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Why lasting peace along the borders of Assam and Nagaland is an elusive dream

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credits: mountainkingdoms.com

By Partha Prawal

The history of border dispute between Assam and Nagaland dates back to centuries ago and in the recent times these disputes have only grown in stature, where both sides keep pointing fingers at each other. Hundreds of lives have been lost so far and the numbers continue to pile up.

Sibsagar, Golaghat and Jorhat districts of Assam share its borders with Nagaland and reports of violence in the fringe areas alongside the border areas keep making headlines.

On November 13, 2014, one person was killed and three others injured when Naga miscreants fired indiscriminately on a group of Assamese villagers at Uriamghat, Sector B, along Assam-Nagaland border in Golaghat district. There are reports that nine persons went missing. This November 13 incident was a recurrence of August 13, 2014, incident that took place in the same area of the district. Around 5000 people were rendered homeless back then.

If an outsider is made to read such incidents, then he is bound to believe that peace and harmony along the border areas of Assam-Nagaland is just an elusive dream. But amid such disparity, a hamlet in Saibsagar district tells a different tale where peace harmony and brotherhood always find space in the front row.

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“These killings are senseless and they bring no benefit to anybody,” remarked Samson Konyak, a resident of Sibsagar district’s ‘Naga Village’, in a telephonic conversation.

“Even though we are Nagas by birth and still have our clan back in Dimapur, Mon and Kohima, feel proud of ourselves and we take pride in introducing ourselves as Assamese. The people in the border areas are actually catalyzed by some politicos and officials with vested interests,” the 23-year-old management student from the village further added.

The Naga Village is 15 kilometres from Sivasagar town. Even though the name gives an impression that it will be a small community of Naga people trying to blend their culture with that of the Assamese, but a half an hour bike ride on the Sivasagar-Nazira road to this now declared ‘model village’ is certain to change the preconceived impression for sure.

indialine.comThe village roughly has some 70-80 Konyak Naga families, who not only follow the traditional Naga customs, but are also comfortable with the Assamese way of life.

Established as early as 16-17th century, the village has survived many storms to stand united today. The village population is primarily Vaishnavite, following the religious cult of Srimanta Sankardeva.

 

“We are the disciples of the Guru of Moira Moira Sattra, as our forefathers got converted to  Vaishnavism when they first came to the place. Since then, we have followed the same custom and have remained Vaishnavites,” said Montu Konyak, a resident of the village.

While a few families came with the guru, a few are the descendants of those businessmen who came from Naga Hills and left their clan behind. The majority though, had come with the Naga Princess Watlong (popularly known as the Ahom Queen Dalimi), wife of Ahom king Gadadha.

“We have relatives in Kohima, Dimapur and various other places in Nagaland. When we go there, we receive a warm reception. All these border issues and political unrest between the two states, doesn’t bother us. After all, a Naga princess was an Assamese queen and this means that the Nagas and the Assamese are relatives. This is not Mahabharata and neither is someone a Pandava nor a Kaurava. We are not enemies,” remarks another resident.

The Naga village celebrates six to seven traditional festivals every year, but the biggest of all is Aoleng, which is celebrated mostly during the spring season.

“Aoleng is celebrated according to the new moon and is celebrated to mark the end of a year and to welcome the New Year. Apart from Aoleng, we also celebrate Magh Bihu, Bohag Bihu, Janmastami, Durga Puja and Kali Puja with equal respect,” further informed Montu, a resident of the village.

Like the villages in Nagaland, the traditional and religious Naga customs are followed here as well. The village is under one Morung Ghar and anything auspicious or any news of the interest of the village is shared in its premises, after gathering a crowd by beating the log drum.

“It is a Naga custom that every Naga boy in a village has to offer his services to the Morung Ghar for a year and we also follow this custom,” shared Montu.

But despite all this loyalty to their Assamese identity, there are times when these Nagas feel a little alienated. Sometimes they feel that the Assam government is yet to give them due recognition as Assamese. A government job still eludes many.

“A girl from the village was denied the post of an Assamese teacher in a local school, even though she topped the university in the Assamese subject; a less qualified candidate was given the job. Expect for her surname, there was nothing non-Assamese in her for the job to be denied to her,” bemoaned Samson.

Border issues, political struggles and ethnic dominion maybe eating away the fabric of camaraderie between states, but the real picture when it comes to the common man seems to be rather different. That one needs acknowledgement and respect for such intercultural mingling and coexistence of course goes unsaid, but it is also true that the state government needs to offer something more tangible than promises in the air.

  • Pollob Protim Goswamee

    It was a good read, a different story altogether. What we mostly hear is abut the negative and grey stories about Assam-Nagaland border violence but this story throws a completely different perspective even though the headline suggested something else. Good job Partha Prawal, keep the good job up.

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  • Pollob Protim Goswamee

    It was a good read, a different story altogether. What we mostly hear is abut the negative and grey stories about Assam-Nagaland border violence but this story throws a completely different perspective even though the headline suggested something else. Good job Partha Prawal, keep the good job up.

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  Cloak And Dagger: Indo-Bangla Ties

Irrespective of who wins at the ballot, Bangladesh’s Hindu minority is persecuted by the losing side, as if it was their fault.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed

 By:  Tania Bhattacharya           

 

Tania Bhattacharya
Tania Bhattacharya

Twenty-first of February is an important annual date for the peoples of both, Bangladesh, and West Bengal. On that day in nineteen fifty two, students of East Pakistan’s institutions of knowledge like Dhaka Medical College, had been mercilessly struck down, after they were fired upon by the soldiers of West Pakistan. Their crime? Bangla, the indigenous mother-tongue of all Bengalis, irrespective of religion and location, had been the prime focus of East Pakistan’s ‘Language Movement’. The seat of power, despite the East’s relatively larger demographic, had been, for all means and purposes, firmly lodged in the West, separated from the Eastern wing, by thousands of miles of territory belonging to the state of independent India. West Pakistan wielded absolute power over Pakistan’s army, its internal security, administration and the judicial system. Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Punjabi, Saraiki, and Sindhi, were the most recognized and respected lingua franca. Bengali was deemed by the West, to be a ‘Pagan’ language, the tongue of millions of ‘kaffirs’ that worshipped a plenitude of deities.

 

 

indo-bangla
Ansal-al-Islam supporters demand the death of Atheist bloggers.

The Bengalis, a people deeply protective of their cultural heritage, cutting across religious lines, took offense, and thus commenced the movement for the restoration of Bangla, as the legitimate representative of the East Bengalis. What followed, is well known, to South Asian History, enthusiasts. Exploiting the opportunity that had presented itself, and asphyxiated by more than ten million Bengali refugees who had migrated to eastern India in wake of ‘Operation Searchlight’ imposed by West Pakistan on its eastern wing, India had invaded the latter in the early December of 1971. The shortest war of modern history, had ended a fortnight later, with the emergence of an independent homeland, for all Bengali speaking peoples: Bangladesh.

Assam
An Indian publication reporting the Nellie Massacre of Assam.

Bangladesh turns forty-seven on the twenty sixth of March this year. Over the last nearly five decades, much water has flown under the bridge. Significantly, it has taken along with it, a bulk of the initial bonhomie and camaraderie, that Bangladesh and India shared with one another. From trustworthy allies, the two neighbours, have now entered a phase of grudging respect, but that too is often found in suspended animation, once anti-Indian regimes come to power in the other country. There are a number of reasons why India and Bangladesh have experienced a souring of relations over time, and much to the ordinary Indian’s chagrin, not all of the blame can be laid at our eastern neighbour’s door.

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The 1971 surrender of West Pakistan.

BANGLADESHI CONCERNS

 

  1. A) WHAT’S IN A PICTURE? EVERYTHING!

Any patriotic Indian, often ruminates fondly over a well circulated photo that emerged in the December of 1971. It was taken during the capitulation of the West Pakistan army to India. The photo is held up by Indian nationalists, like a trophy and proudly referred to as the ultimate symbol of India’s crushing of Pakistan. This historic photo in question, has a sombre Lt. Gen. J.S. Arora, looking on, as a visibly demoralized Gen. A.A.K. Niazi of Pakistan signs the document of surrender. A sea of khaki and army green dot the backdrop of the image. Smiling soldiers of the Indian Defence Forces, can be seen interspersed between high ranking members of the Pakistan Army. However, remarkably, missing from the image, is the presence of the very people, who had had to sacrifice their life, their limb, and their precious dignity, to make their own independence happen.

Indira Gandhi
Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujib with Indira Gandhi. The two shared a close friendship.

As time has passed, millions of Bangladeshis have taken stock of the historic footage that seemed to signal their freedom day, and yet, they have asked: “Where are our people?” Yes, indeed. It is a photograph that, once the euphoria had died down, was bound to reveal its troubling nature. It may have been the defining moment for our own military men, but for the patriots within our newly born neighbour, this image is one of being slighted; of being overlooked, and insulted. Indians should have realized awhile back, that parading the said photo, was not a wise thing to do. The newly liberated nation, did not and to this day, cannot claim the image as their own, due to the complete absence of any East Bengali presence.

 

  1. B) WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE, BUT NOT A DROP TO DRINK!
protests
Bangladeshi atheists and freethinkers protest the murder of their own.

In 1996, Bangladesh and India had signed a treaty over the sharing of river waters. The agreement – known as the Ganges Treaty – had promised to equally divide the volume of river waters shared by the two nations. Waters of the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna mega-basin, constitute the globe’s second largest hydraulic region, with a high population density inhabiting its banks. Simply put, the so-called division of water, is neither fair, and nor useful, to Bangladeshis. Through the Farakka Barrage, India, with its advanced systems of harvesting trans-boundary water, virtually controls the upstream flow of currents, which it then utilises without a care for the consequences being experienced by the people that live around the downstream currents of the barrage. As a result, Bangladesh has become a victim of environmental degradation which is a direct consequence of India’s water harvesting policy and techniques. Flora and Fauna, especially a variety of edible fish, important to our eastern neighbour, have either drastically lessened, or come close to extinction, due to callous and selfish, Indian interests over river-water sharing.

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A troublesome photo.

INDIAN CONCERNS

 

  1. A) THREE IS A CROWD!
assam

Illegal immigration into Assam from Bangladesh has created Distrust and concern among the locals.

A fundamental problem that posited itself even before the Liberation War in East Pakistan was over, and should have been a dark indicator of what was to come, was the deluge of refugees that had escaped the porous Indo-Pak border at its eastern end, and come to stay in India, as hopeful citizens. Even though Bangladesh is itself a witness to a refugee apocalypse in the form of the Rohingyas, they do not seem to be able to join the dots between their own problem, and that of India’s, for which their homegrown, poverty-stricken population is responsible. The Indian state which has borne the brunt of our refugee crisis, has been the north-easterly one of Assam. Bordering Bangladesh, this volatile Indian region has had to absorb the vast majority of illegals that continually transgress into our territories, by paying a small bribe to the jawans of the BSF (Border Security Forces), and obtaining false ration and identity cards. Bangladesh has chosen to delude itself by claiming time and again, that the alleged social scenario is an impossibility, accusing India instead, of tainting Indo-Bangla ties with our calumnies against them. In a heart-breaking tragedy that unfolded in the Nellie town of Assam in 1983, thousands of Muslims were slain by the local Assamese, over fear of the former’s illegal alien status.

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Bangladesh and India’s West Bengal do not see eye to eye over river water issues.

It must be acknowledged, that though a sizeable proportion of the deaths were of Indian Muslims who were unfortunately caught in the crosshairs; the remaining victims were indeed of Bangladeshi descent. The crisis could have been averted, if a national population census board had been specifically set up for the beleaguered Assam state, decades previously. But illegals from Ban