How old were you when you first heard a (real) gunshot? Have you ever?
My recollection of a gunshot is hazy but I remember an incident way back in the early 90s (1993 perhaps) when the NSCNs were constantly being in tension with the central/state armed forces. That particular day, we had cooked fish for dinner. My grandma (who is now 102 years of age) was sorting out the fish bone for me. Suddenly, we heard gunshots so we took our plates and hid under the bed (all the while feeding me rice and fish). In the haste, I choked on the bone.
The following years, I remember scattered incidents where we would have to cower in the middle of nowhere whenever gunshots are heard. One time, I was out looking for pig feeds (green grass) in Viewland with my sister and a cousin. When we heard the gunshots, we had to fall flat on the ground spilling our gathered feeds. Around this time too, we would often see mothers leave home with torches in the evening of matters concerning the peace process between the Nagas and the Government of India.
Before the Naga Ceasefire was signed in 1997, I recall a particular night where the armies had come to our house for a ‘combing operation’. That night, a group of young men from my village had stayed in our home (cannot recall exactly why). So, when the armies came knocking on our door, our men had to sit on the stairs while I stood with my grandma waiting for the armies to look for the arms & ammunitions, they thought these young men have stashed away.
Through my teenage years, I’ve attended condolence services of slain IM cadres. I grew up listening to stories of how the cadres survived in the jungle without proper food; of surviving shootouts with army personnel; of men/women being tortured in the name of the alleged link to NSCN-IMs and so on.
Perhaps, all of these has cumulated in the empathy and sympathy I’ve got going for them. But if you do look at how we started, how this movement began, how they struggled, then you might too. And maybe that’s how those born up till early 90s do share a similar emotion.
Mind you, my tryst with NSCN-IM’s hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. When I started Sprout Culture in 2018, I had a certain man claiming to be from the region office walk into my class who informed me about a certain amount of tax that was more than what I would earn in 4/5 months. I’ve had heated arguments with men from IM groups for their high-handedness too. I have so many questions about how they operate. And I could go on. But how could all of these discredit the struggle, the irreplaceable loss, and the pain that we’ve all been through from the start of our Naga Freedom struggle?
When we talk about what Naga patriotism means to the young teenagers of today, they would blink at us. A nonchalant nod is what they would give us. Given the monotonous routine in this lockdown, maybe, maybe they would remember the images that circulated on social media of the (recent) 6 slain IM cadres in Arunachal? What they remember would, perhaps, be the lockdown imposed in town to take up condolence services for certain IM Kilonser(s) or top-ranked officers and not ‘Naga struggle’? Does this mean that the generation today have to go through the brutality of what we went through to be able to feel patriotic?
By referring to (Naga) ‘patriotism’, I do not mean defending about ‘Naga struggle’ with all your might. I do not even mean siding with the NSCN IM, K, or U etc. You do not have to say the ‘wrong’ done was ‘right’. It’s not even about approving of everything that is happening with us under the name of Naga freedom struggle. Afterall, what is a nation without dissent?
The increased use of social media has also led to keyboard warriors who seem to think to be patriotic means to wage a keyboard war against other tribes/nation; or even hitting the share buttons or one of the emojis. But is that what patriotism has come down to? Did the system fail us or did we fail the system?
But really, what does being ‘patriotic’ mean at this time?
Yuimi Vashum: An author and an educationist writing from the comfort of the hills of Ukhrul. Views are personal.
You can also buy the author’s poetry book ‘Love. Lust. And Loyalty’ from Amazon