagaland and the Indian heartland.

For peacemakers like Reverend V.K. Nuh of the Council of Naga Baptist Churches, it has been a long haul. “For 42 years I have been involved in this work. Till today nothing has happened,” says Nuh. In a state where an overwhelming majority of the people are Christians the church is very powerful. But for a long time the church spoke in abstract terms, refusing to condemn in strong words those committing violence. All this changed with the launching of the national reconciliation mission in which the church is now marching shoulder to shoulder with civil rights groups to heal and rebuild Nagaland.

A declaration adopted at the launch of the reconciliation mission last December said, “The most urgent need of our people is to recognize and understand our history and to heal the wounds of the past — to learn to forgive and be forgiven.” Forgive not only outsiders like the Indian army but also insiders who had violated peace.

But waging war is easier than making peace. There are many layers of differences among those in the movement for peace and reconciliation. Says an activist of the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights, “There can be no simple formula to forgive and forget.” A generation divides the older and younger activists in the movement. “Reconciliation among Nagas must begin with admitting your own mistakes and not simply by pointing at the mistakes of others. It takes time to repent and conceding your own mistakes is difficult,” says the vice-president of the Naga Hoho. He belongs to an older generation and speaks a language softer than that of the young in the movement.

The yearning for peace is becoming as strong as the yearning for justice. Gathered together under the auspices of the reconciliation mission, the Nagas openly wept when the children of fathers who have been killed in the factional war sang, “Healing the nation”, a song composed by the principal of the theological college in Kohima. Once this refrain is taken up by not just a few but the majority within and outside the boundaries of this state, probably, there will be peace.

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