In Dimapur, dawn arrives over the adjacent Naga Hills like light caressing the world, touching scattered clouds with flecks of orange and red. A layer below, around the still shadowy midsection, a sarong of mist drapes the green. In the outskirts, the air smells of earth and bamboo.

The rest of the time, Nagaland’s commercial hub and major gateway to the state isn’t a pretty place. Dimapur’s unsavoury nature is not only on account of the mob-lynching of an alleged rapist in early March, and increasingly explosive disgust with rape that has consumed this far-eastern slice of India. Dimapur is a complicated, crowded, heaving place of commerce, corruption, aspiration, transit, barely suppressed conflict and some xenophobia.

The way to Dimapur Central Jail, where the rape accused and lynching victim, Syed Sharif Khan, was incarcerated, lies on the main highway to Kohima, the capital deep in the hills. It’s near the junction known as 4th Mile.

The landscape here, south of Dimapur airport, is less typically Nagaland and more typically Assam, as it were, with fields of paddy and small forested patches, houses of mud and thatch. These slim plains were scythed out of the state of Assam and awarded to Nagaland—Dimapur has the state’s major railway station and only airport—when it was given the status of a state in 1963.

Another road at the 4th Mile junction leads east to Kehoi camp, the main designated camp of the Khole-Kitovi, or KK, faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN). Its residents are armed, trained and recruiting—even as the faction is in a ceasefire with the government of India.

On the other side of the Dimapur-Kohima highway, after the 5th Mile junction, lies Camp Hebron, the headquarters of the largest, most powerful and best-equipped rebel group in north-east India, the Isak-Muivah (IM) faction of the NSCN. It is also in ceasefire with the government, but active in recruitment, training and arming. If that is not complicated enough, yet another faction, K or Khaplang, hasn’t given up footprints in this area.

The IM group and an earlier avatar of the KK group have fought pitched battles over territory and revenue—donation or extortion, according to one’s perspective—in this area; and even right inside Dimapur. The targets are Naga and non-Naga alike, ranging from politicians and bureaucrats to businessmen and small traders, shopkeepers, rickshaw drivers, service staff, daily wage labourers, mostly from mainland India. And the indigenous Dimasa of the area, mainly poor farmers, who are among Nagaland’s forgotten people. The factions still jostle for revenue and political control. Occasional skirmishing and deaths occur.

The way to Hebron is past the area called Beverly Hills by some local wags. It’s a code for where the fat cats take up residence. Sometimes, their second. Here, it’s a mix of politicians, bureaucrats, senior officials of rebel factions and contractors to government. They live magnificently as Dimapur—indeed, all Nagaland—crumbles into disrepair, as people dream of conflict resolution now nearly 20 years in the making. Visitors will pass Rio Villa, named after Nagaland’s former chief minister. His family controls real estate in a handsome radius around Dimapur, including two major resorts. One even has a public-funded waterway, part of an irrigation project, running through it. I once took a motor launch to go sightseeing.

These plains, a mix of fields of harvested and soon-to-be-harvested paddy is also mian country, as a Naga might explain, indicating the numerous men wearing lace skull-caps, beards and lungis. Some are Muslim seasonal workers and settlers from Assam. Many are Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh, what civil society and student leaders who lectured a growing, increasingly incensed crowd on the morning of the lynching repeatedly referred to as “IBI"—illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Khan, the rape accused, was taken to be one, though he appears to have been from a family settled for several generations in Assam.

Such Assamese and IBI alike freely move about and live in this region, a fact endorsed by police, the army and intelligence agencies. In and around Dimapur, they are largely retained by Naga gentry to farm their lands. They go to Naga schools, learn English, tribal languages and Nagamese, the bazaar patois that links most Naga tribes. This, in the middle of contested Naga lands, is their home. They, arguably more than any other non-Naga group, are at the focus of reaction in this civic, socio-economic and political tinderbox of unfulfilled promises and impatience.

Sudeep Chakravarti’s latest book is Clear.Hold.Build: Hard Lessons of Business and Human Rights in India. His earlier books include Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land. This column, which focuses on conflict situations in South Asia that directly affect business, runs on Fridays.

Respond to this column at