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Naga Nationalism’s Internal Enemy ‘“ Violence


For months I’ve been bothered by a nightmare. A series of violent images, connected and disconnected and nauseatingly repetitive, has haunted me and I can’t get rid of it. The names of places and people in these images sound familiar.

Here are some of them:

Thirty houses set ablaze by Sumi youth in Wungram Colony in Purana Bazar in retaliation for the torture of three boys the night before and for the bombing of a prominent leader’s residence earlier, both supposedly perpetrated by NSCN (IM) that has connections to Wungram Colony.

Events in the nightmare come confused and jumbled as a whole, but some individual incidents are as clear as reading from a newspaper headline, like this one: ‘Nagaland teetered on the brink of lawlessness as the Khaplang faction of the NSCN gunned down two leaders of the Isak-Muivah group to avenge the seven casualties inflicted by rival militants four days earlier.’

The players in this ritual of violence remain the same but their positions and alignments change. So this time it was NNC’s FGN that tortured and murdered a villager from Yoruba, which was followed sometime later by another unconnected ‘firing incident’ between FGN and NSCN (IM).

Next came NSCN (K’s) abortive attempts on the lives of two well-known citizens in Kohima. The tension was diffused by the Angami Public Organization, which called for the end of ‘the madness of violence and gun culture’ among Naga nationalist groups.

In a perverse logic of numbers reminiscent of the Wungram Colony incident where thirty houses went down in flames, NSCN (IM) cadre razed thirty houses in Jalukie-Zangdi village a few weeks later in an attempt to evict the owners from the area who, according to the group, had no right to the land they were living on.

NSCN-IM Chaplain Stone, his wife, and three others, traveling from Imphal to Dimapur, were abducted and murdered near Phiphema by NSCN (K).

Ten Kuki men were killed by NSCN (IM) for terrorizing Naga villages.

The Rev. Dr. Tuisem Shishak published a confessional public letter calling for repentance and humility among his people and for humanity and understanding among Nagas. NSCN (IM) quickly questioned his authority to speak for Tangkhuls, and shortly thereafter he was ex-communicated from his community for six years by the Tangkhul Naga Long.

These events and others like them all happened in Nagaland in the last five months, from April to September. Except for the participants in this endless bloody maze with no exit, everyday reality in Nagaland has become a veritable nightmare. But Nagas seem to have become so de-sensitized they don’t recognize it as such.

UN Declaration:

Unlike the nights, my waking hours are pleasant. A few days ago I was sitting with my laptop checking out in the backyard of my modest Northwest American home under a small canopy of fruit trees that had yielded the year’s harvest. It was not quite dusk yet, but the air suddenly felt milder than I had felt all summer. It was September 13, the day the UN General Assembly adopted its Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Like many others, I took the declaration as a milestone for indigenous peoples of the world and a step in the right direction for humankind. After all, if there are such things as universal human rights and freedoms that the world community recognizes, why then should they not apply to the 300 million indigenous people, including the Nagas? Of course, a declaration of the right to self-determination is just that, declaration, not the real thing.

Yet the acceptance of the principle by the UN is a historic event, a promissory note, if you will, that indigenous people can redeem through negotiations with the appropriate governments. I was elated. But I was also quickly reminded of the fact that I was reading about the Declaration in the United States instead of in Nagaland, where I was born and raised but left more than twenty years ago. So what did this news have to do with me after all these years, especially in the autumn of my life? I think the reason is simply that we humans inevitably carry our past in us, and for some of us reconnecting with our roots become more compelling with age, especially if the cultural life of the people we left behind was as influential as the Nagas were when I was growing up. Things are clearly different there now.


So today I’m sitting in my backyard again with the nightmare of the night, trying to sort the details, events, ideologies from back home, to clarify to myself the realities on the ground. I admire freedom fighters everywhere because they make uncommon sacrifices to secure human rights for the oppressed. But I also know that they can change because they are people, and people and organizations sometimes change for the worse.

A month before the UN Declaration ‘” almost to the day ‘” Nagas enacted the ironic situation of celebrating 60 years of freedom from colonial British rule under postcolonial Indian rule. How about that? Celebrating Independence Day without independence. A symbolic gesture for a wish denied? Or was it an enactment of a paradox? But paradox and irony in the exercise are not confined to the Naga side. What about India? Is taking a paradoxical position constitutive of the history of the nation-state and of nationalism itself, both for those who would be a nation and those who would deny others the right they themselves enjoy and guard with such exclusionary patriotic zeal? For now, though, I’d like to stay with the internal contradictions of Naga nationalism.

Within days of the UN declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, FGN felt compelled to contradict just about every Naga organization including the NSCN (IM) by declaring that Nagas are ‘not indigenous people.’ Because Naga territory was never completely overrun and settled in by outsiders, so the arguments goes, Nagas are not indigenous. I can appreciate FGN’s fear of losing the distinctive history of the Naga struggle for freedom, but do Nagas have to be nearly decimated to qualify for the status? That line of thinking would lead us to equating the millions of living indigenous people of the world to mummies in the museum of colonial genocide. Just hours ago, NSCN (K) came out with a statement to reinforce FGN’s position. They too argue that Nags are not indigenous people ‘because Nagas of Nagaland are so far the owners and rulers of our own land.’ But doesn’t the word ‘indigenous’ signify precisely the kind of natural affinity with the place one lives in? So how does Naga ownership of Nagaland render Nagas un-indigenous? Besides removing the word from its etymological root, this line of thinking has the absurd logic of a man who shoots his leg because it is not a hand.

With such diverse and contradictory views on every issue in the Naga Question, it’s hard to separate fact from opinion, reality from fiction. But it is important to make the effort. So, then, Fact One: Nagaland was never overrun and completely overtaken by outsiders, and Nagas are still the majority in our land. Let’s grant this to FGN and NSCN (K) even if their stand on indigenousness sounds masochistic. What is the Naga Question about then? Fact Two: Sovereign Nagaland. For once, the sworn enemy NSCN factions agree on this goal, except that they disagree bitterly on the details, including the size of the Naga nation, over which they are both prepared to go to war. Interestingly, FGN holds rather adamantly that independence from India is a non-issue, though they are for a sovereign Naga nation. If that sounds convoluted to others, it’s not to them because Nagas who never surrendered their independence to India in the first place cannot now be asking it back from India.

Naga sovereignty has been and is under attack by GOI, and the day India leaves Nagaland, the Naga Question will have been resolved. This explanation sounds logical as far as logic goes, but what is logical is not necessary true or valuable. These are the nationalist positions on the Naga Question. The rest, namely the majority of Nagas, are mostly ambivalent. They seem to function fine under the Indian State Government of Nagaland, which has been in existence since 1963, but there are many among them who are also not averse to the idea of an independent Nagaland if it does arrive someday like a gift under a Christmas tree.

If Naga sovereignty and its recognition by the world community is the goal of Naga nationalists, while the state government under India runs the show, what then is the nature of the relationship between Nagas and the Government of India? Is Nagaland Indian territory or is it under Indian occupation? Nationalists believe it is under Indian occupation. Many Nagas don’t think so, however, and insist that Nagas were ‘a free people’ and are a free people under India. Nagaland is not under Indian occupation, they say; indeed, Nagas ought to be grateful to GOI for the financial sustenance it provides the people of Nagaland and for keeping the state from disintegrating. So whether or not Nagaland is under Indian occupation is up for grabs.

Until we realize that there is a fact beneath the confusion of opinions, which leads us to Fact Three: Nagaland is under Indian occupation whether we like it or not, whether we deny it or not. Nagas are free of course to ignore the fact and live as though the occupation doesn’t exist, as many do, but the daily events associated with it, including the governmental institutions and financial sustenance, are all reminders that Nagaland is indeed under Indian occupation. If you don’t believe me, try telling India to leave Nagaland for good (which is what Nagas have been doing since 1947) and see what happens. India hasn’t left. Or imagine the UN declaring tomorrow that Nagaland is a sovereign nation, not a state within India, and see what India says and does.

Fact Four: At this stage in the history of Naga nationalism, the signs of implosion are real and looks like Nagas need to lean on GOI. But while not dismissing Nagas who say we ought to be grateful to GOI, let’s not forget too that it was GOI in the first place that broke our legs and is now throwing us a pair of crutches.

Fact Five: There was a time when Naga national workers rightly commanded the respect and gratitude of the Naga people because of their love and sacrifice for our homeland. There must still be national workers who belong to that tradition of dedicated service, and Nagas value them. But all right thinking Nagas of every tribe and station in life who love our land, people, and cultures are sick to death of Nagas killing each other and destroying ourselves from within in the name of bogus ‘freedom’ and through a blasphemous use of the ‘Nagaland for Christ’ slogan. The Naga public knows there is neither freedom nor Christ in violence. There is no excuse for this inhumanity.

Action now:

The needs in Nagaland are many and urgent, but two things are a foundational must for a better Nagaland. The first requires action from Nagas, the second a fresh start and negotiation between GOI and Nagas:

We must stop Naga-on-Naga violence and resolve our differences on the Naga Question;
The Indian occupation of Nagaland must be addressed. Why? Because like all other human beings, including Indians, Nagas too have the right to self determination, and the denial of that right by GOI has led to too much suffering and unspeakable cruelty among Nagas, and has also created a moral burden for India and for right-thinking, human rights-respecting Indians. India will not be worthy of its illustrious past and cannot remain a self-respecting postcolonial nation as long as it refuses to settle the Naga Question once and for all.

The UN Declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples can be the golden hinge upon which a new and mutually enriching Indo-Naga relationship can start rolling. Once GOI in deed recognizes and implements the Naga right to self-determination, Nagas can work out their future among themselves and begin peaceful negotiations with GOI as to independence or integration, and upon what terms. Without India’s recognition of the Naga right to self-determination, conflict is inevitable because of the nature of the relationship in place, namely control on the Indian side and resentment on the Naga side.

As I write these lines in the first week of autumn under the same canopy of trees I read the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People two weeks ago, I know spring will arrive in Nagaland, as it does in the rest of the world, if we survive the winter of our violence. The choice is ours.

Since the appearance of part one of this essay last month, there have been more clashes between the two NSCN factions in which more soldiers were killed and others injured. According to Indo-Asia News Service, October 26, more than 200 soldiers have been killed on both sides in the last three years as a result of the ‘bitter turf war for territorial supremacy.’

There are also increasing signs that the Naga public’s patience with factional violence is running out. Clearly, Naga nationalism is at a crossroads, and the factions have the choice to either make peace and survive together as a legitimate movement for the Naga cause or disintegrate and fall into the dustbin of history as failed revolutionary armies.

As frustrating as it must be to the factions, the image of organized crime is being associated with the warring groups in the minds of many Nagas, especially of the younger generation, not because they are against nationalism but because of what the NSCNs are doing in Nagaland. Educated, younger Nagas see the activities of the two groups as incompatible with Naga nationhood. From their perspective, what (IM) and (K) are doing to one another is absurd. It is as though they were saying: ‘Let’s kill each other, destroy each other’s property and reputation and, in the process, create fear and insecurity among the Nagas because we are Naga patriots who love our homeland.’ This statement makes no sense of course, and it is not what (I-M) or (K) have set out to do for themselves or for the Naga people. But intended or not, the effect of their actions on the public in Nagaland, as well as the perception they create in people’s minds, is real. Both (I-M) and (K) need to recognize this reality about themselves and deal with the situation in a real hurry.

starters, they can look to history for a lesson. The absurdity of nationalist groups destroying one another in the supposed interest of the nation they wish to create is not new. Infighting among rival groups for dominance is as old as nationalism itself. And they are not entirely to blame either. Nationalism has been inevitably tied up with violence, to begin with, mainly because of the refusal of dominant nation-states to consider the cause of the aggrieved people unless the latter back up their cause with physical force. And when the dominant nation-state’s intransigence persists long enough (it almost always does), the aggrieved liberation party splinters into ideological groups and turn on each other. There are too many examples from the past to prove this point. Two will suffice here ‘“ Ireland (probably the longest lasting nationalist movement in the Common Era) and Palestine (the best known and consequential in our time.)

Ireland’s problems with invaders started as far back as 1166 CE, with the Normans and the English. By 1700, only 14% of Ireland was in Irish hands, the rest under English control. Their economy and way of life devastated, millions of impoverished Irish left the country, mostly for the United States, especially following the potato famine in the middle of the nineteenth century. Meanwhile, Irish nationalism grew and came to a head in 1920, with the Government of Ireland Act, which divided Ireland into two: Irish Free State for the mainland (later to become The Republic of Ireland) and Northern Ireland, which is still a contentious region. The rivalry between the supporters and the critics of the 1920 Treaty continued ‘” deadly and unresolved ‘” under different leaders and incarnations, until more than seventy years later, in 1998, when the Good Friday Agreement put an end to the cycle of internecine murder and reprisal in Northern Ireland, at least up to now.

All this is well-known information. The point of this summary, though, is to draw attention to the moment in Irish nationalism that changed it from a liberation movement against English colonial rule to the self-destructive war among the Irish themselves that it became in 1921. What is going on in Nagaland today between the two factions of the NSCN parallels the deadly rivalry between the supporters of the Irish Free State Treaty, led by Michael Collins, and the anti-Treaty Republican group under Eamon de Valera. The Irish are still paying for those leaders’ lack of vision at the momentous crossroads in their struggle for a united Irish nation.

If in the heat of present challenges, the NSCNs find Irish nationalism of the 1920s too remote for instruction, then they need only look to Palestine and see the plight of the world’s most intractable national struggle for existence. The fratricidal war between the Fatah party and Hamas. Again, outside forces have bedeviled their relations, but what Hamas and the Fatah are doing to themselves has derailed the Palestinian people’s dream for a homeland. Palestinians have never been farther from realizing their goal, since 1948, than they are today, thanks to the Fatah-Hamas rivalry.

Naga nationalism does not come close to the power and longevity of Irish nationalism nor to the global reach of Palestinian nationalism, but it shares, on a smaller scale, the same story of self-destructive behavior on the part of freedom fighters. In the prevailing circumstances in Nagaland, individuals and traditional organizations have been rendered powerless to effect change, and can do little more than exhort the leaders not to doom themselves and the Nagas by failing to learn from history. A useful way for the NSCN factions to learn is to recognize that what is going on between them is the enactment of a script from the grand narrative of nationalism itself. Simply put, they are at an agonistic moment of truth for their future, and with it the future of Naga nationalism. The narrative script indicates that each faction feels compelled to look at and approach this moment as a question of its own survival against the other party’s. But the script also shows that there is, in fact, no lasting victory in this war for one side alone. They both fall or rise together.

Of late, NSCN (I-M) has been put in the unenviable position of riding two horses (New Delhi and NSCN- K) going in opposite directions. (I-M) wants to renew the cease-fire agreement with New Delhi so it can continue to operate as the official nationalist organization in Nagaland, but New Delhi seems in no hurry to negotiate the cease-fire. And (K) is determined not only to challenge (I-M)’s position, but to put it out of business if it can. Caught between these forces that cut both ways, (I-M) feels pressured to settle for less than it is ordinarily comfortable with. But that is a premature direction to take in the absence of unity among the nationalist groups and of support from the Naga public.

As for the Naga public, the desire for unity among the nationalist groups takes precedence over factional deals with India. Last week, the GB and DB federation of Nagaland made a formal appeal to the rival groups to get past the ‘calls’ and ‘press releases’ for peace to real ‘action’ for peace. Naga church leaders and organization too have repeatedly called for unity and peaceful negotiations, so have Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights, Naga Student Federation, several apex tribal bodies, newspaper editorials, intellectuals and prominent citizens. In addition, organizations from outside Nagaland, including American Baptists and the Society of Friends (Quakers), have either sent or are planning to send delegations on a mission to reconcile the NSCNs.

The interest of the Quakers is particularly noteworthy because of their peerless record of work on both sides of the Atlantic for nurturing peace and respect among people in conflict, going back to the time of slavery. It is doubtful there will be another time when all these positive forces from within and outside Nagaland can unite again behind the call for peace and unity among the nationalist groups. The hope, then, is that NSCN (I-M) and (K) will start talking honestly and directly to one another instead of needling each other through the media about grudges and minor logistical details. What this global effort amounts to is that the Naga people and our well wishers expect the NSCN rivals to realize that the time is now or probably never.

Granted, the Naga public cannot fully appreciate the challenges facing the NSCNs because we have not traveled the difficult road that they have. But what is clear to all is the fact that this is a question of survival for the Nagas as a people. All of us understand that survival is an extreme condition to be in, and when the challenge to survive is against organized violence, we must consider new and radical ways of surviving. The appeals for unity suggest that peaceful negotiation is a radical ‘” and the best ‘” way to survive honorably in the extreme environment we are in. A successful process of peace-making at this time can become the foundation for nation-building in the future.

We could realize, like some have, that the strongest nation-defining moments are those spent in resistance to might and violence, rather than in their use, that the true character of a nation resides not in the use of brute force but in its disciplined restraint, or in the worst-case scenario, its use against a greater inhumanity. For a people like the Nagas who would be a nation, then, regardless of the legitimacy of our cause, the means we adopt to reach our goal are still as important as the goal itself. The choice should be peaceful suasion and ‘soul force,’ and the process must start at home, among us Nagas.

The alternative is devastating, even to the imagination. Without implying a parallel future for Naga nationalist workers, one is reminded of Wilfred Owen’s poetic vision in ‘Strange Meeting.’ Owen, who fought and died in World War I, imagined the strange meeting of two enemy soldiers in Hell. Dazed and beyond help, one says to the other:

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .’

But even more telling and relevant for Nagas is the story of an Irish soldier in ‘The Sniper,’ written by Liam O’Flaherty who fought on the Republican side against the Free Staters during the civil war. The story is set at dusk in Dublin, with the sound of heavy guns in the background, and rife with snipers from the rival armies, hiding, dodging and hunting each other in the streets. After an intense and intricate angling for the enemy, the adept sniper in the story guns down a soldier on the roof of a building across the street. He watches the enemy fall to the ground, and shudders; the lust of battle suddenly dies in him; he is struck with remorse; he curses the war, curses himself, curses everybody. He becomes curious about the identity of the enemy he has killed, so sneaks over to where the body fell, dodging a hail of bullets. Then throwing himself face down beside the corpse, ‘The sniper turned over the dead body and looked into his brother’s face.’

Patriotism has limits. As O’Flaherty ‘” who should know ‘” suggests through this story, patriotism is not an end, it is a means to the well being of the larger society, and he knew Irish patriotism had clearly crossed the line when it led to fratricide. Likewise, we know Naga nationalism has crossed the line when Nagas kill one another in the name of patriotism.

*The article is written by Dr. Paul Pimono.

*Dr. Paul Pimomo is Professor of English and Co-Director, Africana and Black Studies, CWU, Ellensburg, WA,

(Courtesy: The Naga Blog)

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