• The Tribe, Tribalism and The Nation

    An excerpt from Kuknalim

    Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray

    August 31, 2019

    Without asking the readers to agree or disagree with the Naga people and the Naga movement, Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray's Kuknalim offers invaluable insights into the world of Naga insurgency and its geo-political significance. Kukalim is based on extensive interviews of the Naga nationalists conducted in the late 1990s in Dimapur, Delhi, Kathmandu and Bangkok. It explains why the Indo-Naga conflict has lasted more than seven decades and why successive Prime Ministers of India from Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi have personally met the Naga leaders to resolve the conflict.

    The following is an excerpt from the book.


    Image courtesy Speaking Tiger


    Grandfather constantly warned
    That forgetting the stories
    Would be catastrophic:
    We would lose our history,
    Territory, and most certainly
    Our intrinsic identity.
    So I told stories
    As my racial responsibility
    To instil in the young
    The art of perpetuating
    Existential history and essential tradition

    —Temsula Ao

    In Burma, Naga tribes were called Na-Ka, which in Burmese meant people with pierced ear lobes. The piercing of the ear was the most important initiation rite for young boys entering manhood.

    But it was not till the end of the nineteenth century that the most important institution for the Nagas became not their tribe, but their village. As M. Horam points out:

    It is important to note that the Naga villager of the period up to 1900, was not aware that he was part of any greater social unit other than the village. It is to this community to which he was bound in solidarity from birth onwards. Though loyalty to his clan is a significant factor throughout his life, it is the ruling and law as set out by the village Council of elders to which he must abide.

    The story of how the villages joined together to form a tribe has still to be written, but by the time the Naga national movement began the toughest challenge before the movement was to unite more than sixty different tribes and communities spread over four states in India and across the international border into Myanmar.

    Nagas generally think that the most significant contribution that the Naga National Council under Phizo made was to bring together the Nagas under one political organization. There are anecdotal accounts of how Phizo travelled all over the Naga-inhabited areas in India and Burma, often incognito; how he held meetings and instilled his people with pride in belonging to a Naga family.

    Unfortunately, we do not have much documentation of the process by which the Naga National movement brought together the Nagas whose primary loyalty was their village and then tribe. The emergence of tribes itself is of recent origin, and is a continuing process. But the greatest challenge before Naga nationalism has been to deal with tribalism. Horam observed:

    This (tribalism) has been one of the main sources of tension and instability and in fact, has led to inter-tribal rivalry and killing in Nagaland during the past 30 years… If anything of the movement for Naga independence has during many a crisis, boldly accentuated the disunity of the Nagas and the recent rapid developments in its disintegrating ranks are ample proof of this.

    At various points in Naga history, one tribe has found itself being condemned as ‘anti-national’ or a tribe has felt that its role in the national movement has not been sufficiently recognized. The Naga national movement has tried to address this problem by creating pan-Naga organizations such as the Naga Hoho (Parliament or Assembly) or the United Naga Council. The second problem is the challenge of trying to give representation to the smaller Naga tribes, some of whom have just three or four villages. In the past, these tribes came together to form a larger entity but now the individual tribes are asserting their own separate identities.

    In our interview with Angelus Paiza Shimrah (1946-2007) a senior member of the NSCN on June 28, 1999 in Dimapur, the NSCN leader said: ‘Naga identity is built through the process of different tribes coming together. Smaller tribes assert themselves and their identity. This is a process which will continue even after we achieve our national objective. As long as the smaller tribe has a sense of belonging to the larger Naga family, such assertions are not a threat to the Naga nation. Individual tribes have every right to assert themselves and develop themselves.

    ‘For the present, actually in the name of administrative convenience, we are trying to group some of these smaller tribes and we do not call them smaller tribes but full-fledged tribes. This is for administrative convenience but also to preserve the identity of smaller groups. We are also trying to have their representation within the organization (NSCN) apart from representation in the region.

    ‘For instance, let us take Chandel district. It has seven tribes and the region is supposed to send three representatives but we have provision for extra representation if there are smaller tribes. Even if the population is less than 5000, they will be sending one representative to the Consultative Committee.

    ‘One Tatar (Member of the Naga Parliament) represents 15,000 people but in case of smaller tribe the Tatar represents even a community of 5000 people. Even at the administrative level we have such representations. In some parts we have Ranges where there is only one tribe but in Chandel we do not have a Range because we will ensure each tribe is represented. We want each tribe to have a voice. That is our vision. We want each tribe to identify with the Naga identity.’

    The third problem is of reconciliation between the different Naga armed groups in the name of Naga unity. The efforts to reconcile have been largely been the work of the church leaders. In recent years the divisions within Naga society have led to deadly clashes between the Naga armed groups and the breakup of pan-Naga organizations such as the Naga Hoho. Three major tribes, the Sumi (Sema), the Ao and the Lotha have disassociated from the Naga Hoho and formed a rival Central Nagaland Tribes Council in 2010. The disagreement was over the recognition of Rongmei as a Naga tribe in Nagaland State in 2013.

    The most complex problem has been the integration of Naga- dominated areas of Manipur with Nagaland State. When the Nagas raised this issue in the 1950s and 1960s the problem was perhaps less vexed, but those opposing the integration of Naga areas are also backed by armed groups (many trained by the Nagas themselves).

    Within Nagaland State there is growing resentment among those tribes who are considered ‘backward’ and those who consider themselves ‘advanced’. Six Naga tribes: Konyak, Chang, Sangtam, Khiamniungan, Yimchunger and Phom living in four districts of Tuensang, Mon, Longleng and Kaphire within Nagaland have formed themselves into the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organization or the ENPO and are demanding the formation of a separate state because they feel they have not got a fair share of the development pie.

    Within Manipur too there are divisions among the Naga tribes and the Zeliangrong United Front, which was formed in 2011 with an armed wing named the Zeliangrong Tiger Force with the objective of having a united Zeliangrong state; but that organization too has split.

    The four interviews here give some insight into the problems of tribalism and how the NSCN has tried to deal with this.

    The NSCN maintains that much of this tribalism is the work of the Indian intelligence agencies. They point to the Joint Directive for Counter Insurgency Operation in Nagaland written after the creation of the Nagaland State. The section on Psychological Operations directs the security forces to ‘divide, disorganize and induce defections of members of the hostile movement…’

    If the Indian intelligence agencies are involved in this game, they seem to have been quite successful in turning the Naga national movement against itself.

    Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray are two veteran human rights activists. They filed their first case against the Indian Armed Forces for committing human rights violations in the Supreme Court and the Guwahati High Court. They have also been involved in the Indo-Naga Peace process. Haksar has represented NSCN leaders internationally before the UNHCR, Geneva and the courts in Thailand. Haksar and Hongray are married and live in Goa, Delhi and sometimes in Ukhrul.

    This is an excerpt from Kuknalim written by Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray and published by Speaking Tiger. Republished here with permission from the publisher.

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