They died so that our land may heal
Sometimes, death speaks stronger than our lives, our conversations and everyday languages. The death of the six cadres of the Naga army in Arunachal Pradesh on 11 July affected us in different ways. It would not have mattered who the six people were or which organization they belonged to.
The pictures that widely circulated in social media suggest that it was not an encounter as reported in the news. It appeared that they had not anticipated the attack or prepared themselves to defend. One of them is seen lying dead with a pair of clean sneakers on. He did not seem to have even walked on the muddy place. One of them kneeling against a gun but not falling. They had even cooked rice to eat.
Perhaps one day, we will know of what happened to them. Perhaps, we will never know what was done to them.
Their death however broke a long lull that the Naga journey has been enticed into. The Naga civil societies and many concerned individuals in different capacities worked for days. The Naga Hoho and the Naga Mothers’ Association immediately stood up and began the process of repatriating the bodies; coordinating between states, different agencies, and organizations. It took five days to claim the dead, nearly losing it midway. But the longer it was delayed the stronger the collective indignation became, and was spreading.
The five days brought together not just the Naga people but also non-Nagas walking with us in an organic solidarity like how they always do, in our most difficult times. We witnessed a peoples’ movement we had not seen in a long time. Four Naga professionals in their anguish and as a tribute to the dead raised a few lakhs in four days. Donations came in from young and old, pastors and farmers, mothers and friends. Some donated from quarantine centres. Those who did not have online banking asked friends for help. An elderly man sent 200 rupees from his saving of 350 rupees and a text “my child I wish I could have sent more but this is all I can afford” along with his account statement. We have not heard stories of such compassion and solidarity in years.
While some of them were made to be buried hurriedly and quietly, for some who had a longer journey home, the time was converted into glorious ceremonies, including a gun salute to honour them. But more significantly, their dirge and eulogies, their stories and death tell us what is happening to a peace process that gave us hope once upon a time. The ceasefire period has injured the dignity and the journey of the Naga people so much so that it has created more factions than before and this spans across tribes, civil societies, churches, armed groups, political parties, gender, and geography. For too long we have been made to stagger between difficult political spaces and terrains as a people and death like this remind us that we have no other way but together.
Both India and death do not distinguish factions and borders. The ones isolated and hunted down in the Eastern Naga Hills, the ones persecuted in the Western Hills, the ones threatened with territoriality in the Southern Hills, the ones deprived in the Northern Hills, all in different circumstances, but are Nagas.
Our elders and leaders must take a relook at the ongoing negotiation, its relevance and relationship with the people, and know where our strength and our solution lies. What has happened reaffirms that the movement is in our hearts, not in factions and false peace.
What would have been a death in obscurity has ended up imprinting names and faces of six young men who are now hailed as heroes. They seem to tell each one of us that they died so that we may kneel and our land may heal.
Tungshang Ningreichon is from Ukhrul and lives in Delhi. She walks with the Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights and writes occasionally for the love of history, stories, and memories.