The other Nagas in our midst

For Eastern Mirror Column 'Health et al.'

Many Nagas do not know that there is another Nagaland which exists right under our nose: The bottom half. They are simply numbers in our census. We do not know their names, we do not discuss them, and we do not hear their voices or ever meet them face to face. If you are reading this, perhaps you are one from the upper half who is ignorant of this sad reality. Once in a while, some people from the upper half unassumingly travel to the land of the lower half and to their horror, see for the first time that there is another Nagaland which is so different from the Nagaland we believed to be living in.

Many Nagas today, who are born, brought up, or lived long in towns and cities are so ignorant of our own fellow Nagas who live in the villages. We think we are all basically from villages and we are more or less the same. Some of us naively believe that Nagas are equally progressing; that we all wear similar clothes and drive similar cars. We think we are all getting along fine. ‘Aren’t peons and chowkidars driving cars and using mobile phones?’ we say. Town kids are also blind to their own native places, can hardly speak their mother tongue, and much less, understand the living condition of own kith and kin. VIPs and Big Shots who go on flying visits to such places on special occasions hardly get to see the day-to-day drills of a village life. They meet the VIPs of the village, eat from the officers’ mess, and leave before sunset. There is a story of a king who disguised himself in ordinary clothes and roamed at night to see how his people really are. If our big shots were to emulate that king today, ‘shed off’ their escorts and status and live as the villagers do; in a few days, they will discover to their bewilderment that in fact there is a totally different world, a sort of a parallel universe in our midst.

I’m from the upper half. I was raised in a town and have never lived in the village for long after school. And I don’t mean at all that I am a champion of the lower half. Far from it, I do not understand half a fraction of what the half is like. But like a peek through a window, I, like some of the lucky few from the upper half, have seen this complexity of our Naga existence. I do not want to name any name or place, for we are all equally made in God’s image and share the same world he created. I guess it is a privilege and a burden that doctors get to see people when they are at their worst. As I hold the hands of these people, their palms bear the marks of the hard lives they live. Many of the children have bloated abdomen, not because of overeating but malnutrition and worm infestation. They die from diseases which could have been treated by a salt and sugar solution. I’ve been to villages where backache and knee pains are endemic. It is a sinking feeling to imaging telling a farmer to change her occupation because that’s not good for her backache. During my brief spell of stay, I tried to understand the social conditions related to their illnesses. One guy came to the health centre with burning pain abdomen. After coming to know that he survives on corn as substitute for rice (which is too costly for him), giving dietary advice landed me in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar position. I faced situations where medical text books offer no help. Many people in the villages live with pain unattended to. Imagine staying for a day with pain. And imagine if that pain is for all times and is a ‘way of life’. Especially old folks are not taken to hospitals just because they are old and they have consigned to their fate of living with pain.

The economically poor villagers suffer not only from lack of material wealth but also suffer discriminations and dehumanizing treatments. Some urban folks go to the villages on relief missions, click pictures with dirty children, give away aid, and come back feeling good about themselves. Sometimes, giving of charity can be dehumanizing to the receiver. Poverty is not a cute thing when met with face to face. It was some years back, when I was watching on television a celebrity who was raising funds for aid in Africa. She travelled to Africa and visited the homes of the destitute poor. She wept uncontrollably on seeing the poor people. Her cry was raw and unrehearsed. It was a cry of someone who came face to face with poverty. She was shell-shocked that such poverty exists in the world. The poor are not objects of pity but fellow human beings who need a helping hand. They are people who are wronged more than often, and what they need is not alms but justice. It is common the world over that the rich exploit the poor, snatch their means of subsistence and treat them as sub-humans. Our society is not spared of this pattern. The funds meant for the poor and underprivileged are snatched to build private mansions and fund family shopping vacations. Those who grow rich overnight make no bones about it and feel no needle prick in the conscience. And we join in the celebration of their instant prosperity. A thanksgiving prayer is in place. This unaffected we have become because we do not feel the effects of our actions. Those who suffer for our actions are invisible and voiceless.

Take a trip. Make no big plans. Accept no grand reception. And go to the invisible, voiceless Nagas in our midst with this attitude:
The villagers may be illiterate,
but they are not ignorant or stupid.
They may not be modernized,
but they are not uncivilized.
When we go to the villages,
learning has to be mutual.
For inclusive growth and development of our Naga society, the first thing to do is to recognize and understand the reality of that great divide in our own land.


  1. Nice article there.

    I also belong to the upper half as per your categorization. But thank God my village is close to Wokha town. So I have had the chance to visit often. As a boy I used to go to village and spend vacations from school there with my great aunt. I think I have done many village things which no town kid have done - went to fetch water 5 kms away before dawn using bamboo flame torches (that was early 90s - there were torches too), cleared trees and jungle, burned them for jhum cultivation, sown rice, cleared weeds, done a harvest. I loved doing these with my relatives during vacations. Used to really enjoy forest clearing, enjoy fresh cucumber and maize, and harvest is also one of my favorite season.

    I agree with your last line in italics.


  2. Thanks James for sharing your experience. You had a wonderful boyhood!!!!


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