Naga Scholars Association

Naga News | Dimapur, March 31 (EMN): The Naga Scholars’ Association (NSA) organized an academic conference on March 29 at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), in New Delhi. The NSA offered updates about the event, on Sunday.

The programme was presided over by political scientist Prof. Jagpal Singh from the IGNOU. He specialises in democracy and development, identity and politics, politics and recognition and rural politics.

The first speaker was Chibenthung Yanthan, a Ph.D scholar at JNU. His paper was on ‘Understanding Russia’s sovereign democracy as a counter-narrative to the western model of liberal democracy.’ Yanthan referred to the definition of democracy by Abraham Lincoln. He stated that people are the essential foundations of democracy and therefore, the essence of democracy lies in governing the people with openness and transparency. He also stated that

‘Democracy is easy to profess yet hard to practice and this is one reason why people continue to question democracy. Russians also question the model of western democracy,’ he said.

‘One can say that Russia’s critique apart from their ideological inclinations has consequently chartered Russia’s perspective towards a new democratic model called ‘sovereign democracy’ introduced by Vladislav Surkov, a concept that evoked the interest of many.’

‘The idea of democracy continues to engage many scholars today for having deeper understanding on its concept and relevancy,’ Yanthan said. He was of the opinion that there was actually no full-fledged or perfect model of democracy. As a result, many countries had developed their own model of democracy to suit their countries.

Many scholars assert that democracy is still an open subject for larger discourse for accommodating new ideas or models like the inclusion of civil liberty in democracy at the later part of its existence.

The dominant western narrative on democracy, as opposed to Russia’s model, has also been one area in which Russia’s domestic political system has often been questioned by the former thereby projecting a negative image which Russia construes as a western propaganda led by the United States.

The main purpose of the paper was not to deal with the pros and cons of democracy, nor try to find an alternative to the model of western democracy but to analyse some of the reasons why Russia feels the need to reject the western model of democracy and put forward their own model.

Yanthan added that the Naga people, as an aspiring nation, can study the different existing models of democracy and develop their own model based on their existing practices that suit not only the Naga culture but also relevant to the changing times rather than assimilating to any of the existing models of democracy.

“If Nagas can come up with its own model we can protect and promote it to use as a model to frame the foundation of our political practices rather than assimilating to the existing models,” Yanthan told the gathering.

The second speaker was Dr. Imtimangyang (no surname given), consultant at the NUEP. His topic was ‘Incorporation of Christianity among the Ao Nagas: A case study of Molungkimong village.’ He said that the underlying principle of the Ao traditional beliefs did not come through impositions by outside forces or agents but through organic development of perceived reality—an outcome of “post hoc-rationalization of their experience and interaction with the elements of nature.”

Imtimangyang mentioned ‘some of the reasons why’ Christianity appealed to the people: the hope of a better alternative life, a benevolent God who is a provider and a giver.

“Message was not differentiated from the messenger. Medicine, technology, lifestyle and the white men himself was not differentiated from the religion. Acknowledging one would mean acknowledging all,” the NSA’s updates stated.

Further, Imtimangyang stated that the flexible nature of protestant Baptist Christian denominations offered the possibility of personalized way to approach to Christianity without negating the core cultural ethos.

“He was of the opinion that there is continuity of traditional socio-cultural system where the norms and ethics of the Ao society are such that it assumes every single member of the community as Christian and thus applied uniformly,” the updates stated.

“Christianity reinforced the traditional belief and this lesser understood phenomenon was given a substantial explanation about its validity affirming its malevolent existence. The word of Saint Augustine that ‘The Pagan gods did exist, but only as devils,’ fits well in this scenario.”

According to the scholar, Christianity had a massive influence by giving a new cosmological vision and renewed imagination of the self and the society. Yet, the underlying principles of their animistic belief had a linear engagement throughout the process of incorporation. Therefore the principles of animism are still a core constituent of their Christian belief today, the updates stated from the speaker’s discourse.

One example of impact: How Christianity informs them on economy/money/wealth: Christianity informs them that the “pursuit of a calling” must quench the spiritual thirst and must be fulfilled through suffering, sacrifice, selflessness and giving, and not through gaining.

The attitude is not “in the name of God I will aspire to prosper” but “in the name of God I will endure with what I have.”

“A poor man learns to embrace poverty and be content with what he has and accepts it as his destiny, and therefore he do not feel the need to be ambitious because God’s providence is, after all, guaranteed in the bible,” Imtimangyang added.

Another speaker at the event was Thejalhoukho (no surname given), also a Ph.D scholar at JNU. His paper was on ‘Contested customs in the Naga Hills: Baptist reformers, salvage ethnography and Naga customary Law.’ Thejalhoukho analysed contestations between two different discourses on ‘tribal’ customs during the late 19th and early 20th century in the colonial Naga Hills district.

Thejalhoukho give perspectives referring to what the NSA called “classic example of contestation of customs and traditions” stated to have been brought “before” JH Hutton the then deputy commission of Kohima.

Thejalhoukho stated: “During Hutton’s visit to Khonoma village in 1934, a case was brought before Hutton by the villagers wherein two unmarried young Angami girls of newly Christian converts refused to abide the traditional practices of shaving their heads, which used to be practiced among the Angami Nagas.

“When this case was brought before Hutton, he gave an eye opening order that as long as the girls live in the village, they should abide by the customs and traditions of the village or else flee (sic) from the village.”

Thejalhoukho further rationalised the contradictions that come up when trying to understand the objectives of the Baptist missionaries to convert the tribal from ‘barbaric and heathen customs,’ while on the other hand the colonial ethnographers were advocating preservation of the tribal customs and traditions of the Nagas.

“In the colonial ethnographic discourse, the pure Naga culture was embodied in the pre-Christian cultural past and customary law ought to be a reflection of these pre-Christian cultural values. The most extensive ethnographic works on the Nagas were written in the immediate context of these conflicts and have been termed ‘salvage ethnography,’ he said.

“Against the romanticism of the ethnographers, the Baptist missionaries represented individualism, religious freedom and the separation of state and religion which are classic strands of enlightenment ideas.”



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