The Naga movement for independence from India began in 1947. Over 60 years later, the region considered to part of northeast India continues to be under Indian control. Youngsters in Nagaland are now taking the struggle online.
Esther Longchar, 34, is an editor at RAMP, a fashion magazine in Dimapur, Nagaland. She defines Naga fashion and culture as distinct. “It’s different from India,” she says. “You see people here dress differently. We think differently from Indians. Traditionally and culturally we are different from what is Indian.”
It’s this feeling of distinctness and her pride in being Naga that drives her passion. “Through my magazine, I’d like to tell the world about our existence and how we have independent thought and culture,” she says.
Kevin Yepthomi, a 36-year-old entrepreneur, lives only a few blocks away from Esther. He knows little about fashion, but he backs Esther’s claims of independent culture and tradition. Esther and Kevin have discussed this issue a number of times.
But they’ve never met each other face-to-face. Their interactions have always been on virtual media. Kevin and Esther, along with thousands of other young Nagas around the world, are part of Naga forums such as The Naga Blog, Naga Spear and She Naga on Facebook.
“If I am online, I spend most of my time on these forums. Always checking who’s saying what. The discussions are progressive, so it’s great to take part,” Kevin says.
Young Nagas who are part of these forums are trying to define their ‘new’ Naga identity here. But their quest towards securing their identity has been passed on from previous generations. The Naga movement for independence from India began in 1947, with the end of British colonialism.
Lhouvitsu, 67, joined the struggle in the late 60s. “We declared independence from the British a day before India did. We had spoken to Mahatma Gandhi about our demands for an independent country and he had agreed. We are an independent nation and India has to accept that,” he says.
Today Lhouvitsu is the speaker of the Federal Government of Nagaland (FGN), a parallel government established by the first Naga leader Angami Zapu Phizo in 1946. The FGN split in 1988 into the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN), which further fractured into several splinters.
Currently there are four major factions that claim to be fighting for independence on behalf of the Nagas, with most of them having signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government. Indian troops are still stationed in Nagaland and the state also participates in parliamentary elections.
Lhouvitsu acknowledges that the splits are weakening the struggle. “We are open. We would like the various factions to come together and that would make our demands more concrete,” he says. But in the past 30 years, that hasn’t happened.
There’s a flicker of hope that the next generation would take things ahead in this regard. And social media is providing the key – a space for Nagas from all sections of society to share their views openly. Peter Rutsa, administrator of The Naga Blog says, “We have people from the armed groups, people who are pacifists, and people who don’t care about the movement, all sharing their ideas with each other. When you live in your own world, you lack empathy because you don’t know enough about the other person’s views. But the Facebook group is changing that.”
From talks about peace and reconciliation to gathering support for football clubs in the local league, a range of political and non-political issues take centre-stage on the Naga forums. Debates surrounding Naga sovereignty often surface here.
But these debates and discussions online also spill over to the real world. For instance, The Naga Blog, with over 13,000 active members, raised over 13,000 rupees (approximately 200 euros) to help an infant girl have successful heart surgery by auctioning a T-shirt on the social networking website.
Silence no more
Robert Solo, 39, a youth activist, has been working with young Nagas for nearly a decade and he says the social networks are doing away with the silence which has long prevailed in Naga society. “Initially people used to be scared of speaking out. There used to be real threats involved. Your life could have been in danger if you spoke out against the Indian Army or any one of the factions,” he says.
Online participation is open and enhanced due to the higher degree of detachment that the internet provides. “This is going to be key. Those in power are also watching. I think there will be a revolution because of this online movement,” Robert says.