“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story….Stories matter, many stories matter, stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity…..”-Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi- The Danger of a Single Story.
People, especially mainland Indians, have only a single story of Nagaland. No, in fact they have different single stories. They associate the Nagas with headhunting, Hornbill festival, Rock music, fashion and yes, Conflict. Nagaland the land of myths, where life is one long festival but it is also place where life is one long, long war….
But there is so much more to Nagaland than just conflict, music, fashion and headhunting. There are so many things that India and the world should know. What they know is just the single story, a stereotype, a mindset. They need to know the whole. To explain the whole is complicated, it is too broad, but let me tell you of what I know, about the Nagaland I grew up with.
Nagaland is a beautiful mountainous place, located in the northeastern part of India. It is a land rich in flora and fauna. Yet it is a land torned between two worlds. It struggles between modernity and tradition, it struggles between India and Nagalim. It struggles between conflict and peace. And it struggles with so many diversities in culture, in tribes….
I’ll be talking on three current issues- Corruption, Factional clashes and armed conflicts, and Identity crisis.
Corruption- Today Corruption and Nagaland has almost become a synonym. From the politicians to the civil society, from the bureaucrats to the student union, corruption has become too common, to the extent, that it is almost becoming normal. Naga elders often use the phrase, “Today, everything has to be bought with money” meaning that even jobs have to be bought with money. In Nagaland, if you have the money and the contacts, you get the job!! Classism is slowly emerging and now we can see a clear division between the rich and the poor. There is a huge increase in unemployment and privatization. Public hospitals, industries are being privatized. The Nagas were once known for their integrity, honesty. The Naga society had its own flaws yet it was based on equality and democracy and corrupt-free. But now, within a span of 15 years especially after the Ceasefire agreement between the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and the government of India, Corruption has become more prominent than before. The GOI is pouring in a lot of money for development, but we can hardly see development. What I see is development from the top of the ladder and not from the bottom up. Our health, living standards, education, the roads, electricity and water supply has not improved at all.
Factional conflicts and military conflicts- In Nagaland, armies patrolling is normal. Every single day armies will be patrolling right at the road near your house. If you are travelling by car you’ll be checked at least once a day. In the locality where I live, I cannot enjoy an evening walk- an activity which most people take for granted- because of the fear of being hit by a bullet due to factional clashes. There are also cases where young men are beaten up by the paramilitary forces for no reason. These paramilitary groups, the Indian Reserved battalions recruits are our own people. On one hand we have the factional clashes where the different insurgent groups have started waging war against each other, disrupting the public life. On the other hand we have the Indian armed forces (The Assam Rifles) who were once a terror for the Nagas, and who by the way killed 200,000 Nagas during the 1950s-1980s but have now so easily labeled themselves as the “Friends of the hill people”. It confuses me why the most developed and largest growing sector in Nagaland has to be the police forces and the paramilitary forces such as the Indian Reserved Batallions. We have reached a situation where we don’t know who is by our side…The Indian army or the Naga army.
Identity crisis- My grandparents’ generation and my parent’s generation were pretty confident of their identity because they all had seen and experienced the Naga independence struggle unlike my generation today. My grandmother still considers India as a separate country and Nagalim as a separate nation. Like my grandmother, all Naga elders have the same ideals, they refer to Indians as “they” and Nagas as “us”. However, today my generation is faced with an identity crisis. If you walk down the streets of Kohima, the capital city or Dimapur, the commercial hub, you will find confident fashionistas strutting down the road full on high street fashion. Yet these are the same people struggling with their identity, an identity lost between India and Nagalim. They do not know who they really are. Do we call ourselves Nagas or Indians? For many of us, we feel like calling ourselves Indians is a forced identity. We might be force to call ourselves Indians but when we move to metro cities, many mainland Indians have no idea of who the Nagas are. In schools right from the beginning, we were made to study the history of India, the Indian freedom struggles, draw the Indian map, sing the Indian anthem. Hindi is a compulsory language you have to take up till your 8th standard. However, our history and our culture were never taught. This crisis has been manifested because on one hand we have the section of Nagas who wants complete sovereignty for the Naga nation whereas there is the other group of Nagas who are willing to compromise and become a part of India. Our generation has been kept in the oblivion, we’re just hanging in there. I have often come across so many young people and even kids questioning “Are we Indians or are we Nagas?” You will notice this confused identity in music, art, lifestyles and even in the way we dress.
To end, I leave my confusion with you. I, like my generation, is equally confused with the things happening in Nagaland. We do not know who is responsible for whatever is happening. Is this society just evolving, or is this a tactic played by the Indian Government to suppress our struggle for freedom, the freedom movement which has become diluted and almost becoming a lost cause….I am confused. Yet what I know is that I want normalcy, a normalcy where my generation can be sure of who they really are and be proud of our identity, a normalcy devoid of army patrols and checkings every single day, that kind of normalcy where I can enjoy a cool evening walk without the fear of being killed, that normalcy where jobs are not bought but achieved. That kind of normalcy which you take for granted…..
By Vibi Yhokha