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Mothers release stories of blood and tears once untold

By Our Reporter Updated: Jun 26, 2016 12:06 am

DIMAPUR, JUNE 25: “The more the (underground) factions, the more the peace activities you have to do.” A round of laughter followed.
Despite the instant laughter that was extracted from the audience, the underlying message of the statement from one of the founding members of the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), Neidonuo Angami, was sobering.
And really, ‘sobering’ was the running theme throughout the three-hour lecture on Saturday based on “stories of women in peace” as two Naga women, both veteran rights activists, went about sharing their experiences in fighting for peace in Nagaland. The other speaker at the lecture, an initiative of The Morung Express, was Khesheli Chishi.
Both of them started their social activism through the platform of NMA. According to Neidonuo Angami, the NMA was started “to fight the social evils” initially which back then were in the forms of “drug addiction, sale of pornographic materials and video halls (where adult movies were shown).”
She narrated a story about how the mothers at Khuzama, where there used to be an inter-state police check-post, collected a cup of rice from each household to feed the police personnel guarding the gate. “This was where heroin mostly came through (from Manipur). So we wanted to motivate the police. And that is how it all began.”
The first funds were raised from an exhibition football match on November 13, 1994–the amount was Rs 13,000. Then, came the early ‘90s and what started off as a movement to counter drug abuse in the state would transform into a full-fledged rally for peace in the land.
“In the early nineties, especially in Dimapur and Kohima, everyday you would find one unidentified dead body. Sometimes it was two, sometimes it was three,” Angami recalled of the chilling years. “Our focus was on rehabilitation (of drug abusers). But as mothers, people looked up to us to facilitate the burial of those dead bodies.”
And thus, the mothers took it upon themselves to ensure proper burial to the victims of factional killings, which included covering the corpses with Naga traditional shawls. “But it came to the point that we could no longer afford to buy the shawls.
So we appealed the churches at Kohima to collect some shawls (as donations). That is how we could arrange 40-50 shawls and none of them were buried unmourned (sic),” she said in quiet lament. The poignancy was reflected further in her statement that followed: “We did not know whose son he was or to which faction he belonged. No group ever came to claim the bodies.”
This subsequently resulted in the NMA’s ‘Shed no more blood’ campaign. In August 1994, the NMA selected a day of mourning in which the churches at Kohima were asked to ring in the Death Knell. On the same day, around three thousand women gathered at the State Academy Hall in the capital town and resolved to constitute a “peace team.” They declared the ‘Shed no more blood’ slogan. As an example of the ‘Shed no more blood’ campaign, she spoke about how a team of mothers could prevent an imminent armed confrontation between two Naga armed groups by sending them notes scribbled on pages torn off an “exercise book” found inside a shop in a town.
Khesheli Chishi, a contemporary of Neidonuo Angami in the NMA, also shared the experiences of their trips to meet Khaplang, one in 1999 and the other in 2002. Her stories were accompanied by old photographs of their trip, flashed on a big screen at the event. She narrated how, after a certain point of their journey, they had to walk for three days to reach Khaplang’s camp back then. “We did not care about crossing boundaries. For us mothers, we have no agenda. We only want peace,” she said of their motivation.
Even after the Bangkok consultation, Chishi said, she expected “the menfolk” to go and share the news. “But they did not. So we had to do it again.” And thus, in 2002, they took another such trip to meet Khaplang again. “This time, we took a tape recorder that was bought for Rs 300 from Hongkong Market,” she told the audience. The cassettes that they took for the trip, she shared, was one each of Don Williams and Anne Murray. “Because back then, Don Williams and Anne Murray were in.”
The Don Williams and the Anne Murrays of their age may no longer “be in” in Nagaland today, but it is without doubt that the peace activism of the Neidonuo Angamis and the Khesheli Chishis are very much “in” even today, especially in Nagaland.

By Our Reporter Updated: Jun 26, 2016 12:06:29 am