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Why The Nagas Don't Like To Speak Of Delhi

13/05/2016 8:24 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Thierry Falise via Getty Images
LONGWA, NAGALAND, INDIA - 1998/01/01: Aoling Festival, the main traditional celebration of the Konyak people. The traditional hat they are wearing is decorated with wild boar tusks.. (Photo by Thierry Falise/LightRocket via Getty Images)

"What is Delhi?" asked the man answered his question and told him where I had come from. Perhaps it was the strong rice wine drunk profusely during the Aoling Festival (the spring festival of Nagaland) that had at least for a while, vaporized the man's awareness of the capital of his country. After several prompts, drawing an India map in the air, jabbing my finger at where I thought the capital was, and losing some patience I yelled "Delhi, Delhi!" He shook his head and treated me as if I was a bus conductor, shrieking for people to get on to the bus. Either the Naga man was authentically unacquainted with Nagaland's geography within India or he had total disregard for it.

I yelled "Delhi, Delhi!" He shook his head and treated me as if I was a bus conductor, shrieking for people to get on to the bus.

But he wasn't the only one. As if referring to a delinquent relative, the people of the Konyak tribe of Nagaland rebuffed the very existence of Delhi. "Who? What? No, we don't talk about that during the festival," said an elderly, dazzlingly bedecked woman, squatting on the floor of her kitchen which was in the centre of the family home, with a small fire burning throughout the day, smoking the meat that hung from the ceiling. In the current climate, where a doomsday machine of counterfeit nationalism is being assembled by the central government, this attitude would normally call for expulsion of the largely Christian Nagas, but ironically this is exactly what the Nagas have been fighting for, for ages -- self-sufficiency and more autonomy. The powers that be, starting from imperial British power to various central governments, have first wholesomely denied it, then handed out morsels, and now act stunned in Dickensian fashion when more is asked for. As punishment perhaps, negligence and apathy is handed out.

The so called Seven Sisters comprising Northeastern states have ironically received nothing but unoriginal step-motherly treatment from the rest of India.

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The Konyaks are an independent-minded, free spirited people who belong to the larger conglomerate of Naga tribes. Their traditional but abandoned practice of chopping off rivals' heads and displaying them on living room mantels is sensationalized and their culture beyond this miniaturized. It is true that the Nagas were a fierce people, giving the British major headaches, constantly mounting attacks on them while they tried to establish a tea trade in neighbouring Assam. The colonial rule responded by unleashing its military power on the hectoring tribes. But despite an 11-year effort, with bloodshed on both sides the Nagas proved to be insurmountable. What followed was at some level an exasperated walking away from the situation by the British, which too proved to be ineffectual, as revitalized raids continued. Just before India attained independence from the British, the future Prime Minister of the country Jawaharlal Nehru promising the long sought-after autonomy, wooed the Nagas to join the new nation of India. But it took another 23 years for secession from the larger area of Assam and the creation of the state of Nagaland within India.

But even today, dispirited by the indifference shown by consecutive central governments, the neglect of development and the borderline racist attitudes of some Indians towards them, the Nagas and indeed other Northeastern populations have reverted to violence to settle for nothing but complete secession from the union of India. The so called Seven Sisters comprising Northeastern states have ironically received nothing but unoriginal step-motherly treatment from the rest of India.

I wonder if the man in the Naga village was better off 'not knowing' what Delhi was. Whatever it is, it surely is not a civil city.

The new generation of Konyaks have long moved on from headhunting and inter-tribal warfare. There is a great urgency and enthusiasm among young Nagas to be part of India's economic prosperity. Buoyed by promises and several peace accords brokered with the Centre, while still maintaining their strong identity, a great many abandon the seclusion of village life and the restraints of tradition to travel to big cities like Delhi and Bangalore only to be hit by glaring racism. When Delhi landlords harass and demand extra money because they are "Chinkies" and not Indians, initial shock leads to bewilderment. One has to wonder about the fuss India makes about preserving Nagaland and the Northeastern states within the nation. Is it only about the hallucinatory possession of land which is not yours? Or is it the great despair of never being able to get used to an abridged national map?

When the Central BJB government in its 'Vision for Delhi' document calls the Nagas and the Northeastern people "immigrants", when a lawyer in Delhi publicly molests a 29-year-old woman from Nagaland, when Awang Newme, a call centre worker is beaten with a cricket bat and asked to leave the city, when Northeastern people are routinely insulted with racist slurs such as Chinky, Kong Kong and Chow Chow, I wonder if the man in the Naga village was better off 'not knowing' what Delhi was. Whatever it is, it surely is not a civil city.

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