My Nagaland

by Vibi Yhokha

“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes  is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story….Stories matter, many stories matter, stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity…..”

– Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, The Danger of a Single Story

People, especially mainland Indians, have only a single story of Nagaland. No, in fact they have different single stories. They associate the Nagas with headhunting, Hornbill festival, Rock music, fashion and yes, Conflict. Nagaland the land of myths, where life is one long festival but is also a place where life is one long, long war….

Naga Youth ready to perform their cultural dance at Hornbill festival

But there is so much more to Nagaland than just conflict, music, fashion and headhunting. There are so many things that India and the world should know. What they know is just the single story, a stereotype, a mindset. They need to know the whole. To explain the whole is complicated, it is too broad, but let me tell you of what I know, about the Nagaland I grew up with.

Nagaland is a beautiful mountainous place, located in the northeastern part of India. It is a land rich in flora and fauna. Yet it is a land torn between two worlds. It struggles between modernity and tradition; it struggles between India and Nagalim; it struggles between conflict and peace. And it struggles with so many diversities in culture, in tribes…

I’ll be talking on three current issues – Corruption, Factional clashes and armed conflicts, and Identity crisis.

4th Dec 2007. A Peace Rally call by NSUD (Naga Student Union Delhi).

Today, Corruption and Nagaland have almost become synonyms. From the politicians to the civil society, from the bureaucrats to the student union, corruption has become too common, to the extent, that it is almost becoming normal. Naga elders often use the phrase, “Today, everything has to be bought with money,” meaning that even jobs have to be bought with money. In Nagaland, if you have the money and the contacts, you get the job!! Classism is slowly emerging and now we can see a clear division between the rich and the poor. There is a huge increase in unemployment and privatization. Public hospitals, industries are being privatized. The Nagas were once known for their integrity and honesty. The Naga society had its own flaws yet it was based on equality and democracy and was corruption-free. But now, within a span of 15 years especially after the Ceasefire agreement between the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and the Government of India, corruption has become more prominent than before. The Government of India is pouring in a lot of money for development, but we can hardly see development. What I see is development from the top of the ladder and not from the bottom up. Our health, living standards, education, the roads, electricity and water supply has not improved at all.

Factional conflicts and military conflicts – In Nagaland, armies patrolling is normal. Every single day armies patrol right at the road near your house. If you are traveling by car you’ll be checked at least once a day. In the locality where I live, I cannot enjoy an evening walk – an activity which most people take for granted – because of the fear of being hit by a bullet due to factional clashes. There are also cases where young men are beaten up by the paramilitary forces for no reason. These paramilitary groups, the Indian Reserved battalions recruits our own people. On one hand we have the factional clashes where the different insurgent groups have started waging war against each other, disrupting the public life. On the other hand we have the Indian armed forces (The Assam Rifles) who were once a terror for the Nagas, and who by the way killed 200,000 Nagas between 1950  and the late 1980s but have now so easily labeled themselves as the “Friends of the hill people.” It confuses me why the most developed and largest growing sector in Nagaland has to be the police forces and the paramilitary forces such as the Indian Reserved Batallions. We have reached a situation where we don’t know who is by our side…The Indian army or the Naga army.

5th May 2010. Student Welcoming Th-1. Muivah (NACN-IM) at Viswema Village, Kohima

Identity crisis – My grandparents’ generation and my parent’s generation were pretty confident of their identity because they all had seen and experienced the Naga independence struggle unlike my generation today. My grandmother still considers India as a separate country and Nagalim as a separate nation. Like my grandmother, all Naga elders have the same ideals, they refer to Indians as “they” and Nagas as “us.” However, today my generation is faced with an identity crisis. If you walk down the streets of Kohima, the capital city or Dimapur, the commercial hub, you will find confident fashionistas strutting down the road full on high street fashion. Yet these are the same people struggling with their identity, an identity lost between India and Nagalim. They do not know who they really are. Do we call ourselves Nagas or Indians? For many of us, we feel calling ourselves Indians is a forced identity. We might be forced to call ourselves Indians but when we move to metro cities, many mainland Indians have no idea of who the Nagas are. In schools, right from the beginning, we were made to study the history of India, the Indian freedom struggles, draw the Indian map, sing the Indian anthem. Hindi is a compulsory language you have to take up till your 8th standard. However, our history and our culture were never taught. This crisis has been manifested because on the one hand, we have the section of Nagas who wants complete sovereignty for the Naga nation whereas there is the other group of Nagas who are willing to compromise and become a part of India. Our generation has been kept in the oblivion; we’re just hanging in there. I have often come across so many young people and even kids questioning “Are we Indians or are we Nagas?” You will notice this confused identity in music, art, lifestyles and even in the way we dress.

10th May 2010 A Rally call by NSF condemning the killing of two inocent student by Security forces in Mao, Manipur

To end, I leave my confusion with you. I, like my generation, am equally confused with the things happening in Nagaland. We do not know who is responsible for whatever is happening. Is this society just evolving, or is this a tactic played by the Indian Government to suppress our struggle for freedom? The freedom movement which has become diluted and has almost become a lost cause? I am confused. Yet what I know is that I want normalcy — a normalcy where my generation can be sure of who they really are and be proud of our identity; a normalcy devoid of army patrols and checkings every single day; that kind of normalcy where I can enjoy a cool evening walk without the fear of being killed; that normalcy where jobs are not bought but achieved. That kind of normalcy which you take for granted…..

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On 13 August 2012, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, organized a discussion – Does non violence have a future in India? – conversations with Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land (Travels through Nagaland and Manipur). Beginning the evening, Vibi Yhokha, a student of journalism in the college, spoke about how her Nagaland is caught in an identity crisis, pressured by corruption, army and paramilitary violence, and nationalist sentiments.

A brief background on the discussion –  The Government of India has negotiated or is negotiating peace accords with several dozen armed insurgent groups in the Northeast. In what is called the ‘Red Corridor,’ State and Central governments continue their racist policies towards indigenous peoples in their efforts to free up access to natural resources for corporate grab. Here too, a violent conflict continues well into its fifth decade, with periodic agreements of ceasefire and deals between the maoists and the government. Simultaneously, though, non-violent struggles such as the decade-long hunger strike by Irom Sharmila, the 28-year old struggle by Bhopal survivors and the 2-year dharna by Haryanavi farmers against the Gorakhpur nuclear plant are first visited upon by violence, then humiliated , and finally ignored. In Koodankulam, cases of sedition and waging war against the state have been made out against more than 8000 people. In all, nearly 70,000 people (mostly unnamed) are charged with various crimes ranging from protesting without authorisation, to rioting and waging war against the Government of India. Considering the markedly different response of the Government to non-violent and violent struggles, is it safe to say that non-violent struggles have no future?

Since, history textbooks in schools or colleges, mainstream media will not suffice as sources for news or analysis to further this discussion, along with the help of Sudeep Chakravarti, Vibi Yokha and Nityanand Jayaraman, we have compiled some related links and readings.

Morung Express (Nagaland): A local daily online newspaper that covers current affairs in Nagaland. 

+ Color-speaking people by Al Ngullie writes on the prejudices within the tribes in Nagalim.

+ Are Naga leaders listening to the voices of the younger generation? Weekly Poll.

+ Quo Vidas Naga Nationalism? Ambraham Lotha. Perspective.

+ A Statement from the Asian Human Rights Commission.

Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights (NPMHR):

+ A Brief Paper Presentation in a Seminar on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Presented by Neingulo Krome, former Secretary General, NPMHR. Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace held at Imphal from November 2 – 6, 2010.

+ Operation Bluebird. – Area of Operation Within 24 hours of raiding, the Assam rifles have sealed off the area, and on July 11, 1987 an extensive combing operation was launched with the code name “Operation Bluebird” with a view to genocide the Naga public under the cover of recovering the looted arms and ammunition. Operation-Bluebird was carried out in surrounding thirty villages of Oinam- Oinam, Thingba Khullen, Thigba Khunou, Khabung, Sorbung, Ngamju, Purul Akutpa, Purul Atongba, Koide Maiba, Phuba Thapham, Phuba khuman, Liyai, Chingmei khullen, Chingmei khunou, Phaibung khullen, Phaibung khunou, Lakhamai Sirong, Sirong Shofii, Kodom Khravo, Khongdei khuman, Khongdei Shimgphum, Khonggei Ngawar, Thiwa, Ngairi Khullen, Ngairi Leishang, Ngiri Raiduloumai, Tingsong and Khamson. The Operation carried out for nearly four months lasted till the end of October 1987.

Seven Sisters Post The Newspaper of the Northeast:

+ South Asian History did not begin with India’s Independence. 22 August 2012. Kaka D Iralu.

+ Naga People’s right to nationhood. 24 July 2012. Kaka D Iralu.

+ Know the ‘Northeast People’. 24 August 2012. Teresa Rehman.

E-Pao.netNow the World Knows (Manipur):

+ E Pao Radio. (music)

+ Profile of Ratan Thiyam and Chorus Repertory Theatre Company. By Donny Luwang.

+ Profile of Heisnam Kanhailal and his theatre group Kalakshetra. By Donny Luwang.

Books (links to Flipkart):

+ Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. by Sudeep Chakravarti. Penguin. Blurb – Spread over fifteen of the country’s twenty-eight states, India’s Maoist movement is now one of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated extreme-left movements. Hardly a week passes without people dying in strikes and counter-strikes by the Maoists— interchangeably known as the Naxalites— and the police and paramilitary forces. In this brilliant and sobering examination of the ‘Other India’, Sudeep Chakravarti combines reportage, political analysis and individual case histories as he takes us to the heart of Maoist zones in the country— areas of extreme destitution, bad governance and perpetual war.

+ Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land. Fourth Estate. Blurb – In Highway 39, Sudeep Chakravarti attempts to unravel the brutal history of Nagaland and Manipur, their violent and restive present, and their uncertain and yet desperately hopeful future, as he travels along Dimapur, Kohima, Senapati, Imphal, Thoubal, and their hinterlands – all touch points of brutalized aspiration, identity, conflict and tragedy. These are the lands that nurture deadly acronyms –like AFSPA, an act of Parliament that with impunity hurts and kills citizens. Lands where militants not only battle the Indian government but also each other in a frenzy of ego, politics and survival, and enforce ‘parallel’ administrations. Sudeep Chakravarti’s journey introduces the reader to stories that chill, anger and offer uneasy reflection. Chakravarti also interacts with security and military officials, senior bureaucrats, top rebel leaders, and human rights and social activists to paint a terrifying picture of a society and a people brought repeatedly to breakdown through years of political conceit and deceit, and stress and conflict. (Click to read review of this book in BIBLIO)

+ Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India. Oxford University Press India. by Sanjib Baruah. Blurb –  This book explores the political meaning and significance of prolonged low-intensity conflicts in Northeast India. The author argues that if peace and development are to be brought to the region, India’s policy will have to be reoriented and linked to a new foreign policy towards Southeast Asia. The paperback edition includes a new preface where the author discusses issues of the insider/outsider and the politics of location in response to reviews of his work. 

Uramili (the song of our people), a travel and film project by Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar:

+ Sangai Express, song by Rewben Mashangva. 17 August 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)

+ Tetseo Sisters, Nagaland. April 20th 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)

Countercurrents:

+ Tale of Two Gandhians: Anna Hazare and Irom Sharmila. 22 April 2011. Mahtab Alam

+ Of Hotel Jantar Mantar and Irom Sharmila’s Prison Cell. 09 August 2011. Samar

Locales or Mapping Indian Theatre. Presentation by Samik Bandhopadhyay. (Audio – Part 1 and Part 2). Not the Drama Seminar, March 2008 Ninasam, Heggodu. Indian Theatre Forum. (theatreforum.in)

La Mashale. A one woman play on Manipur devised and performed by Ojas Sunity Vinay. The play has been re-interpreted and now performed in Tamil by Jeny, produced and toured by Marapaachi, a theatre group in Chennai. Ojas has opened the play to be re-interpreted by women performers in their native languages all over the country. Recording of Ojas performing Le Mashale, 10 December 2010. World Human Rights Day. (English and Hindi. Youtube)

Approaching a Tipping PointMassive dislocation of people in parts of lower Assam masked a familiar and muscular play elsewhere in the north-eastern region. writes Sudeep Chakravarti. 23 August 2012. Live Mint. Columns – Root Cause.

Home is Hardly the Best.  The moral of the story: there are multiple visions of Indian citizenship, and the state’s promises to protect and secure citizens have remained an illusion for the majority of the people who are often swept under the grand narrative of citizenship and equality. writes Dolly Kikon. 20 August 2012. The Hindu. Op-Ed.

Engaging Naga NationalismAny resolution of conflicts in the north-east, including the Naga one, could begin when both sides negotiate from a position of equals, and by an end to the process of militarisation that has tended to largely view dissent as a sign of subversion and anti-nationalism. writes Dolly Kikon. 25 June 2005

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Have You Got Your License Yet?

The BFI National Archive Channel, presents hundreds of free films from the BFI National Archive. This silent one caught our attention. We are not against piracy. We are not for it either. This was made to issue thinly-veiled threats to pirate radios that weren’t paying their license fee. Tropical film company, used it as a propaganda tool and audience attraction to the end of the war.  Presumably the humiliation of being depicted as a chimpanzee was enough to persuade miscreants to pay up – later campaigns would resort to far more direct threats.

0 mins, 44 s, BBC, 1923.

PROCRASTINATION

A beautiful Animation film by Johnny Kelly who works from London. This work talks about procrastinating and you don’t have to watch it if you are not procrastinating but it is mind-boggling and oddly relaxing to watch. This was done as a part of his graduation film for MA in animation at the Royal College of Art. An investigative and exploratory hands-on gloves-off study into the practice of putting things ‘off”. Sometimes the only way to get something done is to do two dozen other things first. Sound design by Mike Wyeld, with a voice over by Bryan Quinn. It’s a marathon of visual permutations!

Copyright Royal Academy of Fine-Arts Two-Thousand and Seven.

Two Girls Fat and Thin

Another good book from our library. A novel with dark intensity and wicked wit. Mary Gaitskill writes in a stunning synthesis of both the perpetrator’s role and that of the victim. The story superficially is the study two women who are contrasting characters and yet share equally haunting sexual burdens carried since youth. The unforgiving tone and brutality to some extent makes it a real intense book, but a good one too.

Yes, if you know where we live, you’re welcome to come and read this. We are a little touchy just like any other book owners about letting you borrow. Just in case you don’t find us, you’ll find the book on Amazon or Flipkart.

Dropping the Urn — Burning the Man

The end of a year, the start of another one, comes with a sense of celebration all over the world. It’s just celebrated on different calendar days in various cultures with their most unique festivities. Crackers in some towns. Grand feasts in others. We decided to break away from our regular routines and travel to Goa this New Year. We reached on the morning of the eve and took a drive down to the beach where we chose to stay. On our way, we were called out to from the road where a large gathering of children were jumping up and down. Next to them on a plastic chair, sat slouched a man made of hay, pots, old clothes, and sticks. The taxi driver later told us that it is a custom for them to burn this dummy made in the image of a human on New Year’s Eve to commence the celebration.

Ai Weiwei, is a famous and extremely important contemporary artist in China, who has many changing forms: photographer, architect, blogger, ceramist, sculptor, curator, filmmaker, and socio-political critic. He was born in 1957 to one of the greatest modern poets in China, Ai Qing. In 1958, Ai Qing was accused as being anti-communist, forbidden to write, and exiled to Xinjiang province, where Ai Weiwei spent his youth. In the late 1970s he participated in a group of young artists in Beijing in an attempt to gain greater personal and artistic freedom. In 1982, he decided to leave China and move to New York. Until then, Ai Weiwei had stuck to painting and drawing. Working with the New York art scene, he realized an artist could use any object and medium. In 1993, his father became very ill, and Ai Weiwei returned to China.

This amazing local custom in Goa reminded us of this set of three photographs he exhibited in 1995 and Coloured Vases that he exhibited later in 2006:

Dropping a Hans Dynasty Urn (Ai Weiwei (1995) Three b/w prints each 148 x 121 cm)

Coloured Vases (Ai Weiwei (2006). Neolithic Vases (5000-3000 BC) and industrial paint. Fifty-one pieces, dimensions variable)

Bean Gilsdorf in Dailyserving.com aptly describes these pieces of work:

Urns of this vintage are usually cherished for their anthropological importance.  By employing them as readymades, Ai strips them of their aura of preciousness only to reapply it according to a different system of valuation… Working in this manner, Ai transforms precious artifacts—treating them as base and valueless by painting, dropping, grinding, or slapping with a logo—into contemporary fine art.  The substitution of one kind of value for another occurs when he displays the transformed urns in a museum vitrine, reinstilling value but replacing historical significance with a newer cultural one.

His works raised a lot of political questions and were constantly engaging with the socio-cultural mileu in China. He became very famous over the last decade, and began to be considered a threat to the Chinese Government. Last year in April, he was arrested in Peking airport and many laptops, hard drives, and other material were seized from his studio. After three months of detention and interrogation on matters of tax evasion by his company/studio Beijing Fake Cultural Development Ltd, he was released in June in response to worldwide pressure by artists, governments, and general people.

This particular choice of work we were reminded of, actually symbolize the old and the new quite interestingly. Often the old gets idolized as history, it becomes concrete, losing a large part of its function — it becomes a monument, an artifact, a fossil. The local custom we saw in Goa symbolized the getting rid of old ideas, patterns, prejudices, worries…all in the act of burning a man (dummy). The destruction of an artifact, or rather the transformation of one, like Ai Weiwei did – calls for such a New Year in the political and cultural realm, which gives everyone greater personal and social freedom.