Impressions of India’s Forgotten Frontier, Nagaland

Nagaland, one among the seven sisters and one brother of India’s North East, was a place I had the privilege of visiting recently. Immersion was the aim of this visit, as I, along with my peers delved into the culture, tradition and communal harmony of the state. At every stage my perceptions were proven wrong, my past notions of the state were challenged and I was forced to reconsider my perceptions of culture and self determination. 

While the recent history of Nagaland itself is vast and nuanced and will be delved into in greater depth, below are some of the initial impressions of my visit to Khonoma and Kohima. 

Caption: Reconsidering ideas of development in Nagaland

Development to my mind has always been black and white. It is the picture of carefully constructed communal spaces, built to pass on age-old traditions. It was the idea of people deriving honor and pride not from mere material possessions but acts of service for a community of people who were most often biologically unrelated. It was the perception of stewardship, an inherent sense of responsibility and sustainability over territory one could not even lay claim to. 

In time however, faults began to emerge, some seeming too wide for me to overlook. Disproportionate expectations from women in a community that had been built by a significant female labor force. Discreet patriarchal norms that determined the marital success of women, prioritizing what seemed to be vanity over character. Stronger, contradictory feelings arose as I questioned how a community founded on such a degree of scientific ingenuity still remained culturally regressive. Walking through Khonoma, I was acutely aware of the fact that my perceptions were not just presentist and unfair in a society that was younger and far less exposed than mine. It’s true that I now have been left with more questions than answers, more uncertainty than certainty, but one thing has become clear to me. Development is neither black nor white. If anything, it is a picture of complexity and nuance. 

Caption: The Two India’s that exist parallelly

Always fed narratives of moral righteousness, our India emerged from oppression as the pinnacle of unity and self determination. Theirs was imposing and abrasive, founded on betrayal and half truths. We look to our history pridefully, ignorant of the fact that history repeats itself. How have we defined our nation’s conscience? Where did our tryst with destiny falter? When did the oppressed become the oppressor?

Caption: Two Worlds at the Kohima War Cemetery

The world outside is loud. Ambulances blare, cars zoom past. People rapt in their own bubbles as they travel the city. Yet, the hill beckons. Silent. Unnerving. Serene. Time stands still here, fossilized in 1944. The asymmetry between the world’s is glaring, but it moves me. This is the tomorrow the soldiers sacrificed their today’s for. 

Caption: Reconsidering culture

Hospitality to oppressors. Vulnerable glimpses into communal perceptions of beauty to city bred individuals. Seventeen pairs of eyes scrutinize every action and statement made. It’s true, the Nagas were once perhaps a brutal boastful tribe, our lived experiences suggest otherwise. Met only with warmth and open arms, I am forced to recognise the bounds of bias in capturing culture. 

Caption: Village Walk

Seventeen distinct sounds fill the air. Some excited, some judgemental and some indifferent. The voices seem to die down. The incessant hum is drowned out by a sound larger and more all encompassing, a deafening silence. It is the realization of our ignorant imposition in a community that wasn’t ours to begin with.