PoV: Hornbill, Nagaland

 

Held for ten days beginning on December 1 that marks Nagaland’s Statehood Day, the annual Hornbill Festival is an extravaganza that showcases the culture of the 16 tribes that call the state home. While the festival has put the state on the global map, attracting tourists from near and far, the realities of the state marred with crumbling infrastructure and rampant corruption has left many local residents giving the festival a miss. (Photo locations: Kisama, Kohima and Dimapur.)

 

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A view of Kohima town.

 

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Monpa Yak Dance performers from Arunachal Pradesh alongside the Zeliang of Nagaland perform in sync at the Hornbill Festival.

 

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Young Naga men watch cultural performances at the amphitheatre in Kisama Heritage Village, the site of the annual extravaganza.

 

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A man from the Konyak tribe stands guard outside the representational Morung- dormitories traditionally meant for bachelors- at Kisama.

 

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Konyak Naga warriors.

 

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A traditional rice milling apparatus of the Kuki tribe made from wood.

 

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Women of the Pochury Naga tribe from Meluri Village weaving clothes at the Craftscape section of the Hornbill Festival. The cotton processing system is called Akükhie Ngunü Küto.

 

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A photo exhibition providing a glimpse of the contents of ‘The Konyaks- Last of the Tattooed Headhunters’, a book by Phejin Konyak and Peter Bos chronicling the last batch of Konyak Headhunters and women from the community who would tattoo their bodies in the days of yore. A practice that was abandoned after the introduction of Christianity.

 

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The Kohima War Cemetery honours the memory of over 2000 men who laid their lives in the Battle of Kohima, fending off Japanese forces during the Second World War. The Battle of Kohima is often termed as Stalingrad of the East and lasted from 4 April to 22 June 1944 and saw heavy casualties from both sides as Naga tribesmen fought alongside British-Indian forces. Had the battle fallen favourably for the Japanese forces, the global map as we know it, may have looked very different. This, along with the Battle of Imphal fought in Manipur, has been recognised as ‘Britain’s Greatest Battle’ by the British National Army Museum.

 

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Some graves at the Cemetery are unmarked and unnamed but not forgotten. Most died when they were barely into their twenties.

 

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A woman selling hens and roosters beside a street in Nagaland’s capital Kohima. As with most tribal and indigenous societies across India’s Northeast, it is the women who keep the local economy running through their hard work.

 

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While the Hornbill Festival dazzles tourists with colourful cultural displays, signs that not all is glorious with the state of affairs of Nagaland are also visible. Student bodies have been at loggerheads with the state government since last year over delays in disbursement of students’ scholarships. The state government has cited lack of funds as causing the delay and has begun rolling out stipends in instalments.

 

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A poster on a monolith in Kohima reads (written in the lingua franca- Nagamese): Directorate of Higher Education, Students are suffering. Where is our stipend? – Eastern Nagaland College Students’ Union.

 

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Road conditions in the state leave much to be desired and the annual layering work done before Hornbill Festival hasn’t impressed citizens. Many young people call it ‘applying lipstick on the road’.

 

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Apart from the condition of the road, traffic is a perennial problem in Kohima and traffic jams can sometimes last for hours and stretch for more than three kilometres.

 

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Rains had left large stretches of the Dimapur-Kohima road muddy leading to many taxi drivers hiking up rates for passengers or simply refusing to go at all. While the road was reportedly ‘repaired’ just days before the festival began, construction work meant that it was bound to be prone to slush.

 

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Along the Dimapur-Kohima highway are several basic restaurants that serve some of the best food one can find. The menus of some places even list ‘rural meat’- code for game meat that can include anything from wild boar to venison.

 

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As in other states of the Northeast, the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants (whether real or perceived) is seen as a major threat to indigenous communities in Nagaland too. Referred to as Illegal Bangladeshi Immigrants (IBIs), calls for deportation of the alleged illegal immigrants have been gaining momentum of late. However, proving the nationality of those perceived to be illegals is easier said than done and is made more complex by the large population of Bengali-speaking Muslims who work in Nagaland’s commercial hub of Dimapur where citizens from outside the state do not require inner line permits.

 

Where the children have no place

An incomplete rectangular hall with no roof, windows and doors stands on the north-eastern section of Eklavya Model Residential School’s campus. Inside, foliage grows wild and a scaffold table lies toppled. This is the school’s girls’ hostel that has been under construction since 2012.

The girls hostel which has been under construction since 2012.

The girls hostel which has been under construction since 2012.

The school at Bana in Arunachal Pradesh’s East Kameng district in India’s Northeast began its first academic session in 2009 after it was set up by the central ministry of tribal affairs intended to be part of 100 such schools across the country aimed at providing free education to tribal children from poor financial background through classes VI to X. However, with just four classrooms and seven teachers, the school at Bana isn’t exactly living up to its intended goal. In fact, media reports last year had highlighted the plight of the school which has seats reserved for students from all districts of the state. Principal RP Dubey says that not much has changed since then.
Last month, Union minister for tribal affairs Jual Oram told chief minister Nabam Tuki to examine the prospects of expanding the presence of the schools in the state. While another school has been set up at Lumla in Tawang district, the very first such school is languishing under poor infrastructure.
Dubey, who took charge as principal last year in June, said that despite having “written to every department” there has been “no improvement” in the school infrastructure.
One of the biggest challenges has been the delay in construction of the two new hostels for the students.
“Only the ground floor of the boys’ new hostel has been completed so far”, Dubey said, while the upper floors still need to be completed. He said that public work department officials say that funds have not been released by the Centre for the work.
The girls’ hostel meanwhile has been marred with delays for three years.

Current principal RP Dubey came to Arunachal Pradesh from Uttar Pradesh in north India more than two decades ago.

Current principal RP Dubey came to Arunachal Pradesh from Uttar Pradesh in north India more than two decades ago.

Even with just sixty students in the entire school (30 boys and 30 girls), the present hostels, he said, are “overburdened”. Once the new hostels are built, the school will be able to accommodate more students. Dubey said that in this crunch for space “poor families are losing out”.
For the moment, both boys and girls stay in the old boys’ hostel in separate sections.
Sources said that funds have been misused ever since the school opened six years ago. Reportedly, more than Rs two crore were sanctioned for the construction of multi-storied hostels.
The district’s deputy director of school education Kata Rangmo said that the problems the school is facing are not new.
“It has been drowning in problems since its inception”, he informed.
Rangmo said that the school is losing out on sixty new students every year due to the delays that have accumulated over the years.
The PWD Bana sub-division assistant engineer Kapil Natung informed that around Rs 35 lakh meant for the completion of the ground floor of the girls’ hostel has not been released by the tribal affairs ministry yet despite having written to them on several occasions.
Natung, who took charge last May, also said that funds for the upper floors have not even been sanctioned yet.
There are other issues plaguing the school as well.
The school has just four classrooms and three science laboratories- which have very little equipment.
Payment of staff salaries too has been a major problem.
Last year, the school only began admitting new students as late as September when the staff salaries were paid after chief minister Nabam Tuki intervened to have their pay expedited. This in turn affected the student intake since most schools were already midway through their academic sessions.

Apparently hunting is an issue.

As if these problems were not enough, the school’s inability to build proper infrastructure could have an adverse impact on its long term plans.
Dubey informed that the first batch of sixty students which appeared for the tenth standard examinations last year had to do so at the Government Higher Secondary School in Bana. The principal is concerned that if this trend continues, it may affect its prospects to get affiliated with the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
“Affiliation can be sought only if examinations are conducted for three consecutive years in the school”, he said. However, Dubey, who is originally from Uttar Pradesh and has been in the state for over two decades, remains optimistic and informed proudly that “our children did very well in last year’s central examinations”.

A version of this story appeared in The Telegraph. Link: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1151031/jsp/northeast/story_50622.jsp#.VjSLPrcrLIU