AP PHOTOS: The Nagas celebrate the 75th anniversary of their declaration of independence | Government and politics

By YIRMIYAN ARTHUR – Associated Press

CHEDEMA, India (AP) — In a small mountain village in northeast India, blue flags flew high in the clear sky. While Indians across the country ready to celebrate 75 years of independence of British rule on Monday, the Naga community of Chedema marked the occasion by raising their own blue flag.

The Nagas – an indigenous people inhabiting several states in northeastern India and bordering Myanmar – celebrated the 75th anniversary of their declaration of independence on Sunday. Seeking autonomy, the Nagas had announced independence a day before India in 1947 and commemorated this moment every year.

The Naga insurgency is the oldest in South Asia. But the largest armed Naga faction, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), has reached a 25-year ceasefire with the Indian government as peace talks stall over the issue of the use of the Naga and Constitution flag.

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Thousands of people gathered on Sunday at the event organized by the Naga National Council, the community’s parent political organization. Infants slept on their mothers’ backs while young boys and girls helped prepare for the feast following the raising of the Naga blue flag. About 100 veteran fighters, who laid down their arms after the first ceasefire in 1964, attended the event in their uniforms.

Riivosielie Chakriinuo, the oldest surviving general in the Naga army, wore a medal for his service and smiled as he recalled the 1964 ceasefire, saying he had brought peace to the country.

“I used to serve the gun. Now I serve God,” he said.

Vilazoü Suokhrie, 87, said she was delighted to see so many people gathered to mark the Naga community’s declaration of independence.

Although the declaration was never contested by India, Nagaland and other northeastern states remain part of the country despite years of efforts by the insurgency to seek autonomy. The Nagas preserve their identity and history through the annual event.

“When the British left, we expressed our desire to be a free people,” said Adinno Phizo, 90, chairman of the NNC.

More than 90% of the more than 1.9 million people in the state of Nagaland are Christians – a stark contrast in a predominantly Hindu country. For decades, the Nagas have fought for Indian independence, and there are few families who have not suffered from the violence.

In recent years, violence has waned, but demands for political rights have increased even as the federal government has pushed for talks with separatists.

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