Jul 25, 2008

Naga: Border Settlements Depend on Burma villages for Survival

Sample ImageA rare look inside the world of border Naga villages, and their cross-border trade with Burma

Below is an article published by Expressindia.com:

For over half a dozen villages, scattered on a mountainous terrain and cut off from the rest of the world in the absence of motorable road, villages in Myanmar just across the international border have come as a saviour.

The villagers belonging to Yimchunger Naga tribe inhabiting the Kiphire district of Nagaland, sustain themselves through barter trade with their counterparts in Myanmar.

The villagers living on two sides of the mountain that separate the two countries have been emotionally close since long and there is free movement between them. The Indian authorities do not mind their free exchange keeping in mind their need for each other.

Sometimes marriage even takes place between the people. The villagers basically trade salt, medicines, tea, honey and wax in exchange for Myanmarese rum, precious stones, clothes, utensils and others, an elder at Mimi village, the only village where road connectivity is there but no transport system, said. He said it takes two days to reach the nearest human settlement across the border.

''Political events led to the drawing of the international boundary dividing our villages, but there is no restriction on free movement of people on both sides of the divide despite existence of hostile terrains,'' a youth, who was doing bio-diversity mapping of the area, said.

To facilitate the border trade, the Nagaland government has constructed marketing sheds at Mimi christening it as International Trade Centre, but in reality nothing is traded there mainly because of poor connectivity.

Now roads are being laid to connect three villages out of seven under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and infrastructure development schemes under the Department of Underdeveloped Area (DUDA).

Development works, particularly connectivity, have been undertaken in this border sub-division only after DUDA came into being.

''We hope the remaining four villages will be made motorable soon,” John Tselise, Sub-divisional officer, Pungro,' said. As the entire Mimi belt has rich deposits of limestone, the government plans to set up a large-scale cement plant in the area.

''But while doing so utmost care must be taken for environmental protection since it is a highly seismic zone because the two plates of Himalayas and Myanmar join here,'' a geologist of the State Geology and Mining Department said.

As the area provides good scope for cross-border trade, the Department of Transport and Communication began a feasibility study of river Tizu to make it navigable as it meets river Chindwin in Myanmar which meanders through 35 to 40 km stretch from Mimi.

People sometimes come from other side to our area through this river by country boats, a Mimi village elder said. As per present arrangement between the two countries, the villagers from either side can go up to 25 km from the demarcated international border for informal trade and maintaining family relationship.

The villagers in this border area prefer cultivation of maize, millet and beans in large scale rather than rice but marketing of their produces has been a problem due to poor connectivity.

Although they have to depend for rice from outside, the transport cost of carrying the same from Dimapur was exorbitant. A mini truck laden with goods from district headquarters Kiphire to Mimi, just 120 km, costs Rs 6,000, regretted a village elder.

Most villagers complained about poor implementation of centrally sponsored schemes like BPL rice distribution, National Rural Health Mission, SSA, particularly mid-day meal scheme. We have BPL card holders but beneficiaries get rice twice or thrice in a month, an inhabitant of nearby Salomi village said.

Unlike in other parts of Nagaland, the entire Yimchunger Nagas inhabited border area had not witnessed any factional clash since 2001 due to strong commitment of tribal councils and students organization towards peace and tranquility.

Since Saramati range, the highest mountain nestles in the area, an ideal place for trekking, and Fakim wildlife sanctuary is nearby, this border area with its pristine forests and wildlife has great potential for development of adventure and eco-tourism, local MLA and parliamentary secretary of CAWD P Torechu insisted.

The community organizations successfully convinced the underground groups not to fight among themselves at least in Kiphire district and not a single bullet has been fired since they took over charge of this border area, an Assam Rifles commander told visiting newsmen.