The visits of Nokpai Chonglymn and Chhangpoh S.V. to India for education, healthcare or for procuring essentials have been “too routine to remember”.
But the two Naga leaders, separated from each other by “four days’ journey” in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division, are unlikely to forget a special Sunday — April 24 — that brought them and hundreds of other tribespeople from contiguous Naga-inhabited areas together at Talui in Ukhrul district of Manipur. The occasion — an event titled ‘Nagas Without Borders’ organised by the Zingtun Tangkhul Katamnao Long (ZTKL), a Tangkhul Naga students’ body, on its 75th anniversary.
About 105 km northeast of State capital Imphal, Talui is an iconic Naga village dominated by the Tangkhuls. It is the birthplace of Mazachang Raikhan, a railway officer who founded the ZTKL in 1947 and is 16 km from Somdal, where NSCN (I-M) general secretary Thuingaleng Muivah was born.
Nagas living without borders under one administrative umbrella has been a long-cherished dream of the NSCN (I-M), which expands to the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim.
“We harbour the hope that we will be together one day, that the artificial borders cannot keep us separated. We, the Nagas living in Myanmar are still in darkness, underdeveloped and living in sheer hopelessness. Nagas living within the Indian administrative areas are more privileged,” Mr. Chonglynm, the president of the Eastern Naga Students’ Association (ENSA), told an emotional gathering at the Talui football ground.
His village, Chenthroilu, is about 14 km from Chenmoha, the nearest village in Nagaland on the international border. The village has been destroyed four times by the Myanmar junta since it was established a few decades ago.
There are nine officially recognised Naga communities in Myanmar living along the border with Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland and Manipur. In the northeast, the Nagas are spread across Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland.
Mr. Chonglymn and his associates travelled miles, mostly on dirt tracks, to reach Talui. Many others, including members of cultural troupes, could not cross over to India due to security reasons, although India and Myanmar have a free movement agreement for border residents.
Rego Shonsei, the advisor to ENSA from Chamkock village across the border, said the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 has compounded the problems of the Nagas there. “We have not yet participated in the civil disobedience movement in Myanmar but the internal strife has left us mentally, psychologically and emotionally scarred,” he told The Hindu.
“But the cultural convergence at Talui, the first of its kind, has reaffirmed the vision of oneness of various Naga tribes and reassured us that Nagas will stand by each other despite political barriers,” he said.
Chhangpoh S.V., a Tangkhul Naga leader from Phungtret village in Myanmar, agreed. “About 35% of the Tangkhuls live across 32 villages in Myanmar. Such events will go a long way in minimising the pain of our people divided between two countries,” he said.
Speaking at the event, ZTKL jubilee committee convenor A.C. Thotso said Nagas would need to work in solidarity in order to be able to achieve their dreams.
“The presence of our leaders from across borders has bolstered us. The artificial boundaries cannot stop us from coming together, moving together, sharing together and working together to achieve our dreams,” he said.
“We are all Nagas but we never came together like this before. The jubilee gave us an opportunity to meet and know one another,” Epchan P.A., the ZTKL president said.
Senior NSCN-IM leader V.S. Atem, who was born at Talui, attended the event as the chief guest.