At the outset it would be imperative for me to state here that I have never been to any of the interior parts of Wokha nor have I been particularly associated with any Lotha person or area in any manner. On a couple of occasions while journeying to and from Mokokchung, I had alighted at the Wokha town road (which falls in the line of National Highway 61) to have my much cherished and unforgettable Lotha dish meal (usually pork-bamboo-shoot curry). Apart from these, my shoes have never been dirtied by any soils from any other parts of Wokha.
However, in the backdrop of the recent outbreak of violence in Ralan area, my heart and mind have been unusually occupied with matters pertaining to the causes and situations in those areas that ultimately led to the crisis resulting even in loss of precious lives. Moreover, in the light of the events that unfolded, a couple of Lotha citizens here in Kohima have also apprised me about the undesirable elements that led to the confusion and crisis in the Ralan circle. In fact, a senior Lotha citizen even came all the way to my house and enlightened me on the matter. None of these persons told me to write and present these information in the papers. However, since I have been enlightened in more ways than one and since the issues related to the outbreak of crisis in that area are quite acute in nature, I share some of my concerns here through this write-up.
The recent crisis in Ralan circle has been dubbed as a border issue between the states of Nagaland and Assam. However, according to the version of the Lothas who have ancestral lands in these areas, who grew up there in those areas in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s and who are familiarly associated with those areas, the recent crisis that erupted in the Ralan circle is not at all a border issue between the two states. Rather it is a mere but serious case of the land tenants claiming ownership over the lands on which they were allowed to work and earn their livelihood and rear their families for the last many decades. These land tenants are non-Nagas and migrants from places like Assam and Orissa. They were employed by the Lothas who owned lands in these areas and with the passage of time, they came to have a rather emboldened attitude at the instigations of some vested interest from the Assam side of the lands.
As an observer, I have always been concerned by the absence of any demarcation line between the lands of the Nagas and that of Assam. And the recent crisis that erupted in Ralan has once again reaffirmed these concerns, confusions and fears. Forget about concrete posts and barbed wires demarcating the Nagaland-Assam border, I am not even aware of even a single wooden / bamboo post standing as the boundary of Nagaland and Assam. In such a scenario, it is no surprise that confusions and conflicts arise and it will also be no surprise even if some people from the other side are trying to make Assam bigger according to their own whims and fancies by instigating, manipulating and circulating unwarranted rumors and reports. And this crisis has once again put a very big question mark over our often repeated statement that Nagaland state is 16579 sq. km in size. Why do we always say this when there is not even a single thread demarcating the boundary of the state of Nagaland?
Many of the land tenants employed in these Naga lands are usually known by the name ‘Adivasis’. These Adivasi people are said to be originally from Orissa who came to Assam in search of work. Many of them are employed as tea-garden laborers across Assam. However, some of them probably failed to get employment in the tea-garden sector of Assam and were ultimately employed as land tenants in the Naga Lotha lands. They had been working thus for decades and as time passed, even their children followed in their fathers’ footsteps and thus the trend has continued to this day. And now, taking advantage of the absence of a boundary line between Nagaland and Assam, these land-tenants have now gone to the extent of claiming their employers’ lands as theirs.
Another confusion is probably connected with the Naga forests overseen by the Assam forest department in these areas. Nagaland was carved out of Assam as the 16th state of the Indian union in the 1960s. However, Nagaland being a new state at that time, there was no Nagaland forest department to oversee the Naga forests in those areas. And thus, through mutual understanding, the Assam forests department was allowed to look after these Naga forests. And now some people from the Assam side are instigating the ignorant people by saying “If those are Naga forests, then why are they being manned by the Assam forests department?”
Recently the Naga Tribes Council (NTC) also brought up some of these issues before the public. According to the NTC, an agreement was made in 1972 between the chief ministers of Nagaland and Assam to prevent further settlement in the disputed lands and place additional guards in those areas. However, it lamented that the agreement could neither prevent further settlement nor turmoil in the area. The NTC also goes on to say that the Nagas in 1929 had also presented a petition to the Simon Commission for the return of the forests lands transferred to Sibsagar district of Assam for better administration and management of the forests, in addition to other political issues. This stand of the Nagas on the disputed land was repeated in 1948 in the Nine Point Agreement, it added. The NTC further reminds that this issue was raised again in 1963 in the Sixteen Point Agreement. Since then the Nagas have all along been demanding ‘Return Our Land’. Thus, our age-old demand has always been “Return Us Our Ancestral Lands”
Another reason why the land tenants became so emboldened is because they are always sided and supported by the Assam armed police personnel. The so-called central Para–Military forces called themselves neutral forces but they always sided with the landless tenants. According to a senior Lotha citizen, such actions / attitudes of the people in authority were not based on legal or moral concepts but purely emanated out of their total disregard and hatred for the Nagas. Still, the Naga leaders and authorities continued to slumber on their wealth and comforts. With the passage of time, the landless tenants not only got emboldened but their number (population) also increased. In such a scenario, the situation that arose was “How can the helpless hundred landowners withstand the thousand landless tenants backed by the Assam government and armed personnel?”
Some of the organizations which are apparently trying to gain and benefit out of this situation are All Adivasi National Liberation Front (AANLF), All Assam Gorkha Students’ Union and some leaders of the ULFA. Our side of the story is that it was never a case of boundary dispute between the two states but a case of shameless and instigated landless laborers, with the backing of an ever cunning and greedy administration, claiming ownership over the lands that reared and provided for them for many years. Thus, the stand of the Nagas remains clear and simple and that is “Return Back Our Lands to Us” – nothing more and nothing less. …….
Therefore, it would not be improper even if the Nagaland government sends proper and adequate well-armed personnel to these areas which have always been our ancestral property since times immemorial. This is so because we are not intruding into any foreign territory but only preventing our precious lands from being snatched away from us right in front of our eyes……This recent case of land tenants claiming ownership over the Naga lands which provided for their sustenance and livelihood for decades has once again refreshed and ignited our hearts and minds about the danger posed by the unabated infiltration of outsiders into our lands. This time it is the land tenants mainly Adivasis…..the next time it could be some other outsiders from any part of India or even IBIs.