A Note by TISS Naga students on Naga Day and current protest on CAA/NRC
January 10, 2020
In the year 2018, Naga people in India and Myanmar observed ‘Naga Day’ to memorialise the event of Naga club’s memorandum on the Naga rights to the Simon Commission in 1929, January 10. The commemoration of it, is to reaffirm the past and instill belongingness to Naga as one. This was initiated by the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) and they proposed ‘Naga Day’ to be celebrated on January 10, starting 2018 to invoke unity among the Nagas.
The historical event of January 10, 1929, with 20 signatories representing different Naga tribes including one Kuki is the first and formalised expression of Naga self-determination and ethnic identity through Naga Club’s memorandum to the Simon Commission—a Statutory Commission constituted for the purpose of studying constitutional reform in the, then, British-occupied Indian subcontinent.
On this note, we would like to trace the roots of colonial history in the lands of Naga tribes. Encounter of Naga tribes with the British happened for the first time in the year 1832 when the British troops led by Captain Jenkins and Pemberton passed through Naga lands to initiate a passage between Manipur and Assam. Seven years later, the first expedition into the Naga lands was carried out under the leadership of Mr. Grange, a British in January 1839 to contain frequent raids on the British subjects and explore the frontier tribes.
The raids against British subjects did not happen out of nowhere, the writings by scholars indicate that it has its basis on the motive of British to expand its rule and in expanding flourishing tea estate, and its larger commerce and trade interests by encroaching on the lands of Naga tribes. The implementation of Inner Line Permit is to protect the British subjects from the attack of hill tribes including Naga tribes and commerce and trade interests. A response to these raids is in the form of punitive actions where the British with its might demolished and burnt down Naga villages, killing many lives, men, women and children, and imposing subdued Naga villages to pay tributes to the British.
The resistance of Naga tribes in British colonial rule propelled them to take a further control of the Naga hills and they established the Naga Hills District in 1866 with Samaguting (now Chumukedima) as the headquarter and later relocated to Kohima in 1878. The British carried out this in the name of administration and fostering relationship with tribes. Then, Khonoma battle happened between 1879-1880 where many Naga tribes lost their lives in their fight to safeguard their lands and for freedom. This paved way for the British to streamline its rule over the Nagas. Few decades later, in late 1920s, the region witnessed a Zeliangrong movement led by Jadonang and Rani Gaidinliu against the British for liberating Nagas from the colonial rule. The exposure of Nagas to the First World War and Second World War instill a sense of consciousness on where they stand as a colonised people and they began to chart their future in the form of Naga nationalism which continues till today.
All these events point towards how land is at the heart of Naga identity, and preservation and practice of culture, custom and tradition define the Naga. These facets are invoked in the memorandum of Naga Club to Simon Commission in 1929, January 10:
“…our population numbering 102,000 is very small in comparison with the populations of the plains districts in the province and any representation that may be allotted to us in the council will be negligible and will have no weight whatever. Our language is quite different from those of the plains and we have no social affinities with the Hindus or Mussalmans. We are looked down upon by the one for our beef and by the other for our pork and by both for want in education which is not due to any fault of ours.
Our country is poor and it does not pay for its administration. Therefore if it is continued to be placed under the Reformed Scheme we are afraid that new and heavy taxes will have to be imposed on us and when we cannot pay them, all our lands will have to be sold and in the long run we shall have no share in the land of our birth and life will not be worth living then.
Though our land at present is within the British territory, Government have always recognized our private rights in it, but if we are forced to enter the council the majority of whose number is sure to belong to the other district, we also have much fear the introduction of foreign laws and customs to supersede our own customary law which we now enjoy. For the above reasons, we pray that the British Government will continue to safeguard our right against all encroachment from other people who are more advanced than us. By withdrawing our country that we should not thrust to the mercy of other people who could never be subjected; but to leave us alone to determine ourselves as in ancient times.”
As we commemorate the day today as Naga Day, we would like to state that the ongoing protest against CAA and nationwide NRC in the context of northeast is an attempt to further settler colonialism and threaten the ethnic identity, culture and custom, and existence of indigenous people of northeast India. We perceive this attempt of CAA as anti-indigenous people. The northeast region has been bearing the burden as unequal beings from the start under the mechanism like AFSPA, settler colonialism (especially Tripura, and Assam), racism etc. We want the state to solve the issue of land encroachment and foreigners by not resorting to dehumanising procedures and processes, and without disregarding their dignity.
We also extend our solidarity to the protests in the rest of India opposing CAA/NRC for its discriminatory nature going against the secular ethos of Indian Constitution. We would like to draw the attention of people to acknowledge the voices of indigenous people in the fight against CAA and nationwide NRC. We condemn the violent incidents of Jamia Millia Islamia, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University and various other places in India.
In the spirit of commemorating Naga Day, we urge for cohesive and dignified solution for the Naga peace talks. The communitarian value which foregrounds culture, custom, land, and ethnic identity must be reflected in the Naga peace talks. Naga divided on the line of state boundary and international boundary must find a common ground to come together and strengthen the bond as Nagas.
Kukanalim to Naga tribes, and indigenous people of the world!