Post Mortem

Identity politics in Nagaland and beyond

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 7/24/2020 2:18:26 PM IST

 “...Spoke of their problems with the Burmese Army; of beatings, rapes, and boys pressed into service as porters. Conditions in their villages were Spartan enough, there being no roads, no schools, no health centres, so if people took seriously ill they died without help. However, sometimes they lost everything if their village was burned by the Burmese Army” recollected Prof. Visier Meyasetsu Sanyü in his ‘A Naga Odyssey’ when he ventured into a Naga village in Burma (Myanmar) way back in 1993. The suffering brothers on the other side of the ‘fence’ further interrogated the professor on possible extension of developmental activities since they had been incapacitated to go to their fields and farms during the rainy season.

The Naga Students Organization of Myanmar in 2019 appealed to the two governments namely, India and Myanmar, for peaceful residence as the situation deteriorated in the backdrop of the joint military operation in the Naga Self Administered Zone (SAZ) and pleaded with the two governments to instead wage for joint development in the region. The famous historical slogan of ‘leave them alone’ once again emerged in SAZ, Myanmar, in the event the two governments failed to end sufferings in the region.

The Hindu on July 10, 2020 reported the plight of the people in SAZ area while quoting the Eastern Konyak Union on the deployment of army “in every village of the Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar. It talked on the fear psychosis pervading “the minds of the people who have not been getting rice and other essential commodities since February due to the crackdown, combined with the Coronavirus situation”. The Union was reported to have made a call for ceasing of military activities and asked the rights groups to raise the sufferings of the Eastern Konyaks caused by “inhuman activities”, while lamenting the unwelcoming gunfights in the midst of the pandemic.

 Revisiting the documented sufferings of the people of Eastern Nagaland (Myanmar) and the current reported shortage of essential commodities which was further compounded with joint military operation in this pandemic-induced crisis has been no less than a nightmare. It reminded us of the earlier existential crisis encountered by our grandparents at the peak of political instability. Documented events and the traditions on the ordeal of the Nagas that are being passed down vertically had in common one or the other reason to be in full empathy with our gone but brave parents.

An anecdote of Zapohülü Rhakho who hails from Khulazu Basa village, and is still a worth treasure with many memories in store, is no less insignificant. She lost her father to chronic poverty. She lived with her single mother. She is the lone sibling. As the Indo-Naga problem aggravated in the 1950s, villagers had been compelled to leave villages with properties behind and lived in exile in forests. She was not an exception. She escaped into the terraced paddy field (more than 03 km off the village proper) with her mother and dwelled in the tiny hut, braving the dense forest on the narrow and wild animal attack-prone thoroughfare to the field. On the one hand, she feared attack from wild animals; on the other, she was persistently frightened at the trepidation of falling into the hand of the army. In between, she was caught by the most unsuspected disquiet episode. Her ailing mother passed away at the stroke of midnight, far away from anybody’s hide out. Her desperate need for passing on information was beyond the audible range of anyone, let alone bringing men from village. With limited options, she beheld the reality, embraced the corpse of her mother and stayed the wake herself all alone throughout the forsaken night. Tears rolled down across her cheeks and looked away into the blue mountain as she narrated her ordeal.

Supply of basic everyday items was never secured at the peak of instability. Villages, therefore, established cordial proximity with each other for the purpose of lending and borrowing essential items. A case in point is the close connection between Phusachodümi and Khulazu Basa villages in frequent access to mineral spring located at the former village in the ancient of days. Water collected from the spring was being used in cooking when salt ran out of stock due to guerrilla war back then. The historicity of mineral spring and its free access dated back to early coordination centuries back.

The writings above thus broach forth an idea for imperative solidarity and call for appreciative coordination amongst the people of same blood temporarily residing in Myanmar, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Assam and Nagaland. Naga people in all the aforesaid regions had been subjected to most inhuman rampage all because of a singular but common interest – a respectable political settlement with India and Myanmar. Notwithstanding the stated objective at large, identity politics stemming from parochially constructed regional spheres of influence – western, eastern, southern, northern Nagas – and its petty agenda of regional luxury and wannabe kings (and queens) of the ascribed regions has long been associated with grand collapse of diverse attempts to unify the Nagas culturally, socially, emotionally, politically and even geographically.

 The debates in media have unleashed the four ugly truths about us: (1) we openly receive people in our land (present Nagaland) whose culture threatens to subsume our culture but openly reject our own people from coming to our land; (2) we accept competition from outsiders who possess much more skills in doing business and pose risk of controlling our economy but resorting to unofficial sanction to deny the same opportunity to our own people; (3) we are hospitable with people from diverse background and culture and gifting them handsomely but we immediately turn hostile when we hear the news of our own people from other regions other than the present Nagaland; (4) we provide security to those who address us ‘dadda’ and surreptitiously skinning us by raping our women, castigate our men, looting our properties backstage yet the security of our own people beyond the boundary do not warrant our concern. Oh! What a hypocrite, Nagas in Nagaland.

Identity politics unfortunately crept into the old bastion of traditional broad-based unified politics, breaking apart the legacies of our pioneers which they fought hard in blood and tears. The ongoing political debates mainly between the (Southern) Nagas and the (Western) Nagas trespass political decency and have trodden where the angels fear to tread. In doing so, we have deliberately identified ourselves based on the regions where we temporarily reside in, as opposed to the much wider fundamental of what we have been aspired for – Nagas as one. In the process, we have successfully overturned what had been done for us by our pioneers. 

First, we accepted the definition about us given by others and reduced ourselves to the status of tribals. Second, we have relegated our identity to the extent of addressing ourselves as Nagas of Myanmar, of Nagaland, of Arunachal, of Assam and of Manipur. The onlookers derive pleasure in our immature dialogues. But sadly we have undefined ourselves in our search for our own meaning. Our concerted effort to deface ourselves in this crucial period is ricocheting back to us. Nagas living in Arunachal Pradesh had in October 2019 opted to stay out of the proposed peace deal, echoing the step taken by the southern Nagas earlier. History will testify on behalf of us and hold us accountable should we further fragment our idea of nationhood when we all hope for a definition about us unattached from external influence. Nagas, everyone of us, have to comprehend the very meaning of our sufferings – exile in jungles, days and weeks without food, beheading of well-bodied men, concentration camps and herding, desecration of places of worship, denuding and sexual assault against women, reducing our granaries and our villages (some upto 7 times) to ashes, torture to the most inhuman degree, nursing babies by foster mothers inside forests and in the sight of wild animals, sickness away from the comfort of homes, forsaken bodies lying in the jungles without proper burials – that our grandparents had been subjected to for a simple reason of our common desire for indigenous identity. The blood and tears shed are not for ostentatious luxury for the Nagas in Nagaland. Nagas on the other sides are in need of our presence. Appreciative coordination will pay us great dividends even if the results may not be immediate.  Let us make a major departure from the redundant belief that geography is destiny and hence “you cannot choose your neighbours” and instead realise the truth that close proximity is a matter of definition whereby we can choose our neighbours as well. The malicious version of identity politics has to be put to a halt. Let us look beyond the boundary, beyond the fence, beyond our idiosyncrasies. 

Nukhosa Chüzho, 



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