Post Mortem

How much land does a Naga need?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 3/8/2021 1:58:19 PM IST

 “Six feet from his head to his heels was all he needed,” answers Tolstoy to his own question posed in the title of his short-story How much land does a man need? His question seems pertinent now more than ever in the present Naga context, especially considering the Naga’s close association with their land being ingrained within the very fabric of their tribal system. With the recent withdrawal of the no-objection certificate (NOC) by the Chi village council (CVC) citing issues of land disputes with the landowners, the prospect for the setting up of the medical college in Mon seems to be coming to a standstill. The incident perhaps brings to light a toxic relationship that Nagas harbor towards their land, which often builds up from within a greedy foundation.

Such disputes over land are nothing new for the Naga citizens. The construction of the proposed “First Medical College in Nagaland” in Phriebagie, Kohima whose foundation was laid in 2014, was temporarily halted in 2016 because of the controversies over land acquisitions, and was only able to continue with construction in 2017, with it still remaining unfinished to this date. The “Second” medical college in Nagaland seems to be heading towards a similar fate. What is central to the CVC and Mon medical college debacle is of course the discord between neighboring village jurisdictions. The CVC had claimed that the landowner Gopang had been in open loggerheads with the whole of Chi village, which only brings to light a deep-seeded (often negative) support among the Nagas for one’s own village.

The CVC’s agreement to let the medical college be built in their jurisdiction came with a recognition of their own village in the address of the college, which was proposed to read “Medical College Mon at Chi, dist. Mon, Nagaland.” But when this recognition was revoked by the government, which—the CVC alleged—was a diktat by the land owner adding that he “threatened not to give his land (Chi Ponghoa) if the name Chi was found on the foundation stone.” The formerly green-flagged project was shut down. This eagerly sought after establishment seems to be heading towards a long standstill only because the landowner is petty enough to carry forward a village issue which would affect the whole district and eventually the whole state. Will this dispute end when some type of bribe is given to either party? Is this what the Nagas want to be known as? That a medical college could not be set up because the name of a village was not added to the address of the same? 

Many such perpetually unfinished projects regularly pop up in Nagaland, the most prominent of it being the Nagaland Foothill Road Project. The unfinished Kohima Town Hall looming over the graves in the NSF martyrs’ park seems almost poetic, but the stark reality of its incompleteness still remains. As far as the present author’s 22 year-old memory can stretch, the proposed Kohima Town hall has always stood as a concrete skeleton, bereft of its body, gnawed away by the worms of, what can only be euphemized as, “mismanaged funds”. 

An introspective look at the Kohima cityscape perhaps will bring the observer to realize two things: that it is not as “Smart” as it proposes itself to be and that almost every space not-declaring itself to be a pathway, is cramped by houses of all sorts. An acquaintance who recently moved to Kohima, sounding out his displeasure, quipped, “Kohima teh toh saas luwoleh bi jaga nai” (There’s not enough space to even breathe in Kohima). With little to no town-planning, a significant majority of Kohima citizens have been building almost inverted-pyramid buildings in small chunks of land, expanding horizontally as it climbs up a higher floor and eventually overshadowing the plots beside them, producing figurative as well as literal friction between adjacent landowners. 

This Naga preoccupation with their land does not only exist within the personal domain, but the organizational as well, where disputes between organizational landowners and the government have time and again, resulted in disruption of road repairs/expansions, as is currently being seen in the deplorable NH-2 stretch of road, especially in and around the Wokha jurisdiction. With only signs posted along the road reading: “Land is our birth right” and “Disputes with land is dispute with our culture”, the observer bumping along this dilapidation simply suffers along, uninterested in the land dispute but only wondering who is to be blamed for their jarring experience along that road. Similarly, encroachment has also had a history in Nagaland of often impeding the smooth running of establishments such as seen in the Intangki imbroglio, the Naga-Assam border issues as well as the KSCJ encroachment issue.

This obsessive attachment that Nagas harbor towards their land has unfortunately been left to fester for far too long by Naga society. But on the flipside, it is to be acknowledged that attempts to reclaim the land for public use are being encouraged as well, a prime example of which is the “open streets campaign” as part of the “Streets for People challenge” where the old NST parking Spot was transformed into a walk-only space as an act of reclamation of the land for general use without personal greed or opposing others from enjoying the freedom of the land. Although a lone campaign, such reclamation projects will only encourage more appreciation and sharing of land and counter the Naga stinginess towards land. 

And thus it remains necessary to reiterate. How much land does a Naga really need? Isn’t it high time Nagas keep aside their petty tribal, village, clan differences and uplift each other for the betterment of all that exist under the banner of Nagaland? One can only hope it is. Kuknalim!

Moachiba Jamir

Undergraduate student at EFLU, Hyderabad

(The views expressed are personal)


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