First of all, I on behalf of Nagas in Myanmar and myself would like to greet you all who have come from all Naga inhabited areas and all the guests to attend this meaningful conference. May our God Almighty fill your hearts and souls with peace, love, joy and hope. There are days and moments that each of us has been with much prayer and hope looking for the time when we the Nagas can come together to share our common dreams and work for a shared future. And the day has come in its opportune time and Nagas have taken up this opportunity without fail because we are determined to be what we are. Psalmist says there is a great blessing when brothers and sisters come together in unity and in harmony. So Yes. Today is a day of blessing for us as we all the Nagas from across the borders and boundaries come together in such a manner. Today gathering of the Nagas is strange and yet exciting because Nagas are seen here as the nationals of two different nation-states – India and Myanmar, though there was nothing as such in our history. We were Nagas and Nagas alone. As we look back to our history, there are many historic moments in the rich history of the Naga people and may we also count this day a historic moment for us because Nagas from all over Naga inhabited areas have come together by showing our unity and oneness. This is a sign that we are gradually realizing who we are and what we are in the course of world history.
Why the Need to Reconnect?
In retrospect to our ancient times, Naga people, alike other nations of the world today, have lived in our own system and culture that define our identity as a People. Neither have we nor our homeland ever been a subject to any outside force. Our folklores and sayings of the old narrate that Naga people have been as strong as the invading forces defending their homeland and people victoriously. Thus our homeland was seen undivided and the Naga people enjoyed the purest form of democracy and freedom in the form of village republics, a watertight realm untouched by the outside world. We heard the stories, which are passed down to the latter generations and narrated by the elders to us how the Nagas of those days had defended their homeland from the invasions of Tai-Ahoms, Burmese and the British. Though we unfortunately had to compromise 30% of our homeland to the British forces for a time being, the rest of ours remained as before. At the wake of India and the then Burma as nation state in 1947 and in 1948, Nagas in their sincerity and naïve nature thought their homeland would remain with the freedom they enjoyed in the past as the British colonial government was leaving this part of the world. But the hopes and dreams of Nagas turned opposite and the Nagas without a reason began to experience the nightmare that has been traumatizing the Nagas till date. Boundary line was drawn in the heart of our homeland without our consent and further borders were made within our ancestral homeland without the knowledge of the Nagas the owners. Thus our homeland is sliced into pieces and we are portrayed as different peoples before the world though we have been living as one people from time immemorial. Nagas continue to suffer denial of justice and no explanation is delivered till date. The British people, who are considered accountable for the divisions of our homeland and people and, whom we offer our utmost loyalty that delivers them the biggest victory of epic battle in their history have now turned a blind eye to our cause and beyond our imagination we are further in coercion divided in the hands of India and Myanmar into states, regions and so on. The action of the British colonial government giving away our homeland to foreigners is grossly unfair and illegal because she cannot give something away, which she did not own. This is an open injustice meted out against the innocent Nagas, which cannot be justified legally, politically, historically and in every –ically. We are now seen as different peoples who once lived as one people and so if we tolerate to let this continue, none but we ourselves are rather a great failure before our forefathers who defended the land and people with much of sacrifices – lives and bloodsheds. Nagas’ desire to live as one, to be reconnected and reunified is our birthright. Our struggle to come as one is just and noble. Therefore, we need to be reconnected and reunified because we are one people one nation – yet suffer from division and separation without our consent.
Challenges and Opportunities in Our Path
After the departure of the British colonial government from the Naga soil, India and Myanmar (Burma) became our rulers who continue to perpetrate violation of our rights by imposing alien laws upon the Nagas. Thus divide and rule policy, the rotten legacy of the British colonial government, adopted by India and Myanmar has continued more than 6 decades. Indeed, challenges that we face today are both external and internal and they are serious if one carefully looks into it. External forces that try to further divide us continue with their imposed ideologies and diabolic policies based on unconsented borders and boundary that cut through homeland of Naga people. Nagas are further brainwashed with their vested ideologies for their own benefits at the expense of our historical rights. Our oneness is threatened politically, socially, economically, academically and culturally. Jeopardizing the very fundamental rights of Nagas, they are further using every means to redefine our history and unique culture.
Unfortunately, many Nagas have fallen prey to aliens who try to break us up apart. Thus, innocent Nagas are wedged with their ideologies and philosophies. Not only external challenges but also internal challenges are seen as a major roadblock to our path to reconnecting the Nagas across the borders and boundary. It is very sad to see that a section of Nagas has risen from our own fold against our common hope, a shared future at the expense of our birthright and these pseudo-intellectuals have committed treacherous actions detrimental to the very unique existence of ours. They are fooled with those ideologies and philosophies, which they receive from the aliens who never want to see Nagas coming together under one umbrella by reconnecting each other. They have education and degrees but they have become the mouthpieces of their paid-masters and they are no more representing the true voice of the Nagas. They have successfully become the stooges of alien forces who dictate them from their armchairs in Delhi and in Naypyidaw and by advocating the plain lies they continue to carry out their evil schemes for a bowl of stew at the cost of our historical rights. Consequently, many young minds have been swept away and our beautiful society suffers from chaos and blur future. However, we must realize the fact that these forces cannot guarantee the wellbeing and safe future of our people. For instance, the ongoing racial discriminations against the NE peoples in the metropolitan cities of India are happening right under our nose and we need no further proof for it. Depending on other for our fate is a pity! It is also a reminder to us that we will never know a complete meaning of our being, if we don’t learn to stand on our own feet.
There are times that the Nagas from all sections genuinely believed and worked for our common belief and hope. But at this point of time, either Naga National workers or political parties that emerge from within the Naga society do not much consider the importance of reconnecting and reunification of all the Nagas; they are rather more for their power hunt. It seems each working for its own ends and lofty pride by jeopardizing the common future of the Nagas. Their actions are a proof that they don’t walk their talk truly. I believe, it is still never too late to believe in word and in deed that the strength that comes from a unified body is stronger than from a divided house that can never stand. We have experienced in our history that the strength, which comes from the united Naga house is indomitable, invincible and unbeatable. We also saw the bond how strongly we are knitted and connected in spite of dividing forces around us.
It is true that Naga society is a democratic one by nature. Concerning the democratic nature of the Nagas, Captain John Butler, of the British Royal Army, who came to Naga country in latter part of 19th century and observed, “Every man [Naga] follows the dictates of his own will, a form of the purest democracy which is very difficult to conceive of as existing even for a single day.” In other words, we live a society that enjoys the carefree form of natural freedom, which can be found very rarely on the face of the earth. Butler’s statement can be interpreted in two ways: one may mean we are democratic by nature and freedom loving, and the latter may mean a people with lofty pride, who does not want bow. To this, Frans Welman, Gen. Secy., NISC also has observed it correctly, “Nagas are a proud people, proud of their culture and identity.” In such a society of the Nagas, it is natural that pride exists in us. Pride is an emotion, which is one of the fundamental components for human composition to be a meaningful being. But when pride is misconceived, it becomes detrimental to our own. This misconceived pride further germinates misplaced loyalty. As we look at our prevailing situation of the Naga society, which suffers from disunity and mushrooming factions and groups, we cannot simply by-pass the effect of misconceived pride and misplaced loyalty. This further leads to corruption in our systems. It is plain to see that these evils have damaged our society and our natural freedom is being sacrificed on the alter of these evils. A society, which is divided and corrupt, unless it overcomes the barriers, can never be truly reconnected.
Another serious setback to our path to reconnecting each other is ignorance. In the past, the Nagas were very good at narrating the folklores and passing down the stories to the latter generations. It is true the narration of folktales and stories of our origin was the bloodline, which is our traditional practice, that connects us between the past and the present, and one community to another. But now, a number of Nagas are emerging without knowing the origin and culture – the root that actually makes who we are and what we are. Let me assume that many of us today lack the art of narrating our folklores and stories, which are important for us because these folklores have kept us and led us to where we are today. The ignorance of our origin leads to another ignorance among our own brothers and sisters; though we are one as Naga, we begin to ignore each other. How can one stand tall when s/he ignores his or her own origin! Ignorance germinates discrimination and ism among us. In our society today, it is really sad to see one claiming superior to another as inferior. Or Nagas of a particular state or region claim bigger than the other. The people who created borders and boundary among us without our consent must be clapping hands from their armchairs. Yes, the pain of discrimination is severe but more severe it is when it comes from within and close ones. If we go on this way, we will never see a shared future; we will succumb these narrow attitudes. If we continue to ignore and discriminate each other, we will become slaves in our own land and the sacrifices of tens and thousands of Nagas of the past will become meaningless in our hands.
Though there are forces existing in and around us against our common future, our Naga society is still blessed with the true sons and daughters of the soil, who believe in our common hope, a shared future. Today, our conference is a proof that we, who are gathered here, are determined to work on fulfilling the task passed down to us by our forefathers. As we bridge the gap between us for a closer tie to be one as before, the kind of conference like today is one of the effective means for us. I believe, cultural exchange programs organized by the Naga frontal organizations can make a better platform where all the Nagas from across the Naga inhabited areas can participate and share their experiences and hopes. I suppose, at least once a year, there should also be formal gatherings where Naga CSOs and other stakeholders can come together to join hands for a common future by reconnecting each other. As and when we are reconnected emotionally, we will be able to connect each other in stronger way. As we grow mature and determined, there should be no space for ignorance and discrimination among us, thereby we shall be able to overcome barriers that stand stumbling blocks on our way. Helping the weak is our traditional practice and it is still a blessing to help the weak among us and grow together in one spirit. As most of the Nagas claims to be Christians, the spirit of Christ should be portrayed in all doings. And the adherents of other faiths should also practice the nobles that each faith has. I believe every faith has its own noble elements to be practiced.
In reconnecting the Nagas from across the Naga inhabited areas, I believe, a proper education is one of the keys that we should focus on. I hope, when all the Nagas from all the Naga inhabited areas are well equipped with a proper education, all the problems that we face today will disappear. As we march on toward reconnecting and reunification, we need to also pick up the opportunities that lie on our way. Today the changing political scenario in Myanmar has interested the International Community in many aspects and the presence of the International Community here in Myanmar warmly felt at this point of time. We the Nagas have been maintaining our lofty position and isolating ourselves from other peoples around us. But I think, it is not late for the Nagas to engage in these changes so that we can keep ourselves update. Let the world know that Nagas are no more headhunters but soul hunters at this point of time. Change is the essence of being and it is a global phenomenon and for which Nagas are no exception. We should not miss the opportunities that come out from these changing trends around us. For example, the blooming economy of the ASEAN family is alarming in terms of trade and business. We have been ignorant of the opportunities that lie at the doorstep and this time we have to make use of them. Because the prevailing situation reminds us that economic sector is one of the fundamentals in reconnecting the Nagas from all the regions. Our traditional society was an independent one that stands self-reliant but very sadly today many of us become dependent on other. We do not realize that we can be also a great contributing partner to our neighbors around us. In order to boost our economy, I believe, transportation, communication, international trade routes and trade centers should be set up across the Naga inhabited areas. The existing projects on these matters must be implemented and materialized as soon as possible. I hope, our concerned governments should be more active in materializing activities in the sectors that are important in reconnecting the Nagas in a meaningful way. The Nagas from all sections also should look into these matters very seriously instead of wasting time on bickering, infighting and isms among us so that our cherished goal will be achieved not just emotionally or artificially but practically and meaningfully. I hope and believe that our dreams will come true if we truly believe and work on it.
Observer to Myanmar-Naga Politics
Photo Courtesy: Athong Makury
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