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Op-Ed

Naga customary laws and practices: Changki, a test case

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By EMN Updated: Dec 04, 2014 10:27 pm
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Are the provisions of Article 371(A) Getting Eroded?

PART – I

In connection with Changki Village founding history and inter-clan claims connected therewith, a section of village-custom-and-law-breakers belonging to a clan called Emremchangki led by Mr.Imtajenba, Mr.I.Imkong ex-MLA, and others have been trying for the last several years to mobilise support of various organisations and agencies, painting Changki village as the villains, and dismember our age-old customary laws, practices and usages. We issue this statement to clarify the truth and our position in the matter, in the understanding that Changki case has profound implications on Naga customary laws, practices and their usages, given special protection under Article 371(A) of the Indian Constitution.
(1) Changki is an ancestral village established by our first forefathers at Jangpetkong, relocated at a place called Ongdien by our forefathers which is situated between the first village cemetery at the upper Khel called Sungdakba and the present Changki Baptist Church complex, centuries before British annexation of Ao country during 1888-1889. Our territorial and identity rights are our natural birth right, protected by the Indian Constitution and other laws enacted by the State legislature.
(2) Changki, as it exists today, came into being through three major migration groups, resulting in expansion of the village, both because of these migration intakes and natural population growth. Changki as such is addressed by Changki villagers as citizens of “three villages”.
(3) It was after the second migration group joined Changki and expansion of the village took place at the lower khel at a place called Sangpangmen, by which time six clans were already living at Changki, that Emremchangki clan came into Changki life,- two groups picked up within Changki territory by our forefathers, given the new clan name Emremchangki, because they were taken in by Imlisangba of Changkiri clan, and a third group led by Laluk which migrated to Changki from Longsemdang village who were also allowed to join the Emremchangki clan. Mr.Imtajenba, Mr.I.Imkong Ex-MLA and other leaders of the clan belong to this third and youngest group who migrated from Longsemdang, and it is mainly this group which is approaching one organisation after another with concocted stories claiming that they are one of the founding clans of Changki at Jangpetkong, which has created so much bitterness and misunderstanding in recent years. They are claiming that they are Changkiri clan, the clan which graciously took them into Changki, centuries ago, thereby trying to usurp and dislodge their benefactors from their ancestral clan identity, through various devious means.
(4) Changki has 13 clans in all, including Changkiri and Emremchangki. These two clans named do not intermarry because Emremchangki was taken into the village by Mr.Imlisangba Changkiri, but in all of Changki’s customary laws, practices and usages, they are two distinctively different clans. For example, their citizenship and village work subscription are given clan-wise and their ancestral inheritance lines are totally separate. During traditional village fishing, camps are set-up clan-wise and the two clans are always treated as two distinctively different clans. At Changki, Gaunburras are taken from different clans. By June, 2006, for instance, appointment of G.B.s from Longchari Clan was 16, from Amri 13, Changkiri 15, Alingri 11, Emremchangki 10, and so on. Again, during Village Citizens’ Assembly, clan-wise rolls are called. On 27/12/88, for example, clan-wise members present were,- Longchari-203, Amri-252, Tzudir-40, Changkiri-194, Emremchangki-220, and so on.
(5) Emremchangki clan, being a late comer does not have one square inch of ancestoral cultivation land at Jangpetkong, nor a single village founder’s house site at Ongdien.
(6) Changki happens to be one of those villages in which there is complete and total equality among so-called village founders and late-comers. Even people of other ethnic roots who join Changki citizenship are treated equally. A Changki citizen is what he makes of himself. There is no preferential or discriminatory treatment of any kind on the basis of clan identity. What certain members of Emremchangki clan led by Mr.I.Imkong ex-MLA’s group is trying to do, therefore, is beyond human comprehension.
(7) Changki, like all ancestral villages in Nagaland, run the village affairs and maintain law and order within the village according to our age-old customary laws and practices. If some people violate our village customary laws, the only way the village Council can keep discipline in the village is to take action according to our customary law without prejudice, bias or distinction. For we do not keep or maintain jails in the village. If actions taken by village authorities, as in the case of Changki, are questioned today in the name of human rights violation without verifying and authenticating the truth on the basis of one-sided complaints lodged by the law breakers, we believe that incalculable damage is being caused to the very foundation and fabric of Naga life and identity which are rooted in our villages.
(8) Every Naga village has its own founding history. Customary laws and their practices differ from village to village in varying degrees. Naga tribal customary laws have never been codified for uniform application, which can only be done by the Government of the day through Constitutional and lawful legislative means, to be applied and enforced by Customary Courts duly constituted by the Government for the purpose. Extra-constitutional and non-statutory organisations trying to directly interfere in the internal administrative affairs of Naga ancestral villages, conducted according to their own customary laws and practices, and in the name of so-called human rights violation, in our view, is not only uncalled for, but self-destructive, creating some very dangerous precedents for entire Nagaland, and especially for all Naga villages. Can a man punished for crimes committed by him cry foul for violation of human rights against him? The present tendency and trend of such interference, in the internal affairs of the “independent Naga village republics” if not rectified and checked now, will lead to serious dilution and eventual self-abolition of the special protection and privileges given to Nagas under Article 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution and various relevant laws enacted by the State Government. The real founders of those organisations should introspect on when, how, for what purpose their organisations were formed, and whether their present leaders are abiding by the provisions of their organisation’s Constitution, while interfering in the Naga village internal affairs, as in Changki’s case.
(9) Ancestral Naga customary laws and their practices, in the true sense, exist in the villages only. We understand this in two broad aspects. Traditional socio-cultural life in most villages have undergone vast changes due to the impact of Christianity and the process of modernisation. In traditional village governance, according to customary laws and practices, certain issues like founding history of a village or its clan system cannot be altered, and should not be interfered with by outside agencies. Changki’s case is straightforward. It concerns our village founding history, and its inter-related clans which are exclusively our own, best known to us, as in the case of every other Naga village, best known to itself. Changki is not in dispute with any other village or tribe or organisation. Since we cannot alter our founding history or clans, we have, as per our own customary laws and practices, settled the issue on 25/10/2001, and re-affirmed the same on 3/11/2014. Changki was established, our ancestral territory occupied, and our customary laws and way of living forged by the blood, sweat and wisdom of our forefathers, passed down to us through the centuries, which can never be altered by any order that the rebel group may bring from anywhere. The more they try to do so, heavier will be the millstone they hang on their necks. Changki Village Council never gave permission to them to take our internal issue outside of Changki. Had they simply humbled themselves and submitted to the village authority, the matter would have ended then and there.
(10) Changki has given (seven) special grace periods for the rebel group to re-join their clan under Changki customary laws. While the 7th one, has been going on since 2009, they went to various organisations. On 4/8/14, Changki Village Council yet once again decided to give full unconditional amnesty by lifting all the customary bindings imposed on all the various law-breakers, so that they could return to their clan and village without any hesitation, and amicable reconciliation could be discussed within Changki. The door remains open, but let no one entertain the wrong notion that Changki’s customary laws and practices have been suspended or removed. They should humble themselves, return to Changki on their own, and we can discuss the issue of total reconciliation within Changki’s own customary laws and practices, without the slightest interference or coercion from anyone. However, totally impartial mediation as our in-laws are sincerely attempting to do now is most welcome. We thank all well-wishers who have been praying for Changki and have been trying to mediate for healing the rifts that exist.

PART – II

1. Changki’s Fundamental Rights and our Understanding:
(a) Changki’s Historical Rights and Birthright:
Like many other ancestral and bigger Naga villages, Changki was estabalished and defended by our first forefathers, as an original village, not as a break-away or satellite village, centuries before modern administration came to our land either as British India or independent Union of India, with their blood and sacrifice. Changki territory was not allotted or gifted by anyone, but was possessed by our forefathers and owned by right of original occupation, exercising to the west, suzerainty upto Mariani, and then by circumstances of history, “gifting” to the Naga people today the right of Naga historical claim of ownership over Desoi Reserved Forest areas where now many Naga villages are happily settled. To the east of Tzürang river, there are several Sema as well as Ao villages settled on what was originally Changki land. We are not making any claims over these lands, but would like to call them providential acts of grace for the larger good of many; for the entire creation rightfully belongs to Him, the Creator. The entire Changki territorial land with all its resources as now possessed and owned by us is absolutely and rightfully our own.
Historians have recorded that centuries after migration to the present Ao country, the British administrative control was formally imposed on Ao country during 1888-1889. In 1891, in the first census conducted on the Aos, excluding one village, one of the ranges occupied by the Aos was being called ‘Changkikung’ by the Aos and J.P.Mills writes and says that ‘Changkikong’ was “called after Changki village which stands on it”. The British found some diversity among the Aos, a fact acknowledged by modern scholars even today, but the inhabitants of the Ao country were called Aor. Changki’s territorial and ethnicity rights are our historical and genetic birthright. To have Naga national leaders fighting for an independent, greater Nagalim, summoning us to Tzürang Valley in 2012, and asking us to declare and sign if we were Aos, was to us, absurd, irrelevant and insulting, and so we refused to comply.
(b) Changki’s Fundamental and Statutory Rights:
(i) Independence and Differences in Ao Village Governance:
Dr. And Mrs. Clark landed in the Ao country much ahead of the British. Mrs.Mary Mead Clark, based on her observation of the Ao village government system since the mid 1870’s wrote in 1907 about the Aos and said, “Each village is a little democracy managing its own affairs….”. In 1891, the British Census report said: “Each village amongst the Aos is a small republic”. J.P.Mills, writing on “The Ao Nagas” in 1926 said, “The whole tribe has never been united under one head”. Mr.Tajen Ao, Advocate, writing in 1980 on “Ao Naga Customary Laws” said at page 114, “Every Ao village is a State”. Such independent self-governing system prevalent in Naga villages has been succinctly commented upon by N.Talitemjen Jamir and A.Lanunungsang in “Naga Society and Culture” at the second para of page 37 (2005), and they have also commented upon great differences in the system of governance prevalent among the Aos at page 39 (bottom) and 40 (top). On the basis of his observations and study, J.P.Mills had dwelt rather extensively on the differences that existed among different Ao groups, – in matters of laws, customs, language, dress, tattooing, system of governance, and so on, but they were all Aos. Changki, like all other villages has its own founding history, clan names, customary laws, practices, usages and traditions which may differ from those of other villages to a larger or smaller degree. Changki’s so called issue created and racked up constantly by a few rebels of one clan called Emremchangki led by I.Imkong, ex-MLA’s group today is not with any other village or tribe, but is purely our own internal customary issue relating to the founding of our own village, and clan differences relating to our founding history, best known to us only, practised and lived by us from the times of our forefathers. The issue was settled by us within our own customary laws and practices on 25/10/2001 and re-affirmed again on 03/11/2014 within our customary laws on receipt of a petition from the Emremchangki clan of our village. We will not allow lies fabricated by this rebel group to supplant the truth on which Changki has stood and lived on through the centuries as a village community. Also, like all other ancestral Naga villages, we do not owe our God-given sovereign right over our village lands and time-honoured tribal identity to anyone else.
(ii) Constitutional and Statutory Status:
The foundation of Naga nationhood, as we have been claiming, is its Constitution. Article 3 of the Naga Yehzabo states: “Each village is a republic within its own territory, having full authority over its own affairs including land, community, organisation, social, culture, religion, customs and practices”.
Article 371(A) of the Indian Constitution, except for difference in the language, more or less, seems to be in tandem with Article 3 of the Yehzabo, relating to land, its resources, and Naga customary laws, practices, usages and our traditions. The State Government in 1984 brought in an amendment Act to introduce a three-tier system of customary courts which was never brought into effect. The State Government also, brought in some amendment laws in 2010, trying to give some statutory functions to the Naga Tribal Hohos, but this was rejected by the Naga Hoho as well as the Tribal Hohos as per Government records. In a real sense, the only true repository and active living organism of Naga customary laws, their practices and usages, is the Naga village. And, as per Article 371 (A) of the Constitution and existing laws enacted by the State, the Village Council is the only customary court carried over from ages past and rooted in the customs and laws of the Nagas.

2. Interference in Changki’s Internal History and Customary Practices:
(a) Naga Tribal Customary Laws not Codified:
Naga customary laws which differ from village to village and tribe to tribe, have never been codified by the Government for uniform application. None should have the arrogance to claim and say: “This is our tribe’s common law” until enactment through constitutional and statutory means by the Sate Legislature. The nature of diverse ethnic composition of each district in the State has become so much more complex and cosmopolitan that codification and application of uniform customary law has become even more difficult in present day Nagaland.
Increasingly, therefore, becomes the importance of preserving and promoting the foundation and identity of Naga life in the village, however diverse and different from each other they may be, within their own respective jurisdiction. Nagaland’s true identity lies in its villages, and we as a people can only be as strong as our villages are.
(b) Interference in the Name of alleged Human Rights Violation:
Should rebels, law-breakers and those guilty of treason against their own village cry foul claiming violation of their human rights when punished according to the customary laws of the village? If a man commits a crime and is punished according to the law of the land, does he have a right to ask why he is being jailed, thereby violating his basic human rights? If the rebel Emremchangki clan members at Changki have not been allowed drinking water or electricity, then how have they been surviving for so many years without drinking water, and how have they been paying regular electricity bills against power consumed by them? If they are not allowed to walk on the village streets by the Changki Village Council, are they being airlifted to their homes by helicopter? For example, 15 persons have testified and given statement that the allegation about making womenfolk to dig graves is totally false. Again, 20 persons have testified and stated that denial of drinking water supply and other basic amenities in the village are all false allegations. A team of DB’s had in fact verified these allegations and given their report to the district administration. Penalties according to Ao customary law as listed by various scholars and authors are many and varied. For example, in ‘Naga Society and Culture’, N.Talitemjen and A.Lanunungsang enumerate at least 19 penalties at pages 59 to 60 including expulsion from village for revolt against communal authority, or village authority. At page 69 to 70, for disobeying the village authority, 6 penalties amounting to total ostracization have been listed. It is truly mystifying and defies any human logic as to how some people without any statutory authority, siding with those law breakers and rebels making totally fabricated false claims on the founding of Changki’s founding history, have been trying to give them a new clan name and are calling the entire Changki village people cheaters, deceivers, criminals, terrorists and so on through the public media in the name of making peace at Changki, and accusing Changki of violating human rights! What then becomes of the fabric of all the Naga villages, whose lives are rooted and built on our customary laws and practices? Should we not show some mutual respect for one another?
(c) Changki’s Founding History, and Customary Laws:
Changki’s founding history and customary laws were not given to us by any other outside agency or authority, requiring references and authentication. It certainly was not constituted by filing some affidavit in some law court. It is our own village history and its interconnected customs and usages like all other villages, forged by the blood, sweat and wisdom of our forefathers and handed down to us from generation to generation, which we will never allow to be supplanted by some fabricated fiction spun by some renegades of one clan called Emremchangki, led by Mr.I.Imkong, ex-MLA’s group who migrated to Changki from Longsemdang village generations after Changki was established. Changki’s present issue lies inside Changki village, and it will be decided inside Changki by Changki villagers only.

Lendimenba Amri
Village Council Changki

Imodangba Pongen
Village Council Changki

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By EMN Updated: Dec 04, 2014 10:27:23 pm