One History: Many Stories – NPMHR’s 21st Morung Dialogue series

The Naga Peoples Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR) Delhi conducted its 21st Morung Dialogue on the theme ‘One History: Many Stories’ via Zoom on 9 July 2021. 

In the introductory remark, Chairperson, Ayo Jajo Aier, Principal, Charis High Academy, Dimapur opened the session by throwing light on the case of the Great Battle of Oinam by stating that the incident continue to haunt the common conscious; that the tragedy is an ongoing saga with no justice in sight, and the people need closure from the court for the atrocities and human rights violation committed by the Indian security forces. She mentioned that the honourable High Court of Imphal has on 13th June 2019 passed an order stating that Home Secretary, Government of Manipur should constitute a committee within a period of three months from the date of order to look into all allegation, complaints and atrocities that was listed but is yet to be done and the contempt petition filed by the NPMHR is still pending in the High Court. She also recounted the life of Late Dr. PS. Lorinwho was not only a man of worth, but was a resourceful person and an inspiration to the Nagas in the pursuit of just peace and self-determination. The chair also highlighted how a climate of repression pushed our leaders to also raise the desire for just peace but lamented that a cacophony of voice from within is burying and drowning the truth, and the narrative from within the Naga family is also frail.

The first speaker of the evening, Dr. Veio Pou, Associate Professor, University of Delhi and author of the book ‘Waiting for the Dust to Settle’ stated how ordinary citizens were affected by Operation Bluebird and July 9 is a landmark day for the Nagas. The intent of his novel was to give voice to the ordinary citizens. He pointed out that small voices need to emerge. 

Pou opined that the Nagas have multiple stories that can contribute to the Naga story. Individual stories and stories of everyday experiences, lesser known people who are affected by the movement need to be documented. He stated that the Nagas are fed by a single narrative and the same story is told differently in other regions where different groups dominate and the Nagas are still not ready to listen to one another and are not listening to people who were part of the movement. Pou also quoted Dolly Kikon’s view on silencing of women’s narrative in the whole Naga movement where the voice of women is not represented; that the Naga national movement is male dominated and therefore patriarchal in nature, where men dominate the discourse. He said that ‘women are reduced to anonymity’, and their identities are silenced to ‘nameless soldier/wife’, even though they have sacrificed their blood and life for a common cause. He pointed out that witness accounts hold its weight and the ordinary citizen becomes the dominant narrative in such cases. According to him, ‘unless the Nagas are able to weave this small narrative to emerge in the scene we will not be able to see the larger picture’. 

Pou also stated that community memory plays a vital role in shaping a story. The voice of multiple individuals should emerge as characters and should not be dominated by a single main protagonist or superhero in the story. He opined that writing is telling a story and the community is the central focus of the telling, with memory as the method to the telling of the story. Telling stories is a way of preserving memories, and writing is part of witnessing. Naga society is an oral society, and yet to become a reading and writing society, but he argued that writing is not post-orality but a continuity of oral culture. It preserves the knowledge system and since the Nagas are a closely knitted society, what affects one person affects the whole community, which is a sense of shared destiny.

Pou also stated the need to recognise the many stories and multiple perspectives in the story. ‘There are different perspectives as to how this common journey should progress.’ He lamented that for too long, the Nagas have enforced the idea of one history and one story, and this has impacted the society adversely. And this could be one of the causes for the birth of factionalism, killing and bloodshed within the Naga society. He pointed out that one idea of patriotism should not be enforced on the whole group of people, and space should be provided for healthy dialogue for a better perspective. According to him, the biggest issue facing/blocking the society today is failure to accept different opinions. 

Also read: 34th commemoration of the Great Battle of Oinam observed

Vieu Pou concluded that hatred and vengeance are written large on the faces of many leaders and that the Christian virtue of forgiveness is far from being practised in the land where magnificent churches abound.

James Wanglat, former Home Minister, Supply, Transport and Aviation, Arunachal Pradesh and Convenor of Naga Hoho in Arunachal opined that the leaders should be willing to place the need of others above oneself, and this was exemplified by leaders like Late Dr. PS. Lorin who was an educationist and an iconic Naga leader. According to him, the Oinam incident was a calculated violation of human rights and a sad day in the history of Indian democracy. He also lamented the press statement of All Arunachal Pradesh Students’ Union (AAPSU) stating that ‘there are no Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh as claimed by NSCN (IM)’ which was published in various national newspapers and online portals. He stated that the AAPSU was well aware of the presence of the Nagas in Arunachal Pradesh and even participated in the conference ‘Weaving Vision’ which  was held in Itanagar on 1st and 2ndMarch 2001. He also pointed out the Arunachal government has derecognized the Naga people from the list of Scheduled Tribes in Arunachal Pradesh as per the constitution of India, and they are now only recognized as individual separate tribes.

Wanglat also pointed out the internal differences within the Naga society, citing an incident where the various Naga political groups supported a BJP candidate against a lone Naga candidate in 2019 election in Arunachal Pradesh.

With regards to the issue of violation of human rights, Wanglat detailed that the Nagas in Arunachal have faced the same atrocities experienced by the Nagas located in different geographical regions. He narrated the atrocities committed by government agencies, such as the number of Nagachief/goanburas/leaders killed, cases of kidnapping, arrest etc. from 1996 to 2019, which were well documented. He stated that Naga leaders would be picked up at night and was accused of being an underground member just for becoming a Christian. He pointed out that ‘the nomenclature of brutality or torture is the same everywhere’. He recounted his experience as an activist in the 1970s and was arrested under Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) in 1975 for giving legal aid to arrested Baptist Christians. 

Wanglat also narrated that the Nagas of Arunachal Pradesh learned about the Naga demand for an independent nation after the entry of NSCN (K) in the Naga dominated Tirap, Changlang and Longding (TCL) area in the early 1990s while the NSCN (IM) entered the region somewhere in 1999-2000 leading to factional war. He said that the common people suffered from various atrocities committed by both Indian security forces and the Naga army. Wanglat stated that many educated Naga youths do not want to be identified as Nagas asa result of the various atrocities committed by the Naga army, but many of the youth were exposed to the historical facts documented in the Ahom Buranjis, and modern anthropological literature about the socio-cultural history of the Nagas (Wancho, Tangsa, Nocte). In order to fight the trumped up charges on the innocent civilians, the TCL human rights organization was formed known as Indigenous Naga Peoples Forum at Guwahati in 2001 with the help of ArtaxShimray, Secretary of Northeast Students Organization. The said human rights organization was formed to fight for the rights of Nagas by assisting in legal aid. He stated that the Weaving Vision Conference held in 2001 was during the peak of anti Naga movement in Arunachal Pradesh. But they conducted the event successfully by inviting various CSOs such as NPMHR, NMA, AAPSU, global human rights organization, AANSU (Nisi), NEFA Human Rights Organization including former CMs, MLAs along with 20 village chief, various student and youth organizations from Naga areas in Arunachal Pradesh. 

He also pointed out that Operation Hurricane was removed from Naga areas on 7th August 2002 when he was the Home Minister and a motion was moved in Arunachal Pradesh Assembly for the repealing of the draconian law known as the ‘Arunachal Pradesh Control of Organized Crime’, on 19thAugust 2002.

Wanglat concluded with a thought stating ‘what we need most today is not to pick up the misfortune of the past…..we are on the crossroad and the Nagas must learned to live together as one people, one nation under one umbrella”. He further commented on the need ‘to appreciate the initiative of NSCN for lighting a candle of peace in all Naga areas’. He calls for an urgent need to come to a conclusion on the Naga political dialogue and the need to be critical and to critique where we have gone wrong. He stated that the final political settlement will usher in peace and development with no infamous operation such as Operation Bluebird and other atrocities against and between the Nagas. He also pointed out that the Naga are blessed with huge abundant land and the Nagas need ideas, innovation and to be productive with a plan to supply finished products to mainland India and SE Asia. This can only happen only when there is peace in the Naga homeland.

Kegwayhen Tep, President of the Naga Students’ Federation dwelled on the challenges and aspirations of the youth. He quoted Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, …it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair’. 

He pointed out that we are living in a time where the existence of the Naga people have been cast upon by despair and uncertainty, and stressed on the need for Naga leaders to clean our mirror to have a clearer vision towards a Naga cause for self-determination. He said that there are lots of issues that are creating disunity among the Nagas and ‘it is not just the artificial political boundaries but the also the self-centredness of Naga leaders, as a result of which the Naga society have paid a heavy prize through the blood and martyrdom of the sons and daughters of the soil’. But the aspiration and hope are strengthened by such sacrifices and the youth will remain grateful for the supreme sacrifices. There is no greater sacrifice or nobler deed than laying down his/her life defending the identity and for the freedom of the people against any forceful subjugation. The bloodshed and tears of Oinam will continue to inspire generations to come.

He pointed out that ‘the Naga society is one the verge of self-destruction as a result of tribalism, regionalism and factionalism which have destroyed the credibility of the people’. He further stated that ‘Nagas have segregated themselves based on selfish interest and egos and bluntly differentiate ourselves based on artificial territorial lines’. He said that ‘there is only one Naga and we cannot afford to further divide ourselves today.’

He opined that ‘the Naga intellectuals, seniors and young leaders have a big role to play today’. And in order to unite the society, the Nagas should come out from tribal cocoons. He stated that ‘the most challenging tasks today is to defend our people not only from outside forces but from the narrow mindedness of our people, and the way forward is to revive the consciousness of the young generation on our common ancestry and common welfare, and educating the youth about the ethos, struggle and collective aspiration of our people which our elders and visionary leaders have stood for’.

He cautioned that ‘the Naga national movement is losing impetus due to polarized camps and factional groups thereby threatening the very fabric of our existence today. The Nagas cannot allow the bitterness of the past to steer the course of our future as so much damage has already been done and the present Nagas need to set aside such differences which had happened in the society. The young people will aspire to live in peace as one nation at par with the rest of the world and to realise this, the Nagas need to accommodate each other by setting aside egos, bitterness, and enmity within us’. 

He stated that ‘the Nagas have to ponder upon how to live indignity, peaceful coexistence, harmony, and respectful relationship within ourselves and our neighbours’. And for this ‘the youth has a major role to play as goodwill ambassadors in order to create an environment of oneness where respect for others, democracy, justice and peace will be the cornerstone of a healthy relationship. The Naga should strive for regional harmony if we want to live in peace’.

In conclusion, the NSF President called on researchers, intellectuals, scholars, and publishers to write and publish more books on Naga history and culture so that the young can read and be instilled with the spirit of patriotism and oneness. 

The 21st Morung Dialogue was held as a tribute to ‘Onae Reh Dah’, the Great Battle of Oinam that continues to both tear and bind us and to tribute Dr.PS.Lorin, a person who is a beautiful story in the tapestry of the Naga narrative.

A one minute silent prayer was observed in memory of the people of Oinam Rae and Late Dr.PS.Lorin.

The Morung Dialogue is a talk series organized by NPHMR, Delhi since 2014 with the objective of strengthening the power of conversation and sharpening our understanding through sharing ideas and views on issues that affect our life and contribute to democracy, Justpeace and social justice.

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