GAUHATI, India – Thousands of tribal residents in remote northeast India are protesting against paying taxes to multiple rebel groups fighting for autonomy and a single Naga tribal homeland.
The protest movement, launched at a rally Thursday in Nagaland state's main city of Dimapur, marks the first time local residents have challenged the illegal tax arrangement that has guaranteed decades of funding for at least seven militant groups.
"We are not out to fight the rebels, but they cannot bleed the people of Nagaland," former government official K.K. Sema said in Dimapur.
The most prominent Naga rebel group — the National Socialist Council of Nagaland, or NSCN — warned protest organizers to call off their rally, saying it amounted to opposition to the "liberation struggle."
Rebels have been collecting taxes from everyone from traders to government officials since the first Naga rebel group formed at India's independence in 1947. Residents of Nagaland are exempt from federal taxes.
But as the first group splintered into at least seven separate factions, each demanding its own collection, residents have grown increasingly frustrated, especially as the economy slows and inflation climbs.
The protesters want the rebel groups to find a way to tax people only once, though the prospect of the groups uniting under one banner is considered unlikely given disagreements over leadership.
"Collecting some amount of money to survive is fine, but every different rebel group or faction cannot separately tax the same people," Sema said.