Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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Nagas are moving ahead

Dr.Visier Sanyü
Presented at: Fellowship of Naga Baptist Associations, Naga Baptist Leaders Meet 2023, Redefining Naga Christianity, Jalukie, Nagaland, March 24, 2023

Nagas have the Right to be Nagas, and to Write and Own our History
“The future is certain; it is only the past that is unpredictable.” This is a joke about the communists who tried to change the history of Russia. The future of the Nagas is moving forward, but our history is giving us confusion, because the narrative is changing all the time. This is not a joke. Rewriting history is not only dangerous but also harmful if the motive for rewriting is wrong. This also applies to our history, which has been written and rewritten by non-Nagas.
First it was the colonial British that portrayed Nagas as savage and primitive head-hunters, then the Indians looked down on us as tribal and lower caste. Constitutionally we are put into the category of the schedule tribe, the lowest social category in the Indian caste hierarchy. Now the RSS and the BJP are rewriting our history. They are telling us who we are and who we must become. You don’t need me to tell you that their version of the Naga story is wrong; it is utter nonsense. We must fight intelligently and with evidence. To say that the missionaries instigated the Nagas to fight for independence is an insult to our civilization. It ignores the passion for freedom and self-rule that defined the very being and humanity of our ancestors. It rewrites and deletes the long history of self-governing systems; sovereign Naga villages instituted and ran successfully till the arrival of British colonists, American missionaries, and Indian neo-colonists.
These days Hindutva Indians have taken upon themselves to tell us that Naga nationalism is a hoax and Nagas have a better future as patriotic RSS and BJP loyalists than as Christians. Here is an RSS man, and I quote:
“RSS is a patriotic organization of Hindus, nay, all Indians irrespective caste, creed and religion. In this backdrop, I advise all of you, the BJP workers of Nagaland, to have a close contact with RSS to learn discipline and Indian patriotism provided you have a wish to rise in BJP.”
He goes on: “The role played by Church is also unearthed. The hoax of unique history and Separate Nagaland will no longer work. The daydream of Christian solidarity with Christian countries advanced by Church for separate Nagaland has disappeared.” (Nagaland Post, January 22, 2023).
My question to you is: Can we, as Christians, tolerate such an insult to us and to our dignity as Nagas?
The Nagas declared independence in 1947. Since that date the Naga have fought unsuccessfully to defeat the occupying Indian army. Today, despite the Framework of Agreement between Government of India and NSCN–IM, the Nagas are not united. What this means is that political and economic decolonization must be accompanied by a decolonization of the Naga mind. Past attempts to decolonize the Naga mind have trapped Naga nationalists in a false glorification of Naga nationalist leaders and a war that brought untold suffering upon the Naga people. The corrective path forward is not Hindutva, absolutely not. The Naga future lies in collaboration with Nagas of Burma and the Naga diaspora, which will allow us to retrieve the story of Naga peoplehood. We can look beyond the identities shaped by old colonial divisions and post-colonial conflicts.
Charting a Viable Future in a fundamentally Interconnected World
In this age of modern information and communication technology, a powerful sense of national identity can unite people across sovereign nation-state borders. With a new mind-set attuned to the world we live in today, this generation of Nagas can work with India and Burma towards a strong autonomous Naga Land consisting of our ancestral homelands that will benefit all Nagas. In the global context, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples opened up a whole new chapter for indigenous peoples including the Naga.
Antonio Gramsci wrote around 1930, “The old is dying but the new cannot be born.” The Naga National movement is in a similar moment. In 1997 NSCN (IM) signed a Ceasefire with the Government of India and the Framework Agreement was signed on 3 August 2015. Metaphorically speaking, the current version of the Naga National Movement has been pregnant for 26 years and in labour for 7 years. What is the future of this baby? Will it be a stillborn baby? Will it be a prolonged miscarriage? One thing is sure, this baby, if born at all, will come into a world of total chaos and disaster. It has to face our world of corruption and despair. The baby will come into a bleak dark world. On the other hand, a negotiated agreement can give us a safe space to search our souls to rethink the whole journey of our people.
A successful negotiation between the Nagas and the Indian Government should not be viewed as the end of the Naga journey toward nationhood, but as the beginning of a new, peaceful political and cultural process. A new Naga mind-set can assist in this process. The Naga leadership in India and Burma can each pursue a goal of stronger autonomy using peaceful means. Although divided geo-politically we can be united in a broader cultural sense. This sense of a united Naga culture and mind-set will develop and grow among the Nagas even in the current states of occupation in India and Burma and the Naga diaspora. Nagas can work together as a people across the national and international borders to assist each other. In this changing world, we can all look beyond old colonial boundaries and draw strength from an emerging vision of a new Naga National identity that is rooted in our traditional homelands but has spread to encompass Nagas across the world. The solution has to be worked out through dialogue among Nagas and our neighbours because it cannot be imposed on us by Delhi or Yangon.
The key to finding a solution is that ‘Nationhood’ does not have to be all or nothing. There are many constitutional arrangements where high autonomy has allowed a nation to pursue many of its national goals, while remaining part of a larger sovereign state. Scotland in UK is one good example of a people who have a strong sense of National identity, and enjoy a large measure of political independence while remaining part of the United Kingdom of Britain.
So, where is the way out in order to move forward?
Ø It is a time to discern – a time for reflection, correction, and re-direction. Nagas from Myanmar, Arunachal, Assam, Manipur and Nagaland are united in a joint search for honesty and integrity of our common peoplehood. In our utter desperation to find a way forward together, we are seeking a higher value and reaching for our highest spirit. We are searching for our rightful destiny that will give us the honour and dignity to live as one Nation. I hope peace will return to Naga Land, for that is the will of God.
Ø Whatever may be the settlement Nagas end up with, we are going to live in a very different world in the future. Multiculturalism is today’s reality in much of the world including USA, Canada, parts of Europe, like the UK, parts of Africa and Asia, and in Australia and New Zealand. North East India happens to be one of the most multicultural regions of the world. It is nature’s readymade multifaceted cultural bridge between the Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman peoples. This can become our strength. The Internet and global travel are opening new lines of cross- and inter-cultural interaction with the wider world. As T. Sakhrie said, we are taking a leap, as it were, “from a distant past into the glare of the present century” – the 21st century. At this juncture, from the relative isolation of our enclave, I reflect that we would do well to consider the journeys of our indigenous brothers and sisters from other parts of the globe, like Australian Aborigines, who have had to navigate the risks and challenges of multiculturalism and are embracing the emergence of new avatars of identity.
Ø It is clear from similar struggles around the world that a people, no matter how geographically fragmented, can develop a united identity and voice. The hopes that motivated the heroic struggles of the Naga people in the past have been disappointed. Yet, if faced realistically, they provide grounds for hope.
Ø Although the Naga leadership is currently fragmented, there is no reason why old factional enmities and allegiances should not be put aside for the sake of a realistic future goal.
Ø There are many good Indians and thinkers out there who are willing to work out a settlement, willing to be friends to the Nagas and walk alongside us in our quest to find a political solution. Likewise, there are many Burmese leaders and thinkers who are willing to include the Nagas in the nation building of Burma. They are our allies. The development of Naga nationhood and unity can occur alongside the framework of Indian and Burmese sovereignty in the current situation. Nagas on both sides of the Indian-Burmese border, and across the world, can help build a united political identity, even though in physical and geographical terms we respect the sovereignty of the states within which we now exist. This vision of Naga unity achieved peacefully in a ‘virtual world’, and implemented separately in two states, is a good starting point for rethinking a new vision of Naga nationhood.
Generational Relay of Responsibility in a fast-changing World
Ø For seventy years the Naga leadership has pursued Naga nationalist goals through armed struggle, but armed struggles have an expiry date and it becomes poisonous to the cause itself after the expiration date. The cost to the Naga people in suffering and lost opportunities has been immeasurable.
Ø Today the Naga sense of identity remains strong but we have lost faith in the old leadership. I have been suggesting that we must look toward new possibilities. I have suggested some, but in our rapidly changing world, there are others that we cannot know at this time. For example, the youth of today are far more educated than my generation. Social media and online communities will have far-reaching consequences for re-inventing a new mind-set for Naga peoplehood.
Ø It may be that these unknown opportunities will shape our future. The history of many nations has shown us that flexible leadership that is open to grasping new opportunities when they emerge can dramatically shape the future for the better. History has also demonstrated that such opportunities can be lost due to leadership that remains chained to the hatreds and mind-set of the past.
Ø On the other hand, many difficult conflict situations have been resolved by the goodwill and determination of the people. The human desire to live in peace is so great that, given the right opportunities and leaders with vision, communities that have in the past fought and struggled have put aside their differences and worked out a peaceful way forward. With realism, the right attitude, and the growth of trust between leaders, seemingly impossible conflicts are worked out peacefully, such as the ending of apartheid in South Africa and the successful peace process in Northern Ireland.
There are two related things about Nagas that cannot be changed:
Ø The Naga nation is an established historical fact and 21st century Nagas are the children of the last seventy-plus years of Naga nationalism. So Nagas are a nation and a people. But nations are different from states. Not all nations are states. Whereas some nations are states, that is to say, nation-states, most nations of the world are not, including us Nagas.
Ø Despite the fact that our national awakening has been both heroic and cruel, Nagas are not a nation-state, and we may not need to be one to become a remarkably successful nation in our own right among the numerous nations and nation-states of the interconnected world we live in today. Meanwhile, there is no reason why we cannot become a dignified Nation while we are among the States-in-Waiting category.
A Beacon of Hope
Ø Hope lies in the unquenchable spirit of the Naga people
Ø The Naga determination and spirit has surprised the Indians, Burmese, and Naga observers around the world. Despite the setbacks and disappointments, Nagas in India, Burma, and the world diaspora retain a strong sense of their Naga nationality.
Ø With the unstoppable process of globalization and communication technology, more Nagas have awakened to a vision of their Naga nationhood and a determination to continue to fight for the reunification of their homeland. This Naga national spirit will grow stronger.
The Government of India and the Indian thinkers have realised that the Naga desire to preserve their identity and nationality cannot be defeated by conventional warfare and military power. There is something in the human spirit that is far more powerful than the barrel of a gun. Therefore, they are willing to talk and find a solution.
Our theme, Redefining Naga Christianity, is the most urgent task in the current crises. We preach too much about going to heaven and have forgotten our bad roads, the evil practices at election time. We have no water supply to speak of, no electricity and no proper education but we must eat and drink our Christianity. I would even say Redeeming Naga Christianity. We all know that redemption is deliverance from sins and their consequences. We need to live like Jesus, not just talk about Jesus.  Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” When can we say truthfully: “Like Jesus, like Naga Christians?”
Naga Odyssey
The Naga odyssey is my cry, my pain, my angst, of being a Naga,
I searched for an answer, from Tasmania in the South to the Artic in the North.
But there was no answer
Our story is a nightmare
Our repertoire is one of sorrow,
Our saga is one of oppression,
Our music is an endless chant.
But there is a light across the river of our tears
Nagas let us rise and cross this river
To Kelhoukevira where life is good