Submerging history, culture and identity

Vibi Yhokha | Kohima, March 25

A visit to Chadong village, a Naga village under Ukhrul district in Manipur will give you a rare view of uncertainty and apprehension living under the shadow of a dam construction. The village carries a deserted look. There are no children playing around, no old people sunbathing outside and most houses are in a dilapidated condition. The Church too appears empty on a Sunday.

Chadong village is one among the 11 villages that will soon be submerged under the Mapithel Dam construction of the Thoubal Multi Purpose Project. On January 10 this year, the Thoubal river was blocked, leading the water levels to rise and submerging 10 hectares of land including paddy fields. By monsoon, most of the paddy fields will submerge.

Standing 66 metres high and 1074 metres long, the dam was approved by the Planning Commission in 1980. Ansal Properties and Industries Limited, New Delhi and Progressive Construction Limited Hyderabad are taking on the construction works. The project is set to produce 7.5 megawatt of electricity while providing 10 million gallons of water to Imphal, daily. However the project will displace over 12,000 people, submerge around 11 villages and 777.34 hectares of paddy fields, 110.75 hectares of homestead, 293. 53 hectares of jhum land and 595.1 hectares of forest land.

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Faced with this scenario, some men gathered in the community hall to talk about their struggle. Each face carried a gaunt look. That look is of fatigue – fatigue from protesting for almost twenty five years against the dam construction. They seem to have lost count of the protests and rallies held. In 2015 itself, four protests were held. One of them mentioned that this fatigue under the shadow of the dam has dissuaded them from building toilets for years. Their struggle is one of the longest against construction of dams in India. (See – Narmada,

Despite the area being a Seismic zone 5 (the highest risk zones), no Environmental impact assessment (EIA) was conducted, nor Social Impact Assessment (SIA) carried out, an assessment that is most crucial in any developmental projects that will determine the resettlement, rehabilitation and relocation of the inhabitants. The villagers were never given any Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC).

After much protest and talks, the Manipur government agreed to provide compensation, however only a few were compensated, that too in seven installments from 1996 to 2003. Demands were also made to the authorities to do a holistic review of the project.

The government never listened, says Thamni Kashung, a resident of Chadong and Advisor for the Mapithel Dam Affected Villages Organisation (MDAVO). “For us, we will continue to protest until our genuine demands are met,” asserts Thanmi. One of their demands being resettlement and relocation of the whole community together, so that the relationships are kept intact and their culture preserved. However no assurances were given.

(Someone asks about the year of establishment of the village over which Honreikhui Kashung replies, “There is no historical record, because we have been settling here since time immemorial.” Chadong village has been there since time immemorial that the villagers know the name of each plant and insect in their land. As is the case for many areas in the region, records of the village only appear with the arrival of Christianity in 1935.)

Our voice and struggle has become so powerless, says Honreikhui Kashung as he cites how the government continues to use different tactics to suppress their movements, to the extent of using outfits to threaten the activists.

As one passes through the dam site, 5 military deployments can be seen. Inside Chadong village, the Manipur Rifles and the Manipur Police are posted, with one attached right opposite the village church.

“They promised us a better future, but with the coming of the project we are feeling more insecure and apprehensive,” says Dominic, an advocate. He laments that the community that once rejoiced together in festivals is now finding themselves divided.

In recent years, divisions had already started among the villagers. Some groups formed a separate committee negotiating with the government without the people’s mandate. Fictitious households and names were included in a list demanding compensation. Soon the committee members received the money and fled the village.

“People here are all farmers. To look out for an alternative arrangement is very difficult. But we will still struggle. The thought of our future is very dark,” adds Dominic.

The Thoubal River (also known as Yangwui Kong in the Tangkhul Naga dialect) means the river of strength, because of its strong currents. Community fishing is held every year at the Chadong village, where the community fish and feast together. Chadong village is also known for its soil fertility and its bountiful granaries, where a year’s harvest can last for the next two years. The organic food products of Chadong such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms and wild vegetables are supplied in the markets of Imphal and Yaingangpokpi.

Chadong has a population of 1200 people. The project will displace over 12,000 people. Once the dam is inaugurated and implemented in full swing which is most likely to happen by April, Chadong village will submerge by monsoon. The villagers will relocate to another place. They will soon resort to jhum cultivation in the upper range of the lands which will have adverse impacts on the forest lands.

For the Manipur government, it will just be land that has been submerged. For people in villages like Chadong, it is not just a piece of land that will be submerged, but a community’s home, history, culture, identity, and livelihood. What took decades and centuries to build will be submerged within a few months of time.


This article by Vibi Yhokha has already been published in The Morung Express on March 25, 2015. She is a journalist who shares with us stories from the north eastern region of India.

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To live as an exile, and be back home

via The Morung Express, by Vibi Yhokha, Kohima, 12 December 2014

“I still don’t know how to express the feeling of coming home. I feel like my old self again,”

says Luingam Luithui, sharing on living as an exile and coming back to his ancestral land. Luingam, who is currently in Ukhrul on a tourist visa issued as a result of legal proceedings in the High Court of Delhi, is home after almost 20 years in exile. On November 29, the day he arrived in Ukhrul, around 3000 people gathered at Tangkhul Naga Long Ground to welcome him.

In 1995, the human rights activist’s passport was impounded by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Since then, Luingam and his wife Peingam, have been living in exile in Canada. In 2003, he was allowed to visit his ailing mother for a short period on a special temporary passport issued by the Government of India. The Government of India had accused Luingam of assisting the NSCN (IM). “They know what I do, and what I do cannot be classified as any criminal offence. They are unable to convince each other,” asserts Luingam.

The first human rights violation case that Luingam Luithui clearly remembers was in the 1960s. As a young teenager, he recalls his elder brother leaving for Jessami village as part of a fact finding team to record atrocities committed by the Indian army in the village. He also remembers how his father never expected his older son to ever come home alive. His brother did return but later died in the 1990s due to complications after being tortured by the armed forces.

After completing his Bachelor’s in Economics from St. Anthony’s Shillong, Luingam came home determined to become a farmer. He went to the extent of digging 2000 pits to plant apple trees in his village. At the same time he worked part time as a teacher in Model High School in Ukhrul for almost a year. In the meantime he also served as the President of the Tangkhul Students Union, setting the foundation for him to become a human rights activist. He was locked up in jail four or five times for protesting against the atrocities meted out under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

Fearing for his life, Luingam’s mother soon sent him to Delhi. Luingam belonged to the first batch of the School for International Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). Naga students were ‘very united’ then, he recalls. It was a historic time when strong social movements like Naxalism, and Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for ‘revolution,’ were emerging in India. Many young people his age had died, which he says helped him to think beyond his studies.

Lui, as he is fondly called, was the first person from the North East to become a council member of JNU Students Union (JNUSU) where he served for two terms. He was also a part of Student Federation of India (SFI), involved in providing medical treatment to construction workers who lived under inhuman living conditions in Delhi. He is also one of the founding members of the Naga Peoples’ Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR), one of the first few movements in India to challenge the Constitution of India. It focused on violations of human rights, peace and cooperation through enforcement of constitutional rights.

By 1978, NPMHR members started working from morning till night, typing affidavits and documenting human rights violations of the Nagas. In December 1978, the group travelled to Nagaland to seek advice from Naga elders. On December 15, a gathering was held in Kohima despite the imposition of 144 CrPC. Elders from villages close by walked all the way to Kohima to support the movement. It was also the first time since the 1951 Plebiscite that Nagas came together and where victims of AFSPA shared their stories. Soon his room in JNU was raided and his documents taken away.

When the Emergency was declared in India, Lui was arrested at dawn and charged as a Naga national worker. A close associate of Sitaram Yechury of the CPI (M), back in JNU, they would stage protests, write slogans and put up posters at night to defend the rights of the citizens of India.

One of the most satisfying victories for Lui was the imposition of rule nisi (When admitting a writ petition for being heard, a court orders rule nisi which means that the respondents are asked to show cause why the petition should not be allowed, i.e. why the rule issued may not be made absolute) by the Supreme Court of India. In 1982, NPMHR filed a letter petition before the Supreme Court against atrocities under AFSPA, which made the Court to direct the Indian armed forces not to use any religious or educational institutions in their operations. This allowed Nagas to truly celebrate Christmas after a very long time. That year, when he went home for Christmas, he remembered his mother telling him, “Your father would have been so proud of you.”

Luingam is one of the founders of Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP), one of the leading organizations for indigenous peoples in Asia. He is also a founding member of International Alliance of the Indigenous and Tribal People of the Tropical Forests.

If there is one thing he regrets as an activist, it is anger. “I wished we had been less angry and dealt issues in a more dignified manner,” he reflects.

“You could be burned out and be broken, and people couldn’t understand,” says Luingam, as he recalls the first few years living in exile in Canada where he and his wife survived through his wife’s job as a salesperson. His sister Chon Chon and her husband sent money every alternate month, and his brother was forced to sell their ancestral land. It was only in 2011 that he found the courage to start working again. He joined a catering company where he works 12 hours, cleaning more than 38 rooms per day.

All said and done it will be okay, says an optimistic Luingam, whose contribution to the Nagas and to indigenous groups in India cannot be overlooked. And a nation that strips the identity of its own citizen for defending the rights of the rest needs to question itself.

***

Chai Kadai is thrilled to welcome back Vibi Yhokha and her stories from Nagaland. Please read her article ‘My Nagaland,’ written two years back about multiple incomplete stories of a nation(s), and the ownership of homelands. That article comes with an extensive amount of reading material on Nagalim. Here are a few more articles and books available online-

+ Memoirs of a Student Leader by Dr. P.S. Lorin, Principal, from Degree of Thought, a weekly community column initiated by Tetso College in partnership with The Morung Express.

+ Forbidden Land: The Quest for Nagalim by Frans Welman – the story of three attempts by Frans Welman and his companions to enter Nagaland, the land of more than forty Naga tribes. Although all three efforts ended in failure, the attempts demonstrate how India and the lesser-known Burma, now known as Myanmar, have been succcessful in keeping foreigners out. Neither country wants outsiders to observe the raging war that started shortly after independence from colonial Britain. The Naga’s, who time and time again have made it known to both former colonizer Britain and newly emerging India that they wanted to be left alone, were invaded by India in 1954. Now 50 years later, the war is still on, although for the second time in its history peace talks are taking place. This war, forgotten by the international community, was the challenge for Welman and his companions. Their goal was to check on the rare yet compelling accounts of the land and people that told of beauty and democracy among the Nagas and their tenacity to not give in to a powerful alien master.

+ The Right to Self-Determination and Development of Indigenous Peoples, AIPP – The world is becoming crowded, and there is a scramble for resources in the name of “sustainable development”. Pressure is being put upon indigenous peoples and on their land and resources that they have inherited from their ancestors and are obliged to pass it on to the next generation for their collective survival. This comic provides a simplified overview of the problems faced by indigenous peoples, their rights and their contributions to sustainable development based on their distinct lifestyles and values.