Zeroing in on the Northeast
Reviewed by Arun Gaur

Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land
by Sudeep Chakravarti. Fourth Estate. Pages xxviii+388. Rs 450

The book delineates the sufferings of the people of the Northeast because of the "political arrogance and ineptitude." This area is far away from New Delhi. Further, it cannot supply more than a few members to the Lok Sabha. These two factors have contributed to its gross neglect by Indian policy makers.

To provide illustrations, Sudeep examines the atrocities committed by the Indian Army on a stretch of 436 km that runs from Numaligarh to Moreh. The town of Mokochung was destroyed twice. Mizos were bombed in 1966.

As many as 79,794 Naga houses were burnt down from January 1955 to July 1957. Luingmala, the 14-year-old girl, and Thangjam Manorama Devi, a suspected PLA member were raped and shot dead.

A child Soyingbeni was killed in a shell explosion. Vidyarani Chanu, the 11-year-old girl was abducted to force the surrender of her hiding parents. Rabina and Chungkham were eliminated in false encounters.

Many leaders have believed in the policy of "shoot, shell, bury alive, set alight, cut open, molest, rape, torture, and pen into concentration camps a people to ensure they remain Indians". Even Morarji Desai told Angami Zapu Phizo in London: "Yes, I will exterminate all the Naga rebels. There will be no mercy".

The author is of the opinion that identities and aspirations of the Nagas have been ignored. The Indian government is still pursuing the nefarious British policy of divide and rule.

Army action is ultimately ineffectual as General Phungthing of NSCN-IM himself proclaims: "Even if hundred people come searching for me, it would be like searching for a needle in haystack". While it is true that the Indian Army cannot force the Nagas into submission, an influential section of the Nagas itself does not favour the Naga independence. Mhathung Kithan, Nagaland's home commissioner, opines: "But today what can we do with independence?...It will be much better for us to remain with the Government of India, pull up our socks, clean our house and do real progress, real work for the people".

However the solution is not that simple.

In the inscription of Angami Zapu Phizo's grave the defiance is bold and stark: Urra Uvie/Urra kha mia tsulie/Lho/Ungumvumia su/Upecutsie zo (Our land is our/Heritage./To none shall it be surrendered:/As whetstone our opponents sharpen/Us.).