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Reclaiming Naga Freedom Gandhi’s Way

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 8/6/2019 1:19:11 PM IST

 At a time when the British Imperial Power was asserting dominance over most of India, a Marathi woman by the name Lakshmi Bai emerged on the scene to fight for the freedom of her people, crying out, “I shall not surrender my Jhansi.” Although she led the first Indian Rebellion Movement from 1828 to 1857, her effort was no match to the far more superior military force of the enemy. After her defeat, the British asserted their rule more aggressively by using some puppet-like Indian rulers under Queen Victoria as “Empress of India” till 1947. Thus, India became British India by conquest and consent for nearly 200 years. 

The next most well-known Indian freedom fighter was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who led a nationwide campaign for self-rule and called for the British to ‘Quit India’ in 1941. But unlike Rani Lakshmi Bai, Gandhi employed an unusual method: a non-violent movement. He neutralized the control of the British hold by using a method of non-cooperation. He inspired his people by saying: “An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.” “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.” “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” Thus, with such a harmless method of civil resistance, Gandhi was able to force the Great British Imperial Power to quit India.  

Now coming to the Naga people, the British intruded into their homeland in 1832 but as C. V. Atchinson, Under Secretary for Government of India, in 1931 stated, “No written treaties or agreements have been made with any of the Naga tribes.” Although the British were allowed to set up their administrative outposts in certain Naga areas, no part of the Naga-land became British-land by conquest or by consent. Indeed, such an entire subjugation was practically impossible because every Naga village had always existed as an independent republic and therefore there was no common ruler who could unilaterally decide to give away even one village. This fact of unconquered status was clearly recognized by Jawaharlal Nehru before India gained Independence when on August 19, 1946 he said, “The Tribal Areas are defined as being those long Frontiers of India which are neither part of India nor Burma, nor of Indian States nor of any foreign power.”

But soon after India became free from the British colonial rule, Mr. Nehru changed his position and wanted to claim Naga-land as part of the new Independent India. When the Naga people opposed such an arbitrary move by not properly welcoming him during his visit to Kohima in 1953, he felt deeply insulted and thus began India’s military aggression on the Naga people in 1954. As a result, the Naga Rebellion was born for the defense of their own homeland. Ironically, India adopted imperial ambition and became another colonizer, whereas the Nagas went the way of Rani Lakshmi Bai by taking up armed resistance against India, which in turn was always met with more military action. Ever sinceIndia thinks that crushing all Naga armed groups or buying them out will permanently extinguish the Naga Freedom Movement, which is avery naïve belief. On the other hand, some Nagas assume that they need to use armed forces, without realizing that this only gives the Indian Army the satisfaction of the Nagas losing their moral superiority if the fight is through the violent path. 

What India would do next is outside the control of the Naga people. The only thing within the Nagas’ control is their own response. And for this to be done right, the Nagas must first decide to renounce the path of violent resistance. Instead, they should choose the path of Mahatma Gandhi, which is non-violent civil resistance, especially in dealing with India.

But what is non-violent resistance? First of all, it is not about simply condemning violence or just doing street-protests once in a while. It is much more complex and strategic than that, because it is a battle for the conscience (cf. In the book Dictatorship to Democracy, Gene Sharp discusses 81 methodologies of non-violent resistance). This is the choice weapon of the morally strong, because it aims at changing people’s minds and attitudes rather than harming them. Commenting on this subject, Martin Luther King, Jr. says: “non-violent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. First, it does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. …. You start to feel strength and courage which you never knew you had in the first place. Finally, your efforts of non-violence reach the opponent and touch his conscience in such a way that reconciliation becomes a reality.”

Is non-violent resistance enough? No. For Christians, they should go even one step further, because Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Here again, this is about being strong enough to use prayer and love to overcome hate and disarm hostilities.

In our immediate context, how should we respond to the Assam Rifles who live right in our midst?  First, we should respect them and listen to their viewpoints despite the possibility that they would take us as the ‘bad guys’ simply because we want our own freedom. Their belief-system and training have programmed their minds that way. As such, they sincerely believe themselves to be the ‘good guys’ doing the right thing. Secondly, make them feel genuinely welcomed; invite them to be part of our celebrations and festivals, and treat them with the best of our hospitality. As they try to be the “Friends of the Hill People,” let us outdo them by being the “True Friends of the Assam Rifles.” Such positive actions and gestures of love could overcome hate, disarm hostilities, and even possibly win them over as real permanent allies.

In short, we will be closer to reclaiming our Naga Freedom when we are able to stand up for our rights like Mahatma Gandhi by being peaceful, fair, and unafraid.

Mazie Nakhro

 

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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