Paper presented by Kaka D. Iralu at the Seminar on Foundations of Naga Peoplehood: Road Maps, organised by the Centre for Democracy and Tribal Studies on April 11, 2003.
I will present my paper on the Foundations of Naga Nationhood by dividing the subject into two sections namely: The Pre-Historical Foundations of Naga Nationhood and The Historical Foundations of Naga Nationhood.
In the Pre-historic section, I will be dealing with, strictly speaking, non historical but nevertheless true biological and anthropological facts that determines the concept of nationhood. In my opinion these truths are universal truths – set by God before visible human history began. Without these fundamental truths, the word nationhood has no meaning.
These truths are also universal facts that govern the origin and existence of any nation on earth. They are the principles upon which the sovereignty of any nation stands.
In the second section of The Historical Foundations of Naga Nationhood, I will be dealing with actual historical dates and geographical boundaries to show that the Nagas had indeed been a nation occupying a concrete geographical boundary like any other nations on earth. This second section will also briefly outline the fifty-six years Naga struggle to be recognised as a sovereign independent nation.
The two sections can also be summarised as the conceptual section and the historical section of Naga nationhood.
SECTION I: THE PRE-HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS OF NAGA NATIONHOOD
The basic difference between the animal world and the human world is one of national identity and geographical identity. An animal is not constrained by a national identity or a geographical identity. An animal can roam the whole face of the earth without being bothered about a passport or an identity card. Whether it is an eagle or a bear or a fish, no control tower or checkpoint or coastguard will ever bother an animal as it roams across the skies, lands or seas of this world.
But humankind, the crown of God’s creation is not free to roam wherever he likes or do whatever he likes. He is bounded by geographical boundaries. He is chained by national identities and he must live under the dictates of both national and international laws. Human beings unlike the animals are political beings who must live under political laws as long as they live in this world.
Nagas too, because they are not animals, are bound by the same laws of national identity and geographical identity.
Now these laws of national identities and geographical identities in its basic essence are not created by man but by the sovereign Lord of the universe. This is so because, as far as national identities of nations or nationals are concerned, no individual on earth has any say on it. For example when I was being formed in my mother’s womb, God did not consult my opinion as to whether I would like to be a Naga, a Russian or an Indian. I was simply born a Naga because the womb in which I was conceived happened to be a Naga womb. My mother and my father and all their forefathers were also born in the same manner. In other words even before my tiny brain was fully formed in my mother’s womb – that is to say that even before my ability to express even a single opinion had been formed, my nationality, that I will be a Naga was already decided by my creator. Therefore on matters of nationality or nationhood, one can only be what the creator had pre-ordained one to be.
I can of course later on defy my creator’s definition of my political identity and say I am an Indian or I am a Russian. That however would be an act of both existential and political treason against my creator and my own ancestors. On the other hand, no one nation can beat or force another nation to become themselves.
The above stated facts then are the pre-historic foundations of any individual’s or nation’s national identity. And since this is a universal law that applies to every individual of every nation, Nagas also as a nation cannot be an exception to the rule.
The Bible among all other religious books clearly explains this universal truth. In Acts 17:16, we find the following words:
“And He (God) made from one (Adam) every nation of men to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation.”
Here we have to note the word “he.” It is not we who have made nations but he (God) who had made different nations to inhabit the face of the earth with their respective allotted periods and their respective geographical boundaries for their habitations. We find the unfolding of these works of God in Genesis 10:32:
“These are the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”
Another verse in Genesis 10:5 says:
“By these were the borders of the nations divided in their lands, every one after his tongue and after their families, in their nations.”
Now among the sons of Noah through whom all the nations of the earth are descended, the Nagas, like most other Asian nations, are descended from Shem the father of the Mongolian race.
The other races and nations that descended from the other sons of Noah are the Caucasians who are the descendants of Japhet and the Negroid races who are the descendants of Ham.
Based on these fundamental truths of multiplication from families into clans into tribes and on to nations, the various nations of the world spread out into the empty spaces of the earth that God had created and established their own respective nations and kingdoms. This evolution of nations took many centuries to evolve into the present stage. Following the same evolutionary pattern, our Naga forefathers also migrated across Central Asia and after crossing the Burmese corridor finally settled in our present habitats. Today over one hundred ninety sovereign nations inhabit the whole face of the earth. All these nations have their own distinct histories and geographical boundaries. Inter-national wars erupts between nations whenever any one particular nation invades the geographical boundaries of any other neighbouring nation. Wars also erupt between nations when any one nation tries to impose its own nationality on another nation. The fifty-six year Indo-Naga war is a classic example of these type of aggression on the part of India against Nagaland. The fifty-six year Indo-Naga war is a geo-political and anthropological war. The basic issue in the conflict is one of whether Nagas are Indians and Nagaland is Indian territory. However, whatever claims or counter claims India might make over Nagas and Naga territory, the second section will show that Nagas are a nation with their own distinct history and geography.
SECTION II: THE HISTORICAL FOUNDATIONS OF NAGA NATIONHOOD
In this second section of the historical foundation of Naga nationhood, we have to talk in the context of geography. We have to talk in the context of geography for the simple reason that no nation on earth or no individual in human history has come into existence without a concrete geographical reference point. This is to say no nation on earth, no individual in the world has fallen into earth from outer space. All political histories of every nation have their origin from some concrete geographical lands. Within the boundaries of this geographical land the people of the land develop their national identity, their cultural identity and their political identity. The inhabitants of the land call the land their land. The Nagas, like any other nation on earth call their geographical land Nagaland. Corresponding to this fact, there is a geographical land called Britain for the British, a geographical Russia for the Russians and a geographical India for the Indians.
Prior to the advent of the British and American Missionaries into the Naga Hills in 1832 and 1875, the Nagas were an illiterate people who did not have any written history about themselves. Their history prior to this period, was based on oral tradition passed from one generation to the other. Detailed writing about the possible origin of the Nagas, their customs, beliefs, traditions and most importantly, their geography began only in the first half of the 19th century by British anthropologist, administrators and historians. These British writers based most of their writings on the oral history of the Nagas as they learned it through their interviews with the Naga elders whom they encountered. In addition to this, these learned scholars also added their own knowledge of general history and geography to put Naga history into the mainstream of world history. Nagas are greatly indebted to these British writers for putting Naga history into the context of general world history.
However, Naga history did not begin only with the British-Naga era of 1832 to 1947. In fact, long before the British entered the scene in 1832, other neighbours of the Nagas like the Manipuris and the Assamese, who had learned the art of writing before the Nagas did had also written about their encounters with the Nagas through the centuries preceding the Anglo-Naga era. The following historical accounts are a brief summary of ancient Naga history based on ancient manuscripts as well as the Manipur and Ahom chronicles.
ANCIENT NAGA HISTORY – The Nagas are an ancient people whose forefathers migrated into their present habitat from Central Asia. Their forefathers belonged to the Sino-Mongoloid race that came in waves from South East Asia in the B.C. era. Their entry points to their present lands were through the Himalayan region and the Burmese corridor. Their forefathers migrated from Mongolia in 2617 B.C. and after migrating across Turkistan, Tibet and Mongolia, they finally arrived in Eastern Yunan Province of China in 1385 B.C. Many of them again migrated from China and entered Southeast Asia and on to their present habitat in 1225 B.C. Whether in historical records or oral traditions passed from one generation to the other through word of mouth, there is no mention whatsoever of the Nagas driving away some former inhabitants of the land to make the lands their own. The fact is one where their forefathers, like any other nations in the world, at some specific time in history migrated from more populated regions of the Asian continent and settled down in their present lands and made it their land. Their continuity as a people inhabiting their present lands is an established historical fact. In historical records, the first mention of the Nagas as a people inhabiting their present lands was made by Claudius Ptolemy, the Greek philosopher and historian in AD 150. In his records Ptolemy mentions the Nagas as Nagaloi (Claudius Ptolemy, Geographia, Vol V11, (ii) p.18). They were again mentioned by Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese traveller who spent 15 years in India between AD 629-645. Hiuen Tsang visited Kamrup the capital of the Varman King, Bhaskar Varman in AD 643. From Kamrup in Assam, in his accounts Si-Yu-Ki he writes about the Nagas saying: The east of this country is bounded by a line of hills so that there is no great city to the kingdom. The frontiers are contiguous to the barbarians of Southwest China. These tribes are in fact akin to those of the Man people in their customs. (Thomas Watters, On Yuan Chwang’s travel in India, Vol.III, Part II, Varanasi, 1903, p.11) Quoted in Visier Sanyü, A History of Nagas and Nagaland, p.7
Besides these records, the Nagas are also mentioned in the Royal chronicles of the Manipur kingdom in records like Chietharol Kumbabu and Ningthourol Kumbaba (AD 663-763 and AD 906-996). They are also mentioned in the chronicles of the Ahom kings who came from Thailand and settled and ruled in Assam for six hundred years beginning from the 13th century. Naga resistance against intrusions and raids from these two neighbouring kingdoms and also other kingdoms like the Burmese, Tripuris, Dimashas and the Cachar kingdoms from the 13th century to the 18th centuries are all there in recorded history. As for their encounter with the British in the 19th century and their resistance against British rule for one hundred fifteen years (1832 – 1947), numerous accounts are found in the British colonial records. It is said that the battles the British fought with the Naga tribes in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries far outnumber all the frontier battles fought with the Indians in the great Indian sub-continent. Even in spite of all these battles, the British were able to subjugate only thirty per cent of actual Naga territory. (The actual Naga ancestral domain would be around 120,000 sq. km). In British colonial accounts, the unconquered seventy per cent territories of the Nagas were recorded as unadministered territories or excluded area. Even in the thirty per cent lands that the British administered, they never laid any claims to the lands they were administering. In fact C.V.Aitchinson in Treaties, Engagements and Sanads clearly records that: No written treaties or agreements have been made with any of the Naga tribes. (Vol.XII, 1931, p.91). Also following the submission of the Naga memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929, where the Nagas had refused to be included in the reformed scheme of India, the British Government in recognition of their demands put the Naga Hills under excluded area in the Government of India Act, 1935.
MODERN NAGA HISTORY – By a tragic twist of history, Nagaland in the 20th century was severed in two through a treacherous betrayal by the British Government. Burma was gifted with half, and the other half fell under Indian dominion. Those areas that fell under Indian territory were further subdivided into four fragments, namely – Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland. Thus, within the Indian territory, large chunks of Naga lands and Naga people were put into three other states against the wishes of the Nagas. This was done to reduce the Naga political issue to the smallest possible geographical area. The present Indian State of Nagaland is comprised of only 16,557 sq. kms with a population of hardly over two million people.
However, in actual fact, the greater Nagaland including those areas in Myanmar is comprised of over 1,20,000 sq. kms. This area is located at 25 60’ and 2740’latitude North of equator and between the longitudinal lines 93 20’E and 95 15’E. The total population of the entire Naga people of the actual Nagaland would be about four million. Thus, the actual Naga territory for which all Nagas have been fighting for, for all these fifty years is almost five times the size of Israel with a population of about four million people.
Throughout their history the Nagas had defended their lands against foreign invaders and aggressors. As far as her relationship with her neighbour India is concerned, prior to 1947, not to talk of Indian Kings or Princes having ruled the Nagas, no Indian King or Prince had ever even set foot on Naga territories. Also, prior to 1947, Nagas had no affinity with India whether racially, historically, politically, culturally, religiously or any other wise. Therefore Nagaland is not part of Indian territory neither are Nagas Indians.
Another point to be noted in this connection is that since all Naga territories never came under British suzerainty, the British had absolutely no right to hand over such territories to India or Burma after their departure from their South Asian empire in 1947. Similarly, India or Burma also has absolutely no legal right to claim these territories as their territories.
Even Jawaharlal Nehru understood this fact very clearly. On August 19,1946, in connection with the proposed British Crown Colony plan, he described the Naga territories as:
The tribal areas are defined as being those long frontiers of India which are neither part of India nor Burma, nor of Indian States nor of any foreign power.
(Quoted from Phizo’s letter to Rajiv Gandhi, May 10,1986, p. 6)
How these long stretches of frontiers (which were neither Burmese nor Indian territories) could simply disappear into India and Burma after 1947 is the issue that has caused the fifty-four year Indo-Naga war. What Nagas have been asserting and fighting for, for fifty years is exactly what Nehru had described. When we say we are Nagas and not Indians, we also mean we are neither Burmese nor Russians nor Africans; for our people and our land had never belonged to India or Burma or any “other foreign power.”
As far as the Nagas under Indian dominion are concerned, Nagaland is not in India, but India is presently in Nagaland by invasion and subjugation. All these historical and political facts showing that Nagas were not Indians and would not join the Indian Union were conveyed to India, Britain and the world by the Nagas long before the emergence of the present Indian Union in 1947. Also when India and Britain did not take notice of these communications, the Nagas declared their independence on 14th August 1947 – one day prior to India’s declaration of her own independence.
The Nagas have been waging a war of self-defence for their geographical land for the past fifty-four years with India and Myanmar. This is because this land is their land and they want to live in their land without fear or domination as free citizens of a free country. The Nagas are fighting for their lands because they have no other lands on the whole face of the earth besides these 1,20,000 sq. kms. Therefore the question of surrender or retreat or migration to another country does not arise simply because they have no other land on the whole face of this planet earth. To retreat or run away from their land and occupy another land would be to claim other people’s land as their own. Hence the Nagas have no alternative but to stand and fight, even if to do so, could mean sure death. They have been fighting against India and Myanmar with courage born of desperation and against overwhelming odds for half a century.
Contrary to India’s allegations, the Nagas neither consider it criminal nor their actions unlawful activities when they fight in self-defence for their sovereignty. The Nagas had never volitionally joined the Indian Union when it was offered to them prior to 1947. Their acts of self-defence are therefore not acts of secession. They are also neither guilty of breaking any Indian laws and thus deserving to be branded as perpetrators of unlawful activities by the Indian Government. As far as the Nagas are concerned the defence of their motherland is a moral and political duty. They owe it to themselves and their children and all future generations of Nagas to defend their God apportioned land with all their strength and might.
For them not to do so is tantamount to reducing themselves to refugees without a country to call as their own.
Hence in spite of forty-nine years of war against overwhelming odds and also in spite of over two hundred thousand casualties, Nagas are still continuing their struggle for sovereignty and freedom.
THE NON-NEGOTIABLE NATURE OF A NATION’S NATIONALITY
A land dispute between two people or even between two nations is a negotiable issue. Through give and take, a land dispute can be amicably settled. Similarly the price of a commodity is also a negotiable issue. Through bargaining, a price can be settled. But the national identity of a nation is an immutable and non-negotiable issue. There can be no give and take or bargaining here.
For example, there simply cannot be an Indo-Naga negotiated settlement where Nagas can give fifty per cent of their nationhood and Indians give fifty per cent of their nationhood to create a synthetic hybrid race called Na-dia (“Na” for Nagas and “dia” for Indians). This is simply impossible because a new human species cannot be created through a give and take negotiation. Also, in all of human history, there never has either been a case where a white man was able to negotiate a black man into a white man.
For the past five years – in fact ever since 1964 – negotiations had been going on between Nagas and Indians over the national dispute of whether Nagas are Indians and Nagaland is Indian territory. Now, even a Mizo gentleman has been brought into the fray to help in the negotiations. But let us remember that even the best negotiator in the world can never negotiate a Naga into an Indian.
Now whatever other names we had been using in the past in order to evade the real issues, the Indo-Naga dispute in reality is a geo-political and anthropological conflict. In the geo-political dimension, the issue is whether a bigger nation can invade a smaller nation and then claim the smaller nation’s territory as its own. In the anthropological dimension, the issue is whether the bigger nation can also claim the smaller nation as its own people. These two dimensions are inseparably inter-related. I had therefore argued in my book that “The national identity of a nation is inseparable from the geographical identity of that nation.” Also in both dimensions, serious ethical, theological and philosophical truths are at stake.
In the geo-political dimension, when prior to 1947, no Indian King or Prince had ever set foot on Naga territory, how can 1,20,000 sq. km of ancient Naga lands simply disappear into India and Burma after the Anglo-Indian transfer of power in 1947. Here, if Nagas are going to surrender to the Indian claim that Nagaland has become Indian territory after 1947, they will forfeit their own geographical identity and become refugees in their own native lands.
In the anthropological dimension, the question is, how can a Mongolian race called the Nagas suddenly become Dravido-Aryan Indians in the year 1947? Anthropologically this is an impossible proposition. But here again, if Nagas are going to surrender to this unbelievable Indian proposition then they will lose their own national identity and become nobody in the scientific discipline of Anthropology.
THE ABSOLUTE FUTILITY OF TRYING TO BUILD ONE’S NATION ON THE FALSE FOUNDATION OF ANOTHER NATION
We have just concluded that the national and geographical identities of a nation are non-negotiable. These two fundamental truths are in fact the foundations of any nations on earth. However, if Nagas are going to compromise on these two fundamental truths of nationhood, then Nagas can never develop themselves as a nation. Looking back at our history, from 1947 to 1960 all Nagas stood as a nation to defend these two fundamental truths of nationhood. And as we stood our ground and fought back, very soon Indian Army Generals and the ordinary soldiers in the field realised the non-negotiable and militarily indestructible nature of these two principles. The horror that was unleashed on an unarmed civilian population by the Indian army should have been more than sufficient to bring any nation to its knees to beg for mercy. But to our honour and our pride we did not beg for mercy or surrender our rights. Subsequently, the 1964 cease-fire was an international cease-fire between two nations in conflict. It was a bilateral cease-fire without one party dictating on the other.
The tragic downslide however began when in 1960; some of our own people betrayed our cause and opened the door for compromise and neutrality. By January 16, 1964, with the completion of the first Indian election in Nagaland, all the infrastructures necessary to attempt to build our nation on the false premise and foundation of another nation was in place. And as our elected MLA’s swore their allegiance to the Constitution of India, there was a mass exodus of the best-educated Naga brains into that Indian built infrastructure in our land. As for the rural masses who form the overwhelming majority of the Naga nation, they were left wandering in the wilderness with no educated leaders to lead them. Now what has happened in the ensuing forty-three years of our experiment with falsehood?
Can a nation that had compromised on moral and ethical principles so fundamental to nationhood still hope to build a vibrant nation on the foundation of another nation? I do not believe so. On the contrary I believe such a nation will end up only in ruins.
Nagaland had a great past yesterday but Nagaland today is in ruins. To begin with, the Naga Indian State, that had promised us so much, has till today in spite of forty three years of Statehood, failed to provide even something so basic as safe drinking water or regular electricity for the residents of Kohima, the capital town. As for present performance, most government offices are empty except on pay days. Our roads whether in the rural or urban areas are also mostly in ruins. As to future prospects, one wonders as to where our thousands of educated youth are going to find employment. Presently, most of them are seeking jobs in India and elsewhere. On the other hand some of the underground factions continue their terrorising activities of extortion, killing and intimidating the general public.
In the midst of all these ruins, we find the NPF blaming the Congress, the Congress blaming the NSCN, the NSCN blaming the NNC and so on. But instead of going on blaming one another, let us stop for once and reflect on what Dr. Frank Buchman once said. Dr. Buchman said:
A nation’s thinking is in ruins before the nation is in ruins.
Surely something has gone very wrong in our thinking to produce the ruins we are finding ourselves in today. In the realm of thinking, some of us abandoned moral principles of nationhood and tried to build our nation on a false and compromised formula that was bereft of any ethical principles. Others continued to pursue and defend the right principles but resorted to adopting some most unprincipled means to achieve their goals. The overwhelming majority meanwhile, chose to remain indifferent, hoping to build their own empires with their neutrality. The result is the ruins we find ourselves in today.
Can we indeed expect something great to come out from a nation that has abandoned such basic moral principles in their thinking? Would God in heaven also still bless us in spite of our disobedience to his moral laws governing the existence of nations on earth?
India is indeed guilty in many ways for these ruins, but we cannot go on blaming India for all our ills. We must instead re-examine our own thinking and throw away the wrong thoughts that have led us to these ruins. And here we have only two choices. We can recommit ourselves to the basic principles of truth and collectively seek a solution through proper legal means or we can continue to cling on to these wrong thoughts and produce even more ruins. Here nobody will help us as long as we are unfaithful or compromise with these basic moral principles of nationhood and nation building.
We also have nothing to fear in making a stand for these principles of nationhood. This is because these principles are not just Naga principles but universal principles to which every nation must bow. These principles are in fact, the basis and foundation upon which every sovereign nation on earth is standing. Therefore, if we take a firm stand on these principles with a commitment to face any consequences thereof, then the world will have to listen to our voice. And allow me here to say to any timid Naga that war is not the only way of achieving political freedom. As far as Nagas are concerned, enough war has been fought to defend their national and geographical rights. I now personally think that we do not have to fight through arms anymore. We can instead show the records of our armed defence to the world and non-violently plead with the world to listen to our cries for freedom. To do this there are many non-violent legal means and avenues. However, if we are going to be neutral or compromise on these basic principles of nationhood, no nation on earth is under any obligation to listen to the cry of some Naga hypocrites and liars.