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Some thoughts on ‘Naga-ness’

“Kerünyü Ki”, Sechü-Zubza, Nagaland.
June 2, 2019.

Dear Kevisato,

In answer to your questions on ‘Naganess’ and our current context, our modern history can be said to have started only after the British, the first power from outside our collective Naga habitat, came. The British explorers and surveyors transgressed through our village lands treating them as terra nullius, as I heard they did on the Australian continent. The Naga villages whose lands they marched through fought them. Thus started the response of the Nagas to a totally new challenge that came to them and thus started their modern history.

So our story as a people is very young indeed. As human beings we are as old as any one of the other peoples and nations in the world, like the Egyptians, Israelis/Jews, the Brits, Japanese, and Indians and so on. But we started to consciously act together as a people and a nation only about a century ago as narrated above.
Insecurity stemming from perception of new threats makes people to realise their need to consolidate and defend their identity. A deepening sense of this kind of insecurity drew them closer together because of the rapidity of the new challenges from the changing world impacting them. This process of coping with challenges produced their struggle for their aspirations, that is, the Naga struggle. It started very quietly like a ferment of thinking in which Nagas started to ask questions they had never raised before because the need was not there. The ferment grew into a conscious movement in which Naga tribes, some of whom were unaware of one another before, discovered their shared relationships, common affinity and history. This resulted in their reaching out to one another. The consequence was the emergence of the Naga struggle as a passionate political upheaval.

The ferment started over a century ago when those Nagas whose village lands the British transgressed, fought to defend their homeland which did not extend beyond village boundaries at the time. The sporadic, uncoordinated acts of resistance lasted for about 6 decades. Not surprisingly they too were subjugated like others across the world by the British imperial juggernaut of conquest and colonisation.

The trauma of being forcibly brought together under a power from outside for the first time in their history/memory made the Nagas peaceful for a few decades. But in no time their search to develop a common Naga identity started in a deliberate, organised manner.

In 1929 the British Parliamentary Commission headed by Sir John Simon came to Kohima in the course of their tour across the Sub-Continent “to ascertain the wishes of the Indian people for reform measures”. [Clement Atlee Labour MP who became the Prime Minister by defeating Churchill after World War Two was one of the members.] The Nagas who were in Kohima at the time, told the Commission “on behalf of all Nagas”, Nagas were not interested in reform measures. All they wanted to make clear was that the day the British decide to end their Empire in South Asia, no one had the right to decide the future of the Nagas for them; the Nagas alone had that right. They were to be left alone to decide their own future according to their own judgement as to what would be best for them. This “Leave us alone…” memorandum declaration to the statutory commission became the first document in writing in the story of the Naga struggle.

Eighteen years later in 1947, on 14th August, one day before India became independent the Naga National Council (NNC) declared Naga independence; reaffirming the position they had taken in their statement to the Simon Commission.

Because the Nagas made clear their position on their history and identity as understood by them before the British left their Empire, they have defended that position without any sense of guilt as they were claiming what the facts of their history fully entitled them to claim. Therefore the legal, historical, political legitimacy of their stand gave moral, authentic authority to their struggle. Nagas proudly maintain that theirs is not a secessionist struggle violating a prior agreement made for union with India before the Empire ended.

It will be fair to say respect of thinking Indians and our neighbours in north-east India for the resolutely fought struggle has naturally gained ground. But the Nagas today need to accept two realities. The first, their right to call themselves a sovereign nation, albeit a very young one cannot be challenged given the facts stated above. The second, India cannot and will not discuss giving recognition to the Nagas’ claim of sovereignty as Indian democracy is still too unstable to discuss the sensitive issue. This will be so for a very long time to come because the growth and maturation of the democratic form of winning power and governing is a very slow process.

As human beings we are as old as any people in the world. But due to our extremely isolated location from the great land and sea trade routes of history, we remained unseen and unheard by the outside world. We can say our modern history is less than 100 years as the consolidation of our modern national identity by our pioneer leaders started because of our response to the invasion of our homeland by the British extending the imperial rule across the world.

For the greater part of their very short modern history they have fought valiantly to defend their position as justified by the facts of their history. The time has come when they must heal and restore themselves, take stock of what they have achieved, and learn to grow properly in all fields of life. Therefore the Nagas should now reach a settlement with the Government of India in which the issue of recognition of Naga sovereignty by India is left out to be resolved in the future when India will have developed and become stable enough to talk to the Nagas of that day and settle their relationship that will be worthy of both.

Nagas believe the facts of their history entitle them to insist on such a settlement. All visitors to homeland of the Nagas will become aware of this sense of pride the Nagas do have about themselves because of the price they have paid for their identity they have thought through and have defended. Is this something to do with Naganess?

This is the historical background of the Naga story up to today. We must know ourselves correctly and be happy with what we know. The correct assessment will be this: We are not more than what we are. But we are not less than what we have become and are today. What we should do is to be happy with what we know we have achieved together, appreciate one another for it and faithfully build on what we have become. To continue to accuse or blame one another for what we have not yet become, and give our worst to one another as we are doing, is foolish and suicidal.

When the tourists come they will discover that we are a very young society that has just started their journey with the rest of mankind, making many mistakes due to the poor quality of their responses to the challenges of change. But they will also discover that many of our youth are learning fast.

With our love and best wishes,

Npfü Niketu.

Niketu Iralu

Mr. Niketu Iralu is an Elder at Wander Ngaland, intellectual and preacher of peace and non-violence. A widely-travelled person, he served as a trustee of Friends of MRA (India); member of International Council of IofC; chairman of Naga Reconciliation Commission; Chairman of Peace Committee of Nagaland Baptist Church Council. He was also the first manager of Mt. Gilead Home for counselling and rehabilitation of drug and alcohol addicts.
Mr. Iralu is currently a trustee of Centre for Northeast Studies and Policy Research. A renowned social activist; he has been conferred with the prestigious Rotary Peace Award (2018). He has also received Awards from Assam Government for National Integration and the UN Brahma Foundation – The Soldier of Humanity Award.

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