Views & Reviews
The Question of Dignity and Naga Independence
The promise and the likelihood of Nagas being granted political Independence from India has occupied prominence in the media and many serious conversations since as long as the mind can recall. It is ironical, if not more awkward, that India, the largest democracy in the world has had the audacity to keep the Nagas and their rightful privilege on tenterhooks for seventy-four years – the longest known struggle for independence by any nation. It puts India’s dignity under question. This article, however, is more concerned about the dignity of the Naga people as a nation.
How do we Nagas fare as far as our dignity is concerned? How much of respect are we truly worth at this juncture? Virtues such as dignity, respect, and trust, as we know, are meant to be earned and not to be demanded. Just as love cannot be forcibly asked for, respect cannot be demanded. The higher ideals and qualities of life are earned, not claimed.
At this point where much mystery and uncertainty shroud the Naga political landscape, what are we, ordinary Nagas, supposed to be thinking? If we are to be hopeful, what are we to be hopeful about? Does our hope for an independent Naga nation include dignity where we are confident that our children will now be able to comprehend true patriotism? Can we sit rest assured that peace and security will find their rightful place in our lives and our children’s from now on?
The numerous talks and hopes of freedom all these long years have made conversations captivating, no doubt. And yet, as much as freedom is our right, it is also of paramount importance to ask the questions: freedom from what and towards what? Are our values and principles ready and intact to hedge us in and serve as the base for us to finally grow and thrive as a nation? Is there sufficient trust and respect to finally live peaceably under the same roof as one family?
I often think back on some incidents that I encountered and which perpetually unsettle my sensibilities. Once in Dimapur town, I needed to meet the proprietor of a business establishment. While I was told he was in his office, the wait became unending. On inquiry, I was told by his assistant that some “national workers” were with him, demanding that he give them the full amount of money they wanted, which I was also told was a huge amount. He added that this was a routine thing. The assistant’s outburst made complete sense: “We work very hard. We sweat and we earn our keep. Who do they think they are to simply march in with some foreign made guns and pistols and threaten us to hand them our hard-earned money? Why should we give towards letting them build high fences for themselves and pack their kith and kin off to elite institutions and places while we toil in despair here? It is absolutely exasperating! But we have very little choice.”
There are many similar accounts of industrious but tired citizens who just let things be, because they want to survive. Tolerance or submission is not equivalent to respect. In fact, it serves the opposite purpose of generating hatred and distrust. Such incidents make one think of what Edward Gibbon said about the Athenians: “In the end more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to exist.” Do we also see dark clouds gathering for our people as we throw caution to the wind?
Dignity, respect, responsibility, and accountability belong to the same club.
If one is there, the other three show up automatically; when there is none, there is really nothing to expect. There is much that requires careful reflection, repentance, and remedy in the case of Naga independence. If threatening, shoving, throwing one’s weight around, and silencing those who stand in the way or speak a different language, are the bricks and blocks that are going to go into Naga nation-building, one dreads to think if the Naga story will be of one jumping from the oil pan into the fire. God forbid!
Many sad and shameful stories have been spun in the course of the struggle for Independence by the Nagas. We have allowed ourselves to play right into the political games of some better seasoned, or perhaps shrewd, national leaders of India over this seemingly endless struggle. Ironical again, that we should be fighting for something that is our prerogative. And yet, when we seem to fall awfully short of commanding people’s respect, with no love lost among the multitudinous parties, factions, and organisations, we let our imprudence and vulnerabilities lie exposed.
Numerous twists and turns have stalked the Naga independence journey. To our own shame and downfall, we have jumped to catch the carrots thrown to us, one too many times. Who benefitted from those jumps is again, altogether a case of heading towards touching the Pandora’s box. If our political, social, and economic fronts look botched today, could that be because the sharp and single-minded vision and commitment of focused leaders of the bygone days have slowly but surely been gnawed and chiselled away intentionally or otherwise? Have our virtues and values been shelved in exchange for momentary fame and gain? I remember how a dear Uncle would visit our home, decades ago, and relate countless stories about their rigorous training in China. He taught us never to waste even a single grain of rice when we had food. He showed what simplicity of life and commitment to a worthy cause entailed through his own example.
In the absence of dignity, self-reliance which results from self-respect go missing. Our messy political journey might have made many Nagas grow up disillusioned and even angry, but that still does not justify our sometimes uncouth, unprincipled, and brutish behaviour.
Take, for instance, the case of a young Naga father carrying his two year (or so) old son on his chest, tied with a piece of cloth, just like how Nagas carry their children. This was at a weekly bazaar along the National Highway. As sellers and shoppers busied themselves over transactions, this Naga father coolly scooped a handful of neemkies from the pile where a non-local was selling fried goodies, and gave some to his son. As the shocked and unhappy neemkie seller protested, the Naga jerked his hand out, and pointing at the non-local with his finger, angrily shouted, “Chup! Tumi ki koi ase? Etu moi laga bosti ase. Moi laga bosti, moi lagak khushi!” (“Shut up! What are you saying? This is my village/town. I do as I wish here!”), and walked off in a huff. The thought that has stayed with me, since, has been: What are we parents teaching our children every day, through the way we handle ourselves and others?
I also recall the nicely dressed elderly Naga lady in a shop selling traditional Naga attires, wood crafts, and tools. She could have easily passed off as a faithful deaconess in a church. After buying several items, I told her I needed a receipt/bill. She pulled out the receipt booklet and asked me to write down the list myself, since she did not know some spellings, and said she would sign at the end. When she learnt that I was not buying the things for myself, without even a faint sign of a sense of guilt, she said, “Enaka hoile to, apni he saman laga daam khushi khushi lekhibhi. Kun bhi najanibo. Moi sign kori diboto” (“In that case, you can write down the price of the stuffs as you wish. No one will know. I will sign it at the bottom.”)
As I try to imagine what could be transpiring every day among our people, I am able to think of many noble and beautiful things which are taking place here and there. There are sincere, genuine Nagas making good of life. Yet, I cannot help but shudder also at the thought of all the evil and dark practices that fill our land. What if the mistakes and the wrongs we commit blatantly or covertly are done way too often that they become our way of life? What will our Naga society look like when we are left on our own to put the fragmented pieces back together, in the absence of a sense of right and wrong?
Paul Johnson, a Christian historian, once said, “One of the lessons of history is that no civilization can be taken for granted. Its permanency can never be assured. There is always a dark age waiting for you around the corner, if you play your cards badly and you make sufficient mistakes.” Does a dark age await the Nagas; an age where dignity has no place?
One day, if and when India grants the Nagas what we truly deserve and desire, will India have the dignity to assist Nagas get up on their feet again or dump them to find their own moorings? If and when that day dawns, will we Nagas have the dignity and the mettle to show the world that we do have credible substance and values to stand on; that we are much more than just a warring group of people capable of living only for our own selves? Perhaps a future tougher and more complex than we can fathom awaits us – a future that will require every gram of dignity that we may still have. May we not be found wanting!
Buno Iralu, Sechü Zubza