Friday, January 4, 2013

World War II Battle of Kohima 1944

In Kohima, the capitol of Nagaland, the two largest, most beautiful public spaces have nothing to do with the Naga people. They were designed to honor British and Japanese soldiers who fought a famous WWII battle here in 1944.

If Kohima were Washington, D.C. these memorials would be like the Thomas Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument--at least in terms of significance to the skyline, the city plan, and even to tourists. I find this curious since the Nagas have lost as many of 200,000 people in their decades-long war for independence from India since 1947 (more on this later). Nagas also lost many warriors who fought off British soldiers before they colonized the city of Kohima in 1878. Where is their memorial? But of course, the history of western imperialism, as well as the complex, sensitive and ongoing politics of the Naga independence movement, makes a Naga civil war memorial impossible at this time.

Instead, it is common to see Naga families taking a weekend picnic in either the British World War II memorial or the Japanese memorial. Both commemorate the Battle of Kohima, a more than 3-month battle from April-June, 1944, during which British and British Indian soldiers successfully fought back Japanese forces who had entered this easternmost point of India through Burma. I am no WWII historian, but a basic Google search suggests that had the outcome been different in this Battle of Kohima, the Japanese may have advanced, claiming India and possibly more of the west.

Today, the picturesque British World War II Memorial sits where the bloodiest part of the battle occurred on the tennis court of the then British Deputy Commissioner stationed in Nagaland.

The Japanese World War II memorial is a large Catholic Church perched high on a ridge. Although the Baptist missionaries converted the largest number of Nagas and the Baptist church continues to be the most powerful influence, the Catholic Church also has followers. 

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