Genesis of Naga Nationalism: Analysis of the Social and Symbolic Forces that has Come to Sustain the Naga Self-Determination Movement Author: Rajiv Acharya, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Gauhati University Introduction

Download 77.17 Kb.
Date conversion11.02.2018
Size77.17 Kb.
Genesis of Naga Nationalism: Analysis of the Social and Symbolic Forces that has Come to Sustain the Naga Self-Determination Movement

Author: Rajiv Acharya, Research Scholar,

Department of Political Science,

Gauhati University


The Naga national movement can suitably be placed as one of the oldest claims for self-determination based on ethno-nationalism and the longest running ethnic rebellions in the world that followed at the onset of the process of decolonization after the Second World War. Towards the end of British colonial rule in the Indian sub-continent, a small group of tribes inhabiting the far eastern corner of their domain, firmly and purposefully challenged the claim by newly independent government of India to inherit the Naga territory from the British as a colonial legacy and rose up in rebellion that led to a violent military confrontation with the Indian state. The creation of the state of Nagaland in 1963 with wide autonomy in social, cultural and customary matters under Article 371 A of the Indian Constitution was unsuccessful in assuaging and placating the radical nationalists who continued to insist on self-determination. It has to be stated that the definition of ‘self-determination’, has undergone considerable change among the nationalist discourse and is no longer associated with absolute sovereignty or secession as it seems impractical under the current global economic and political perspective. The emphasis has now moved to political and administrative integration and ‘greater autonomy’, outside ordinary provisions of the Indian constitution.

The GOI has been engaged in a ceasefire and political dialogue with the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) since 1997, the most influential nationalist group in the Naga political scene for the last 16 years at the highest level but even after more than sixty rounds of negotiations, a final solution is yet to emerge. The only significant moment of the sixteen years long political dialogue Indian government formally gave recognized the ethno-political nature of the rebellion by recognition of the “unique history and situation of the Nagas”, on July 11, 2002. The current complex trends in the ethno-political environment of the region have created hurdles towards the fulfilment of the demand for political and administrative integration of the Naga areas that has been facing stiff opposition from the states that would be affected by such arrangement. Besides sovereignty, the administrative and political integration has been the most prominent demand of the nationalists composed of pan-Naga groups both from the mainstream social and political groups like the Naga Hoho (Apex tribal body of Naga tribes), Naga Students Federation-NSF (influential student body) as well as the armed nationalists- also known as undergrounds or the Naga Political Groups (NPGs)- which includes the factions of the NSCN and the NNC.

Since the beginning of the ceasefire in 1997, the armed nationalist groups that have been the primary actors in Naga self-determination movement, have considerably alienated public opinion due to various factors like increased factional killings, further splits in armed nationalist groups, increased financial burden on the people due to ‘revolutionary taxation’ and moral crisis and self-aggrandizement among the cadres of the armed groups have resulted in popular backlash from the people. Besides, the prominent leaders of the nationalist groups are riding towards the sunset, and the extraordinary lengthy nature of political negotiations with just one political group, has created an uncertain future about the outcome. In the face of the Indian government declaring that sovereignty and integration of Naga inhabited areas are no longer in the agenda of negotiations with the NSCN (IM), it would be pertinent to examine which course the political movement is going to take in the coming years. Some security analysts have even opined that the death of the main veteran leaders would lead to the disintegration of the movement. Does the current disappointment and disenchantment with the leadership of the armed nationalist groups imply that Naga national movement is on the wane?

In the light of tribalism and clannish divisions in the nationalist leadership that has weakened the movement and worked decisively in snapping the strength of nationalist sentiments in the it becomes imperative to explore those crucial factors that have aided in the persistence of the movement for the last many decades in spite of pressures from within and without and have the prospect of further inspiring and strengthening the Naga self-determination movement for the coming years. As Charles Chaise writes

“The Nagas are not even sure of their numbers or the physical land they occupy. But whatever scraps of history have been handed down through the generations, they hold on with tenacity that would escape the casual observer and surprise the serious researcher. This tenacity can also be seen from the Naga struggle for independence which is the most sustained and consistent movements, of such kind, anywhere in the world. There are, of course certain cultural commonalities which differentiate the Nagas from others in the region. But the differences at a glance would seem to far outweigh these common traits. Nevertheless, so far, the lack of common language, differing and even contradictory value systems, inadequate education, economy, social-welfare etc. As well as the containment and control policies of the Government of India could think up in managing “Naga insurgency” have proved futile in tearing the Nagas apart where their sense of belonging and oneness, as a people, are concerned”?1

This paper seeks to explore the reasons for the persistence of the Naga movement for more than six decades by examining some essential dynamics that allowed it to survive and prosper against all odds and continues to inspire the nationalist opinion to work for Naga self-determination. Following ethno-symbolist approach to the study of nationalism, it explores the role of passion underlying nationalist movements, by looking at the prominent subjective elements that have shaped the content and nature of the Naga political movement (Smith 2009: 23, 24).


The primary methods for this research paper are based on ethnographic study and participant observation where the researchers are immersed in a social setting for more than one year in order to observe and listen with a view to gain access to a social setting (Bryman 2008: 369). Ethnography does not only include participant observation but also implies that the researcher to engage in interviews and a rigorous collection of documents for further information. Observation is supplemented with qualitative interviews and qualitative content analysis of various texts and documents related to research.

Key Words: Naga Nationalism, Self-Determination, Social and Symbolic Forces, Collective History and Identity

This paper also seeks to put special emphasis on the cultural and historical resources in the consolidation of Naga self-determination movement. With a marked shift from modernist argument that has been the dominant trend in research done on the field, which treats nations as mere discursive formulation rooted in elite designs and formulations, this paper seeks to examine the factors that aided the persistence of one of the world’s longest ethnic rebellions following some novel theoretical premises grounded in ethno-symbolism pioneered by Anthony D Smith and John Hutchinson. Nationalism seeks autonomy, unity and identity for a specific group that claims to have distinct and unique cultural and historical tradition especially in ethno-national movements. It has been observed effectively in many national states that the symbols, memories, myths and traditions of constituent population within the population gifted the national states with their public culture, symbolic codes and general laws and customs. Notably, the role of symbolic elements like memories, myths, symbols and traditions in defining a distinct public culture is not only confined to nations with independent sovereign status but also in those nations without independent states like the Basques, Catalans, Tamils as Smith contends (Smith 2009: 51) . This lends strength to the argument that instead being simply created by nationalist elite interests or forged in one or two generations of nationalist activities, nations are formed over much longer periods of social, cultural and political processes cite. Observance of shared customs and standardized laws play an important role in creating a sense of solidarity among large number of people and endow them a culturally distinct character and a sense of fraternity (Smith 2009: 51). The main concern of ethno-symbolism is to emphasise on the cultural dimensions of nationalism and see how it influences its political equivalent.

In the formation of nations, the historical and cultural resources play a huge role in determining the course and direction of any people towards nationhood. Remarkably, Smith contends that more the cultural resources of the community and the greater there scope and intensity, the stronger and more vivid, and more widely diffused is the sense of national identity. Conversely, the more smaller the number, the more limited the scope and the weaker the intensity of these cultural resources in a given community, the shallower and less vibrant and encompassing in their sense of national identity and belonging likely to be (Smith 2009: 99). Some of the factors mentioned in our discussion can be suitably regarded as constituting valuable cultural resources of the Naga political movement that have sustained it over the years. We have already seen how the ethno-symbolist approach emphasises the need to understand the inner world of ethnicity and nationalism through the study of symbolic elements and subjective dimensions. This section seeks to examine the basic trends in the Naga national movement from the point of view of ethno-symbolist approach by the application of some basic tenets that would be helpful in deciphering the passion and intensity associated with the sentiment of Naga nationalism and the concept of ‘Naga nation’. In this respect we attempt to apply three tenets of this approach- Purification of culture, Universalization of ethnic choseness and Territorialization of shared memory.

Purification of culture can be an effort to counter assimilation of a dominant culture and to preserve the original and distinctive traits in the culture and history of an ethnic group. One of the examples of such purification may include appeal to history emphasising on the cultural distinctiveness of past. Universalization of ethnic chosenness includes belief in an ideal that every nation must possess authentic identity and have its own unique and distinct culture. Territorialization of memory implies attachment to specific places and definite territories which take the shape of ethnic landscapes or historic homelands. Nationalist movements use mass public awareness campaigns to inculcate a sense that the homeland have been ‘ours’ for generations.2

Historical Evolution of Naga Nationalism

Every nation has a unique history of its own and is written or perceived on the basis of a definite starting point and for the Naga nationalists - their collective history started in 1929, as for the first time the different tribes took a collective stand about their future.3 In may be recalled that in 1929 the Naga Club submitted a memorandum to the Simon Commission appointed by the British government to keep the Nagas outside the purview of any future constitutional arrangements to their possessions in India. The representatives feared at the prospect of being passing into the control of a people who had never exercised any political authority over the Nagas. It was for this reason; the Naga areas were kept under the Excluded Areas under the Government of India Act 1935. Since then, eighty years of gradual evolution and development has crystallized the sentiment on many aspects since its rudimentary beginning. As the ethno-symbolist approach aptly recognizes that nations are dynamic, purposive communities of action and are rooted in particular historical context. Thus, nations are not just born but evolve and grow over generations (Smith 2009:13). Likewise, the sentiment of Naga nationalism has been evolving and growing over many decades. The symbolic forces have augmented the collective ethno history of the Nagas and added to historical and cultural factors underlying the Naga political movement and enriched them.

Collective Identity Fostered and Enriched by Long Established Cultural and Historical Traditions

Thus, the series of historical and political developments have largely shaped the collective history of relatively diverse set of people. The examination of these social and symbolic forces would enable us to decipher some of the factors that have contributed to the persistence of one of the world’s longest ethno-political conflicts involving a formidable insurgency motivated by the sentiment of ethno-nationalism. It would aid us in examining the intensity and scale of the Naga political movement over the last six decades.

It is interesting to know that the Nagas are a conglomeration of about 40 tribes similar in many social, cultural and religious practices and at the same time different in linguistic, institutional and many cultural orientations. These communities are dispersed across various states of India and north western part of Myanmar. These groups of tribes lived in near seclusion from the historical and political changes occurring in Indian sub-continent until the advent of the British towards the middle of the 19th century that had far reaching consequences in determining the profile and future history of the people. The geographical and political insularity of these tribes from the political, social and economic changes in rest of the subcontinent also shaped the socio-cultural and political history of the people that is suitably reflected in a common public culture strongly predisposed towards a feeling of self-reliance and freedom from outside interference in their internal affairs. In addition, for centuries these tribes lived in self-sufficient village states based on subsistence agriculture, hunting and occasionally practicing head-hunting against their neighbours in fierce warfare. These differences did not prevent these relatively diverse and often hostile groups of tribes to launch one of the oldest ethno-political movements against their common adversary in the modern world. The advent of Christianity through the missionaries and the introduction of modern education by the colonial authorities in their territories under their control also touched a section of the Nagas and the emergence of a small middle class made the ground fertile for dispersion of the seeds of nationalism among the Nagas.

The idea of nation founded on the basic premise of a common territory, history and ethnicity began to take roots among the Nagas that was further reinforced by the independent spirit fostered by long established historical and cultural traditions. A combination of social, cultural and political forces that played out in region helped the Nagas- a conglomeration of different sub-tribes to develop a sense of ‘people hood’. The socio-cultural attributes, political organization and religious beliefs played a cementing role to unify erstwhile different if not totally distinct groups (Mahanta, Nelsen, Malik 2007: 308). These attributes gave rise to a sentiment that refused to be a part of the Indian union when the latter gained independence in 15th August 1947 and that took the shape of a full scale uprising under the aegis of the Naga National Council (NNC).

Traditions in relation to Cultural Purification

A valuable constituent element of Naga movement is the collective sentiment of a distinct identity enriched by ethnic sources. Naga sense of a distinct identity and deep reverence of social, cultural and historical traditions is deeply entrenched and firmly grounded on the structures that make up the Naga social, customary and political set up and the people have been carrying some distinguished sets of social values and good principles since time immemorial. These social, cultural and historical traditions have been effectively passed on from one generation to the next that have largely shaped the public culture of all Naga tribes. These factors have been instrumental in shaping the public culture in the Naga country.

This sense of ‘distinct identity’ constitutes the core of the national sentiment. The nationalists from all quarters- both radical and moderates agree on this fundamental point that the Nagas are distinct from Indians historically, culturally, socially and politically. Thus, the struggle of the Nagas is to preserve their distinct historical and cultural identity against assimilation and annihilation.4 The radical position is mostly represented by the armed nationalists and mainstream social and cultural organizations like the NSF, NPMHR, and Naga Hoho etc. On the other hand, the moderates essentially classified as those former members of the NNC, who became the members of the legislative assembly after the creation of Nagaland state in 1963 consider it as the first step towards autonomy and independence and strived to continue the struggle through peaceful means.

The election manifestos of the major political parties in the state also have perceptible pointers towards the Naga national stand including national parties like the Congress (I). Nagaland Pradesh Congress Committee (NPCC) upholds that the Naga problem is purely a political problem and requires an honourable political solution (Shimray 2005: 225, 226). The current regional ruling party in Nagaland, the Naga People’s Front (NPF) upholds the historical and political rights of the Nagas as an integral part of its manifesto and like the other parties considers the Naga problem as a political one requiring political solution.5

In addition, the nationalist opinion contends that physical stature and racial features, food habits, culture, social and religious customs between the two. This sense of distinct identity is reaffirmed not only by the insurgent groups but by a large section of intellectuals despite their individual differences regarding the form and shape the Naga movement has to take in the coming years or opinion on current leadership. As already mentioned, the Nagas in the past many centuries have always led an independent existence from the political, social and cultural developments in the main part of Indian subcontinent and have not shared the cultural legacy of Indus Valley Civilization that has shaped the fundamental elements of the Indic culture.6 On the question of distinct identity and historical ethos of the Nagas, R. Vashum, a distinguished Naga scholar writes,

“The Nagas advocate that the Nagas did not share anything with India, either in physical make-up or in socio-cultural and political aspects. The Nagas say “we want to live as a people and with our own taste (ethos). We were not conquered by any power (force) except the British who conquered some portion of our Nagalim (Nagaland) but without interfering to live in our own way.”7

Moreover, many other intellectuals contend the Nagas as a people were never conquered or subjugated by any Indian prince in any period of history. In addition there is a healthy tradition fellow feeling and shared culture (Shimray 2005: 54). Certain cultural elements like dress, food, music, arts and crafts as well as customs and mode of village administration also lends strength to the sense of common identity among the Nagas (Shimray 2005: 54). These elements add to the strength and durability of nations and nationalism and these reasons are sufficient to give the Nagas a separate national identity and the Indian identity has been imposed upon them forcefully.

Anthony D Smith emphasises the survival of ethnic cultures replete with their indigenous customs, myths, memories and symbols preserved in the rituals, cults and liturgies of native churches for growth of nationalism. On many respects, the Nagas as a group display these characteristics. In addition, the processes like fusing land and peoples and emergence of community of people claiming to particular terrains that have been there’s since time immemorial. Smith has also emphasised the importance of village customs and statutes in the transmission of distinctive public cultures and their many laws and procedures (Smith 2009: 58). The structural foundation of the Naga society grounded in tradition of self-sufficient ‘village states’, has given a unique self-governing spirit to the political culture of the Nagas in general. Regarding the evolution of this tradition we may cite a statement from an imminent Naga scholar, a R. Vashum who writes,

“The systems of traditional village-states of the Nagas, be it village republic or village monarchy, appear to have impact of the rise and sustenance of the Naga national movement for sovereignty/independence. Their (Nagas) long association with these systems and their experiences into their culture and their way of life itself. In other words, sovereignty was, in the past, much desired and valued by the Naga villages even as they practiced and maintained it. Every citizen/villager young and old was in one way or other involved in maintaining the security of the village, be it for the defence or otherwise according to their age, skill/talent, or gender. For instance, the imparting of training to young boys and girls in the ‘Morung’ (youth dormitory) was, in fact, a crucial process of ‘enculturation’ and/or ‘socialization’ for being good citizens, successful leaders, warriors, and /or defenders of the village state.”8

It cannot be denied that the political culture shaped by the socio-political institutions of village states had a huge role in the evolution and development of Naga nationalism. The self-governing spirit has found reflection in the strong sense of liberty and freedom among the people from any outside interference in their internal affairs. Their isolation, self-sufficiency, freedom, passion for independence, and their sense of sovereignty over their respective homelands have shaped the psychological framework that upholds the free spirit and inherent pride in their way of life.

Religion and Universalization of Ethnic Chosenness

The Christian religion also provides a strong foundation to the Naga national movement. As a religious doctrine Christianity has been instrumental in the founding of many modern nations in the traditional bastion of Europe in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. As mentioned by Anthony D Smith, the myth of ethnic election constitutes a valuable cultural ingredient of nationalism. The Covenantal type is inspired based on the ideal of a covenant between the deity and the ethnie (Smith 2010: 27) from the Israeli paradigm in the Pentateuch-first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The central belief is that a particular people are chosen by god for a divine mission reserved for them. This sentiment draws inspiration from the Pentateuch in the Old Testament that was instrumental in the Puritan and the Dutch Calvinistic movements in Europe during 16th and 17th centuries. For instance, Dutch Calvinists saw themselves as the latter-day children of Israel who had escaped from the Pharonic oppression of Spanish and come into the promised land of liberty and riches. This ideal has also been instrumental in the building of many other national communities like the Armenians, Ethiopians, Puritan English, Scots, and Ulster Scots etc (Smith 2010: 93). Remarkably, in all the cases mentioned the overwhelming majority of population is Christian. Considering the fact that majority of the Nagas being deeply practicing Christians, this belief has an added significance in inspiring the collective consciousness.

The fact that Christian religion forms one of the foundational pillars of Naga nationalism can also be gauged from the widespread belief in the Covenantal doctrine of Nagas being “Second Israel”, “the Chosen People”, and destined to have a ‘nation’, of their own. The influence of Covenantal type of ethnic election is further confirmed by the adoption of the ‘Star and a Rainbow flag’ first by the NNC and later by the NSCN as the symbol of ‘Naga Nation’-the rainbow represents a covenantal relation between God and his entire creation.9

General Commitment towards the Unification and Integration of Naga Inhabited Areas in relation to Territorialization of Shared Memory

Another significant step in the process of collective self-definition according to Smith is through boundary delineation by a group that leads to differentiation and exclusion of other groups and neighbours in general (Smith 2009: 46). The idea of Nagas living under a common administrative and political roof finds substantial support from all political groups, moderates and radicals, the civil society groups like the Naga Hoho and the Naga Students Federation (NSF) and also finds reasonable resonance among a substantial section of the intellectuals. The nationalists also agree on the point that the ancestral land of the Nagas have been divided and dissected by the colonial powers without the knowledge and approval of the Nagas and placed under different administrative and political divisions.10 In addition they consider the granting of statehood as an incomplete exercise as it left the majority of Nagas outside the ambit of the state.11 Thus, all who subscribe to the nationalist opinion are in favour of Naga integration and even the politicians across party lines that have joined the Indian constitutional process after the creation of the state in 1963. The influence of territorialisation of memories and deep sense of attachment to the native ancestral land or ‘homeland’ which Smith terms as ‘ethno-scapes’ that results form of symbiosis between the people and the land takes the shape of sacred homeland (Smith 2009: 57). This phenomenon is often reflected in deep reverence for places in the collective consciousness of a group.

So together with the Naga movement for freedom, the push towards integration also picked up space in the subsequent years following the creation of Nagaland in 1963. This can be discerned by the Nagaland Legislative Assembly passing several resolutions towards the administrative and political integration of the Nagas in 1964, 1970, 1994 and 2004. Incidentally, Clause 13 of the Sixteen Points Agreement that led to the birth of Nagaland state allowed the Nagas outside the state to join the new state if they wished so. Moreover, the integration of the Naga inhabited areas is also possible under the Article 3 and 4 as per provisions of the Indian constitution, that has prompted the pan-Naga groups to work vigorously towards administrative and cultural integration of the tribes.

There is also a deep sense of attachment to the native land which is regarded as preordained by divine will and nationalists contend that, this concrete geographical land known as Naga country, where the People have lived for at least millennia according to historical records produced by geographers has been split between two countries of India and Myanmar and the land in India is further divided and placed under different states of the Indian union.12 This was all done without the knowledge and consent of the Nagas. The present state of Nagaland that was created by the Sixteen Point Agreement only comprises only a fraction, about 16,579 with a population of about one million people but the original land of the Nagas would comprise over 1, 20,000 and population of about four million.

Social and Symbolic Forces unleashed by Collective Historical Experience

The Naga sense of self-determination also received a boost from the social and symbolic forces unleashed by years of confrontation with the Indian state. As Smith has also mentioned how memories of ravages in war in the countryside, heroic feats in battles, sacrifice of kinsmen in battles and other forms of ethnic resistance and expansion contribute to memories and myths of a particular group and helps in its further crystallization and consolidation. These elements reinforce shared culture by creating and shaping consciousness and sentiment of mutual dependence.

These social and symbolic processes constitute valuable cultural resources for any community striving towards nationhood. Heroic deeds can also lead to the sanctification of the ‘national homeland.’ Places of battles and treaty, celebration and remembrance for significant events also strengthen the sense of national homeland. The most potent source of sanctity for this ‘national homeland’ comes from the cenotaphs and cemeteries of soldiers who fell defending their homeland that are often commemorated in public ceremonies. The existence of these relics mark a sense of general respect for ‘the ancestors’ and enrich the memories, symbols and traditions that contribute to the sanctity of one’s land and soil and help in transformation of this national homeland to sacred homeland (Smith 2009: 94,95).

Among the important cultural resources for the formation and sustenance of nations is the ideal of national destiny through sacrifice. Also an ingredient of political Romanticism, regular blood sacrifice of the nation’s youth is essential for the creation and preservation of the nation. The ideal of public sacrifice can inspire successive generations to emulate their ancestors and strengthen the bonds of political solidarity. Ideal of national destiny help in the mobilization of citizens for the defence of homeland inspired by the death of noble patriotic warrior that find commemoration and expression in the monuments and cenotaphs dedicated to them. Commemoration of actions in art and monumental sculptures enfold the memories of the nation and summon the citizens to fulfil the duty for which their compatriots laid down their lives. Smith gives the examples of instances like the Fall of Jerusalem, Dunkirk, and Stalingrad etc, which have become part of legend in verse. Strikingly, defeats perhaps more than victories have become a part of popular legend in verse and monumental art (Smith 2009: 98).

It is necessary to add that this process of common identification receives a boost by any protracted conflict or war as it mobilizes large sections of the community and give rise to stories about collective resistance against the enemy and myths of heroism, sacrifice that serves a source for inspiration and emulation by the successive generations (Smith 2009: 46). In this respect, the collective resistance against the Indian state has immensely contributed towards a sense of collective identity among the various tribes inhabiting the Naga country. The bitter experience endured by population under militarization and army oppression during the Indo-Naga political conflict has unleashed certain categories of social and symbolic processes that have significantly contributed to the consolidation of nationalist consciousness by enriching the collective memories that have shaped the general public consciousness. The distinct historical, cultural and political ethos of the Naga tribes coupled with the bitter experience of collective resistance against the Indian state has been instrumental in shaping the public culture of the Nagas. As Abraham Lotha writes,

“Naga nationalism, particularly through military repression has been counterproductive. Epitomising events such as experiences of humiliation and fear deepened Naga’s sense of non-Indianness and reinforced their anti-India feelings. The intense suffering, humiliation, anger and hatred following the militarization of Naga areas are antithetical to the Naga’s deep sense of pride that they are a free people, free to govern “ourselves and do what we like,” experiences that eventually galvanized grassroots support for Naga independence”.13

As we have seen that Anthony D Smith has emphasised on the importance of factors like, acts of heroism, chivalry and valour by those who died for the cause of homeland that are cherished in shrines, epitaphs and memorials dedicated to their sacrifice. Most intense and powerful emotional appeal comes from the epitaphs and memorials of the soldier who feel in the battle defending his or her ancestral land. As Smith writes,

“Cenotaphs and cemeteries of the many soldiers who fell in battle defending the homeland possess an additional aura of sanctity and, as we saw, are commemorated in public ceremonies.”14

At many places visited during the course of my field study, I witnessed epitaphs and memorials especially monoliths that have been erected in memory of those killed, in particular those places that are said to be sites of mass killings or slaughters committed by the enemy’s forces. Also there are epitaphs honouring the martyrs who laid down their lives for the national cause. Another, example of collective memory is the marking of important historical days like Independence Day and Plebiscite Day not only by the armed nationalist groups but also by the mainstream organization like the NSF every year. Memorial ceremonies are for martyrs are regularly celebrated by all the tribal councils individually.15 One instance is the yearly remembrance of Matikhru massacre in the Pochury area where many people died in the village of Matikhru on 6th September, 1960, as a result of army operation in the village.16 In addition, oral traditions about Naga resistance have considerable presence in the villages that is passed from one generation to the other.

There are many instances when the leaders of the NPGs (armed nationalists) have glorified the sacrifices made by the men and women in their messages on national days or in their speeches. In all my interactions with members of mainstream organizations, and nationalist intellectuals, there was the assertion that the main inspiration for the Naga self-determination movement comes from the sacrifices made by the countless men and women in defending the motherland.17 In addition, the bitter experience of the masses in the conflict has also been romanticized in prose and poetry by some writers and has become an integral part of popular culture and fiction produced by some noted intellectuals like Temsula Ao’s The Hills Called Home and Eastrine Kire’s Kelhoukevira. These first is a historical novel dealing with the ordeal the common masses had to undergo in the army operations. The second is in the form of poems narrating the sufferings of people and also venerate and exalt the warriors who died in battles with the army during the fifties. Some stanzas from the poem Eastrine Iralu’s poem in venerations of the warriors and martyrs that definitely point out to strong romantic element:

“They brought in their dead by night

Their proud warriors, their mighty warriors

The brave beloved of the gods

To rest under troubled skies

And battle-scarred lands

That some portion of a vanquished field

May forever remain Nagaland, forever Nagaland.”18

Thus, nationalist opinion despite their mutual differences agree to the fundamental point that the Indian penetration in the Naga areas was a blatant act of aggression that insulted and dented the Naga sense of pride and self-dignity. The presence of the large contingent of security forces is still seen by many as an occupation (Lotha 2013: 48). In my interactions with many groups and individuals in the field, everyone was unanimous that the conflict is a case of a large nation suppressing the rights of a smaller nation. In my interaction with the General Secretary of the Naga Hoho, a mainstream nationalist organization, I was told about the inspiration behind the struggle for the Naga nation comes from a deep sense of attachment to the native soil and a general awareness of the Naga struggle since the days of the NNC. The oppression and atrocities by the army serves as a source of strength to propel them forward and does not let them forget the memories of the countless martyrs.19 In addition, many commentators and intellectuals have been extensively writing on the historical and political rights of the Nagas in the regional dailies. In the current atmosphere of cynicism about the unruliness of the armed nationalist cadres, some intellectuals have made earnest appeals by invoking memories of the sufferings endured by the people in the past for the cause of Naga self-determination. As Khekiye Sema a retired bureaucrat and a noted commentator on Naga political issue writes,

“It was the toughest epoch of the extreme inhuman cruelty and tragedy suffered by every Naga family with tears in their hearts, the extremity of which no living should have ever made to endure, in the hands of the Indian army. At best the present generation can only imagine the horrors of their time without feeling the real pain they went through and log another story from the distant past.”20

From an ethno-symbolist approach, celebration of national heroes constitutes an important part of aesthetic politics (Smith 2009: 32) and the scope of widening national narratives have been broadened in the Naga context. AZ Phizo has been widely revered as the father of the Naga nation. Recently, there have been intense efforts to rediscover and rewrite history by mainstream social groups and the intellectuals by honouring and commemorating new national heroes of the Nagas that had not been the common practice since the beginning of the movement under NNC. A classic exposition is the honouring of Haipou Jadunaung in his 75th death anniversary. Widely revered and respected as the leader of Zemie, Liangmei, Rongmei and Puimei tribes, collectively known as Zeliangrong, Jadunaung is remembered for his anti-colonial stand against the British for which he was hanged on 29th August 1931. Celebration honouring Jadunaung had been held in Imphal since 1966, however only in recent years effort have been made to declare his movement as the precursor of the Naga national movement. The 75th death anniversary is especially significant as the Naga Hoho declared him as a Naga freedom fighter and a national hero. Speaking on a public ceremony the president of the Naga Hoho proposed August 29 to be celebrated as Naga national holiday in Jadunaung’s honour (Lotha 2013:5-8). Honouring national martyrs also constitutes an integral part of politics of armed nationalist groups. In Muivah’s reconciliation and good will mission across the Naga country in 2010, Muivah had acknowledged the contribution made by the Zeliangrong people and their leader Pou Juduanang to ignite the spirit of Naga nationalism. Earlier, Pou Jadunang was declared a national martyr in the year 2006 by the collective leadership of the NSCN (IM).21 Thus we can say that pan-Naga organizations like the Naga Hoho are making their own contribution to the process of aesthetic politics. The significance of publicising national heroes in the Naga context has been acknowledged by noted intellectuals like Abraham Lotha who writes,

“Creating and publicising external symbols such as national heroes is part of nationalistic movements. Seen from the light of the present context of Naga nationalism, Jadonang as a Naga national legend is very much in the making”.22

As in many other cases of national self-determination, powerful subjective beliefs shaped by folk legends of ancestral relatedness and myths of origin, have been acting as inspiration behind the Naga national movement. According to folk legends prevalent among many tribes, the ancestors of the Nagas migrating from north-west China during ancient times settled in a place called ‘Meikhel’, under the foot of a giant pear tree (Chitebu) from where they dispersed to various sites of their present habitations.23 This site of dispersal has recently found considerable attention of the nationalist narrative among the Nagas. Scholars like V Sumi and K Timothy have asserted that this tree acts as a symbol of unity and oneness of the Naga people.24 In the subsequent years three stones were erected near the dispersal site representing the tiger, man and spirit. According to prophesy, the fall of first two stones would herald the beginnings of the collective resolve of all tribes to live under one administrative umbrella.

Such social and symbolic processes have been definitely contributing towards the evolution and shaping of the public culture among the Nagas. In addition, by the examination of some of the above trends in the Naga political movement, we may see a trending shift towards the cultural variety of nationalism from the political version. In this respect we may suitably agree with the distinction made between political nationalism that aims at and cultural nationalism by John Hutchinson. According to him political nationalism aimed at the creation of a nation- independent, sovereign, territorial state and the activities of political nationalists are primarily targeted towards this goal. On the other hand, cultural nationalism seeks the moral regeneration of the community in order to create a self sustaining solidarity nation and the main activities of the nationalists are directed towards this goal. Nevertheless, the main aim of both these nationalisms is the welfare and autonomy of the nation and is alternative and complementary to each other in the nationalist movements. In certain cases, where route of political nationalists is blocked, the cultural nationalists uphold the banner of nationalism (Smith 2009: 66). These have been other perceptible signals of elements of cultural nationalism being slowly entering the fray of political nationalism in the Naga political movement. The Hornbill Festival held every year in December at Kisama heritage village Kohima is an example. Although primarily celebrated to promote tourism, the festival has also become a forum for the different Naga tribes to learn and know and appreciate each other’s culture and decipher the common Naga value systems behind different cultural performances. By the festival the richness and uniqueness of Naga cultural heritage is transmitted to younger generations. We have discussed about the cultural diversity and distinctiveness among the various Naga tribes although there are several commonalities. One such example is the awe and admiration for the hornbill bird that is symbolically displayed in almost all the traditional headgears worn during the festivities (Lotha 2013: 101). The festival is also an attempt to bring peace and harmony among the people helping those builds closer bonds that has been dented due to factional strife between the NPGs (Lotha 2013: 102). A notable announcement on the significance of the Hornbill Festival in respect to common cause of the Nagas could be summarised by a statement made by Minister for Industries Khekiho in Dec2007 who said,

“The Hornbill Festival is a process of Naga integration. We shall give service to the Naga nation, contribute not be lips but by action as the different tribal groups come, participate, and exhibit for the greater interest of the Nagas”.25

The examination of some of the factors discussed above are strong indications that Naga nationalism or the Naga political movement is inclined towards the basic principles of ethno-symbolism like purification of culture, universalization of ethnic chosenness and territorialisation of shared memory.26 Thus the cultural resources of nation form the necessary ingredients from which the nation’s elites and other groups can draw one or more cultural resources to uphold and sustain the sense of cohesion and purpose of their national community. However, whether or not and how far these cultural resources will be used in practice and to what extent they are likely to exercise hold over the hearts and minds of the citizens, varies not only between national communities, but also from period to period in the same community and would be subject to variety of factors, some of them immediate, others a more long term kind (Smith 2009: 98, 99).

Recently, many experts have expressed serious doubts over the viability of Naga national movement owing to fissiparous tendencies of tribalism and existence of fragmented identities that have in turn resulted in splits among the NPGs.27 On the other hand factional warfare among the armed factions has added to mistrust and suspicion among the people about one faction or the other. However, it would be premature to comment on the weaning of the Naga movement, as the social and symbolic forces we have examined have provided firm foundation to the sense of ‘collective identity.’ Moreover, it cannot be denied that these forces have been instrumental in aiding various intellectuals and mainstream social organizations in pressing for unity among the tribes that are visible with the recent civic activism towards Naga reconciliation. There is a perceptible sense among these sections of the ill-effects of tribalism and factional killings, and the earnest appeals for reconciliation among armed factions and unanimous resolve towards building a ‘united Naga house’, are notable instances. The formation of Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) at the initiative of civil society groups like Joint Forum for Gaonburas and Dubhasis (JFGD) in 2007 with active support from the intellectuals, student and women organizations have been instrumental in reducing if not ending factional killings. The Action Committee Against Unabated Taxation (ACAUT) in 2014 is another effort towards bring the armed political factions together, that called for “one tax, one government”. Notably, the public resolve was to pay tax to a ‘united Naga cause’ and not against paying tax for the nationalist cause. This civic activism towards taking several initiatives for rescuing the gist of the movement, from the destabilizing forces of disintegration is a strong indication towards the popular roots of the movement further enriched by the social and symbolic forces that we have discussed in our paper. Finally, as nationalism is a dynamic force and nation formation is essentially a long drawn-out historical process, the progress of Naga nationalism is firmly grounded on the optimism associated with the prevalence and sustainability of the present trends observed in the Naga self-determination movement.

1 Charles Chasie, 2000, The Naga Imbroglio, Standard Printers and Publishers, pp, 27.

2 Anthony D Smith, Culture, Community and Territory, the Politics of Ethnicity and Nationalism, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1944- ), Vol. 72, No. 3, Ethnicity and International Relations (Jul., 1996) pp, 449-454.

3 Interaction with the Speaker of NSF and President of Naga Hoho, March 14, 2014.

4 Interaction with the General Secretary of the Naga Hoho, , March 14, 2014.

5 The Constitution of the Nagaland People’s Front,, accessed on 03/02/2014.

6 Thepfulhouvi Solo in Roadmap for Indo-Naga Issue, Nagaland Post, February 13, 2010.

7 See R. Vashum, 2005, Nagas Right to Self-Determination, Mittal Publications, pp, 6

8 See R. Vashum, 2005, Nagas Right to Self-Determination, Mittal Publications, pp, 147.

9ZK Pahru Pou, Biblical God and Violence in the Context of the Naga National Movement, Part 1,, Accessed on- 12/04/2012

10 Interaction with Kaka D Iralu, Kohima,

11 Interaction with the General Secretary of Naga Hoho, Kohima.

12 Interaction with the Speaker of the NSF and Kaka D Iralu.

13 Abraham Lotha , 2013, The Raging Mithun, Barkweaver Publications, p.47.

14 Anthony D Smith (2009): Ethnosymbolism and Nationalism, Routledge pp. 95

15Interaction with the Speaker of the NSF, March 14, 2014.

16 Remembering the 1960 Matikhru massacre, Nagaland Post August 27, 2010, page-4.Pochury Hoho, Story behind 6th Sept Black Day, Nagaland Post September 6, 2011, page-4

17 Interaction with Speaker of NSF and President of Naga Hoho, Kohima, March 2014.

18 Eastrine Iralu, Kelhoukevira, 1982,, accessed on 24/11/2014.

19 Interaction with the NSF, Kohima, March 14, 2014.

20 Khekiye K. Sema IAS (Rtd), Wake up people, Nagaland Post, June 4, 2013, page-6.

21 NSCN (IM) acknowledges contribution by Zeliangrongs, Nagaland Post, July 13, 2010.

22 Abraham Lotha , 2013, The Raging Mithun, Barkweaver Publications, p.7

23 Interaction with the President of Naga Hoho, Kohima December 2014.

24 Timothy and Sumi, cited by Yuimi Kapai in Cultural Awakening: Literary Prespective, Connecting Nagas, Naga Forum Delhi, Edited by R Vashum, Lucas L. Khamsuan and T Penzu, p-30.

25 Abraham Lotha, 2013, The Raging Mithun, Barkweaver Publications.

26 Anthony D Smith, Culture, Community and Territory, the Politics of Ethnicity and Nationalism, International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1944- ), Vol. 72, No. 3, Ethnicity and International Relations (Jul., 1996) pp, 449-454.

27Namrata Goswami, Naga Identity-Ideals, Parallels, and Reality,

Bhaumik, Subir (2009): Troubled Periphery- Crisis of India’s North East, New Delhi, SAGE Publications India Pvt Limited.

Bryman, Alan (2004): Social Research Methods, Oxford University Press.

Chasie, Charles (2000): The Naga Imbroglio (A Personal Perspective), Kohima, Standard Printers and Publishers.

Lotha, Abraham (2013): The Raging Mithun- Challenges to Naga Nationalism, Kohima, Barkweaver Publications.

Misra, Udayon (2000): The Periphery Strikes Back- Challenges to the Nation State in Assam and Nagaland, Shimla, Indian Institute of Advanced Study Rashhtrapati Nivas.

Neelsen, John P (Ed) and Malik, Dipak (Ed) (2007): Crisis of State and Nation- South Asian States Between Nation Building and Fragmentation, New Delhi, Manohar Publishing House.

Shimray, AS Atai (2005): Let Freedom Ring- Story of Naga Nationalism, New Delhi, Promilla and Co& Publishers in Association with Bibliophile South Asia.

Smith, Anthony D (2009): Ethnosymbolism and Nationalism- A Cultural Approach, Oxon, Routledge.

Vashum, R (2005): Naga’s Right to Self-Determination, New Delhi, Mittal Publications.

The database is protected by copyright © 2016
send message

    Main page