On 14 August 1947, the Naga National Council pressed ahead with its demand for a separate nation, declaring that Nagaland would remain independent and not submit to the Indian constitution. In a plebiscite it organised on 16 May 1951, over 99 percent of the voters upheld full Naga sovereignty. Not a single vote was cast in Nagaland during the first Indian general election of 1952. In September 1954, the NNC president Angami Zapu Phizo formed the Free Naga Government, which wrote to the Indian president affirming that the Nagas had a 1,700-year history as an independent nation. “We do not want anything from India,” the letter said. “Please leave us alone.”
The Indian government initially ignored the declaration of independence, but responded in the face of greater assertion of Naga nationalism by arresting nationalist leaders and raiding their villages. The 1954 letter documented a list of atrocities committed by Indian armed forces, including beatings, torture, rape, killings and the burning of villages and crops. In December 1955, Phizo announced plans to establish an army to defend Nagaland against Indian aggression. A violent insurgency soon ensued.
When the conflict was at its peak, Visier Meyasetsu Sanyu was living with his family of nine in the village of Khonoma. In this extract from his latest book, A Naga Odyssey: My Long Way Home, he narrates how in 1956, when he was five years old, his family fled their village out of fear of the Indian Army and sought refuge in the surrounding jungles, where they would remain in hiding for over two years.