Recently there was a news about some imposters caught red handed by NSCN(IM) cadres in Sibilong areas of Tamenglong in Manipur while they were collecting ‘tax’ from transporters on the national highway No. 53 in name of NSCN(IM). The report also said those who were caught were also released unharmed (bodily integrity respected) after parading them before the media or in other words exposing them to public humiliation (human dignity violated). This act was deliberate and well intended to cleansing the public image of the group which has been increasingly tarnished by different sections of people from within and without Naga society for various reasons including the ‘Naga tax’. Many people appreciated the IM group for this humanitarian act in the media. Such act of righteousness and human compassion towards the wrongdoers on the part of NSCN(IM) operating in Manipur also indicate a change of mind in the party’s leaderships, especially, when the 23 years old peace processes with Govt of India is at the tapering end of inking a final settlement needing increasing social legitimacy. This change of mind in the HQ of the group which is committed to creation of new nation-state called Nagalim is significant turning point from the ways they used to conduct and operate in 1980s-1990s with zero tolerance against anyone with difference expecting absolute submission to the cause of Naga national movement under the party’s leadership. There are more to be done for the group to draw people’s mandate and social legitimacy in the post-conflict reconstruction processes within Naga society and with neighboring peoples.
Locus standi of this address to the NSCN(IM) leadership and Government of India as primary parties in peace parleys and all other armed groups operating in the region, in general, stems from the ‘tax’ payers’ position and deprivation of freedom from violence; fears born out of killings, threats and intimidations to bodily integrity, minds and dignity of the people who may have different opinion or not belong to the Naga nation or Indian nation. It appeals to the moral obligations of both the state and non-state groups towards all the peoples; rich and poor, who have been willingly or forcibly; knowingly or unknowingly; and directly or indirectly making financial contributions in the form of ‘Naga tax’ or ‘Indian taxation’ for them to emerge as the most powerful nationalist groups/ nation in the region to deliver long-sought after peace to the people out of the decades of wars and violence. What the leaderships needs to be more wary about are for the people who have been paying these taxes under threats and intimidations as no nation can be peaceful and happy if it has use force upon it’s own and neighbours. Both should have moral obligations and accountability towards the peoples who seek peace and justice as the two parties make progress in peace deals.
Dividend of Naga peace must benefit the entire (sub)-nations of linguistic identity groups in the region. A lesson Govt of India can learn after six decades of violent encounters with the indigenous peoples in the region following the wilful annexation is that any political solution emanating from the Indian cultural and political mainstream will not be sustainable here in the region. However, if the Central Govt choose to keep region as militarily normalized ‘disturbed area’ for its own sense of security while not being able to feel a sense of filial affinity with the peoples due to cultural differences alien to one another then God alone can help it. Chanakya’s time is over for centuries. Copy-paste any of those past formulae in the region to solve contemporary problems can be sign of poverty of philosophy. The contemporary is a time for democracies and indigenous peoples’ world to thrive to make the world more liveable, peacefully with one another and with the nature. Some of the old beliefs must be best discarded.
The belief that the centre has all the solutions for all problems in the peripheries must be abandoned, in the first place out rightly, by all the nationalist armed groups in the region. They must trust themselves, with their own and with their neighbours for it is them who will be there to make peace also as much as they have been part of the problems. The centre has created more problems in the peripheries than it can handle for one simple reason: It does not know the problems of the peripheries because it does not belong there historically or it does not want to know because they have some ulterior motives or else creating a permanent disturbed conditions is beneficial to the centre more than efforts to create normal peaceful situation with the peoples. The centre has to come clear on this or reinvent itself in the light of new knowledge and changing time and context. To sort out the problem the centre can be honest to must stop labelling ‘the others’ as ‘insurgents’ or ‘anti-nationals’ or ‘terrorists’ as it can’t deny its part in making them and naming them so that they can be ‘out-law’ or snatching the right the life for them. The Centre as the dominant state of power owes the moral obligations, in the first place, towards the suffering peoples to put things right
To sort out the problem it has created for itself the centre must gather enough courage to work together with the indigenous peoples by doing three things; 1) Recall its army who are alien to the people and their cultures and deployed under AFSPA 1958; and 2) Engage in open and sustained dialogue with all the indigenous peoples. 3) In order to do the first two things, Centre has to come clean on these questions:
- Does India actually love the north-east peoples?
- Does India actually fear losing north-east peoples?
- What does India actually wants out of the north-east region?
- What does India expect the indigenous peoples of the region to do for India?
While these questions can also be asked to all elite political class and armed national groups in the region, equally, clear answers can give clues to the shape of peace, security and development processes that will unfold in the post-conflict reconstruction processes right after the final settlement is inked, sooner or later. A glance through Look East Policy now more decisively operative Act East Policy 2014 and NE Vision 2020 will also throw enough light to see what the future holds for the peoples of the region. One thing that one might want India to do is to stop fishing in troubled water in the region including the subtle efforts to bring about demographic and cultural changes in the indigenous region and move together with the peoples towards sustainable peace and development. Do no more loots of the region’s rich resources including human and people’s hard earned money (as direct and indirect tax) in return to the freebee-grant-in-aid annual budget that satisfy the lifestyle and standard hungers of handful of elite political class created in the region. India state and Naga (non-)state must have the courage to trust and take the people as partners in the post-conflict reconstruction or peace and development processes. If these powers continue to trust the military more than the people then there can be harder questions to confront them.
Why should average Naga and Non-Naga people in the neighbourhood who may be unwilling to pay tax for different reasons pertaining to moral, social, political and cultural reasons be forced to pay at least Re1/per day towards ‘Naga tax’ especially from economically poorer section of society and yet wilfully deny their human rights and dignity at gun points on all the National Highways passing through Naga inhabited areas? Why should not the NSCN(IM) in particular and other factions and groups in general be more respectful to the economically poorer sections of society who travel on these highways for they anyway pay by their sweat and blood money for maintenance and advancement of the political struggles? Why should not any armed groups which survive on people’s money be accountable to them and also take responsibilities for their security and welfare on these roads? Why should the tax payers not have the right to ask how the money collected as tax is being spent, also?
People respect the national workers. They must also must remember the poor people for their contributions to every meal, every international journey, every house built and every gun purchased whenever they think of using those resources/equipments to threaten and intimidate their own people and neighbours. And why should one pay the tax to the Government of India from my sweat and blood without being employed by the government if they continue to keep the heavily armed alien army men next door to do anything they want with my life, my wife, my young daughters and sons anytime by giving full legal impunity? Does the Govt of India want to prove that peoples they have kept in captivity for decades under AFSPA 1958 are lesser human being who also deserve to be forced to pay direct/ indirect tax to the state? Do people in this region pay tax to the Indian state to have its army kill and rape inside their own house on mere ‘suspicion’ in the eyes of the uniform personnel who does not even know the local language?!! How does India draw the moral strength to levy tax in the militarized regions where right to life and dignity is denied and abolished at will? What right can we expect from both the state which has empowered the military to rule over civil authority and non-state headed by military leaders operating and affecting millions of lives without any moral compunctions?
Peoples’ freedom movements started only after the annexation of the region by the then recently independent dominion of India when the literacy rate might be well below 10%-20% and diverse groups of indigenous peoples lived in isolated independent settlements in the region. Today, the literacy rate has climbed above 80% with women marching ahead alongside men getting international exposures and knowledge. The present generations are of aware and educated people who are much more capable and numerous enough for active political participation and leadership for the rightful democratic political, cultural, economic and social struggles. They are no lesser nationalists than any armed groups or individuals. The old must give way to the new. Sovereignty cannot be monopoly of one or the other group rather it lies in the hands of the people. This idea has become a louder voice with current relevance and application in the present times. The present generation is differently able to fight for the same right to justice and peace by peaceful and legal methods. No nation can be built anymore by force, threats and intimidations or hatreds.
The present and future is not going to take any more wars and violent struggles for any cause. To belong to a nation and motherland is an inborn quality of any person hence it cannot be imposed by any force, the least, any external ones. India is a nation of nations is a historical and contemporary fact by the ways states are organized after independence. Similarly, Manipuri and Naga are also nations of sub-nations within each. Every nation has to struggle for self-protection if any other nation steps over its space and every nation have to meet the international community in its journey. The rise of RSS/BJP in Hindu-Hindu belt within Indian Territory should be a glaring inspiration and a home-grown role model for all struggling sub-nations within Indian Territory. But it has to change the way of its struggles to meet aspirations and standards of the aware and education citizenry. Instead of consolidating its Hindu national political base within the Hindi linguistic geography and populations it went ahead to capturing the Indian state to impose its will over other sub-nations by using the state as its instruments for violence, threats and intimidations against the ‘others’: sub-nations. The foundation of Indian Parliament is not meant for a monolithic nation-state. It is created to allow pluri-nation to grow together as diverse of cultures, linguistic and faith based on its spiritual foundation: Satyameiva Jayate
Truth shall prevail but it can do so only when the truths are given a space in the now Hindutva nation-state-in-the-making process or within any other dominant national narratives of the peripheries. Naga is one truth among the many in India. It must be respected by restoring with what was unduly taken away from them and that which is due to them, rightfully. Every nation or linguistic identity group within Indian territory must be respected by restoring what is due to them by reworking the idea of India or Indian Union by recalling its spiritual foundation: the plurality and so the multiplicity of the truths. India must also listen to the United Nations with open minds and follow up in actions. The 21st century world is mentally fully prepared for a new internationalism: to build a new kind of international relations without using wars, threats and intimidation. The UN had begun this journey of writing a new human history by declaring the decade 2000-2010 as the International decade for Culture of peace and nonviolence.
The present generation is a generation of reasons and open minds flexible enough to understand the others, ideate and cut new pathways of living happily and respectfully with the differences and diversities. Naga society has already taken a step towards working and living together with differences by charting out a broader pathway from 2018: Naga Beyond Borders to keep pace with the present and meet the future in the its journey of nation building and creating a unique space among the international community. The new pathway to local and global world peace is built on the empirical foundations laid down by Seville Statement in 1986: Violence is not biological necessity therefore peace is possible without wars and violence. It is time for the state to disbelieve itself that it alone has the monopoly over use of violence, disown and disarm itself to believe in peace possibilities with the people by promoting participatory democracy. India can change history of the world and the many struggling nationalities within its dominion including that of the Nagas. It is a matter of being accountable to the people it represents and taking moral responsibilities of being one among the human society.
The writer is Visiting Faculty, NEISSR, Nagaland and Coordinator PINE (Manipur-Nagaland)