The Naga insurgency is the oldest separatist movement in India, even older than the one in Kashmir. The oldest, most important and most feared Naga militant group is the outlawed National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khapland Faction (NSCN), a group which mixes evangelical Christianity with Marxist ideology. One of their manifestos reads: “We declare we are revolutionaries. Set no traitorous nor reactionary bonds on us. To us the sovereign existence of country, the salvation of our people in Christ, are eternal and unquestionable.” [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, November 1, 2004]
There are at two main NSCN factions—NSCN (IM) and NSCN (Khaplang)—are bitter rivals. NSCN (IM), the largest faction, is headed by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah, who have been based in Thailand. The other was long headed by S.S. Khaplang. The two groups kidnap and assassinate each other’s members.
Naga separatists want an independent Naga nation. They claim that Nagas are so different from Indians that separate states for them is common sense. They separatist also want Bangladeshis and Indian outsiders off their land. They don't want Naga tribesmen to marry Bangladeshis. They have threatened that any who do will be expelled from the region. According to a statement from the NSCN, "Bangladeshis are anti-Nagas and they need to be wiped out from Nagaland if we are to preserve our ethnic identity...Any Naga tribal found having matrimonial alliances with Bangladeshis will not be recognized and such violators will face immediate expulsions from the state."
The Indian government doesn’t want the Nagas to establish an independent state, in part because it might encourage other ethnic groups in India to rebel and demand their own states. A similar rational is used to justify the presence of the India military in Kashmir. Up to 10,000 Indian troops have been deployed in Nagaland. They have been deployed mainly in the cities. Foreigners have been prohibited from entering the region. As of the mid 2000s, there were checkpoints along the road to Kohima, Nagaland’s capital. Stores closed at 6:00pm and the streets are empty at night because of a curfew.
A cease-fire was struck in 1997 between the Indian government and NSCN and was renewed in July 2004. The faction led by Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah continued to fight. In the early 2000s Isak Swu and Thuingaleng Muivah visited New Delhi and promised “no more fighting” in Nagaland. Talks continues between the Indian government and the separatist groups.
Violence Involving Naga Insurgents
More than 15,000 people have been killed in fighting involving Naga fighters since fighting began shortly before India independence in 1947. Naga separatists claim between 100,000 and 200,000 people have been killed as a result of the Indian occupation of their land They also claim Indian soldiers have engaged in torture, gang rape, arson and looting. The Armed Forces Special Power Act of 1958 has allowed soldiers to arrest Nagas without warrants and escape punishment if they kill a Naga simply because he was deemed suspicious.
Fights have broken out between Naga fighters and Indian security forces when police have tried to evict Naga settlers from land claimed both the Indian government and Naga tribals. The Nagas also claim parts of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur. Other separatist groups are active in Assam and Manipur.
People have been killed in the far eastern state of Manipur in violence involving the Indian government and a separatist groups in neighboring Nagaland. In June 2001, a shoot on sight curfew was put in affect in Manipur. Thirteen people were killed when police open fire into a mob that burned down a legislature building.
Between October 2nd and October 5th, 2004, 70 people were killed in a series of explosions and gun attacks in town and villages markets and a train station in northeatsern India. Some of the bombs were strapped to bicycles. The attacks were blamed on the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Assam and the National Democratic Front of Bodoland. At least 20 people were killed and 65 were wounded is a series of bomb attacks in Nagaland. Two bombs exploded at a marketplace in Dimapur, Nagaland’s commercial center , and a third went off almost simultaneously at a train station that was powerful enough to blow the roof off the station. Twelve died at the station. Eight were killed in the market.
Oil and the Nagas
A multibillion-dollar oil deposit with as much as 85 million barrels has been discovered in western Nagaland. The oil lies roughly a mile below the surface. Most of the oil lies on land occupied by the Lotha tribe. India is hungry for oil and wants to develop the site as quickly as possible. The first test wells were drilled in 1981. As of the mid 2000s, oil had come from 16 of 38 test wells. [Source: Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, November 1, 2004]
The Nagas are angry because development of the oil deposit is dominated by India’s state-run oil company and few jobs have given to local people. The Lotha are determined to make sure that development is done in such a way that it does not harm the environment or the local people too much. One Lotha leader told the Los Angeles Times, “Although we are ignorant people, we have come know at least something: the intention of these oil companies is to get money, as much as they can. That is their problem, Our problem is: After us, where will our younger generation live?”
India’s state run Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) and U.S. , Canadian, German and French oil companies have all expressed interest in developing the oil fields in Nagaland. The Indian government initially insisted that any development had to be worked out through the ONGC. Student protestors and threats of guerilla attacks brought an end to that plan. The Lotha insist they have to right to make a final decision on the matter and blamed the government, oil companies and even their own state government for trying to cheat them by telling them things like the oil will spoil unless it is quickly extracted and giving them vague promises of “employment opportunities” but not being very specific.
In some places the government has been buying villagers land in violation of the constitution, which requires outsider to get permission from the Naga state government first. One villager said he was paid $45 for his half acre of land. The government oil company quietly developed some of the test wells into commercial wells until they were ordered to shut them down in 1994.
Nagaland is the only Indian state with exclusive control over its resources. Thus far the Nagas have refused grant permission to anyone to develop the site. They want assurances that people who are displaced will be given land not just cash and guarantees that their jungles, forests and paddies will not be spoiled by development or pollution. They also want a proportion of the profits to go to tribal councils for development. There is also a lot of resentment by locals that they can’t get any kind of job, particularly government jobs that are dominated by outsiders.
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015