Shedding colonial rind

Imkong Walling

British colonial hegemony was perhaps the most consequential in the modern history of the geographical Indian sub-continent. It laid the foundation for the eventual redrawing of boundaries, seeing through the division of Bengal and the Punjab, and the subsequent birthing of several nation states.  

It was thus, and maybe, inevitable that the British came into contact with a so called hill-top dwelling band of ‘isolated’ people in the easternmost fringe of the sub-continent, wedged in between the fertile valleys of the Brahmaputra river system and British Burma. The consequences of that contact were an unparalleled one. The effect of which is still being felt today, one a half century later, in the form of legacies. The list goes on— From Christianising, to the western education model and arbitrary drawing of ethnic borders to the incorporation of the Nagas into two separate national folds.  

A predilection or reverence to a “British rule” of old still lives despite the British messing up traditional territorial borders, the debilitating consequence of which continues to define the politics of the northeastern region. 

Grassroots administration has been another legacy that has endured to this day. It came in the shape of the ‘Gaonbura’ system, a system that went on to attain institutional status in the then province of Assam and other states in the region, including in Nagaland. It was a governance masterstroke for the British, one that catered to the pride and honour that the natives vested in their customs. 

It was so enduring that it exists in more or less the same shape and design, as introduced by the colonial administrators. Today, in Nagaland, the ‘Gaonburas,’ together with the Village Councils, are practically scaled down, grassroots replica of the President and the Council of Ministers/Governor and the Council of Ministers. 

But for all the positives, systems have to evolve, including an institution as that of the ‘Gaonbura,’ by way of shedding the colonial traits. 

As stated recently by a public leader, at a gathering of ‘Gaonburas’ in Chümoukedima, it is time that this grassroots institution is “reshaped, decolonised and given a strong Naga character,” besides, putting a stop to hero-worshipping the British colonial administration. With all due apology to the leader, an electoral aspirant, this author is refraining from crediting his name here, on the grounds that the election Model Code of Conduct has taken effect. 

The implied reforms include ascribing stronger indigenous character to the position, while making a clear distinction between hereditary ‘Gaonburas’ and government appointed/nominated ‘Gaonburas.’ Of late, there seems to be a dilution of the two in the contemporary discourse. 

Over and above, the ‘Gaonbura’ system as introduced by the British rests on patriarchal underpinnings, entailing the seeking of reforms that would consider the prospect of opening up to women in leadership.  

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to [email protected]