Titles at times act as a deterrent to the average reader. I have intentionally coined the title of this article with a contextual aim. Although the title of this article reverberate a generalized tone, the aim is particular.
In modern socio-political history, the collapse of the USSR, coupled with rapid advances in information technology and mass communication ushered in a revolutionary change–a policy of globalization. Going back to Ancient India, although the word “globalization” was not used then, India was a highly connected civilization, advanced in trade and commerce. In a sense, one may say, India was “globalized before globalization.”
Today in contemporary Indian politics one cannot dismiss that religion and globalization are mutually exclusive. That is, in post-Congress India, power, politics, and religion are dynamically interwoven: morals and culture, religious mission and political finesse. Such a paradox was not devoid in Medieval Christendom, in pockets of Christian fundamentalism in the contemporary world, and in the Islamic theocracies in historical periods, each having its own share of miserable fault lines.
The recent remark made by the Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, in Nagaland not to “mix politics and religion,” is in itself a political statement par excellence. It is also superfluous. Is it irrational to say that in today’s India, religion has become a force for political motivation? Perhaps not, in principle, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) stormed India into power. With the progress of time, without putting up a front, how long its creative tension with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sustained the thin lid in the face of economic liberalization and global politics is a concern. Yesterday’s political left has become today’s political right. Obviously, the one on the right and frontline will have plenty of diggers at everything, but if one is ethically honest, can anyone of us afford to ignore the RSS mission of designed vindictiveness to single out those in the margins of faiths, culture, and practices? At the heart of the creative tension lies fear and loyalty, and while this is understandable, I do not necessarily agree that it must be that way.
In a recent rally at Longkhim-Chare Assembly constituency, BJP National General Secretary Mr. Ram Madhav lauded Christian missionaries saying, “It was due to the sacrifices of the missionaries that the people of this region stand tall today.” Whether this is a change in politicking methods, or a sincere acknowledgment of the works of Christian missionaries remains to be tested. If the latter is true, then a person like Mr. Madhav, who wields considerable clout in the BJP party, must demythologize the existing illusions of people of other faiths than Hindutva Manifesto. Average people in India know what needs to happen now.
In any given cultural and religious plural setting, fundamentalism of any kind is a hazard to a society and a nation. If the readers of this article think that I as a Christian am excluding Christianity out of this statement, it is not true. I make no qualms to admit that under the guise of Christianity, history points to a shameful testimony by its adherents all over the world. Closer home, the co-opting of Christian religion to a political ideology has fashioned an ideological justification for the means and the end. The legitimatization of politics by religious fundamentalism is a civil religion.
Some writers from India have alluded that the “seed of all insurgent” movement lies with the “foreign missionaries.” Without any bias, one may look at the historical records and confirm if this is true. To the best of historians’ research, the missionaries educated and taught us the way of Christ to live better lives, to love our neighbors, to turn the other check and follow Christ, contrary to the distorted narrative that Christian missionaries fueled “separatist movements” and uprooted our culture. It is not my intention here to write about culture as if culture is a commodity of a timeless past for outsiders to look at in a museum. Far from it, we are caught up in the dynamics of the globalizing forces of culture.
Elsewhere, an RSS writer has also inaccurately mentioned that we were “Hindu Nagas.” (So far, I have not used the word “Naga” in this write up). If the writer has mentioned, “Hindu Nagas” by way of the Varaha Purana, then that writer may adhere to that mythology. If the Nagas of Naga-Land (Naga people living in their lands, without borders, apart from the statehood of Nagaland) are being made to believe that we were “Hindu Nagas,” then I rightfully beg to differ and state that the word “Naga” as in Sanskrit to mean “serpent” is not what we are. For the sake of convenience and clarity of this article, I will heretofore coin the word, for my sake only, “Naaka,” so that others may not deliberate the word Naakas for Hindu Nagas. Arguments may go on but, the fact remains: Naakas were predominantly animists, with traces of pantheism in some cultures. Worship of benevolent and malevolent spirits were at the heart of the practices of our fore-parents. Pantheons of any kind did not figure in their beliefs.
The fact of the coming of Christian missionaries from the West to the Naakas cannot be erased from the pages of history. We have changed from existing in a timeless past towards appreciating and embracing belonging of the selfhood and others alike. Unlike Christianity that is tagged with a Western ethos, Christ is universal and transcends all cultural forms towards greater humanity, all the while affirming and safeguarding greater values of culture inherently beneficial to humanity. Our neighbors have viewed the Naaka brand of Christianity with skepticism because not many of us are following Christ’s ways of living. This is where we have failed. However, the passion for the preservation of our identity and our “independence” seen from a historical context calls for fair acknowledgement, of our relative rights, not at the expense of others. Relative rights of an identity implies boundaries, but permeable boundaries, with symbolism, without borders. Events in our recent times must also admit that the Naaka political issue is with India and not with others. The dream of an emancipation breaking in from some other entities must be debunked.
Our love of identity and independence is no crime. We seek no rights that rob the rights of our neighbor. We cannot remain asleep in the past, but must wake up to the present world of globalization, no matter how cynical one may be.
India today is a power to be reckoned with in the world. However, a powerful democratic nation that is callous to civil freedoms and ethnic and minority rights in the name of goals and ideology, and is also one that holds no responsibility to its denial of freedom of religion and of violence perpetuated. The dangers of politics today will arise from an attempt to unify and systematize what is actual plural and un-systemizable. An ideological rationale for action is a structuralist interpretation of society. Such an interpretation obscures the plurality of beliefs, interests, and aspirations within bounds of creative imagination of political models.
On a positive note, world religions have always played a vital role of moral force and action. They bear the visions of common good and human flourishing. To be known as “religious” one must embrace and articulate orientation toward God. In this, religions are indispensable part of politics and hence a solution to humanity’s quest—and globalization is a means. Towards this end, I am Christian and hence, I make no apologies about Christ as my personal Savior. Christ is for all; none are excluded. However, I cannot force my belief on others. I can only live, act, and speak for Christ and for this, I must not be castigated, and neither must my fellow Christian sisters and brothers in the largest democratic country in the world.
(This article is written without any malice at anyone or a party. It is a personal thought calling to be more rational and humane)
N.B: Rev Dr Wati Aier is the Convenor of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation and is a Emeritus Professor of Constructive Theology & Philosophy. He recently retired as Principal of Oriental Theological Seminary, Bade, Dimapur.