Nagas and their assertion to govern

Photo: Bilal Veliankode/Maktoob

The contours of modern democracy are vast and subjective yet its essence is shared somewhat in similar ways.

The longing demand for a sovereign ‘Nagalim’ has been an ongoing struggle since the 1950s. It was a secessionist movement climaxing into an armed conflict led by the Naga National Council (NNC). Over the years the movement has quelled or rather made to seem that way after the AFSPA was forcefully implemented on almost the entire region of the northeast including Nagaland, terming these areas as ‘disturbed areas’. Since the 1950s, several events have changed the political landscape of Nagaland however, one element that has remained unchanged is the occupation by AFSPA.

The demand for ‘Nagalim’ is etymologically based on an idea that envisions a transcendence of all boundaries between the Indian north-eastern states and also between India and Myanmar. It evokes the idea of a Naga nation that is based on ethnic identity. It is an idea that challenges the geographical boundaries where Indian state democracy could function. It is a question aimed at the Indian framework of democracy and whether it is willing to broaden its definitions? At the same time, proponents of Nagalim like the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN-IM) led by Thuingaleng Mvuivah also envision a state with a mix of revolutionary socialism and evangelical Christianity, where all Naga tribes could live under one nation.

This process of reimaging a new nation is set against the pressure posed by the Indian military that has proven unimaginably brutal and never-ending. Here, the process began by the Indian state has spurred generations of hatred and anger against the Indian state, collectively changing the memories of people. This process has also re-determined the political ideologies of groups, re-affirmed ethnic identities which might not have been so rigid earlier. This has made evil on both ends, one group oppressing the people, and the people who are trying to know their oppressors begin to think like their oppressors. This process which seems to have no beginning nor end is the one that needs to be attacked rather hoping either parties to address the violence. There needs to be an acknowledgment of the mess that has been created and acknowledge the possibilities of trans-border connections where other dreams of economic prosperity, of education, of distant familial ties, can be realized.

Moreover, India’s need to protect its borders in the larger question of geopolitics takes the form of a Framework of Agreement to be signed between Nagaland and the Indian state. This Framework which has been in the process of being signed since 2015 has also failed to address the historical reasons for the unwillingness of the Naga groups to be part of the Indian nation. It has failed to capture the difference of realms in which both these ideas of nation exist, one whose idea of a nation got them independence in 1947 and one who was forced to ideate a nation in 1947. The peace talks should be able to acknowledge clearly from both sides the fragile juncture where Naga destiny hangs. It should acknowledge the history of the people, their affirmations, and the ‘why’ behind their demands, closely and openly as much as possible.

After the recent killings by the Indian military of 14 civilians in the Mon district of Nagaland, demand for Nagalim has renewed. However, we do not know of the countless other lives lost in their attempt to redefine democracy. Many which have never reached our ears. We do not know what kind of lives they lived but we do know about the anger people have felt after their death. This anger is from speaking the same language, knowing the same verses that can make you laugh or feel, or knowing the same pit in your stomach you have felt ever since you were young. These essences while they bind they dangerously coalesce destinies where they know of the bigger cause which might lead to their death. In the case of the people of Nagaland, several destinies have been weaved by their home political fronts figuring out a ‘best way’ for the people to claim their land. However selfish or cunning or courageous or intelligent these ways may seem, they are the best possible outcomes from events in history where the people of Nagaland have time and again reiterated their cultural and political ethos and from there, their assertion to govern.

I believe we are at a crucial juncture of redefining ‘Nation’ and ‘democracy’ where assertions by groups like Naga tribes only open an abyss onto which we can look beyond.

Kaveri Choudhury, from Assam, is an environmental researcher based out of Delhi.