Naga-Assam boundary: Paying the Price of Silence by Sebastian Zumvu


TNT | OPINION | Sept 16, 2018: 

By Sebastian Zumvu

The claim of one MLA of Assam in recent times regarding ownership of Dimapur smacks of mala fide intention, and is flawed on historical front.

Firstly, the intention is certainly to foment enmity between the people of Assam and Nagaland. Moreover, an Assamese leader espousing the cause of the Kacharis at this juncture is laughable considering that the latter are treated as second-class citizens in their own State. We need no elaboration on this count.

Secondly, the politician should study his own history to get his facts right. The claim that Dimapur was named after Hidimba is not supported by history. Scholars have time and again pointed out that Hidimba was an old name of Cachar. (A History of AssamSir Edward Gait)

The report that the Kacharis ruled over vast swathes of areas between Dhansiri and Cachar is not entirely wrong. But after 1490 when the first recorded battle between the Ahoms and the Kacharis took place on the bank of river Dikhu where the latter defeated the former, the Kacharis slowly lost their hold over the areas mentioned, as the Ahoms, despite their defeat, gradually made inroads towards Dhansiri river. Dikhu river ceased thereafter to be the traditional boundary between the two nations.

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In 1531, a severe battle took place between the two armies in the south of what is now Golaghat where Detcha, the brother of Kachari king Khunkhara, was killed.

Following this battle, the Ahoms penetrated as far as the Kachari capital Dimapur and the Kachari king Khunkhara fled. The victorious Ahoms then placed Detsung, a distant relative of the Kachari king, on the Kachari throne.

However, in 1536, Detsung quarreled with the Ahoms who then ransacked Dimapur. The Kacharis then fled from Dimapur and heading south west, set up their capital at Maibong on the banks of river Mahur.

After the plains of Dhansiri were vacated by the Kacharis in the 15thcentury, tribesmen from the hills slowly occupied the fertile valley. Angami tribesmen from Western Angami and Chakhroma areas started trade and commerce with people of the plains for salt and other essentials.

Chumukedima villagers recall the yearly tax their forefathers received in the form of salt and cattle from people located as far as Nowgong (Nagaon). This is confirmed by ER Grange, who, writing about the Kacharis in and around present-day Manja area (Mahong Dijao), in 1840 recorded: "The Cacharees here (Bokolea), till within two years past, have been obliged to pay tribute to the Nagas of Sumoogoding, to preserve peace. The tribute consisted of a cow or bullock, and one maund of salt per annum." (Verrier Elwin, THE NAGAS in the Nineteenth Century, page 218)

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Alexander Mackenzie, narrating about ER Grange's second expedition to the Naga Hills in 1840, mentions how the expedition resulted in burning of five villages and capture of eleven Naga prisoners.

"Soon after Mr Grange had returned from the hills the second time, the two Ganw Boorahs of Samoogooting came down and entered into written engagements to be friendly, expressing a wish to settle on the plains. Lands east of Mohang Dijooa were promised them, and the Naga prisoners were all released, but it does not appear that any active steps were taken to induce a Naga immigration to the plains." (The North-East Frontiers of Bengal, page 106)

In the same book, Mackenzie, writing about occupation of Chumukedima, mentions how all "Angami Nagas visiting the plains of Assam were to be furnished with passes… as they passed through Sumoogooting, where they were also to leave their spears." In a footnote, the author states that the "boundaries of the District of the "Naga Hills" were thus fixed in 1867 –

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"Eastern Boundary – The "Doyeng" or "Rengmah" river.

"Northern Boundary – A line from the confluence of the "Doyeng" and "Dhunseery" river along the "Dhunseery" for a distance of six miles, thence up the Nambar Nulla to its source and across country to a point on the "Doeegooroong" nulla, thence along it northwards for a distance of 7 ½ miles, from which point it takes a due westerly course to a point on the "Kolleeanee" river along which it runs for a distance of 28 miles.

"Southern Boundary – A line along the crest of the Burrail range from the source of the "Rengmah" or the "Doyeng" to the small western feeder at the source of the "Dhunseery" river.

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"Western Boundary – A line from the crest of the "Burrail" range down the "Dhunseery" river for a distance of 26 miles, thence across the Hills to a point on the "Loongteng" river and along it to its confluence with the "Doyeng" river; across the Hills to the "Gungah Ghat" on the "Kopilee" rivers; and along it to the junction of the "Kopilee" and the "Doyeng" rivers; …"

However, due to lack of population, the Nagas could not establish more settlements in the plains till recent memory when other tribesmen from other parts of the then Naga Hills, chiefly through the involvement of the British administrators, settled in pockets after seeking due permission from the traditional landowners, namely, Chumukedima and Seitiekiema villages.

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Now, it is a historical fact that the Ahoms themselves chased away the Kacharis and ransacked their capital Dimapur. But, the Ahoms made no attempt to occupy Dimapur. In fact, Dimapur, in whatever array or disarray it was post Ahom-Kachari imbroglio in the 16thcentury, found mention and gained prominence only when the colonial powers, to appease the "wild" marauding Angamis who made frequent attacks on the tax-paying villages, released several Angami Naga prisoners and agreed to set up a "salt market" at "Dheemapore" way back in the mid 19th century. And if one were to go through the maps and descriptions of the early British officials who made daring expeditions to these wild and barbarous, uncharted regions of the world in their attempt to find routes to Manipur from Assam in the 19th century, present-day Assamese zealots would cringe and feel 2-feet small when they find that villages from present-day Bakolia were paying "tribute" to the Naga villagers of Chumukedima as far back as 1838!

And what about this fantastic claim that Assam had leased Dimapur to Nagaland for 99 years in 1963? Bravo! This fellow needs a medal! We need to be coached by him as to how one can make oneself so stupid. We of the Northeast need not travel all the way to Agartala to meet that gentleman who declared Internet was availed by a section of humanity since one lakh years back! Now, where is that document of 99-year lease? Who were the signatories? And where was/is it?

As a matter of fact, Nagaland, based on 16-point Agreement of 1960, has more legitimate rights to claim vast swathes of land and forests presently located in Assam. The Agreement was a solemn agreement signed between Government of India and representatives of the Naga people. And the 12th and 13th points of the said Agreement, by invoking the provisions of Articles 3 and 4 of the Constitution of India, should be vigorously pursued and brought to fruition.

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However, Nagas have been too complacent for our own good. For instance, unilateral abrogation of Point #2 of the Agreement in 1972 by the Government of India when Nagaland was placed under Ministry of Home Affairs from the Ministry of External Affairs. Also, Point #11 was violated when in 1989, Nagaland, along with others, was denied the Special Category State status even though it was categorically specified in the Agreement that the Government of India would make special financial arrangements for Nagaland. The financial position of the State drastically worsened after 1989, and over the decades, we are now strapped with thousands of crores in deficit.

We have remained silent on the land earmarked for us by the British; we have remained mute when provisions of a solemn Agreement were flagrantly and unilaterally abrogated by the Government of India, and we are now paying the price for our silence.

DISCLAIMER: The opinion expressed in the article belongs to the writer and TNT- The Northeast Today may not subscribe to the same views.