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Northeast / Nagaland Rebellion

Inhabited by swarthy tribes, Nagaland has its own distinct culture and ethos. Happy and cheerful, the people have an innate sense of music and colour. All the land here is basically owned by villages and individuals and this is true of many areas of the North-East and, therefore, one rarely hears of land disputes and clashes. Gateways to villages and houses are really something to see. Nagaland grows a fair amount of oranges and pineapples. The all-prevalent green continues and the scenic beauty of the state overwhelms. Christianity has had a profound influence on the region, and one sees well-maintained churches all over.

On the border with Burma (Myanmar), south of Arunachal Pradesh and east of Assam, Nagaland is physically and conceptually at the very extremity of the subcontinent. Many of its hills and valleys, home to the fiercely independent Nagas, were uncharted until recently, and the eastern regions, remain far beyond the reach of the skeletal road system, despite the fact that the forested mountains rarely exceed 3000m in height. Today this remains the most politically sensitive of the so-called Northeastern hill states, and is all but closed to foreigners.

Although the capital of Nagaland, Kohima, 74km east of Dimapur bordering the Assam Valley, was built by the British in the nineteenth century. It was never a hill station, and lacks Victorian promenades, villas and public gardens. It was founded here - alongside the large Angami village known as Kohima Village, or in the adopted Hindusthani as Bara Basti (the large village) - strictly for the purposes of administration, and continues in much the same vein under a new regime. A more intimate glimpse of traditional Naga life is offered by the walk up to Bara Basti, or the short trip to Khonoma, 20km beyond Kohima, the Nagas' once impregnable stronghold, sacked by the British in 1879 and again by the Indian army in 1956.

From villages perched high on the mountain ridges to either side of the valleys of Nagaland, Naga tribespeople survey their separate domains. Headhunters until not so long ago, the Nagas have long been feared and respected throughout the northeast, although in truth they are a warm and welcoming people. They seem originally to have lived in northeast Tibet, then moved through southwest China into Burma, Malaya and Indonesia, as well as eastern Assam. In Nagaland, they can be divided into sixteen main groups, including the Angamis around Kohima, the Konyaks, Ao, Lothas, Semas and Wanchus. Despite their fierce reputation, all are essentially farmers who cultivate terraced fields and tend cattle.

Traditionally, Nagas differentiated between the soul, a celestial body, and the spirit, a supernatural being, believing that the human soul resided in the nape of the neck and could only be set free by beheading, while the spiritual being, in the head, brought good fortune. Heads of enemies and fallen comrades were collected to add to those of the community's own ancestors. Some tribes decorated their faces with tattoos of swirling horns to mark success in headhunting. Trophies were hoarded in each village in the men's meeting house, or morung, which also served as the boys' dormitory. This large open hall was decorated with fantastic carvings of animals, elephant heads and tusks. Constructed of wood and bamboo, morungs were frequently destroyed by fire, along with the precious collection of heads; however, the benevolent spirits were retained by the re-creation of the lost collection in carved wood. In addition, the Naga still construct megalithic monuments, which line the approaches to villages, and come to personify those who erect them after death. Menhirs stand in pairs or in long double rows, to honour fame and generosity or enhance the fertility of a field. The Angamis were never ruled by chiefs; the closest equivalent is the Tevo, a descendant of the founder of the village and mediator between the community and the supernatural world. Each village is sub-divided into khel, which in the past often had independent inter-tribal policies, and who settled their own disputes by bloody fights. Relations between the sexes traditionally were conducted with great openness and equality. Few first marriages led to a permanent union, and in spite of the Christian influence divorce remains common.

Although each tribe has its own dialect, a pidgin drawn from various Naga languages, Assamese and even Nepalese, has developed into the common Nagamese tongue. As the Nagas have been integrated into the modern world, their traditions are under threat. In an effort to realign society along so-called civilized lines, boys are encouraged to live at home with their parents, and morungs are discouraged and left to fall into ruin.

The British administrators of Nagaland who arrived at a truce with the Nagas towards the end of the nineteenth century, agreed not to penetrate beyond certain boundaries, so their maps left numerous blank areas. Based in the Angami village of Kohima, the Deputy Commissioner occasionally toured the territories to collect taxes and administer justice and came to hold a certain authority among the various tribes. Some developed a loyalty to the British, others saw them as intruders. In 1879 loyal Kohima Angamis who helped to smuggle a message through to British lines in the Assam Valley relieved the Khonoma Angami rebellion against Kohima through assistance. When the Indian flag replaced the Union flag in 1947, it was promptly removed by Nagas, who had come to accept the British presence(Crown Colony) but did not want to join India. For many years, the Naga National Council (NNC) under Angami Zapu Phizo, and with Chinese and the then undivided Pakistan support, fought a bitter war for Naga independence. In 1974, a section of it broke away and, as the United Democratic Front, won election to the state government, then signed the Shillong Accord and laid down their arms. But the rump of the NNC fought on, splitting in 1980 when Phizo's lieutenant, Thuingaleng Muivah, Ishak Chishi Swu and SS Khaplang broke away to form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), again in 1988 they divided into two faction naming as NSCN(K) and NSCN(IM) . SS Khaplang faction is still fighting to this day but with one year ceasefire I-M group has now come to negotiation process with Indian govt..

In 1993, Nagaland experienced recrudescent violence as two ethnic groups, the Nagas and the Kukis, engaged in brutal conflict with each other. Adding to India's internal unrest in this region were the links established between the Bodo insurgents in Assam and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, which, in turn, had links to other active insurgent groups and, reportedly, operatives in Thailand.

On August 1, 1997, a ceasefire between the Government and the ISAC-Muivah faction of the NSCN (NSCN-IM) went into effect and has been largely observed by the Government and all insurgent groups in the state. However, factional feuds among rival Naga insurgent groups claimed an estimated 120 lives during the first 3 months of the ceasefire. The Government extended the ceasefire for another 3 months on November 1, unilaterally including even those armed groups in Nagaland which had not been party to the original ceasefire.

During the latter part of the year, the cease-fire was extended through July 31, 2000. In May 1999, underground Naga leaders Isak Chisi Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, chairman and general secretary respectively of the NSCM-IM, visited Nagaland for the first time in 33 years. The Government asked the NSCM-IM to define the geographical boundary of "Nagalim" to enable it to extend the cease-fire zone to these areas. On August 18, the NSCM-IM killed Dally Mungro, general secretary of the Khaplang faction of the NSCN, along with two of his associates.

The ceasefire was extended in January 2000 until July 31, 2001. In April another Naga insurgent group, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang (NSCN-K) -- the arch rival of NSCN (I-M) -- announced a formal ceasefire. Security forces were not operating against either of the two NSCN factions and both generally were observing the ceasefire with security forces. However, in April 2001 week-long fighting between the 2 NSCN factions left over 45 persons dead, and 4,500 persons were forced to flee 15 villages in Mon district. Negotiations to widen the area of application of the ceasefire were handicapped when NSCN(I-M) leader Thuingaleng Muivah was arrested in Thailand on January 19 for travelling on a forged South Korean passport. On August 25, a joint group of Thai and Indian citizens appealed to the central Government to secure the release of the NSCN(IM) leader in the interest of Naga peace talks. He was released on bail in September 2001.

Between January and May 2001, there were 31 insurgency-related incidents in Nagaland in which 4 civilians and 17 militants were killed. The Government's negotiations with Naga separatists over a cease-fire caused significant unrest in Nagaland and in neighboring states. In one incident in June, police fired teargas shells into a crowd of more than 10,000 demonstrators who were protesting the extension of the Naga ceasefire beyond Nagaland's borders at Nambol in Bishnupur distict of Manipur; police also attacked demonstrators with batons. At least 35 persons were injured.

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