The doves of peace and harmony are flying in the midst of hawks of discord and strife. A gentle wind of change seems to be wafting over the troubled valleys and hills in the Northeast. Not only by virtue of having a nomenclature that is not congruent with the rest of the country, Northeast India also exhibits certain traits that seems to posit a different trajectory than the rest of the country. Stolid and hearty in the same breath, and a robust approach to life with a gusto and a culture different from the rest of the country have embodied the Northeast states with a character and aspirations that are often in conflict with the opinions and route planned and followed within the Indian nation.
Post the 1947 Independence from colonial rule till the present day, India tries to negotiate its divergent cultures and geography and thoughts so that the Indian nation can emerge as a stalwart whole and a immersive culture that can contain and promote all the different aspirations and difference its form have embraced. The different terrains, the different principalities and nations, the different religions and the different culture that it inherited has also bought about many birth pangs whose ramifications and rumblings are felt even today.
Northeast India from the beginning, from Bordoloi’s commission till today, still contains divergent aspirations that are in conflict with the Indian nation and constitution and sometimes with a particular state. The Northeast hosted one of the longest running armed freedom movements in the world with the Naga movement. Having its roots in the Naga club during colonial time to its metamorphosis into the Naga National Council and the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland and its various factions, the Naga movement has often been mentioned as the ‘mother of all insurgencies’. The Naga movement is noted for its longevity and tenacity as well as its ideological and cultural development. However, this armed movement may soon be a thing of the past, if things are going well.
The current talks between the Indian government and the various stakeholders of the Naga freedom movement is ongoing and currently, going through various debates and the nitty gritty of winding down a movement, a legacy that has touched the life of millions, both dead and living, is on the process. However, it is known and expected that the process will not be easy. Both sides on the talking tables have their points. Even now, the issue of a separate flag and constitution may create certain hurdles of the GOI side as the only state which have this distinction, Jammu & Kashmir has its concerned article abrogated. Various stakeholders also have their say in the matter. Peace is not easy.
At this juncture, it may be pertinent to look back at the most successful peace accord the government of India ever signed with any movement or insurgent group, the Mizo Peace Accord. As is well known, in 1959, Mizoram (Mizo Hills in those days, a district of Assam) was visited by the Mautam famine, an ecological phenomenon where bamboos flowered in a 50 years cycle leading to increase in rat population and subsequently, famine. The Mizos formed the Mizo National Famine Front to combat the famine and do relief works. According to the Mizos, the Assam government neglected to provide needed and necessary urgent relief, disbelieving in the concept of Mautam. As a result, relief was not provided on time and as needed. After the famine was over, along with other grievances, the Mizo National Famine Front changed its form from a relief organisation to a political one into the Mizo National Front which declared independence from India on March 1, 1966.
The Indian government responded with a speed and brute force that its ramifications and tremors are felt even today. For the first and only time so far in the history of India, the Indian government bombed its own citizen, the people of Aizawl with incendiary rounds with the toofani jet fighters piloted by Rajesh Pilot and Suresh Kalmadi. Not only this, the Indian government introduced grouping of villages in grouping points. Villagers were forcibly removed from their traditional and ancestral lands and forced group in another villages and places which were alien to them. The suppression of civil rights and the introduction of Armed Forces (Special Power) Act created an environment full of trauma and sufferings.
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Owing to the sufferings of the people and the desire for peace and to restore normalcy, the Mizoram Church formed their own committee to broker for peace. The MNF also agreed to this move. To cut a long story short, with an united front, the church was instrumental in brokering for peace as well as the MNF leadership and cadres who also agreed to the move. The ruling Congress government in Mizoram were magnanimous enough to vacate their seat and gave it to the movement returnees with Laldenga at the helm.
From particular day on June 30, 1986, Mizoram has never looked back. The restoration of normalcy and the lasting peace that it has brought have brought about changes in the state that makes it one of the most vibrant small states in the Indian Union. Various key points in the agreement of the peace accord are yet to come to reality, like a separate high court for the state of Mizoram. Mizoram University came about in 2001, 15 years after the accord was signed. It is from within the hallowed halls of Mizoram University itself that I am writing these lines. A child during the insurgency, yet now a young man reaping the benefits of the Mizo Accord and also some of the memories of those dark days passed through oral and written narratives.
Peace is not easy, peace is costly. It is very fragile. Only one cannot ask for peace, it has to be a group affair with both groups willing to put aside their differences and come to a conclusion that is beneficial for all concerned. Brokering has become an art; negotiations are often about forms and rhetoric. But, at the heart of any talk for peace, the human and humane needs to be put at the foremost. It is not for geographical terrains and ideological stand that we are arguing for. It is for a person, someone who has lost his/her family in the movement, some mother whose rights have been violated, and the memory of somebody who lost his /her life in the movement. It is a living being who desire peace.
Asking for peace involves a step down from the high pedestal of arrogance and self serving, it involves forgiving others, it involves not seeking for revenge; it involves the agonising process of letting go of the painful memories of the past and hoping for a brighter future.
In Mizoram, peace is there amidst the dark times and memories in the past. But, the people of Mizoram are willing to let bygones be bygones and look and hope for a better future. That is what makes peace work and lasting.
May there be lasting peace among the Naga people.
(Zara Bawitlung is a civil servant turned academician. He can be reached at email@example.com. Views expressed are personal)