Freedom of expression in Naga Context
Tekatila T Changkilari
[dropcap]F[/dropcap]or freedom and independence, the Nagas had fought against the forced occupationists in the land of the Nagas for more than eight decades and the outfit has been conducting political dialogue with the Government of India strenuously for fifteen long years by the NSCN leadership on behalf of the Nagas to clinch an honorable settlement from India. If such an agreement takes place, certainly Nagas will get respite from tortuous struggle. But when the political dialogue seemed to reach a logical conclusion, different Naga groups and individuals have raised alarms in the name of patriotism and in the name of freedom of expression. There are so many intellectuals, philosophers and journalists who are throwing mud and dirt into the expected conclusion of the talks.” This was how the NSCN-IM reacted to opinions voiced through newspapers in Nagaland. NSCN –IM said the freedom of expression cannot be misinterpreted.Freedom of expression is not unlimited. For the people whose political struggle continued for decades in bloody war with Indian army and later in inter-factional war, free expression of opinion resulted in the loss of lives. The Naga National Council (NNC) is considered by many as the sole legitimate forum to address the matter of a final solution on grounds of having initiated the plebiscite in 1951, have suffered due to the signing of the Shillong Accord of 1975 with the Government of India by some under the name of ‘underground organization’. The group of Naga presidential envoy on their return from China formed the NSCN in 1980 saying ‘freedom comes from the barrel of the gun’ in its socialist manifesto. NSCN has since then split into three factions.
In this situation of political conflict between the Naga army, termed as rebels, undergrounds and secessionists by India and the mighty Indian army, and later further aggravated by inter factional war for territorial supremacy, political propaganda in writing kept being forced into local newspapers by the former. Media came under constant threat by these forces, which did not tolerate any opinion it considered anti-national. Intellectuals who stood for opposing principles and voiced their belief through newspapers and pamphlets were silenced by gun. Nagaland Minister of Roads and Bridges Kuzholuzo Azo Neinu stressed the need for media houses in the state to use the ‘freedom of expression’ in line with the democratic ideals and values and more importantly for the larger interest of the general public. He said that the danger comes when the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of Expression is being misused. Therefore he called upon the media professionals to exercise their wisdom while discharging their duties in the name of ‘Freedom of Expression’ and added that as the media personnel are the watchdog of the society their role should be based on the overall benefits of the citizens of the society. The NSCN-IM categorically let its voice heard that freedom of speech has its limitations. In another rejoinder, they even went to warn some writers that Naga political case “is a blood soaked case, so, they must be very careful in their write ups”. To charge our fellow Nagas with ‘high treason’ just because they have differences in opinion puts the future of the Nagas in a very complex situation.
Even under the union of India, the Nagas do not enjoy equal freedom of speech like other Indians because of our quest for self-determination; and if the Naga revolutionary groups put further brakes on our freedom of speech and expression, then, the Nagas in near future literally have no freedom at all. Just as democracy without economic independence is only half-baked bread, there can be no such thigh as being half-free. Freedom should be absolute or nothing. Article 19 of the Constitution of India guarantees that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; yet Clause (2) of Article 19 impose reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.
Nagaland has gone through a painful and traumatic period. The wounds are yet to be healed. Expression of popular opinion and the free flow of ideas has been a casualty in our land. For more than a decade or so, public opinion has been suppressed through what can be best described as ‘gun-culture’. The essence of democracy is freedom of speech and expression and this right was brutally suppressed by threats and intimidation.
Unless there is free speech, other democratic rights cannot be defended. Due to this terrifying ‘gun-culture’, the people of Nagaland remained mute spectators and helplessly watched all the negative developments taking place before their eyes in their own land. Freedom of Expression is not only expressing ourselves in public but having the assurance in our hearts that we will not be terrorized by anybody for expressing our views. In our society, only the rich and powerful men and women are able to exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression. This freedom is no longer a right for the ordinary Nagas. This freedom has become a luxury and this is the reason why the problems of the common public are not understood at all by the rich and powerful men in our society. Various factional parties and corrupt leaders have also paralyzed our right of freedom of speech and expression. It exists theoretically but realistically it does not exist. Even a small wisp of whisper is suppressed. The truth has become bitter for the Nagas.
There has been a marginal change since those darkest days. In the changed political scenario, different shades of opinion are gradually and tentatively being expressed, although in a guarded and round-about manner since the fear psychosis has still not disappeared. What needs to be emphasized is that enough time has been lost and it is now imperative that people should come out boldly to highlight the reality of the Naga political problem and fearlessly express their opinions and views. Silence is not a virtue when democratic rights are trampled upon. In a true democracy, the people are sovereign and any imposition of decisions on the people without their mandate would be a negation of democracy. This is the line that divides democracy from dictatorship. As the proverb says ‘No one was ever ruined by speaking the truth’. At such an important and critical stage of the Naga political process, the people of Nagaland who are the real stakeholders of the entire process cannot afford to remain silent anymore. But it is very disappointing when the Nagas do not dare to speak out their minds for the fear of violent reprisal. The innocent Naga public have become like bonded labour who are at the beck and call of their masters. Even religious leaders are no exception to this sheer helplessness.
But these days some non-governmental organizations like the ACAUT, an organization that goes against the heavy taxation of the undergrounds, has stood up and are now raising their voices to stop the heavy taxation that the undergrounds are imposing on the public. Poor voiceless public, so scared even to stand up for our rights. But ACAUT is standing up for us for a better future and so being a sensible person we should also support ACAUT. It has become a divine inspiration for the Nagas. It is slowly leading the Nagas to raise up their voices and freely express their views.
The right to freedom of expression of the people cannot be suppressed. After all, the NSCN (IM) leadership itself has said that ultimately it will be the people who decide Nagaland’s future. And all shades of opinions have categorically asserted that lasting peace hinges on all warring groups speaking in one voice. Whatsoever regulation that stands in the way of the right to freedom of expression must be lifted up jointly by individuals and the public. The case in Nagaland demonstrates an optimistic picture that many not be possible in every conflict situations. However, the Naga case has shown that an organization which wielded so much power and fear have to ultimately give way to freedom of expression. This is not to mean that freedom of expression has without its limitations. A civilized and progressive society must stand united in support of freedom of expression. However, in voicing opinions, it is crucial that accuracy of facts is maintained and irresponsible observations that have the potential to mislead the minds of the people are not made.
Tekatila T Chagkilari, hailing from Changki village, is a student of Class XII studying in Jubilee Memorial School. This entry was adjudged the winning essay at the essay competition organized by the Mokokchung Press Club on the topic ‘Freedom of Expression in Naga context’.