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Op-Ed

6th September 2014 the 50th year of Peace Day (ceasefire)

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By EMN Updated: Sep 02, 2014 11:21 pm
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A REMINISCENCE (PART 1)

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recounting the history, the genesis of Peace Mission in the early 1960s and the subsequent achievement of Peace Agreement between contending parties in September 6, 1964 was considered providential and timely. All along, NBCC’s role in peace process has been to protect the common people and to facilitate the contending parties to come to the negotiating table. The succeeding years of peace effort whereby all possible means were made to convene top Naga leaders, at several point of time, was to address the urgent need of reconciliation. The objective was not only to prevent conflict but to promote a just society where people can exist in an environment of peaceful coexistence.
The NBCC Office by Executive decision hereby calls upon its constituent Associations to direct their churches to ring church bell at 6:00 AM, 50 times, and convene for a time of prayer and fasting on September 6 (Saturday). This is to mark the aspiration of the people and the fervent prayers of believers for the last 50 years for a lasting peace. An extract from the book, “Walking the Path of Despair and Hope: Understanding and Justifying the Ways of God”, NBCC’s endeavour on Peace and Reconciliation, compiled and edited by Rev. Kari Longchar, the former Director for Peace Affairs is herewith reproduced to recollect the common journey of struggle and hope.The Response of the NBCC in the Midst of Political Violence
The Nagaland Baptist Church Council endeavours to be a faithful and dependable organisation in times of crises. It serves as the expression of the churches towards the political life of Nagaland. The years of participation have shown that the aims and objectives of the NBCC is not for political power but for the proper exercise and stewardship of political resources in the spirit of peace, understanding, and co-operation.36 (Alongla P. Aier, ed., From Darkness to Light, p. 116.)
The study of the history of the Church in Nagaland clearly shows that the history of Christianity in Nagaland and Naga modern history are closely intertwined. To understand Christianity in Nagaland, one needs to understand the socio-cultural characteristics of the Nagas and the development of their political consciousness as peoples. On the other hand, to understand the political developments in Naga society one needs to understand the context in how Christianity spread in Nagaland. This is because the history of the Nagas particularly from the last quarter of the 19th century is about the development and emergence of a cohesive socio-cultural and political awareness that interacted with the emerging churches. This was also strongly influenced by fundamental Christian doctrine of divine love, grace, salvation, human dignity and equality before God.
The effectiveness of the Church in responding to the political upheaval and violence is far from perfect. Unfamiliar with the complex new issues the Church found itself called upon to deal with the political turmoil that have suddenly descended on the people. The Church too, had made mistakes. Sometimes it receives approval from the people, and sometimes it is harshly criticised. There have been times when the people thought and needlessly feared that the Church was taking Naga national politics into its own hands. But during the most turbulent periods and difficult times, the NBCC took upon itself the role of bringing the GoI and the FGN to talks. The initiative paved the way for the formation of the Peace Mission which led to the declaration of the Ceasefire of September 6, 1964. But even prior to Peace Mission, the Naga Church Ministers’ Mission (NCMMP) functioned as early as 1957 for peace work. Each of these events will be discussed briefly in the following sections.
Notwithstanding the NBCC’s limitations, the Church cannot be indicted for not taking its responsibility to be the shepherd of its flock during some of the darkest hours in Naga history especially, between 1955 – 1975.
Events Leading to the Military Operation
In June 1947, the Angami Baptist Association expressed its happiness over the united stand taken by the Nagas under the umbrella of the Naga National Council (NNC). On August 14, 1947, NNC declared Naga independence. On August 31, 1947, all the Angami Churches observed the day as a day of prayer to “ask for help and guidance”37 ( Keviyiekielie Linyu, Christian Movements in Nagaland, N. V Press, Kohima, Nagaland, 2004, p. 150.) over the political development. Reflecting on the emerging Naga political consciousness it can be pointed out that “Angamis were the primary target of the British government in the 19th century, and at later periods Angamis became the “nerve centre” of Naga nationalism under the leadership of A. Z. Phizo. So also among the Naga churches, Angamis were the first to take up the responsibility of nation building”.38 (L. Kari Longchar, NBCC Peace Work, Peace and Reconciliation: A Reflection, unpublished paper, presented at the NBCC Seminar on Peace and Reconciliation March 2003, p.1.) When the Constituent Assembly was set up in 1946 with the objective to form India Union, NNC did not send its representatives to the said Constituent Assembly. The NNC was invited to send representatives to Delhi for the adoption of the Indian Constitution on January 26, 1950. But no Naga representatives were sent. Instead, on the eve of India Republic Day (January 26, 1950), the NNC declared, “Nagas will become a free nation. The Indian constitution cannot bind the Nagas. An appeal is made to India to declare to the world on Republic Day that the Nagas will be given freedom of choice to become independent”.39 (Quoted in Neville Maxwell, India and the Nagas, Minority Rights Group, London, 1973, p. 10.)
Owing to the unilateral abrogation of the 9 Point Agreement by New Delhi, the Nagas on May 16, 1951, under the mandate of NNC conducted a voluntary plebiscite on the issue of Naga independence and its establishment as a sovereign country. The NNC records states that 99.9% voted or affixed their thumb impressions in favour of independence. In a display of total non-participation in GoI policy, the Nagas completely boycotted the first independent India General Election of 1952. The ballot boxes arrived, but no Nagas turned up to vote. The boxes returned to Delhi empty. In January 1953, Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of the Indian Union, and his Burmese counterpart, U Nu visited Kohima, Nagaland. Thousands of Naga villagers from different areas came to attend on foot to show their respect and to listen to the two great leaders; and also with anticipation to express their desire for self-determination. Unfortunately, the memorandum of the NNC addressed to Prime Minster Nehru was vetoed by Barkataki, the then Deputy Commissioner of Naga Hills District of Assam. The Naga public walked out en masse to demonstrate their frustration and anger as Nehru spoke. Pieter Steyn, describes this extraordinary incident, “pride, intransigence, arrogance – the situation was a drama of human failing”.40 (Pieter Steyn, Zapuphizo: Voice of the Nagas, Kegan Paul, London, 2002.) It is rightly pointed out that “the consequence was catastrophic for the Nagas. Political relations between the GoI and the Nagas hit rock-bottom.41 (K. Toshinaro Longchar, Conflicts in the process of Transition from Traditional Society to Modernity, p.129.)
Formation of Naga Church Ministers’ Mission for Peace (NCMMP), 1957
Indian armed forces were deployed in 1953, and security forces began to raid houses and villages of NNC leaders. This situation prompted Naga leaders to go underground. Then a war-like situation broke out when army operations began in Nagaland and fighting intensified by 1955. The 1955 NNC records shows that:
Ten thousand Nagas had been beaten and tortured out of which one thousand five hundred sixty two were women with seven hundred nine of them below the age of twenty years. One thousand eight hundred eleven men were maimed through torture. By the end of July 1956, no less than twenty six thousand five hundred ninety eight houses were burned as two hundred four villages were attacked and 8,850,000 maunds of paddy was either burned or destroyed as more than five hundred fifteen granaries were burned.42 (Kaka D. Iralu, The Naga Saga: A historical account of the 62 years Indo-Naga war and the story of those who were never allowed to tell it, publisher, Kaka D. Iralu, Kohima, Nagaland Third Edition 2009, p. 67.)
The sufferings of the people became indescribable. Violence escalated and there were rampant violation of human rights. There was hardly a single Naga village or family that was not affected by the punitive operation conducted by the Indian Security Force. Seeing the suffering of their people the Church could no longer remain silent. During this period in Naga history, in February 1957, a small group of Church leaders met at Kohima to assess and to do something about the unprecedented situation unfolding before them. R.G. Beers writes, “this handful of men dared to believe that the way out, was the way some Nagas were not willing to try. They sat long into the night, and finally, their plan was hammered out”. 43 (Quoted in Keviyiekielie Linyu, Christian Movements in Nagaland, p. 150.)
Thereby, the Naga church leaders formed the Naga Church Ministers’ Mission for Peace (NCMMP) in 1957. Such a responsibility was thrust upon them since there was no other institution to mediate for the Nagas. These Church leaders acted as mediators between the GoI and the Naga national leaders who had to go underground as the crisis deteriorated. Their appeal to the Nagas clearly based on the Christian doctrine states:
The vision of the crucified Lord has already become blurred to many Christians. How can we take up arms against one another when we know that we are standing under the shadow of the cross on which the Prince of Peace was crucified…? There is no time for misunderstanding and indecision among us. Now is the time for us to decide what we really want to be.
Through the prayers of the Church of Christ this power of the love of God in Christ Jesus is stronger than the hatred of man.44 (Quoted in Keviyiekielie Linyu, Kenneth Kerhüo, p. 15.)
They toured all over Nagaland visiting villages including those who were grouped in four or five villages by the Indian army forces. They comforted and listened to the stories of their tragedies and fears and abuse in the hands of the Indian army. They preached about peace and non-violence. They also met FGN leaders to facilitate peace. They reasoned with the Naga people saying “our Lord’s teaching about revenge is: Turn your other cheek”. They visited Naga prisoners, preached the Gospel and administered Holy Communion. About their travel it is recorded:
Those days were filled with exciting moments of walking through deep forests, crossing swelling rivers in mid-summer, clearing the paths between the villages as people had already stopped visiting their neighbouring villages due to insecurity and fear, and clearing the spikes along the path that were planted for defence.
Rev. Longri Ao writes how the team visited the prisons where thousands of Nagas were imprisoned. Recalling one such particular prison visit in Mokokchung he writes: In Mokokchung, we found one hundred and twenty men, women and children locked up by the Indian army…we sang together the hymn “In the Cross” and all said “The Lord’s prayer”. I read to them from Matthew 6 – God clothes the lilies and feeds the birds. Do not be anxious. 45 (Quoted in O. M. Rao, Longri Ao: A biography, Calcutta: Christian Literature Centre, 1986, p.80.)
Regarding the touring experienced by NCMMP, Rev. Kijung, one of the members, poignantly reflected the thoughts and burdens that were also going through in the minds of the pioneering peace workers, “Just half a century ago, we were saved from head-hunting and now how can I believe in the worse killing of my people?”.46 (Quoted in Panger Imchen, L. Kijung Ao: The Longest Night, p. 67.)
The NCMMP of 1957 was an important initiative of the Church. This Mission for Peace travelled all over Nagaland and gave the church leaders the chance to see the atrocities the Naga people were suffering. This gave them the insight and the need to develop a more cohesive Church organisation and the urgency for a high level Peace Mission to negotiate between GoI and FGN. So it was in the absence of any form of a cohesive social or political organisation and in the context of political violence that the NBCC re-organised into a more structured institution and platform to give a unified voice to the Nagas and to become a mediator between the GoI and the FGN. Seeing first-hand, the senseless killings and bloodshed, the Naga church leaders of the 1950s reaffirmed the principle of non-violence, forgiveness and reconciliation as the guiding principle for any future peace work for NBCC.
Of the Naga church leaders, Edward Singha, the then General Secretary of the Council of Baptist Churches in Assam and Manipur observed, “They went from village to village, jungle to jungle, cave to cave, river to river, meeting people appealing to them to forsake the ways of violence and follow the Prince of Peace, our Lord and Saviour Christ”.47 (Quoted in Keviyiekielie Linyu, Christian Movements in Nagaland, pp.148-149.)
For almost one year they travelled and walked the length and breadth of Nagaland. But this mission was recalled to organise a more cohesive Church organisation. This move was made when the need became more imminent for the Church to respond effectively to the daunting challenges in a more unified approach. Kenneth Kerhüo’s appointment as the first Executive Secretary in 1960 during a period of such political and social significance, took the responsibility with great vision and steered the organisation of NBCC effectively in meeting the new challenges. He saw the immediate need for a more purposeful and organised Peace Mission. Through his efforts, he mobilised the Angami Baptist Church leaders and the proposal was put forward for a Peace Mission to the NBCC, which came into existence in 1964.
(to be continued)
Nagaland Baptist Church Council

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By EMN Updated: Sep 02, 2014 11:21:31 pm