Between Facts and Opinions: Integration of Naga Inhabited Areas

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By: Dr. Salikyu

Any dialogue concerning society, life, and technology rely on the establishment of certain facts. To properly understand the issues of interests, parties to the discussions must begin their discourse on facts, not opinions. In other words, facts must guide and lead us to better understand issues so that we may be in a better position to judge what is to be done, as well as gain an appreciation of the problems that confront us. Without facts, everyone talks past each other, no one listens, and everyone, erroneously, thinks their narrow view to be proper and acceptable. Unfortunately, the result of such incoherent opinions is an unintelligible noise. This, in brief, is the current state of affairs in Nagaland where most people generally blare out their opinion and remain shut to listen or hear what others have to say. Indeed, in a society where everyone is a leader, this is not surprising, to say the least.

However, to establish “facts” is not rocket science. Observation is one way of establishing facts. Observe the society around you and you will at least obtain some facts about the realities of the world in which you live. Any discussions without facts can and do go on endlessly, with no end in sight. What’s more, such discussions seldom lead to a way out of the problem. Certainly, people who engage themselves in society’s discourses, without facts, can and do talk a lot without stating anything concrete by naming the factors contributing to the problem at hand. These kinds of discourse only add to the confusion and sidetrack the issues at hand. Take, for instance, the quest to integrate all Naga inhabited areas of Northeast.

This quest seems problematic and those, such as Nagaland’s politicians, insurgent groups, and civil organizations, etc., making such appeals seem to either misread the actual sentiments of their society, i.e. misread the fact on the ground, or that they are simply paying lip-service for the sake of portraying that they care. The trouble is that I do not believe most people in Nagaland genuinely want it. I make such a claim based on observations based on happenstance experimental experiences but experiment nonetheless (and it would be irrational to discount results from experiments, be they happenstance or deliberate). This is the following experience:

A couple of years ago, in the previous institution where I was teaching, our department decided to accommodate the first-year graduate students into two sections after their first semester. Given its sheer number that made difficult for faculties to do justice to the graduate students, we believed that it was best to accommodate them in two sections where the quality of education could be maintained. Once the graduate students were put in two different sections, we began to notice a few changes, changes which, at that moment in time, did not seem anything out of ordinary. Within few weeks, each section had developed its own identity, norms, culture, and tradition (i.e. ways of doing things). What surprised us was that, in most cases, they began to mingle and bond, or limit their friends’ circle, within their sections. The noticeable interactions between the two sections were limited the superficial or swallow levels (such as: hi…, hello…, bye…, etc.). As they had somehow managed to construct competing identities out of thin air, the difference between the sections became more apparent. They managed to do so even in the absence of any reasonable differences among them. It got to a point where it was quite arduous for the faculties to make them mingle and do things together in unison.

Even by appealing to the spirit of camaraderie, ‘M.A. Political Science,’ this was not enough to make them feel attached nor develop that deep sense of bonding by the virtue of them being part of the same academic department under one institution. Rather, they preferred to stick and bond within their section. The following year, a new batch of students was again put in two different sections due to a high rate of enrolment, even higher than the previous year. Not surprisingly, they manifested the same sort of attitude between the two sections.

What could explain this sense of detachment to occur? What enabled this sense of identities to transpire among students who only a few weeks prior (in fact, for one semester) had shared the same space? What enabled this unintended identity to become paramount for the students of these two sections? The answer is a revelation of some of the major problems our society is presently facing (from Naga Nationalism to tribalism and corruption). The answer shows us that as individuals and groups acting out in the world and facing new and changing situations, we continue to shape our own lives accordingly. Our interaction with a new environmental situation compels us to restructure our worldviews, which in turn create new identities about ourselves. We must recognize that identity construction is an ongoing process where the individuals and groups continue to define and redefine their distinctiveness. Indeed, this is the basis of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Evolution is an ongoing process, a course of action where species continue to define and reconstruct their identities or idiosyncrasies based on the changing external circumstances. Likewise, new identities are constructed and the old ones purged as individuals and/or groups met new challenges and changing external environment.

What this means is that identities will keep on evolving, there is no stopping this process. And as they evolve or as identities are constructed, the close affinities that once held a people together in unison cannot be sustained or continued. When you include territorial or physical distance, even if they are artificial, the separate identities become even more concrete and real. What I saw from the two sections was an illustration of the different identities being constructed and made concrete and tangible between Nagas in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal, and Myanmar. I do not think average people in Nagaland genuinely feel that deep sense of affinity and connection with the Nagas outside of its state boundary.

People in Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, etc. have, due to happenstance of history, gone on to construct their norms, culture, traditions, and, most importantly, identities that are different from each other. Indeed, the identity creation and overriding importance of that separate identity differentiating one section from the other is the ideal exemplification of the relation among the Nagas of Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Arunachal, and Myanmar. To be blunt, there is no feeling of sympathy between these Nagas dwelling in different states and countries, with each sticking within its group, just as we saw with the students limiting their circles of friends to their section.

Moreover, the interactions between these Nagas are, just as with the students, limited to the superficial or swallow levels: ‘Naga Nationalism,’ ‘we’re Nagas,’ ‘Nagas without Borders,’ ‘we’re separated by artificial boundaries,’ and so on. The difference between the Nagas of different states becomes more apparent, as they’ve managed to construct competing and dissimilar identities even while claiming they are ‘Nagas.’ Even with the Naga insurgent groups and other civil organizations appealing to the spirit of camaraderie and brotherhood, ‘the Nagas,’ it is not a sufficient rationale to make them feel attached or develop that deep sense of bonding by the virtue of them being part of the same nation. Rather, they preferred to be ‘left alone’ within the confines of their states. Certainly, I am not asserting whether this is good or bad. On the contrary, I am only stating things as they are, based on historical, political, and socio-cultural facts, not opinions.

The example of the students put into two sections is a striking illustration of what is essentially being played out among the Nagas spread across Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal, and Myanmar. I will conclude with a few verses from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, which I believe succinctly summarizes this dilemma of Naga Integration: “…East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,/Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat…” These few verses, in an uncanny way, exemplify the tragic fate of the Naga integration and Naga Nationalism. It is tragic because we are now trying to artificially integrate people who, as history suggests, were never really integrated. To begin with, the tribes lived in isolation, in remote villages where allegiance to their villages triumphed over any other forms of macro-concepts such as ‘Nagas’ or ‘Nation.’ Thus, even the concept ‘Naga Nation’ is itself an artificial construction to artificially integrate people who, to begin with, never lived together or were integrated. Only at the expense of reason, by abandoning facts, is it possible for one to continue in the belief that Naga integration is attainable.

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