From colonial to Indian rule in search of Naga political aspirations
Jack T. Chakhesang
WHEN he was the Prime Minister, late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru told Naga leaders in New Delhi to the effect that even if the heavens were to fall, he would not give Independence to the Nagas.
The skies will not fall if the Nagas call themselves Nagas or the Mizos call themselves Mizos or Kashmiris call themselves Kashmiris. Like that the same goes for the Kukis, Karbis, Bodos and all those others struggling for separate States, or even sovereignty. And bureaucrats particularly in New Delhi should not mind this too much—lest their advice to the powers that be prove to be adverse in the long run.All of them are part of the Indian sub-continent—geographically at least. And whatever be New Delhi’s policies affect them directly or indirectly. An innovative locksmith had forged a chain of links and his work has for 65 years, posed a challenge to established lock pickers.
Now, it has become the fashion for almost every link in the chain to display its true alloys. Six decades ago, it was a crime to talk of secession or even sovereignty/Independence. And the Nagas got the brunt of it followed by the Mizos, then others. Today, everybody talks about political aspirations and no one seems to be taking them seriously.
THE TYPICAL INDIAN VIEW
A former chief of bureau of the Patna-based “The Indian Nation” once told me: “When India got her Independence, the process of national integration began after the country became one from the administrative point of view for the first time. So Indian Union was fully integrated for the first time with every Indian living in this union of States. We had the feeling of oneness for the first time and we were very conscious about this union psychologically, mentally and physically and we had a very deep feeling of oneness belonging to one country.
“So when any section of the people strayed from this feeling, or for instance when any voice was raised which might affect the unity and integrity of the nation, many eyebrows were raised. So every individual felt concerned as to why this demand for secession from the union was raised for the first time. And anybody was easily irritated. This was a very sensitive issue and the reaction tended to be heavy handed.
“After quite a few years, some threats came from the North-East, and then the threats came from the North (J & K), then from the South. And then it so happened that the demands seemed to have lost all their gravity. It was believed that those who made various demands did not mean what they said. People started taking it all lightly. Nobody took them seriously.
“What were the psychological factors? In the beginning we were very sensitive about our unity. Our sentiments got assimilated or inevitably linked with our unity. Later on, we became more practical. We realized that whoever joined this union, did so in his own interest—after full consideration like the Nizam of Hyderabad, Maharaja of Kashmir Hari Singh and the 500-odd kingdoms that were scattered throughout the sub-continent, and had been the victims of the British ‘divide and rule’ policy.
“So here the practical attitude of the Indian people helped the Government, perhaps, to think over this from a practical point of view. People started going deep into the causes which made them join the union and all those who thought it over came to the conclusion that these remarks about secession are due to genuine grievances which if remedied, people will give up talking about secession.”
This conversation took place 29 years ago in New Delhi where I was working as journalist then. Here the senior journalist being much elder to me was talking from the point of view of his generation. Of course, he could not even imagine the real hardships that went along with sacrifices that the Naga people had to undergo.
THE DOMINO EFFECT
Then the Mizos took to the gun followed by the Meiteis in 1978 while Meghalaya was happy to be created a State under the provision of Article 371 (B) of the Constitution of India.
Assam fighters for their freedom came on the scene much later in 1984 and political support was given to the leaders of then All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the then All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) was advised to change its nomenclature Assam Gana Parishad (AGP). Sangram has war-like connotations. They even ruled the State once.
What most Indians on the mainland have failed to consider, even realize, is that as far as the Nagas have been concerned is that our then leaders had not consented to join the Indian union. Rather, the general conception is that India had invaded what is now Nagaland and to deal with the Nagas had even passed into law the much controversial Armed Forces (Special) Powers Act of 1958.
ROLE OF THE NAGA CLUB
As far back as 1929, the then Naga Club office bearers had conveyed to the Simon Commission that “Nagas are not Indians” and wished to live according to their own genius as a separate and independent political entity.
It may be here mentioned that this Simon Commission was submitted “Memorandum of the Naga Hills” on January 10 1829 at Kohima by the Naga Club. Signed by 20 signatories, the memorandum clearly stated that the then Naga Hills should be excluded from the Reformed Scheme of India and placed directly under British Govt. The Naga Club expressed much concern that new and heavy taxes would be levied under the reformed scheme whereas,Nagas had never paid taxes before.
At that time, the Naga population under British administration numbered 1,02,000. The memorandum continued that before the British conquered “our country” in 1979-80 Nagas were living in a state of relative freedom. It said: “Our country within the (British) administered area consists of more than eight regions quite different from one another, with quite different languages which cannot be understood by each other, and there are more regions outside the administered area which are not known at present. We have no unity among us and it is only the British Government that is holding us together now. We should not be thrust to the mercy of other people but to leave us alone to determine ourselves as in ancient times.”
The memorandum also said: “Our language is quite different from those of the plains and we have no social affinities with the Hindus or Mussalmans. We are looked down upon by the one for ‘beef’ and the other for our ‘pork’ and by both for our want in education.
“Though our land at present is within the British territory, Government have always recognized our private rights in it, but if we are forced to enter the (Indian) council the majority of whose number is sure to belong to other districts, we also have much fear the introduction of foreign laws and customs to supersede our own customary laws which we now enjoy,” the memorandum reiterated.”
Claiming to be not only the members of “Naga Club” but representatives all those regions to which they belong viz, Angamis, Kacha Nagas, Kukis, Semas, Lothas and Rengmas, the memorandum stated that it also represented other regions of Nagaland. It can thus be surmised that what the Naga Club stood for is still supposed to be relevant today and even more so despite the increasing number of sections of our freedom fighters
LEGACY FOR THE NEW GENERATION
The sad and unfortunate part is that today’s younger generation who have just graduated or are still in schools and colleges have been not been spared but made to endure the slings and arrows of what is called the ongoing Naga struggle for sovereignty.
People from other States come to our land primarily to earn money for which it must be granted that they do indeed sweat for it. Unfortunately, they do not bother to understand our culture and the various nuances of our every day lives. There is an apparent lack of courtesy, even disdain, for local Nagas by these migrant workers.
The present young Naga generation has grown up in better circumstances with access to so many fine schools and colleges even within the State itself. They have continuous access to facilities of TV and other electronic devices under much more peaceful and hence more prosperous circumstances. As a consequence, by growing up in urban environment they are gradually losing touch with the fountain of our culture and identity except for a few showcases during festivals and related occasions. They need a thorough grounding and grooming in the history and culture of our people in general and their respective tribes in particular.
THE NAGA POLITY
The Naga polity of yore in general was notable by some common characteristics among the various tribes. Unlike the bane of the reprehensible caste system which still propagates untouchability, dowry, female infanticide and the male chauvinist sense of beauty linked to the appearance of the private female organ particularly on the mainland, our forefathers had a more practical and better approach to the needs of every day life.
The society was competitive in spirit also. Hence the various games they played to while away their free time. Unlike the Mongol hordes of Ghengiz Khan or Tamer lane, head-hunting was basically a prestige related matter. The best warrior (read head hunter) was eventually made chief of the clan or village with an option to marry the fairest of maidens.
The equivalent of a graduate or post-graduate for a warrior was his prowess in manly sports like wrestling, hunting and the number of heads he could display as trophies of war. The female head of an enemy was considered a prized trophy. His basic training was received in the Morung institution.
An element of Timocracy also prevailed. Timocracy is a State where only property owners may participate in government. It also means a government in which love with honour is supposed to be the ruling principle. Thus a man could give “Feasts of merit” to prove that he was a man of substance and become eligible to wear a shawl with a particular design denoting his status in the community.
In a deeper sense, it was also a novel way of making a man part with his excess wealth so that the gap between him and his peers was not so glaring. Private property was jealously protected, it still is, and respected and until a few decades ago, no hut had a lock on the door. It is only very recently that a class system based on economic factors has emerged—for the worse.
THE GREAT THEORY OF INIDA
But then India is a great country and has room for all kinds of ways. Yet tribals particularly of the North-East region and other minorities like the Parsees are lonely communities within India. To quote Nari K. Rustomji, “They do not find their roots in the great cultures—Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist—that are the heart and lifeblood of India.”
In retrospect, The British colonialists with their typical military efficiency and imperial sense of humour, perpetrated a great theory in history by foisting on the world a new concept—that of the Indian Union. Such a motley crowd of numerous communities speaking equally diverse languages and dialects and preaching different religions and fortified with unwieldy impulses, were provoked by the British to come under one national flag.
The gods in their 4-Dimensional abodes with perfection their secret of eternal existence must have been alarmed this apparent miracle on the third planet. They may well have asked the question: “How did mere mortals carve out this great nation, this largest democracy in the world with the longest written Constitution for the first time?”
Here was a sub-continent of so many millions kept under check by 23,000 regular British troops (supported by thousands upon thousands of local recruits) while small ethnic groups like the Nagas and Mizos had never tolerated the presence of ‘Her Majesty’ rule anywhere on their soil.
The Indian inheritors were compelled to perpetrate the imperial sense of humour. No wonder, they went about their business in even more colonial style than their former masters. In typical tribal simplicity the people of the Patkai Range wanted to challenge the very concept of the Indian union, even to the point of losing their heads for it.
In the mean time, these small bands of tribesmen, described by some Indian leaders as “microscopic minorities” are still fighting for “political and territorial independence” from the Republic of India in spite of many benefits accruing to them.
One fine concession was probably uttered by L.K. Advani when, as the Home Minister during the NDA rule in New Delhi, said he appreciated Naga “political aspirations”—which can be interpreted in so may ways.