Remembering Isak Chishi Swu
In 1953 Isak Chishi Swu and Niketu Iralu joined the IA-I (Intermediate Arts) course at Union Christian College (UCC), Barapani, Meghalaya. Being one of the first pioneer students, I was already in IA-II. Isak’s sensitivity to spiritual things caught my attention. I was the first President of UCC’s Student Christian Movement (SCM). Isak became active with me in campus Christian activities. Soon Isak and Niketu joined our Gospel Team. I happened to have a single-sheet copy of the Billy Graham Crusade favorite, “How Great Thou Art.” I think our group was the first to sing this great hymn in North-East India. We sang it in the English service, Presbyterian Church, Police Bazaar, Shillong in the fall of 1953. In remembrance of our long friendship with Isak, Niketu and I were planning to sing one verse and chorus at his state funeral service at the NSCM-IM Hebron headquarters on July 1st, but we couldn’t because Niketu was unable to come. Though I had moved on to Cotton College, Guwahati for my B.A. study, we three journeyed together to Kandy, Sri Lanka in 1955 for the India-Pakistan-Sri Lanka SCM Triennial Convention. In the Spring of 1958 I went to the USA to study theology. After finishing his B.A., Isak shared with me and the late Dr. V. (Chalie) Iralu his desire to study theology overseas. While working on his admission to Northern Baptist Theological Seminary (my alma mater), a letter, written in the jungles of Burma, arrived, thanking us for our efforts. But he expressed deep regret, saying “The Nagas need my service; hence I feel compelled to be with them.” That’s how Isak was willing to sacrifice his life for the cause of the Naga Nation at a time when every Naga would seize any opportunity to go to the USA. Without turning to the right or the left, Isak remained steadfast in his fight for the freedom of the Nagas until his last breath on June 28, 2016.
In my assessment, God, in His grace, gave Thuingaling Muivah the “brain” (reasoning power), whereas He gave Isak Swu the “Spirit” (of God, to keep the movement spiritually alive). The two can be considered as two sides of the same coin; one without the other would have been incomplete. They have played complementary roles in their long struggle for a Naga homeland. Isak’s Christian faith has played an indispensable role in keeping the NSCN-IM together, whether they realize it or not. I hope they do. While considering a successor to Isak, the NSCN-IM must not forget the role that Christianity will continue to play in the Naga political movement. I am praying for someone like Isak Swu, having zeal for the LORD God, but younger in age as well as a thinker, who can play an effective role alongside Muivah in the most urgent mission of reconciliation and unity among all the Naga political groups.
The questions, skepticism, arguments, doubts, and disagreements surrounding the “Framework Agreement” signed on August 3, 2015 between the NSCN-IM and the Government of India (GOI) must not remain unsolved or unanswered indefinitely if any final agreement is to be reached. Time is of the essence. Isak is no more, and Muivah is not getting younger, as well as many other national leaders. God forbid! but who knows what tomorrow may bring?
I am certain it was providential that most, if not all, Naga underground leaders were present at the Agri Expo ground on June 30, and with one voice expressed their gratitude to Isak for his yeomen’s service to the Naga nation as well as their deep sorrow over his passing. Could it not be the work of God the Holy Spirit telling the Nagas from all walks of life that it’s time they truly forgave one another and be reconciled and united in Christ Jesus? If Isak were there that day, he would have said, “Praise the Lord!” three times. Why don’t the NSCN-IM and all the other national workers seize such a momentous opportunity to begin associating with each other, even to the point of visiting each other’s camps? Isak would not wish anything less than the coming together of all the groups today, not tomorrow, for a final agreement. “… Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). My second son, in the US Foreign Service, wrote to me: “I hope this will be a watershed event that helps Nagas come together in unity, rather than lead to more fragmentation as people jockey for position.”
My eldest son, who lives in the USA, had a chance to visit with Isak near Washington, DC in 2008. In their conversation at a hotel and Chinese restaurant, Isak reminisced about his experiences with me at UCC, and also touched on three points: 1) He expressed hope that he could get Khaplang, at least personally, if not the “K” group as a whole, to reconcile with himself and Muivah.
He genuinely believed some measure of unity was possible, even if both groups did not formally unite. 2) He raised the issue of my ban from Tangkhul country. It was clear from the way he spoke that he was somewhat bewildered by it. He saw it as a purely Tangkhul Naga Long (TNL) action, and disapproved of the ban. My son had the clear impression that Isak had no knowledge of any IM involvement in the TNL decision. 3) Isak talked a lot about spiritual matters.
He described visions he had during his time in the jungle, including angels marching with him and keeping him safe. He stated, with a sense of enthusiasm and finality, that once peace was achieved, he would retire and devote himself to full-time Christian ministry.
When a Naga national worker meets another national worker, he should greet him/her with “Praise the Lord”, not “Welcome Home” or “Homecoming.” We are already home, though we are not free to manage our own affairs. The Nagas are still aliens in their own God-given Motherland. Let the leaders together deliberate on the essential features of the August 3rd 2015 Framework Agreement and together negotiate further, if necessary, and sign the Final Political Agreement, THIS TIME, so that once more the Nagas “will beat their swords (AK-47s) into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks… Every man will sit under his own vine and under his own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken” (Micah 4:3-4)
Tuisem A. Shishak