The history of the border dispute between Assam and Nagaland dates back to centuries and in 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 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.
“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 catalysed 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.
The 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 the 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 disciple of the Guru of Moira Moira Sattra, as our forefathers got converted to Vaishnavites when they first came to the place. Since then, we have followed the same custom and remained Vaishnavite,” 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 Gadadhar.
As time passed by, this group of Konyak Nagas became a part of the Assamese culture and today they are an integral part of the people of Sibsagar.
Though Assam resides within its heart and soul, yet the village has been a bone of contention for several years now with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) making repeated claims over it.
“The Naga Village is one such area, over which the NSCN has been making repeated claims. They have even tried to make inroads into the minds of the villagers and time and again have sent their agents to brainwash the people. Till date, such a devilish plan has not succeeded and I am confident it will be the same in many years to come,” Krishna Bora, a Sibsagar-based teacher, remarked.
Bora’s claims were even supported by several elders from the village.
“Once, few NSC cadres came to the village with certain agendas in mind. First, they sought a donation from us for fuelling their movement and second they wanted recruits from the village. We, being highly hospitable, first fed them with best of the best meat and fish. And once they were filled to the neck, we beat the hell out of them. Since then, no NSCN cadre has ever set foot on the village soil,” informed Uma Konyak, a surrendered ULFA member.
“Not just the militants, but even the Christian missionaries have tried their best to convert us into Christians. But we have vehemently refused to it saying,” Uma further said, adding, “We have the least interest in losing our Assamese-Naga identity. We are Assamese Vaishnavites and we love being it.”
Adding further Uma said, “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, don’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.”
The 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, Janmashtami, Durga Puja and Kali Puja with equal respect,” further informed Montu.
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 village interest 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 to 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 that the job was denied to her,” bemoaned Samson.
Border issues, political struggles and ethnic dominion may be 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.
Partha Prawal (Goswami) is a Guwahati-based journalist who loves to write about entertainment, sports, and social and civic issues among others. He is also a published author.