In trouble torn Nagaland, being self-reliant is nothing less than standing tall with confidence in the midst of violence and destruction. That is why the tiny green village - Khonoma in the northeastern state of India has made its way into popular belief of Nagas (inhabitants of Nagaland) that nothing is impossible.
Probably most of you have never heard about Khonoma. So, after a quick brief introduction about Khonoma, let me proceed further. Khonoma is a picturesque village, around 20 kilometers from Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland.
The hour long drive to the village is bumpy. The narrow road connecting the village is dotted with innumerable potholes, re-appearing in almost every inch of your journey. And, if you happen to travel during the rainy season, landslides in the hilly terrain makes the journey more cumbersome.
But that should not be a deterrent to visit Khonoma. Once the huge gate, made of wood and cement, standing tall in the entrance of the village greets you with the sign "Welcome to Khonoma", you realise that distances are mostly in mind. As the jeep zoom past the green village lanes, friendlier faces--children, young and old--greet you with their warm smiles.
In recent times, Khonoma, dominated by Angami tribe (one of the 16 tribes in Nagaland), has emerged as a "green village", setting itself as an example to be followed by rest of Nagaland when it comes to protecting its ecological heritage. The environmentally conscious people of the village have decided to put a total ban on logging and hunting in 1998, a first of this kind in Nagaland, where rampant tree felling and killing of wild animals are almost a norm.
Simultaneously, in 1998, Khonoma Nature Conservation and Tragopan Sanctuary (KNCTS) came into existence covering around 70 square kilometer of village area. The sanctuary is an attempt by the villagers to conserve the Blythe's Tragopan, an endangered pheasant of the state, and rich flora and fauna resources. The effort of the local people is paying rich dividends. Today, the sanctuary has turned into a biological hotspot, with sizeable increase in bird population. Almost everyday, the village hosts hordes of tourists to its fold, showcasing its rich natural and cultural heritage to the outside world. Experts predict that community driven eco-tourism in the village holds great future.
"My village has always stood tall, when it comes to taking path breaking decision in Nagaland. Our village is lucky to have good leaders, who have shown us the path to turn Khonoma into a model village," says Khoto Zetsuui, a native of Khonoma, who is an engineer by profession.
The commitment of the villagers to adhere to strict rules and regulations to protect the environment is nothing short than a huge sacrifice. After all, the decision affected the livelihood of the villagers, who since ages have been depending on the forest resources for their existence.
However, the village once again proved itself to be a path breaker. For the inhabitants of Khonoma, nothing matters more than the welfare of the village. Since ages, Khonoma is known for taking bold steps when it comes to protecting Naga identity and heritage.
Be it fighting against the British troops before Indian got its independence, or later against Indian forces, since 1950s, Khonoma brave hearts are worshipped in Nagaland.
A memorial to the martyrs at the centre of Khonoma, which reads, "These men and women of Khonoma gave their lives for the vision of a free Naga nation. We remember and salute them and still hold fast to their vision", is a testimony that villagers have fought bravery against forces that have tried to dominate them. The huge stone curved structure is a tribute to 46 men and women who have lost their lives fighting against Indian troops from 1956-1992 as a part of Naga freedom struggle. The village of AZ Phizo, father of Naga Nationalist Movement, has never lacked in courage and valour.
"Naga people are an independent community. If someone tries to threaten our freedom, we never shy away from fighting back," says Sebi Dolie, the octogenarian leader of the village, who has closely worked with Phizo. Recalling his association with Phizo, Sebi said he was a close confidant of Phizo.
"When Naga National Council (NNC) led freedom struggle against Indian hegemony was its peak, I worked closely with Phizo. I have never taken gun and fought wars against Indian troops from the jungles. My job was to give intellectual support to our freedom struggle," he added
The elderly man strongly believes that Nagaland's struggle for freedom would only end when it attains its full independence. "History supports Naga cause. We have never been under any country or nation. We are a free country," says Sebi, who has almost lost his eye-sight due to old age.
Today, the air across Nagaland is rife with optimism in the hope of attaining acceptable political solution to the vexed Naga issue by 2012. However, few are cautious about the outcome.
A village man who refused to be identified said that peace parleys between National Socialist Council of Nagaland - Isak-Muivah (NSCN-IM) and centre was a positive step.
"But one truth cannot be denied, unless Nagaland is not granted full autonomy, no peace talks is complete," observes the elderly man. As one moves further into the village, embarking on the huge stairway built by the village youth from rocks collected from nearby mountains, Khonoma takes the shape of a green zigzag puzzle, with terraced paddy fields below. The stairway leads to a white pillar, another testimony to bravery of the Khonoma village. The pillar commemorates the death of British officials who lost their lives fighting against the Naga warriors in 1879.
"We are a self-reliant community. Nobody can dominate us. Today, all the activities related to village is an attempt towards our progress and prosperity. All the villagers are united together in its goal," explains Khoto.
In spite of large number of village youths migrating to various towns and cities across India in search of better job opportunities and education facilities, at least once a year they comeback to contribute in developmental work of the village.
"Be it building roads or taking care of environment, every villager has its share of contribution. It is our tradition. Our tradition of being self reliant and independent," said Sebi.