Modern Nagas, Where Are We Heading?
Maturing physically and mentally as a medical student from graduation to post-graduation in central India, and like many other fellow Nagas who have studied in mainland India for a reasonable period of time, I was also exposed to the contrasting Indian culture and mindset for this long. The inferiorly treated SC/ST/OBCs, the subdued women etc. and various categories of reservations often surfaced for discussion. Such discussions were never pleasant in nature. On our part, never an opportunity was missed to say, “In Nagaland we do not have caste system, we Nagas are all equal and there is no discriminations”. That our women have more liberty than mainland Indian women did. Those days, to keep in touch with happenings at home, I subscribed Nagaland Page, the onlylocal weekly circulating at that period of time. In my second or third year medical studies, I remember writing a letter to the weekly on gender issue. Even then, I never felt Naga women were subjected to social discrimination as a gender. I am not talking about gender equality but of gender discrimination feeling like “Naga women, go back to the kitchen” prevailing among feminist. As far I remember, as Naga boys and girls, we grew up on equal footings.
I believe man and woman were created to be complementary to each other and not to fight over each other’s rights. Naga males were a race of warriors and Naga mothers had a big role of grooming their sons into that warrior mindset. While on the other side, perseverance and endurance; prudent firmness and tenderness, the qualities of motherhood were slowly being conditioned into the daughters. Also, a Naga family being agrarian, Naga mothers worked as hard as their menfolk in the fields or may be even harder. Her hands might have been calloused by hard work but she tenderly brewed rice beer to keep her man’s spirit high. In those ancient days, every able-bodied Naga was literally a hunted man. Menfolk on the other hand, kept their wives in utmost respect. Among Lothas, menfolk would not even call their wives by name. A man would respectfully and lovingly call his wife “Niyo” meaning your mother. The more romantic would call the wife “Loro” (lass) even up to old age. I am sure the same must have been the practice among other Naga tribes. So thus we came! Menfolk protected their womenfolk and children; womenfolk tended the home and groomed the young. Even household chores were divided into respective domains. A life of shared responsibilities and harmonious adjustment! Simple living yet a fulfilling life. Sustenance life yet, one of high morale and esteemed living. As a warrior race, Naga society by circumstances of living was a male dominated community. But, gender discrimination? I don’t think so. A Naga girl grew up to be as outspoken and as dominating a person as her male counterpart could be. Her bravery and resourcefulness was exceptional. The likes of Rani Gaidinliu could be found in all walks of Naga life. She could excel if she chose to.
With the emergence of the concept of “State”, the role of running the affairs of the state got vested on men. There is no denying that the resultant effect was unbalanced gender participation. This has been the phenomenon worldwide. And, if today the world is of the opinion that calls for women empowerment then, we Nagas also ought to see things from that perspective. If out of the needs of modern dispensation, women empowerment in our municipalities through women reservation is called for, we men may as well be accommodative. It can at its best, only be a short step-board mechanism towards gender equality in participation? Reservation in whatever form cannot be the absolute answer to women empowerment. In my earnest feeling, Naga women should opt for a mindset of “What men can do, we also can do” and seek the path of equality towards mutual living on equal footing and not by reservations of seats. In areas like ULBs, perhaps a system of involvement by nomination can kick off towards balanced gender participation.
Since time immemorial, every Naga village with its land has been an independent country self-governed by its own sets of civil code and criminal jurisprudences. Then came the big bang! A little more than one and a half centuries ago, Nagas were slapped upon with two major changes. The change from paganism to Christianity on one hand and from the traditional way of life to the monarchial subjugation followed by democracy on the other hand. Therefore, the concept of “State” is alien to the traditional Naga. So are townships for that matter. Out of necessity of changing lifestyle, today we are evolving into a modern society but, we are still at crossroads where we continue to struggle on what can be culturally and traditionally relevant in today’s context or what should replace redundant and obsolete customs and traditions with modern concepts. Apparently, we have not socially evolved to an optimum level of development and there are conflicts of systems- the old and the new. There is a tendency to social malleability and personal identity confusion and, this is not healthy for the younger generation.
Also, the fiercely territorial Nagas refused to be subjugated and the struggle to be an entity goes on. Even so, in this disturbing milieu of bloodshed, “Nagaland” State was born and numerous distinctive tribes came together to make a homeland. As part of the process, we elected people to man our State Legislative Assembly to run the affairs of the State. In Naga context, this process by itself is as uncustomary and as untraditional as the words can imply. Nevertheless, our journey starts as a unit of the federal set up of modern India by extraneous insertion of the now much highlightedArticle 371(A) in the Constitution of India.
Now therefore, Legislators will have to run the affairs of the State in tune with emerging needs and will have to make legislations accordingly. Legislations are need based and are for the progress and welfare of the people. Villages and the towns are the units of the State and the inhabitants are its people. No human settlement can continue to function arbitrarily. Even in our ancient tribal way of life, institutions like “Tongtichochang” among Lothas and “Pudu Menden” among Aos to cite some examples, run the affairs of the concerned villages. They were the traditional local self-governments. Because of emerging needs most such traditional institutes of local self-governments (except Pudu Menden among Aos) have now been replaced or taken over by Village Councils. Village councils function by the Nagaland Village Council Act enacted for the purpose. Similarly.we have the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 for the formation of ULBs. Third Amendmentof the Act, (NMA2016)promulgated reservation of seats for women and certain tax reforms. Government did what it had to do given the circumstance but, consequently, there was mass movement against the government policies for our ULBson the grounds that they are against our customary practices and infringes on Article 371(A). This has led to the exceedingly unfortunate turn of violent events with human casualty.What we went through was a costly experience of human existence. But, as with any other human conflict, the current situation has also simmered down and a semblance of normalcy has seeped in. Whatever corrective steps are taken, it will take time to heal. As for the bereaved families, life will never be the same again. The issues still remain and either way the truth will and must prevail to lead us into further path of progress.
Any mass movement against a government is distressful more so when such movement becomes violent. Most disturbing is the eroding trust between the people and its representative especially among the youth of today. During this period of turmoil, not withstanding the loss of precious human lives, I often wished if the mass movement could have been for Naga Solution and not for petty ULBs. We live in an interdependent world and what happens inside of Nagaland is not anymore our exclusive concern alone. That Naga people have gone against women reservation and tax reforms, have found neither sympathy nor acceptance outside. All were critical of the attitude Nagas manifested on the two issues. Someone wrote, “Nagaland has gone back by 30 years” as a result of the agitation. I don’t know how that can be proved or disproved but, we certainly have a big setback on our hands. Setback of not just being unable to conduct ULB elections but, setbacks in our wants and emotions and of cohesiveness. Let us anguish over the fact that we all have written an unwanted history.
Many a Naga feels that, Nagas never ever paid tax so then,why should we pay tax now? Reluctance or evasion to pay tax is nothing new and tax collectors are disliked people even Zacheaus during the times of Jesus was disliked. Apparently, there are lots of misconceptions surrounding taxations and its returns. I don’t know about other districts but in Wokha District, during the recent imbroglio, people started believing (or were made to believe!) that even the cottage reared animals and plantations will be taxed by the Government. In today’s context, his was too farfetched a concept to any logical mind but, when it becomes a momentum of mass feeling, point of no-return is crossed as we have unfortunately experienced. If we look closely at our own unwritten history, even in ancient Naga villages, every abled bodied individual contributed in kind and labor towards the common welfare of the community. Likewise, even before Christian era, pagan Naga made offering to gods and spirits in sickness and for wellbeing as well. All these forms of contributions literally boil down to the same analogy of collection of taxes. No matter how we perceive, the Government and the Church are two establishments important to us today. Our lives spiral around the two establishments and I can’t forego the idea of comparing the two. If one flies by chopper to different nook and corners of Nagaland, the one compelling sight is the human habitation with large Church building surrounded by low economy houses of its congregation. Growth of the church has been possible because of the tenth tithes and different offerings we are wont to chip in. Aren’t all these collections forms of taxations? We all give these offerings willingly not only because it is expected of us but, also because we want return on our investments! We want to be manifold blessed in return for our obedience and offerings. Then, what of the State? What do we contribute to the State except electing people to legislate for us and then criticize them for all of our woes?Even during the times of Jesus, didn’t he say;“Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s”? Meaning thereby is that, a sensible and productive man should contribute to both the State and God! May be because of our willingness to contribute to our churches, Nagaland has grown from 0% Christians to nearly 100% Christians with laudable infrastructures but, in the public sector we are still limping because we do not pay the State and we are surviving on manas from others. Lack of financial literacy and fiscal awareness has let many Nagas especially the youth becoming increasingly critical of the Government and the politicians and the executives? I feel the globalized and consumeristic world that we live in today has contributing effect. Agreed that running the affairs of a state is more complex than running the church nevertheless, both the Church and the State are of the people and they exist for the people. If they aren’t by the people themselves then, can they be out of nothing? Or is our notion that people stay put and everything is done for them by the Govt. or the churchfor that matter? Then, we all would be unproductive disabled lot. The ideology of “by the people” is that people have to be pro-active and productive and not just being a passive member or a subject, otherwise no establishment will prosper.
In one of the management trainings I had opportunity to attend as a medical officer, one of our resource persons asked us “where does the Government get its monies to spend”? Obviously government does not mint its money at will. Major chunk of government money comes from taxations and within that, the individual income tax account for 42% (2010). I would like to also share another story. During one of my mindset development seminar for church leaders, a theological doctorate reverend who was one of the resource persons, narrated a story about a conversation that took place between two students, a Naga and local student of south India. The Naga student asked her friend as to why in spite of getting higher percentage of marks she was not getting scholarship like she (Naga) does. The south Indian local student replied, “It is because we pay tax that you get scholarship”. The two narrations will not explain all fiscal issues but are definitely eye openers.
Now, with all the recessions seen even in developed countries and our own Country’s slowing economic growth compounded by climate change, our Country is compelled to look afresh into its fiscal policies.Demonetization the Country is going through may be a line of action to this end. Ultimately, there is pressure on the states to perform. Performing better for a state means that all of our economic growth indices need to be scaled up, realistic and progressive. It will also importantly mean bettering revenue for more flexibility. And where is Nagaland today? We are barely able to produce revenue of 4-6% of our non-plan expenditure requirement. We are unable to make ends meet even at 90:10 funding pattern i.e. the State has to contribute 10% of the earmarked fund. What if today, Central Government says, “Nagaland, you are now 50+ years and enough of hand holding, you will now start performing and will be funded at 75:25 (or gravely 50:50) funding pattern like other states”. I don’t think Nagaland will be able to survive. It’s time we Nagas wake up!
Lastly, let me take readers back to my opening paragraph and share some feelings about reservation of seats. We say we Nagas are casteless, classless society. But, the unfortunate reality is that in Indian context we are classified or let us say categorized. By a presidential order of 1970, Nagas are listed a Scheduled Tribe. The essential characteristics for a community to be identified as a Scheduled Tribe are (i) primitive way of life and habitation in remote and less easily accessible areas, (ii) distinctive culture, (iii) shyness of contact with the community at large, (iv) geographical isolation, and (v) general backwardness in all respects.I am proud to be a tribal member of a cohesive community with rich culture and tradition, but not a scheduled tribal! No doubt, as ST Citizen there are benefits of reservation of seats in many areas specially employment sector. But, reservation in any form or quantity is a chunk taken out of what could have been a general quota and it does not go down well with all. Even mainland India has had its share of troubles with reservation system. Best alternative to reservation of seats is capacity building on mission mode or war footing for the disadvantaged. Having said that, I wish Nagas work towards exclusion from the category of ST. Importantly, will our younger Naga generation have the zeal to evolve out of the tag and trod on even grounds as the open category citizens? Afterall, what has been classified can be declassified.
Another concluding point I have is that, we Nagas have often taken cover of Article 371(A) to debate on certain issues, even the current issue of ULB. People, even leaders have often said that, the Article gives us protection on this and that as enshrined in it. In reality, what has Article 371(A) given us in relation to the State of Nagaland? Sadly,we have blissfully slept over the Article and it has been just a cold almost redundant piece of insinuation in the Constitution of India. To refresh our memories, Article 371(A) covers four areas of concern – Religious and social practices of Nagas, Naga Customary Law and procedure, Administration of civil and criminal justice involving decisions according to Naga customary law and fourthly, Transfer of land and its resources. If one reads the Article carefully, it in no way empowers the people directly but the State Legislative Assembly to resolve on whether or not to accept and apply any Acts of parliament in respect of the four areas of concern mentioned. Now, how many required resolutions have our Legislative Assembly passed in the last 50+ years by invoking provisions of Article 371(A)? The only resolution (2nd attempt) on transfer of land and its resources and the resultant Rules and Regulation on P&NG has ended up in the Court of Indian Law through PIL.Today, we are on the verge of being imposed upon an Indian Uniform Civil Code. As a Christian Indian citizen, it worries me when Hon. Prime Minister of India said, “Hindu is not a religion but a way of life”. Is there a message in between the lines? Indian marriage Act is still a law for us too when in dispute. We should preempt these and have our own Naga Civil Code based on Article 371(A)(1)(a) (i) & (ii). And then, there is complete messed up overlapping in arbitration of justice whether civil or criminal between Naga customary law and Indian penal system with shuffling of cases to and fro. We should have a concise book on Naga customary law and arbitration in Naga customary law should be well defined and demarcated. Judgment given in such customary courts in defined areas should be final and binding. Qualifications for people manning customary courts should also be set. We Nagas are really in a mess and it’s really time we all wake up and start building our castle lest posterity blame us. The State Government has to function under Indian Constitution but on the contrary, if importance has to be given to Naga customary practices, we might as well legalize our tribal bodies to rational statutory status with proper terms of functionality to start with.
Dr. Chumben Murry Ex. Minister; Wokha