Post Mortem

Is honorable solution to the Indo-Naga political conflict possible?

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 12/22/2020 1:04:52 PM IST

 The term “honorable” has become the most irresistible word for any Naga debating or reflecting on the ongoing Indo-Naga political talk. Unsurprisingly, it has found expression in both the “Framework Agreement” and “Agreed Positions”. However, the manner and trend in which the Indo-Naga talks are being carried out, of late, make one to wonder if there is going to be any honorable solution at the end of the day. It certainly makes me to wonder if this term has been reduced into a merely fashionable expression. What is this thing called honorable anyway? 

Keeping the above concern at the background, let us take a look at some of our own Naga cultural practices with which honor was mostly associated with. There are two that stand out, namely, ‘Feast of Merit’ and ‘Head-hunting’. The performers of the feast and the warriors used to be given a high honor. They were the definition and embodiment of the values and ideals of the Naga cultures; in other words, they lived out those ideals and values such as discipline, courage, honesty, justice, patriotism, sacrifice, hard-work, etc. Honor is about just living, or living justly. Thus, to be honorable is to exemplify values, ideals and norms of the people both in words and in deeds. Such people embody and inspire, and also protect and promote the core values of the people. They were the living institutions of learning. Honor was something to be earned and recognized through one’s noble deeds for the community. Most importantly, it was never something that is “negotiated” or “bought” or “exchanged”.         

Outside the Naga culture, I am particularly drawn to the intriguing Tamil culture of Sangam in relation to warfare: that as a warrior, it is dishonorable either to receive injury at the back or to cause injury at the back of the other. It was interpreted respectively as fleeing from fighting which is a sign of cowardice or betrayal and attacking a person who is not ready or willing to fight. There is absolutely no honor in fighting someone who is unequal or unwilling to fight. Thus central to this practice is the identification of an honorable warrior with ideals and virtues like fairness, equality and courage. 

Do we get the above connotations of honor or honorable in the ongoing Indo-Naga political talks? Are the talks likely to result in honorable solution judging by the conditions under which the talks are being held? Perhaps, a little history digging may be helpful. When the Indo-Naga conflict became so intense with the smoke going up and the blood flowing down from the Naga hills incessantly, there was an urgent necessity to broker peace and bring respite to the Naga hills since the warring parties were not in a position to have any dialogue: the Nagas under Naga National Council wanted independence and the Indian state was hell bent on bringing the Nagas within the Indian Union. Amidst this impasse, we learned that the Naga People’s Convention was formed. In its first convention held at Kohima from 22nd – 26th August 1957, A. Kevichusa, the first Naga graduate and a government officer then, is said to have proposed the idea that any attempt to find solution must be a “satisfactory political settlement”. It is a stroke of genius to come up with such slogan at that point of time in history. He was truly a pathfinder. Among others, it was meant to save the honor of the Nagas. Probably, this slogan appealed to the Nagas and set the tone for the entry of cognate terms like “honorable”, “just” or “acceptable” into the Indo-Naga talks in search of possible solution. In this way, Kevichusa had offered a key locution to help the Nagas navigate our path in the uncharted political jungle. 

How do we then pursue a satisfactory political settlement, one that is just, honorable and acceptable? To begin with, the Indian state should think and act in keeping with its recognition of the uniqueness of the Naga history. A unique challenge requires a unique solution. It must constantly remind itself that the Naga struggle is not in violation of any prior agreement or treaty with the Indian state; originally, it is not even a revolt or insurgent movement against the state or certain policies of the state. The Nagas are neither fighting nor begging for any special favor or privilege from the Indian state. We are in the main telling the Indian state to do the rightful thing – to honor the right of the Nagas to determine their own destiny; all that we are saying is “leave us alone to determine ourselves as in the ancient time” (to borrow a phrase from the Nagas’ memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929). The Nagas asserted our desire to be independent even before India got its Independence. As such, the Nagas are basically defending the independence and freedom which we inherited from our ancestors. This is what makes the Naga struggle unique and honorable. 

Right from the inception of the Naga nationalism, Nagas never wanted a violent movement. The Naga people, especially the leaders, knew that to fight with the Indian state is like the battle between the ant and the elephant. However, when the Indian state imposed violence on the Naga people and insulted the honor and rights of the Nagas by letting loose its mighty military force backed by draconian laws like the “disturbed act” and the “armed forces special power act”, Nagas were left with no option but to fight in defense of their honor even in the face of death as surrender is a word not found in the dictionary of Naga languages and cultures. Our ancestors were fiercely violent when called for but in normal times, they were regulated by some of the noblest ideals and principles of democracy. This is the heritage we are proud of even today and continue to defend against all odds.  

Although, it is a fact of history that Nagaland state today is part of the Indian union, it should not be confused with the truth of the history of the Naga people’s aspiration. Honor is about how we want to be seen and treated as a people. As such, the ongoing political talk should not be seen as a negotiation for honorable solution if it is just about what economic packages or constitutional privileges Nagas will get in exchange of surrendering our rights to live as free people. Issues involving economic packages or constitutional privileges or any other interests may be said to be negotiable (and acceptable). However, a political solution in order to be honorable must be grounded in the truth of people’s identity, history, and aspiration. It must safeguard both the cultural heritages and freedom to shape its identity and destiny.  

Dr. Venusa Tinyi

Assistant Professor

Department of Philosophy

University of Hyderabad

(Currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Shimla)


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