From Mon in Nagaland to Myanmar, Schoolkids Cross the Border For a Better Future

Students from a remote Naga village are turning to a school across the border in Myanmar, hoping this will increase their employment opportunities.

The Myanmarese school in Lungwa, Myanmar. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

The Myanmarese school in Lungwa, Myanmar. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

Lungwa (Nagaland): An increasing number of families from Lungwa village in Nagaland’s Mon district have enrolled their children in a Myanmarese school that has sprung up near the border in the hopes that employment opportunities will be easier to come by in the neighbouring country. The international border passes through the village, which also borders Arunachal Pradesh.

Confirming the development, sub-divisional officer Ilika Zhimomi said, “The Burmese (Myanmarese) government had decided to extend some services to Nagaland a few years ago. Students are getting enrolled out of ignorance. Also, the fact that this school at Lungwa offers education free of cost is an important factor.”

Named Amaka Lungwa Theinka Primary School, the school has five teachers from different parts of Myanmar teaching a variety of subjects like mathematics, science, history and the Myanmarese language from kindergarten to the fourth standard. Books, pens and uniforms are provided free to the students, who number about 130 in all classes.

Myanmarese teachers at the Lungwa school. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

Myanmarese teachers at the Lungwa school. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

The teachers, however, have said that it is a “race against time” to finish the syllabus each year as the students do not attend classes regularly. “They often skip classes after lunch due to domestic preoccupations and we cannot force them although we have briefed their parents on some occasions,” said Thitar Myint, a teacher in the school who hails from Mandalay.

There are three more schools at Lungwa in Nagaland within a few metres of the Myanmarese school. While one is run by missionaries, the other two are government schools providing education free of cost.

Mon, home to the Konyak and Chang tribes, is one of the backward districts in Nagaland. The district has a low literacy rate of 56.99 % and most of the students attending school at Lungwa are first-generation learners.

A teacher in a government school who identified himself as M. Longshah claimed that around 50% of students in Longwa have started attending these schools. However, the pass percentage was “extremely low”; illiteracy, Longsha said, was a major factor that deprived Mon residents of jobs and access to business facilities like loans.

A classroom in the Myanmarese school. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

A classroom in the Myanmarese school. Credit: Rajeev Bhattacharya

Change across the border

Myanmar on the other hand is opening up after years of isolation and the government is making serious efforts to establish its presence in areas earlier considered hostile and inaccessible. From the road that passes through Lungwa dividing India and Myanmar, one can almost see the road that connects the settlement to another village called Loji in Myanmar’s Sagaing Division.

Residents said that plans have been firmed up by the government for the construction of a concrete road. They are glad that they will soon be able to drive a motorbike to nearby places, such as Lahe and Yengjong which are military townships. Earlier, the only option was to walk for days over narrow pathways on the hilly terrain.

The makeover of Naypyidaw and its ferocious army is attributable to other reasons as well. Gone are the days of frequent early morning army raids in the villages when everything would be burnt and razed to the ground. Peace has prevailed ever since the Khaplang faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-K) arrived at an informal understanding with the army in 2001.

On April 9, 2012, a formal agreement was clinched between the two sides, which perhaps explains why the Tatmadaw (armed forces) have been reluctant to initiate against the NSCN(K), and their Assamese and Manipuri allies despite repeated requests from New Delhi.

Unlike the situation two decades ago, Myanmarese government officials are now seen visiting the border villages at regular intervals, according to a few villagers. When there was an outbreak of measles in some villages near Lahe a few months, Myanmar even sent some doctors. Locals also claim that Myanmarese officials were seen distributing funds to its citizens for construction of water tanks.

But Lungwa in Nagaland tells a different tale. Medical facilities are yet to come up in this Indian village and it is a long journey (41 kms) to the Mon Civil Hospital by a private vehicle in cases of emergency.

Residents say that electric posts were set up sometime in the late 1980s but it was only last year that bulbs began to glow for a few hours from the power supplied by the government.

The Myanmar government had begun supplying solar panels to its citizens in the village two years ago. Perhaps moved by the pitiable conditions on the other side, the equipment was also been provided to many houses on the Indian side.

The state of affairs in Lungwa is indicative of the situation in a majority of the border villages in the Northeast. Funds under different departments are sanctioned every year and there is also a special package from the home ministry called the Border Area Development Programme. But the pace of development leaves much to be desired, with no monitoring or strict norms of accountability. It was a common refrain among the locals in Lungwa that funds were being siphoned off systematically by politicians and bureaucrats.

Rajeev Bhattacharyya is a Guwahati-based journalist and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India’s Most Wanted Men