Historical Perspectives of Naga Political Struggle

We will continue to grow as a people and as a nation no matter the outcome of the agreement. The most important thing to do is to prepare and unite.

Here is the full speech of Dr. Visier Sanyü delivered at the 74th Commemoration of the Naga Independence Day in the webinar organized by the Global Naga Forum on August 14, 2020.

Dr. Visier Sanyü

Before the British came and defeated the western Naga tribes and made them a part of their Empire in India in the early part of the 19th century, we were never a part of any other nation or power. Records show Nagas had resisted their invasion for over 50 years.

It was on this day 74 years ago on August 14, the Nagas reclaimed their sovereignty, reaffirming what they had told the Simon Commission 18 years earlier in 1929.  India declared independence from Britain the next day. So it is very important that we are celebrating Naga Independence Day today as this is the foundation of our modern sovereignty, which we are protecting.      

We started our national movement to protect our identity and our nationhood but in the process it is the movement that has given us an identity. The world knows us because of our national movement and we have faithfully stayed with it.

Before I proceed I want to make a few points clear. Because we made our position clear before the British left, we are not separatists. We are not anti-India and not anti-Burma.  All the other national liberation movements in the region, Khalistan, ULFA ,Bodoland etc, are secessionist because at some point in history they decided to join the Indian union and later started the movement for various reasons.  Naga Hills District of Assam becoming Nagaland State is another story.

I want to approach our history from a different angle.  But for the sake of the younger generation and those who are new to our story and those from abroad, I will quickly run through some historical landmarks and significant events, such as the Simon Commission, declaration of Naga Independence and 9-Point Hydari – Naga Pact / Agreement in 1948 which was later rejected.

Fast-forward to the ‘50s, Nehru sent his Army to Nagaland to crush the national movement.  Nagas formed Naga Home Guard, later Naga Army and Federal Government of Nagaland with a Prime Minister and Cabinet and the war continued with the Indian Army. At the height of the war, some people, initially with good intention formed the Naga Peoples’ Convention to mediate peace between the Naga National Council and the Government of India. But when the group went to Delhi they were met by different Indian politicians and Indian Intelligence who offered them Statehood within India. They then became the negotiators instead of the mediators. The result was the 16 Point Agreement which created Nagaland State. After the creation of Nagaland State in 1964 the Naga Federal Government signed a Ceasefire with the Government of India through the Peace Mission. In 1975 the controversial Shillong Accord was signed with “Representatives of Underground Organisation.”  Nagas were not mentioned in this Accord, notwithstanding the bitter differences over it.

At present the Framework Agreement talks are going on. We do not know what this Agreement is but it appears it is going to be soon. But more important than these talks and agreements and accords there are other factors which have shaped the growth of our people and nation.  We have made many mistakes on this journey. But we also have learnt many lessons.  Let me give one example of what happened in 1950s  in Khonoma village.  By then the British had left India and Naga Hills; newly independent India had taken their place and mounted a military campaign against Naga nationalism; the Indian Army burnt down my village in 1956. After taking refuge in the jungle for 3 years and then living on the outskirts of the village for over a decade, we returned to the village proper in 1970.  What happened to our way of life as a result of the long period of displacement and suffering, merits recounting because it brought about something strange and remarkable.  I can only describe it as a cultural renaissance.  New songs were written; new myths and legends were created; traditions were altered, and taboos were broken out of desperation.  Festivals, weddings, and funerals began to change as a result of deep search for meaning.  The physical hardships forced us to look at the world from a different perspective. Deprivation led to changes in our food, our belief system began to change, and many superstitions melted away.  Many converted to Christianity during this period due to factors known and unknown to us, most beyond our control, including our inability to observe traditional rituals adequately, or observe taboos which we were compelled to break because of the changed circumstances.  For three long years the jungle gave us life and nurtured us, and forever changed us.  The shock of physical and cultural disruption disoriented us. We were confused and shaken and were desperately searching for something within and beyond that would bring healing and give meaning to our harsh and altered landscape.  Our world view was disrupted and we had to reinvent ourselves in response.

Coming back to Indo-Naga talks and agreements, past and present. Let me put it this way.

There is an elephant and an ant in the forest. The elephant said to the ant, I am the king of the jungle and I am the strongest. I can crush your whole colony with my foot. The ant said to the elephant, you cannot do that. You are stronger than me. But in the mysterious universal scheme of things you and I are two different entities. And we have different roles to play. You can crush my colony with your foot, but some of us will survive underneath and one day when you die, my army of ants will eat your dead body for years.  Now we can see that India is the elephant and the ant is the Nagas. All the Indo-Naga talks have the same pattern.  We know that in the present talks there will be no sovereignty but that is not the end of our journey.  We will continue to grow as a people and as a nation no matter the outcome of the agreement.   The most important thing to do is to prepare and unite.  It is not good enough to say we are divided because of our enemy’s policy of divide and rule.   That is only half the truth. We must unite and fight to defend ourselves and for our sacred aspirations,but above all we must overcome our greatest enemy – ourselves.

Like all revolutions and national movements, ours has given us hope and meaning but at the same time it is devouring us.  The depressing signs of our crisis in all areas of society {political, social, psychological and moral} have been evident for a long time.  They can be seen in public spheres as well as in local communities and individuals across the land.  Among these include:  chronic micro-nationalisms, pointless insurgencies, intra-tribal rivalries, extortion by underground groups in the name of Christ and patriotism, corruption in electoral politics, nepotism in public life, inadequate rule of law, violence, depression, alcoholism and substance abuse, loss of human dignity, so on and so forth.  These are group and individual responses of a society uprooted and imposed upon by external forces, without the means to reconnect with their cultural roots for replenishment from enduring traditional values.

The time has come for us to “Uruo chiiwadi – Uruopfii kelalalie” – search our soul and regain our soul. We need to prepare for everything and anything.  In the coming decades there will be many more pandemics. There can also be technological pandemics and cyber wars, and so on.  The world will change.  India and Nagas will not remain the same given the rapid technological and other changes. But we must become a people that India and Burma can respect. Earlier they respected us. Today they don’t. I am reminded of what my elders used to say, “Ketuomia mu Kezhiimia Ketsolieya  moshie”. He who sleeps will not catch up with the one who walks. 

May we walk with our eyes open.

Dr. Visier Sanyü, President, Overseas Naga Association and member, Forum for Naga Reconciliation.

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