By AL Ngullie, 29
THERE ARE four cardinal truths of life in Nagaland: money, death, tax and that Nagaland isn’t a country nestled somewhere in the Dong-Dong-Ping-Xian borders of Vietnam. It is the 16th state of the Indian Republic.
To the heaving, sweltering mass of the irony called India, Nagaland and the Nagas remain, at best, an uncomfortable dichotomy, and at worst, an inconvenient geopolitical quirk. Conversely, mainland Indians represent to the Nagas an extraordinarily whimsical model of moral platitude and communal intolerance, not so much a symbol of political bullying. The tyranny of perception is that often feelings are mutual. The only difference is the context.
So, why are most Nagas cynical about ‘Mainland India’? The ‘disconnect’ is an offshoot of history. Just ask any 60-plus Naga villager who, in his youth, while whistling in his rice fields in the hills had that familiar encounter with a wayward Rashtriya Rifles soldier’s gun stock kiss his head, or a grouchy Assam Rifle jawan enthusiastic about redesigning the poor Naga’s limbs into uniquely irreversible works of body art.
In fact, even after 60 years, uncountable Nagas still live with those brutal designs. Yet, senior Nagas eagerly explain that mainland Indians are not bad people — they just aren’t used to seeing people with slanted eyes. Or fair complexion. Reminds them of the crazy Chinese during the 1962 war, the old men will tell you.
Nagas believe that India’s perception of Nagaland lacks that humour. Sandwiched between (such) perceived cultural insensibilities from the Indian diaspora and the pressure of ethnological realities seeking a place in the new world economics, the Nagas, too, are in stagnant waters today: swim with India, they’ll take your life jacket; run from India, you’ll definitely require a life jacket. Either way, you will sink. The confusion is palpable: should Nagas, or northeasterners, commence cultivating goodwill in spite of the horrific political past with India, and hope for good fruit? Or, should they just take the witch-hunt in India head-on?
The ‘exodus’ of northeasterners from Pune, Bengaluru or Hyderabad may gradually fade with new challenges rubbing at them constantly. Unfortunately, history has a bad habit — it repeats itself. Hopefully, the wounds won’t smart in the near future as India’s social interplay grows.
In insurgency-stricken Nagaland, there are only two types of Indians: those who believe that the Nagas are definitely Indians, and those who grieve that Nagas are forever called ‘Indians’.
The adage that a rotten apple spoils the entire basket is true. Yet, when an opportunity to define Indians in general comes to call, the mind of the US-loving, Japan-worshipping Naga youth has only one retort: the entire basket is spoilt and only one good apple is in there. That is the image Korean movie addicts and iPhone worshippers in Nagaland have of India and Indians in general. In the midst of this cultural soup, crimes against northeastern people in India’s metros have only driven them farther from India and what it represents.
The logic of appreciation would not be fuzzy if lessons of tolerance for diversity, respect for human values, good accommodation and intolerance for narrow-mindedness, are injected into our greater societal systems. Yet, it all starts with the individual. The misdemeanour of one Naga person in Delhi does not make Nagaland’s 12 lakh Nagas a bunch of criminals, as much as the endless prostitution scandals in Delhi or Mumbai do not make India’s 1 billion a population of pimps. It all starts with the individual — Indian or Naga. Respect and appreciation for each other would be a good start.
Ngullie is a senior journalist