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Naga underground graffiti group TUNAS takes to streets to ‘shame government’

Street art and graffiti have long been associated with political unrest, but the concept was alien to Nagaland till recently a group of underground graffiti artists, calling themselves TUNAS, took over the streets of Kohima to shame the government.

Written by Kallol Dey | Dimapur |
Updated: January 7, 2018 6:01:22 pm
A graffiti work by the TUNAS.

Nagaland is in shambles – absolutely deplorable roads, broken bridges, the business district plunged into darkness, unpaid salaries and scholarships. Frustrated with the state of affairs in their home state, an underground graffiti artists’ group going by the name TUNAS, has taken to protesting with street art.

The TUNAS defines themselves as a “small group of like-minded people” who believe that “the present government in Nagaland has become a kleptocracy and miserably failed to provide basic amenities to its citizens.”

“Art attracts and demands attention and therefore we decided that such art could be used as a platform to get our message through,” the TUNAS stated in an email, which could be solicited after much persuasion. In a close-knit society like that of the Nagas, they have managed to keep their identity well hidden. “As much as we want to go public and challenge our Naga brothers and sisters to join our cause, we have realized from hindsight that in a rather small community like ours, people often tend to be acquainted or related in one way or the other and therefore owing to such reasons, we wish to remain anonymous.”

The TUNAS first surfaced in mid-2017 with a bold graffiti on the gate of the the Nagaland Civil Secretariat – the highest corridor of power in the state. It read – “WANTED: A new breed of Naga politicians”. “The graffiti was promptly removed, clearly indicating that our government did not fancy a New Breed!”, the TUNAS stated. But that didn’t deter them. They took to executing their work of protest art on walls in prime areas of the capital town.

A graffiti by the group, painted right before tourists emerged on Nagaland in large numbers for the Hornbill Festival, reads – “Do not be fooled Nagas. Road repair not for you but for VIPs and tourists.” It has attracted a lot of attention, especially given the pathetic condition of roads in the state.

Going by the roads in the state capital Kohima and the business hub Dimapur, which is also the gateway to the state, and the highway connecting the two, Nagaland probably has the worst roads in the country. Every year, since the past many years, roads are repaired in haste right before the Hornbill festival, the biggest tourism event of the state. The ‘Lipstick roads’, as they have come to be called, barely last a couple of months. “We do have a number of concerns that need to be addressed,” the TUNAS asserted but as of now they want to stay focused on highlighting the “deplorable state of the roads all over Nagaland.”

However the group feels that their strategy to shame the government seems to be “ineffective at this juncture, as our politicians appear to be completely immune to shame.”

The TUNAS wants to awaken the people of Nagaland to the ills of corruption while advocating clean and fair election. Quoting French philosopher Joseph de Maistre who had said “In a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve”, the TUNAS say that it would be “unchristian to dump the entire blame on our politicians.” Noting that the Nagaland Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in early 2018, the groups stated, “We strongly believe that only through a clean election can our elected representatives bring development and not try to recover the money spent during elections.”

The group is confident that the Nagas in general are supportive of their cause, although their organisation is in its fledgling state. “Perhaps this is the start of a revolution”, the TUNAS conclude.

Decades of unbridled corruption, unaccounted taxation and extortion by insurgent groups, easy-to-please public and absence of protest culture have given way to decadence. But a protest movement, albeit haphazard, is beginning to emerge – evolving from armchair activism to street activism. People in Nagaland seem to be gradually unlearning complacency and learning to raise their voice. Social media, stand-up comedy, short films and music have become the medium for voices of social change, protest, and expressions of community desire for the Nagas.

Recent years have seen the emergence of Dreamz Unlimited, a theatre and film production company, which has captured the imagination of the people with their short satirical films on burning local issues. Facebook groups, like Naga Spear and We The Nagas, which have mushroomed taking cue from the most popular The Naga Blog, have become platforms for blunt criticism of government policies. Rebels in Nagaland meant gun-wielding Naga underground cadres. That is changing now. Groups like the TUNAS, gunning for social change, are the new Naga rebels.

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