She grew up seeing unrest in North East India and is now connecting youth across the country to bring back peace

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Once upon a time, more than 2 decades ago, in the far North East, there was a 5-year-old little girl. In a small town in a village, she was out shopping with her folks. She was intently waiting for her parents in the car, and that is when she heard the first gunshot. Seconds later, this was followed by the sound of a hail of bullets. A stray bullet flying towards the car got stuck in the rear windshield.

“I still remember my dad came and took me out of the car window. We rushed inside a nearby shop and switched off the lights. We stayed in for an hour and a half, all through which we could hear the continuous firing of bullets.”

Suddenly there were people banging on the shop door, threatening them, ordering them to surrender themselves. Her parents raised her hands, but she couldn’t understand as to why they had to surrender. With the innocence of a befuddled child, she was bobbing her hands halfway, as she saw her parents do the same. As they walked out they saw their surroundings engulfed in a fiery inferno, their car burning, hundreds of shops on fire, gas cylinders in houses exploding. She was made to lie down on the road the whole day, face-forward, it bruised her knees.

“I don’t remember this, but years later when I spoke to my mom about it, she told me that I had slept off for a few hours on the road amidst this.”

That’s childhood rife with Bandhs (curfews) for Limabenla Jamir, who lives in Nagaland. As kids, it was an occasion to rejoice that they were let off school, she now realizes how adversely it affected their education, their upbringing. Every day someone would get assassinated, or taken away, the insurgent groups or the Indian army would come checking disrupting the lives of civilians.

In 1997 though, the GoI and NSCM (IM) signed a ceasefire agreement after a series of peace talks, which has ensured some stability in the region. After numerous rounds of talks, a framework agreement was again signed in 2015 between GoI and NSCN(IM), which basically lays the framework to pave the way for a final settlement on the Naga issue, according to the information given by the Prime Minster’s Office and NSCN (IM) one of the Naga Political groups.

It’s been years since the Indo-Naga conflict has affected the lives and prosperity, but the real question here is why is taking such a long time? History and open dialogues, so much resentment and grudge because we don’t understand the predicament of the other side. “Are you Indian? Are you from Nepal?” Maybe we do not ask the right questions when we meet our brothers from the east.

“I was going to Delhi, to drop my sister who was to start her studies at Hindu college. Indian Army stopped us in Kohima, it was just another day again when the security was intense, and asked, “Kaha jaa rahe hai?” (Where are you going?), which flight are you taking? etc. I responded to all their questions in Hindi and they were shocked. I fail to understand why they enjoying asking such random questions with that laughter behind every statement.”

Now, I don’t mean to generalize for an entire section, but even one such incident is like fuel on fire. All this because you don’t know the predicament of the person on the other side or the environment in which they grew up in.

“I was in 9th grade I opened Seventeen magazine where I saw girls attending different universities in Delhi or Bangalore. It was a big deal for me that they were attending UN events, and that’s how I planned my bachelors in Delhi University.”

“Now, that I was pursuing psychology in Delhi, I began to question the situation in my region and began analyzing the conflict. That is when I decided to pursue my masters in the UK. My research was around how young people are affected by these conflicts, and the results showed that these people did show lower self-esteem and lower life satisfaction and affected their mental health.”

Like many conflicted regions, these results were prevalent in her region amongst her people. During her time in the UK, she got introduced to several United Nations Program and Trainings. She came back to India and with the help of an enthusiastic bunch of young people, founded a platform called NEIMUN (North East India International Model United Nations).

They train young people, conferences, platforms, and events under the UN4MUN program established by UNDPI, WFUNA across different states in North East India. They encourage young people to question, to read the newspaper more often, to think about the world beyond our state our region. It is a platform to which helps them learn about public speaking, negotiation and develop their leadership skills. It’s an opportunity for students from different states to visit the North East, starting with small numbers to attend 3-day event. They have people from Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Punjab who came to attend the conference. The conferences and events revolve around discussing on the sustainable development goals, international politics, etc.

“In one of the conference, during the feedback session this young person mentioned that someone close to him was killed in the India-Pakistan war. Whenever he thought about Pakistan, he was filled with anger and frustration, but attending this conference he had to read about Pakistan, their problems and he said, ‘I see that we have similar sufferings in Pakistan and Nagaland, but the young people there they want the same dreams, a good future. My anger and frustration are no more’.”

I was short on time, but not on the length of the conversation. I know we must not always ask for solutions before the time is right, but sometimes it’s hard not to think, ‘How to resolve this?’.

“I haven’t thought of this before this, but since you ask, I think of interstate collaboration amongst students of states or governments of states on different projects and programs, instead of communication with the centre. Exchange programs for teachers and students, and young people in policy making process so that we don’t just comment on policies after they are made but are a part of their formation.”

History is important. Sometimes its filled with frustration and sorrow but without that piece with us, we’ll repeat the same mistakes. We’re from the millennial generation, that means we have unlimited access to information, not to sulk or lash out for what was wrong in our past, but to improve our future and ensure that not just our generation but the next one as well, has a chance at creating a future without any boulders obstructing their flow of thought. Nagaland is at peace. It’s not a conflict zone anymore.

‘Start a conversation, not to find a solution but to do justice to our childhood pledge, ‘All Indians are my brothers and sisters’. I had a conversation with Limabenla Jamir and Reena Ngurang, if not all of it, I know my country a little better now.

Limabenla Jamir was nominated as a Global Shaper by the World Economic forum. She is also the Founding Curator of Kohima Hub, WEF. She spoke at the TEDxDumas platform and shared her experiences with the audience.

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