Quit Notice and the Deeper Issue

Charles Chasie

The sharp polarization that has been happening in our society for quite sometime is an issue of grave concern for all of us. Now, with the “quit notice” issued by NSCN (K) to the Tangkhul community in Nagaland, the polarization seems to be taking a turn for the worse. Instead of coming closer, we seem to be drifting further apart. Why is it that whatever can go wrong in our situation keeps going wrong? 

The present issue also, once again, clearly demonstrates that, in the Naga context, we all still continue to see and interpret happenings through the prism of tribes. This could be largely due to the fact that individual Naga identities are inseparably linked to clan, khel, village and tribe identities. And this cultural view continues to dominate our beings despite modern mannerisms, fashions and adopted attitudes. We may take the high moral ground of rationality and philosophical/ideological discourse when it suits us but this is what we all really still are. It is not practiced only by the people in the NSCN (K) but by all Nagas. We are all seen and we all look at other Nagas as part of our respective tribe identities. This trait quickly comes out and most visibly especially when we have our backs against the wall and no alternatives seem available. It enjoins on each of us the obligation to remember that we all carry individual responsibilities as well as collective ones to our communities and the larger society.    

But let me first of all make clear my position on the `quit notice’ of the NSCN (K). In the early 1990s when the Kukis were told to quit Nagaland and this reached Kohima, I wrote in my newspaper (I was editor then) that this was wrong. For my stand I got into some difficulties but apart from a few friends there was no “squeak” of support from anyone. But I was at peace because I believed it was the right thing to do. I see absolutely no reason today to change my stand. The faults and mistakes of some cannot be visited on an entire community. And there are always good people in every community. At this point, for instance, I think of my senior friend and former colleague, Dr Tuisem Shishak, who launched and kept going, till retirement recently, the Patkai Christian College which we all know about. I do not think I would want him to leave Nagaland even from a purely selfish point of view, leaving aside larger considerations. 

What gives me hope in the present case are the reports in the newspapers (having been away, I read about a week’s collection at one go) from NSCN–K’s leadership that innocent Tangkhuls will not be targeted. It shows that some re-thinking is going on. The NSCN (K) must rescind the targeting of the Tangkhuls as a tribe.    

Equally, it is important to examine why the NSCN (K) may have been driven to this unreasonable and extreme step. Such examination is required not just for the sake of the NSCN (K) but for the good of the whole Naga society and so that no such mistakes will be repeated in future. Because of our given tribal context what each does or fails to do has consequences for us and for our communities. Likewise, the good that we do will be reflected on our communities too. The mindset extends from the personal to the community and national affairs. It is unrealistic and impractical to expect otherwise.   

Let us consider our society. It is made up of a collection of disparate tribes, claiming to be a people and a nation, and have actually fought for so many decades for such aspirations, but now it seems to be tearing apart at the seams even before the contours of such national ambitions could be clearly mapped out. Tragically, instead of delving deeper into the actual malaise and design faults confronting us and dealing with the real mechanics of the Naga Car we want to build, we seem to have stopped at only imagining the shapes and colours of the final product. Unhappily for us, the Naga Car we want will first have to go through the visioning, designing, engineering, and production processes, and correcting any faults, before we can possess and drive it safely. Unless we are prepared to go through the long and difficult, even painful, processes required, the cost will be paid, as it has already been paid, and still being paid, in numerous more lives and may result in the ultimate sacrifice of our people-hood. What we are experiencing now are warning signs.  

What has our society become today? We have reached a stage where no one can say anything to anyone anymore. Power and strength, and wealth as a means to achieving these, are the only things we understand, threats and intimidations are the only languages we speak, and deep suspicion has become the hallmark of our inter-personal relationship whether between individuals or between groups or parties. This is not a society, far less a nation, that can move forward and fulfill its God-given destiny. Permanent revolution and chaos are the only words one can think of to describe such a volatile state. A society at war with itself cannot be expected to grow and move forward. Neither can anyone help it.

The Naga national movement which first launched the process of our people-hood today seems to have become the single-most divisive factor in society. The present “quit notice” is also a direct political fall-out of the movement. Suspicion and fear, exclusiveness, assassinations, bitterness etc. have all led to the present state of affairs. The Angami too, the tribe to which I belong, have often been regrettably guilty of failing to be large-hearted enough and inclusive enough. Unless we correct these mistakes and unless we include everyone the Naga river of blood will keep flowing. Ours is a very small people and we need everyone. All of us but especially the leaders must ask themselves the kind of legacy, of peace and future or bitterness and hate, they want to bequeath their children.      

We are all agreed that our society has become wounded and hurting badly. Wounds need healing, not further wounding. Clever stratagems and manipulations, however successful in the short-term will only wound further and entrench our already difficult situation, making it impossible. What our situation demands is a humble acknowledgement that things have gone wrong, that we have all played a part in allowing things to go wrong, and to do all we can to put right what we can. Explanations and justifications, and selective indignations, will only make things worse by adding insult to injury. Propaganda is a lot of energy wasted as by now, every Naga has already made up his/her mind about who is right and who is wrong and where his/her position should lie and will not effect too much shift in the minds of our people. What we have to effect is a shift from who is right to what is right for all Nagas. Only then will there be a corresponding shift in our situation from impasse towards solution. 

As a senior friend keeps saying, life is about challenges and responses and what we are and what our situation becomes depend on the quality of our responses to the challenges confronting us. So long as we keep on reacting instead of responding adequately to the challenges before us, there will be no movement forward. 

Let us also appreciate each other. Although we are all capable of the worst, there is also so much good in our people. I recall, for instance, Mr Wangtin Konyak writing a moving letter in the immediate aftermath of the killing of Ngampan Konyak, paying tribute to his leader and stating his feeling of hurt but also expressing forgiveness and declaring his resolve to work for the good of all Nagas. I did not see any response of appreciation in the newspapers. I, for one, regrettably failed to do so publicly although, without knowing him, my respect for him rose in my heart. Quite often, lack of appreciation hardens hearts and instead of lifting the spiral of positive attitudes in society creates situations that could, perhaps, otherwise be avoided. 

After all the mistakes we have all committed, and also paid the price for them, we need to begin to sensitively listen to one another to begin again. When we stop listening to one another’s cries and appeals, we usually provoke the worst in each other. 

What we desperately need in our situation is a respected neutral body from within Naga society to facilitate and translate our slogan of reconciliation to real healing. Perhaps, the Church is the only body left that can perform this painful but necessary task. But will we allow it? Our society is so riven and our thinking follows the path of anyone not for us being against us that making the worst possible interpretations of what anyone says has become the norm. Killings continue everyday that even condemnation of such acts has become routine and tiresome. We have become so de-sensitized and de-humanized. Without healing, it is doubtful if there will be solution. On the contrary, the chances are greater for further bloodshed and perpetration of more legacies of bitterness to take place. 

It is also a fact that solution can only come from within Naga society. Outside help and support, however powerful and important, cannot assist us where we have refused to help ourselves. At most we will reduce their efforts to mere nuisance value, a peddling of our connections vis-à-vis the Government of India and other factions. This is not to underestimate or undermine the help outside friends can give but merely pointing out a fact. It is unfair to them also and I am sure they will be the first to agree. Only we can assist them to assist us. When we do not help ourselves no one can really help us. 

The bell has been tolling for the Naga people for a long time now. Will we hearken to it late as it is and give a chance to mothers to dry their tears, hardened hearts to soften and become human again and for our children to dream about their future? Only we can provide the answer.