Speech delivered by Rev. Dr. Ellen Jamir, the theme speaker at the 28th General Conference of the Naga Students Federation in Bhandari Town, Wokha on May 9, 2019.
Respected Officials and members of Naga Students’ Federation, Dignitaries, Delegates, and our host, I am truly humbled to be standing here this evening – to be invited to share my thoughts on the theme “For a JustFuture.”
I consider this a wonderful opportunity to explore our future together.
So, thank you!
I want to acknowledge with gratitude our host, the Lotha Students Union, and the Bandari community for efficiently putting this conference together. Congratulations to you all for your remarkable job.
We are finally here!
My earliest recollection of associating with the NSF is that of walking the streets of Kohima town to the NSF Martyrs’ Park, in the late 90sas a younger student, with thousands of students and leaders in solidarity for the two students lives, gone too soon for a cause. NSF as an apex students’ body has over the decades, championed various causes becoming one of the most important custodians of our Naga history. And I applaud you for your bold commitment to our nation’s cause over the years.
I believe you have chosen this theme to bring to focus our present reality and to imagine a Just future that is, if you will, healthier, better, virtuous, principled, truthful, and reasonable. A future based on what is morally right and fair.
As I pondered on the theme and the context from where it emerged, I was struck by the resemblance of our Naga journey with that of the journey I take to work. You see, I work at the Oriental Theological Seminary which is located 18 kms south-west of Dimapur town. It takes me about an hour and 15 minutes to get to work, and on the route I pass by several landmarks…as I drive out of town, the first place I pass by is the Thahekhu village, a beautiful village, and unlike the rural villages, it is a pretty well developed village with beautiful structures and well maintained road and landscapes.
Then I drive along the well guarded, barbed wired fencing of the sprawling Rangapahar military station, crossing the wild life sanctuary, the Nagaland Zoological Park. From then on, I pass by several villages to reach my destination. Along the way, I often stop to buy the local produce sold by women folks on the road side. From what I know these are hard working women whose income supports the education of their children and economy of their families. Somewhere midway too, there is the unique place of Naga textiles, the Exotic Echo, an establishment that recently received a national recognition for their work. Here and there you will see local butchers selling meat which gets sold off pretty quickly. Further down the journey after crossing the OTS campus, you will find more villages and the Hebron camp.
So yes, what comprises of our land, you can find them all along this stretch of road! I have noticed that along this long road, people have carved out a lifestyle best suited to their circumstances. Life is seemingly what it is for these various populations. However the sad reality is the road that connects each village or establishment, is rough. It is bumpy. As a matter of fact, along that hour’s ride up, the smooth road last only for about 2 minutes, along the zoo. The rest? Pathetic condition! Time to time, roads are being repaired but it is only a temporary relief, a superficial comfort that last for just some months.
Where are we Nagas in this 21st century? You have rightly stated in the press statement that our present context is one that comprises of political conflict, division of the Naga people, intra-conflict, nepotism and favouritism, corruption, structural violence and so on. Our journey thus far as a nation is rough. Despite the significant progress made here and there in different sectors, our struggles are still real – from individuals to the nation as a whole. I am aware that seated here are many of you who have been in the thick of it all, and who are well informed and engaged in the issues confronting us.
Wherever we are in the world, humanity is faced with choices – to make our world a better place or to succumb to our sufferings. Each generation will face their own unique challenges as well as make unique contributions.
What is ours today? What is our call?
As I look around me, I see potential. I see hope. I see power.
I see you, dear friends. Whether we like it or not, we are on a journey. And if we are true to ourselves, a rough journey, a messy journey. A Journey perhaps that has been forced upon us, yet that which we are participating in and co-creating.
As we intently envision our future, I would like to suggest just 3 things. Being a teacher and learner of practical theology, my suggestions will come with emphasis on pragmatism.
1.You and I as individuals in the journey: In our journey as a people with our unique history, I assume you have been faced with the question of how you are situated in this long, arduous journey. We grow up and go along with the flow in the hope of finding meaning in our lives and to live productive lives. I mean, that is what is expected of us, isn’t it?at least by our parents, and the family we belong to. As school going kids, many of us have been faced with the question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’‘What is your ambition,’‘what is your dream?’
What I want to say this evening is, you matter. I matter. Your voice matters in this journey. In the recent past, as a member of FNR (Forum for Naga Reconciliation), I have had the privilege of being in conversations with various people, particularly the younger generation. In their presence, I have often felt the desire in many, the longing for our socio-economic and political situation to be better than what it is now in the present times. Being in this crucible, I find it easy for us to resign to our helplessness, to remain in the realm of oppression and in turn learning to oppress, and overall, living a reactive life. We have been forced to react and take out our frustrations, our anger, and our hopelessness on each other instead of facing the outside forces together.
So dear fellow travellers, how about taking a moment to look deep within ourselves? I believe there is a fine distinction in living out a reflective life in oppose to a reactive life. Unless we are guided by certain right and concrete principles and we have a firm foundation of who we are as a people or a nation, whatever we say or strive for will not hold water.
We respect our elders, women and men who have experienced the brunt of our struggles and for some, because of the deep pain and hurts of the past, it will be more challenging to accept the evolving patterns and paradigms of peace and reconciliation. In this, it becomes our responsibility, the younger generation to bridge the gap. It is our responsibility to learn from them and to nurture the hopes and dreams of our parents and grandparents while simultaneously, opening up to the possibilities of our times. It is our responsibility to learn about our history, critically yet with compassion. You and I have voices. We have the decision making ability. We can be influencers. We can take part in the policy making mechanisms with ideas and imaginations that is conducive for all.
Do we choose complacency or we wake our spirit within? What do you personally stand for? What do you stand for in your own capacity?
2.The “Us” in the journey, the “We”: Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, once said: “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. So what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.”
On January 10, 2018, during the Naga Day in Kohima, one message that came out loud and clear is that Nagas need to reclaim our sense of belongingness, in order to be victors. That scattering without a sense of belonging is a way to diminish ourselves.
Yes, like anywhere else in the world, we the Nagas, consists of people of all persuasions and political or apolitical parties. It is a tragedy to see many families and communities divided over differences. Our vocabulary consists of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ and not ‘we.’ Simple words spoken by us have the tendency to bring in huge detrimental effects on our relationships with each other. Such words usher in exclusivism, fear, mistrust, and intolerance. These are all in our psyche. However the danger is that, such feelings and consciousness tend to become our behaviour.
That is the reason why, as I mentioned earlier in point 1, we need to be more of a reflective self and not a reactive self. That way, we are able to see ourselves in others and not just a profile or profiles based on our assumptions and fears.
Dear friends, how powerful can we be if we come together in unity and purpose.
We have it in us, to imagine a just, an inclusive, and a shared Naga future. Most of the circumstances surrounding us are man or human made. And it is our responsibility to attend to the political, social and spiritual elements that divide us. We need to be authentic people. We need to be present for one another. We need to see the hope and goodness of people. We also need to acknowledge the divine higher power that exists among us.
So, the question that needs pondering here is: Why are we unable to come together? What is making us not come together? What prevents us from becoming a common voice, despite our differences?
3.NSF as a powerful agent of change: The NSF as a body came into existence to respond to the needs of the young people and the Nagas as a whole, to form a common platform to address the aspiration of our people for solidarity and unity. Over the years, despite setbacks every now and then, the NSF has made and continues to make some remarkable contributions in many areas of our lives- dealing with anything from school and colleges affairs to illegal immigrant issues and tackling our political issues. While making significant efforts, we cannot help but take note of some of the underlying factors that make change difficult in our society.
My colleague, Dr.Panger recently was sharing about the evil structures in our Naga society that are holding all of us captive. He talked of 3 demons among many others– culture, patriarchy, and mammonism.
• Culture – Tribal norms and practices that are not progressive, but rigid, blind, and oppressive.
• Patriarchy – the institutions, practices and values that perpetuate male/men as the norm in a society
• mammonism – that is, focus on status, wealth and power.
These are deep demoralizing elements that are often hard to detect or pinpoint how they are affecting our attitude and our actions.
In working for change, The NSF needs to stand for what it – as an independent, inclusive voice, and take up initiatives that interest and benefit the youth – engaging with the younger generations, tackling big as well as small issues.
It is our responsibility to fight for the marginalized; for example, helping students and teacher stuck in their world of inequality or insufficiency, or cautiously and compassionately rescuing young people from human trafficking evil practices, or pave paths for young graduates to live out their dreams. I was shocked to learn that the education department is the most corrupt after health and rural department.
We should name the issues and work with other civil societies to take various issues to legal or other ends. As one friend pointed out, NSF is the only body that can bridge the huge gaps between the different Naga areas and issues, and they have the responsibility to bring the nation together.
We need to listen to each other more. We need to provide safe spaces for us to have dialogue. We have many compelling stories that are interconnected and woven together. We cannot help but admit our complexities. Our journey is complex; however it is our responsibility to unravel these layers of complexities. We need to connect with one another in truth and compassion. Then only can we experience a just outcome.
The question I want to pose here is:
How can NSF be a transforming agent?
How can NSF be an independent body while working with and for everyone?
With these thoughts, I want to end by saying -our journey together continues. What are our individual and collective roles? Specifically, how can NSF lead us?
Thank you all for listening and I wish you all the best.
Rev. Dr. Ellen Konyak Jamir is an associate professor for Pastoral Counselling and Psychotherapy at Oriental Theological Seminary (OTS) in Dimapur.