'One ancestor, one inherent territory’

June 10, 2018, 12:43 am
By Bidhayak Das
Dan / Noklak (Nagaland ), June 9 :A decision by Myanmar to fence an imaginary boundary in Nagaland’s Dan village in Noklak district has led to a growing anger which threatens to turn into a major revolt. The anger of the Khiamniungan Nagas are also direct against the Indian government which is providing security to Myanmar to undertake the fencing work. 
 
In an exclusive report in The Irrawaddy which was published recently, Bidhayak Das the contributing editor of the publication writes that the proposed fencing could convert about 3,500 hectares of cultivable area into “no-mansland” and divide the Khiamniungan Naga families that inhabit these hills. 
 
The report says that the Khiamniungans are one of the major tribes among the Nagas and spread across the eastern part of Nagaland state in India and the western part of Myanmar. Khiamniungan literally means “source of great water or river,” (Khiam means water, Nui means great and Ngan means source) are agitated. Myanmar mat resume the fencing work any time and the Indian military presence is increasing.
 
The writer who traveled to Dan covering over a 100 kilometers interviewed several village chiefs. Two of them that is Nyukha of Dan village and Pape of New Pangsha said “Our people are literally at the mercy of the Indian military personnel to live their lives in their own land, stopped, checked and questioned whenever they made any attempts to find their way to their, fields, to hospitals, to markets, to schools and even to visit their family members.” “So why should we not fight back, we will if our lives and traditions are disturbed.We shall stop being good Indian citizens and prepare for something big,” asserted, P Beshima Khiamniungan elder in his mid 80sand an advisor of the Khiamniungan Tribal Council (KTC) an umbrella organization of all Khiamniungan Nagas. This was perhaps an indication of an armed uprising.When asked to explain, the answer from Beshim and members of the KTC was “Such a thing has never happened to us, our feelings are hurt as if our body has been cut into two and if they don’t stop harassing we shall go to any extent.” 
 
The fencing fiasco:
 
The report in The Irrawaddy delves deep to  provide an history of the imaginary line. It says thus: The imaginary line that cuts across Dan village and parts of new Pangsha is shrouded in mystery. While it is well known that the Naga hills were divided by the Anglo-Burmese Yandabo agreement in 1826 and later in 1953 under the Indo-Burmese demarcation in Kohima on the Naga territory by Jawaharlal Nehru and U Nu, the then Prime Ministers of the two countries, there is virtually no information to suggest drawing of an imaginary line across the hills that houses villages belonging to the Khiamniungan Nagas. 
 
The writer quotes elderly members of the KTC remember as saying that two futile attempts to fence the border were made, once a joint India-Myanmar initiative in 1970 when soldiers of both nations suffered heavy casualties after they were confronted by underground groups and 35 years later in 2004 by the Lahe administration of Myanmar. He also quotes the KTC president L Ngon as saying, “The British never told us of any imaginary line, after 1947. We lived as free Nagas and will do so forever.” 
 
There have been conflicting stories regarding the fencing with most media reports apportioning the blame squarely on the Indian government. India’s Ministry of External Affairs has been quoted in several new media outlets as saying “India has nothing with the fencing.” The KTC is of the view that both India and Myanmar are responsible. “The Burmese government constructed the fences with their men and labour, with the Indian army guarding them.” 
 
As many as 244 villages, 44 on the Indian side and 200 in Myanmar is facing the brunt of the fencing. The villages that have found repeated mention though are Dan, old and new Pangsha on the Indian side and Pounyiu and Woilan on the Myanmar side considering their strategic location, proximity to the Indian security post, and the bigger size of their land area and population. A visibly upset Bishem who has roamed the hills and mountains since his childhood is afraid that the fencing will rob the villagers of 3500 hectares of their cultivable land and destroy the age old traditional jhum (slash and burn) cultivation cycles forever. 
 
“Over 10,000 people’s livelihood will be affected, the most hard-hit will be our fellow Nagas from the other side and we can’t allow this,” the KTC president has  been quioted in the reportas saying,” If the free movement regime (FMR) is taken away then we will we will have to decide to leave all the 244 villages either in India or in Myanmar. We cannot live in two countries if the FMR is taken away.”
 
An FMR billboard inside the Indian security checkpost clearly states that “citizens of India and Myanmar living within 16 kms from the border are most welcome the to cross the Indo-Myanmar border. It also states that “free movement regime has been formalized to promote economic and social interaction between the two friendly countries,” and that free movement regime will safeguard the rights of the tribal communities accustomed to free movement across the land borders.” 
 
Image courtesy : The Morung Express
 
(The author is a senior journalist and a writer specialising in elections and democratization in Asia. Currently he works as the Consulting Editor, of The Irrawaddy a leading Myanmar based regional English digital media where it was first published. He can be contacted at bidhayak.d@gmail.com)
 
 
 
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