Not Independence; Freedom from guns and graft first
New breed of disillusioned Naga Gen emerging
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]HE fragile levee of Nagaland has finally begun showing ominous signs of collapse after more than 50 years of self-sustained violence, rape of the common Naga man’s civil rights, unending internal oppression and corruption of Naga society’s leadership.
The average Naga man has carried the weight of the decades on his scabbed shoulders for too long that something was bound to crumble. The failure of successive governments and their defeated Political Will and the fall of society’s vanguards such as the now-decimated Naga Hoho and a dying Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), the obstinately localized “Eastern Nagaland” organizations have only aggravated the disease. That resentment is not only growing, it is deepening.
A growing generation of urbane, questioning, and well-informed educated young Naga generation – children of the 1980s and intervening era of the 1990s – is emerging. And their bitterness has begun smoldering, silently.Years of economic destitution, internal violence and corruption of popular democratic institutions have started to take a toll on the common Naga man. It is a state where Naga civil organizations spew anger only on selective issues – anything to do with guns, thievery and accountability isn’t one of them.
It is a state where even crime is deeply tribal – denouncement would pit one Naga tribe against another. A state where the numerous armed Naga groups consider themselves almost divinely sacrosanct in all they do. A state where successive Home Ministers devise tasteless answers to evade issues involving lives and interests of citizens. As social activist and avid commentator Robert Solo from Kohima, explained: ‘The Naga social vanguards have failed as much as the undergrounds and the Nagaland government have.’
For instance, Robert Solo said, Naga social vanguards such as the Naga Hoho and NSF are only trying to “please” the undergrounds while the Nagaland Police is practically “useless” because the leaders in the Nagaland government themselves have already been “bought” by the underground groups as well.
The “my Stories of Defeat”
The bottled-up rage which young Nagas carry has not only begun to challenge views about traditional socio-political ideologies. That rage has, now, also pushed them into radically redefining their Civil Rights within the context of the citizen’s personal right as a ‘human being’ and not as political individual whose choices should be made dictators and authoritarians.
Their growing revulsion for the system and the injustice perpetrated by both mainstream and extremist institutions is a story that one does not find in Nagaland’s meager 35, 000 newspaper copies. But one would find their catharsis and outbursts by the thousands on websites, blog spaces, forums and social networking groups as Facebook and Google Plus. These are places for peace-loving Nagas where ‘black’ is called ‘black’ and ‘white’ is called white’ – ‘unlike the Naga society or what the newspaper don’t print,’ as a recent blog states.
These populations of questioning, educated young Nagas – from not only Nagaland but across the world – do not trust their local newspapers to carry the “real stuff.” The stories that are pervading the Internet are not joyful stories – they are stories of disillusionment, rage and cynicism at the death and loss, crime and violations, corruption and incompetence, distrust and destruction Nagaland has been mired in since the so-called “era of peace” came to Nagaland more than 10 years ago. They are “my stories of defeat,” one Naga blogger (a ‘blogger’ is a professional expository content writer) wrote on his blog on Blogger.com.
The ceasefire between the Government of India with the armed groups NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (K), in 1997, had fanned hopes of political stability, initially. Likewise, the fall of the Indian National Congress’ and the emergence of the Naga People’s Front-led Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government (NPF-DAN) in 2003 revived hopes in Nagaland that the road of order, opportunities, peace and economic prosperity would finally be paved.
Today, Nagaland is still crawling in the same wilderness they were one and half a decade ago. In the words of a youth church leader Tali Jamir, from Dimapur: “We want to live in our land without fear… We don’t want to be slaves in our own land.” Jamir’s words are echoed by another Naga student leader based in Pune, Zuchamo Yanthan. “We need complete restructuring of the existing system,” Yanthan explained.
New Naga Vanguard against the Old
The echo seems to share a common tone throughout the rising Naga social youth leadership and professionals – the new Naga vanguard. In the words of Angami youth leader Peter Rutsa, from Kohima, the mistake Nagaland committed was in watching lawlessness eat into the already decaying Naga society for too long. ‘Today Nagas are paying a heavy price for “peace,”’ declared another Naga, a government employee from Mokokchung. The government employee did not wish to be named,
Eastern Mirror interacted with a number of young Naga leaders, professionals and intellectuals about the “situation” in Nagaland, recently. Their tones of disparage were of the same tone as their emails and the endless disparages across the internet. They shared similar reactions at almost the same issues such as the commercialization of ‘nationalism’ by the Naga undergrounds, the suppression of Freedom of Speech, perceived threat to the lives and properties of citizens, inability of the Nagaland government in challenging those threats; issue concerning Nagaland’s arrested economy, corruption of legislators, fall of the once-powerful social organizations such as the Naga Hoho and NSF, the increasing number of unemployed youths, the incompetent and fearful judiciary in Nagaland and the increasing crime rate, among others.
Independence? No, Freedom
Activist and entrepreneur Robert Solo did not mince words when he lashed out. According to the outspoken Solo what Nagas need at this juncture is in fact ‘freedom from the undergrounds’ and not freedom from the government of India. The Nagas are being imprisoned by the underground groups, he told Eastern Mirror. “We need transparency and accountability, which is not possible as long as undergrounds exist. We are imprisoned by the undergrounds not India.”
The Kohima native was cynical of Naga frontals such as the Naga Hoho and NSF. “The above mentioned vanguards are just trying to please Muivah in order to get their share from the settlement (which is just only a financial package). Police are useless because their ministers are bought by underground,” Solo said. To the query what independence means to him, he said‘true independence’ is to live without ‘atrocities’ or fear.
Freedom, Accountability and Rebuilding people’s faith
A government employee, who requested anonymity, lamented that the entire lot of Nagaland’s social leadership, the government itself and the fractured and myriad “nationalist” organizations had all failed the Naga people. “True independence is when we are self-sufficient in meeting our needs and could go about doing our work without fear or favor. Besides peace and unity among the factions, Nagaland today requires responsive and honest administration. If this is taken care of, visible development is a natural corollary. We also require a highly informed, sensible, questioning and demanding public,” the official said.
The citizen was convinced that “everyone has failed” when asked whether the civil leadership had done their job. “It is for each organization to understand its role, protect its rights and be respectful of the rights of other organizations. When this is realized, there will result a working synergy, all geared toward some common good.”
“Nationalism”, money and a suppressed Vox Populi
On the concept of “Naga nationalism,” the official was unconvinced. “If it is the ‘freedom’ struggle you are referring to, it has degenerated into some wicked charade played out by the so-called nationalists. Do we want extortion, fratricide, factionalism and despicable control of wealth and power to define Naga nationalism? Where is the ideology, where the belief? The struggle today is one of connections and one-upmanship – survival of the fittest! The peace talks are turning into some time-buying tokenism; peace between the security forces and the UGs – torture for the common man.”
He reminded that lasting and meaningful peace can only be when the leaders give up their self-vested interests and start listening to what the people want to say. “Today, we are paying a heavy price for ‘peace’.”
Likewise, Angami youth leader and entrepreneur Peter Rutsa held strong views that the brand of “nationalism” practiced by the Naga underground groups has degraded the real aspiration of the Naga people. Rutsa – also the president of the Northern Angami Youth Organization (NAYO) –said that the time has come for the Naga people to have a ‘respectable government’ – a government that would protect the citizens, develop the state and build their welfare and economic aspirations.
“Our aspirations and the nationalism in us have been suffocated to the point of being strangulated to death by the same people who should be keeping the flame of nationalism burning. Our very own underground National governments! If we could reason out a ‘amicable solution’, an understanding based on the practicalities of ‘today’ without ignoring the pains and struggles of ‘yesterday,’” said. “Corruption and inequality in our lives should stop immediately! Accountability, justice for all and rule of law on each citizen should be implemented and practiced without further delay,” the NAYO leader added.
Leadership Failure and decline of the common man
As for the Naga social organizations, elected government and state police, Rutsa simply had said these to say: “They have miserably failed! It has been awhile since Naga Hoho has stopped representing the people by playing into the hands of the overground and underground. NSF has been lost for awhile now and still groping around in the narrow by lanes and dirty alleys of our towns, dirtying itself beyond recognition and tolerance. The government of Nagaland irrespective of the Congress or regionalist have stopped being, of the people, by the people -social legislators, bureaucrats, itself and people involved in illegal activities from its law abiding citizens.”
At a more didactic level, church youth leader Zuchamo Yanthan said Nagaland urgently needs ‘complete restructuring of the existing system.’ The state needs to build up resolution for conflicts. He said that the kind of “nationalism” being seen in Nagaland is “a complete mess.” He has suggested “clarity in what we are aspiration for; transparency in the movement.”
The youth leader reminded that Naga intellectuals should have ‘sufficient space’ to play their role in the movement and that freedom of expression of the people should be respected.
‘True independence means living in fearless environment, freedom to express my thoughts without any fear. It also means freedom to exercise my citizenship rights, freedom to be who am I, freedom to explore my potential and pursue my dreams. It also means respecting the rights of the citizenship,’ he said.
Needing New Generation of Leaders
Echoing Yanthan’s views was Tali Jamir, chaplain of Oasis Youth Center in Dimapur. “Nagaland badly needs a corruption free government and a true leader. Nagas need a good visionary leader, a revolutionist who should not have personal vested interest, a person who should be a role model to the people…” Jamir said. Interestingly, the youth leader also aired similar views about the Nagas groups’ brand of “nationalism.”
“Nagaland badly needs freedom from underground movement as they have lost their vision. They are one of the major blockades to development in our land. I should say they are also one of those who are dividing the Naga society into two, the rich and the poor,” Jamir said. “A cry for Naga nationalism is a burden for Nagas today. I would suggest uniting first, rebuilding and come to a common point. I am sure every household will be ready to fight for our land.” And the Naga civil organizations? “They have failed miserably. I doubt… they have lost the purpose and vision and I think money and gun power is the root cause of everything. We have lost our integrity and shame has become a mere word today.”
For Apong Longkumer, a young missionary, Nagaland is in dire need of radical and trustworthy leaders, leaders Nagas can respect. “The people have lost faith in their leaders. The leaders in general have failed to walk the talk. People no longer feel secure. The people need a leader they can follow. Nagaland doesn’t need reforms. It needs a revolution,” the church worker said.
Longkumer had no doubt that “the nationalism” among the Naga underground groups right now is “one of mockery and disgrace. The public hardly have any strong sense of nationalism anymore.” Naga leaders need to show that they can be trusted,” he said.
He said that the Naga Hoho and the NSF, the Nagaland government and the Nagaland Police had failed. “They have failed to stand up for what is right and many a time, when faced with various issues, ran with their tails in between their legs. Moreover, the leaders who are outspoken are hushed under the gun barrel.” He reminded that there can be ‘freedom’ only when Nagas are no longer afraid in his own land.
“True freedom will be when any entrepreneur can venture out in any business without only having to be choked with taxes. True freedom will be when our leaders stop cheating the public. True freedom will be when every Naga feels secure and belongs to the Naga nation. True freedom will be when every Naga will be willing to defend our rights when called for,” Longkumer reiterated.
And this new breed of Naga minds is not only pro-life and pro-civil liberty – they also carry scars that have turned them into cynical, embittered and disillusioned monsters and victims of their bloody past. Their anger and disillusionment are being fed by the flames of decades’ worth of policy failure, self-generated interpretation – or misinterpretation – of prevalent political ideologies by powers-that-be and by the perceived corruption within the Nagaland government and the church itself.
The current generation of Naga youths is those who generally did not experience the brute of the Indian military that took place during the bloody 1950s till the 1980s. The brutalities they are seeing are entirely different – economic destitution, legitimized extortion and unchallenged bloodshed, fear and loss. They are primarily those in the age group 20-40 years.
They are the first of Nagaland’s generation nurtured by the 1990s era – the new era of free enterprise and proactive education, the era of rededicated civil liberty and era of Human Rights appreciation; the era of Globalization and the era of pro-life education. When the present generation of Naga “seniors” leave, the current generation of young Naga professionals and youth leaders shall be Nagaland’s leaderships in the coming 50 years.