When Naga Students in Shillong Protested a Racist Bollywood Film

In the Indian mindset, nationalist resistance movements in North East India are nothing but a band of deluded tribals, without a history. For all such delusional Indian, KUKNALIM NAGA ARMED RESISTANCE : Testimonies of Leaders, Pastors, Healers and Soldiers by Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray should be made an essential reading. This book, a collection of interviews with Naga freedom fighters and leaders opens out a historically rich and variegated experience of Naga self determination movement.

Apart from the revelatory, never ever told nature of the book, we at RAIOT were fascinated by the secret history of Shillong the books lays out. As the capital of unified Assam, and supposedly the educational hub of the region, our town played host to most of the National leaders of indpendence movement in the region, Late Isak Chishi Swu, Thuingaleng Muivah, General (retd) VS Wungmatem (Atem)…

First extract from the book is the college time memoir of General (retd) VS Wungmatem (Atem) about a protest in Shillong against a Bollywood, Dev Anand and Sharmila Tagore racist abomination called Yeh Gulistan Hamara. General (retd) VS Wungmatem,  joined the Naga Army in September 1974 and was the Chief of Naga Army from 1989 to 1999. He has been a Kilonser (Minister)holding important portfolios, and for a long time an Emissary of the Collective Leadership. He was included in the Collective Leadership in November 2015. Atem has been involved in the peace process.

Protesting against a Hindi Film

I became active in the students’ movement. In those days Naga Students’ Federation was already there for many years. We had consultations among the students. I had lost interest in studies.

I was also a jealous type. I used to see most of the authors of the books and science papers were Chaudhury, Mukherjee or Mazumdar—all Indian names. I had an unreasonable prejudice against Indians. Without the blessings of the Indians will I not be able to survive? Even if I cannot get education of this kind I can live. Why should I have to read Indian authors?

Then in 1973 a Hindi film Yeh Gulistan Hamara came. Before the screening of the film we had read about the film in Filmfare. That magazine was very popular. After I read about the film, I realized it is politically motivated and I started campaigning against it. Dev Anand and Sharmila Tagore were the actors. Sharmila played a Naga girl and she was named Sekrenyi which is the name of a holy festival of the Angamis.

The actor was playing the role of a prince (actually an Indian engineer) and he came with elephants to a Naga village. He brought sweets and biscuits to court the Naga girl and teach her writing and reading. And in the end the Indians conquered Naga country with the help of the forces. We said our country was never conquered by Hindustan.

The Naga students protested and tried to get the Khasi students to join us because the film also depicted Khasis as backward. But Khasis did not understand. On top of that, the Meghalaya government relaxed the entertainment tax also.

We Nagas submitted a memorandum to the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Captain Williamson Sangma, 1 asking him to stop the screening of the film. I also went to the Governor, BK Nehru2; he was the enemy number one of the Nagas: Y

ou think the Nagas do not deserve human attention. If you do not accept memorandum and take the necessary steps then there would be violence…
but he said he would send the police.

The Chief Minister tried to pacify us but he also failed to do anything. We met the Deputy Commissioner of Shillong. He was a Sardar. But he did not help. So we took to the streets.

We organized a silent procession on the streets and the Assam police (it was still there at the time), the CRPF and Meghalaya police and even the BSF (Border Security Force) were mobilized. Naga boys and girls were beaten up as if we were beasts. Many of us were injured. The executive members were in the front with the girls but they lathi charged us. Then we could not control our friends and the protest turned violent.

We tried not to turn violent but the students were angry and the students rushed into the Anjalee Cinema Hall and smashed it. It was the best cinema hall in Shillong; it was air-conditioned. The Nagas smashed the windows, chairs and the fans but did not set the hall on fire.

The fight between the police and students went on for three hours. We were a thousand Naga students and we snatched away the lathis of the police. They beat us badly and resorted to firing. We in the students’ executive were in the middle and we got beaten by both sides. The students’ union executive was arrested and we were very badly beaten up by the police. And the remarks they made against us, like ‘Sala Naga kutta’ (bloody Naga dog)—it hurt us. We were taken to jail.

I was Action Committee President and the Union President was an Angami, both of us were released the next day to facilitate the negotiations. We sent a telegram to the Nagaland government. Immediately the Speaker and the Education Minister promptly came. They did their best. They spoke to the Chief Minister and brought some financial remuneration for us because many were injured. One of my friends was run over by a police jeep and both his legs were broken. He survived. That police officer was nearly killed by the students. He came out nearly naked because his uniform was torn. Someone pulling from left, someone from right. After that we went to Delhi to submit a memorandum to then- Prime Minister Indira Gandhi against the film. We submitted an ultimatum that if this film is not cancelled (the censorship board had already passed it) then throughout Nagaland we will boycott Hindi films.

Hindi films were already stopped in Nagaland. There were cinema halls in Dimapur, Kohima and Mokokchung. Tension was there. I also went to Delhi, met Indira Gandhi and she was kind and said,

Nagas were no longer backward. And you have a right to feel hurt.
She said she would do her best and yes, the film was cancelled. That was in March 1973. I had lost any pleasure in studying. I knew I was blacklisted fully. I would be victimized in many ways so I went back from Shillong.

I thought the fight against Yeh Gulistan Hamara was a golden opportunity to lead away all the Naga students to the jungle. During the movement against the film I was campaigning for our national movement which was dying out. When the nation is suffering how can we go on enjoying in the cities, riding cars, wearing suits and neckties? Even if you go back as a doctor, engineer or MA, it will not help you.

I was actively campaigning among the students. Many volunteered. Many were ready to work. I told them that we should go back to our respective regions and work there. No one was guiding us. I went back to the Tangkhul area with seven of our Tangkhuls and the intention that if opportunity comes we can help the Federals. We went back and met our leaders and told them we were ready. Mr Muivah had already come back and he said, ‘Ash! Atem, you are one of the very few science students,’ but I said,

No! I will not go back. I have taken a decision and I am not going back for studies.

RAIOT POSTSCRIPT

The film continued to be shown except that there was a notice at the beginning: ‘The customs depicted in this film, folk dances, dress etc have no parallel with any of the tribes in Nagaland.’

Also, the lyrics of the offensive song ‘Mera Naam Ao’ were altered.

If there is one film which creates all the tropes of Indian racist imagination about North Eastern communities, it is Yeh Gulistan Hamara. Even in the synopsis the intentions of the filmmakers is stated with nationalist clarity.

Vijay (Dev Anand) an Intelligence Bureau officer is assigned by his director (Iftekhar) to supervise a bridge construction on Dihing river in North East. This is with a purpose to open a gateway to China and help establish friendly bilateral relations. The construction work receives severe opposition from Naga tribes with the tyrannical Maharaj (Pran), his minister (Jankidas) and commander (Sujit Kumar) hell bent on destroying the bridge.

Vijay arrives determined to accomplish his mission along with his local assistant (Johnny Walker). As the work progresses Vijay and his team members take into custody Saikrani (Sharmila Tagore), a Naga lady fighter who along with her fighters combats the Indian Army. Interacting with her, Vijay learns about the oppression and torture her people face from the ruling class and when he explains that he has come to help them she slowly falls in love with him.

With Saikrani’s help Vijay crosses the river and enters her territory mingling with the commoners and children helping them to learn and visualize the value of knowledge. In a well shot climax Vijay is taken a captive by the soldiers of Maharaj and sentenced to death. Saikrani and her associates rebel. With the help of the India army they rescue Vijay who valiantly fights the evil forces. Vijay, Saikrani and their followers win killing Maharaj, Senapati and the other wrong doers. The foreign agents led by (Sapru) who instigate Maharaj against India are taken to task by the army.

Shot extensively in Meghalaya, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh – the film was facilitated by Bhupen Hazarika, the so called doyen of North East culture.
Produced and Directed by Atma Ram, brother of Guru Dutt, film had music by that other North East hero, S D Burman, who managed to use north eastern musical forms for offensive purposes. Indian Bollywood aficionados even consider some of the songs S D Burman classic.

“The saving grace of “Yeh Gulistan Hamara” are lyrics by Anand Bakshi and music by S.D. Burman. According to the iconic composer the song very near to his heart is “Kya Yehi Zindagi Hai”. He renders it brilliantly in his bold nasal voice with Lata Mangeshkar.”

But this ‘brilliantly’ rendered song with ‘poor Khasi peasant women’ is brilliantly patronising and racist.

Addressed supposedly to Indians, the song renders all the stereotypes which the mainland Indians have towards its ‘backward’ frontiers.

What is this life of ours?
What a helpless life?
Why are you merely standing and silently watching

For centuries we have been carrying this
Load of pain and sadness

Give us you hand and walk with us
Why are you merely standing and silently watching

What a distance between you and us
You so far ahead
We, so far behind
We can’t even touch you
And if we touch you, we get rejected

We accept that we are bad and we did wrong
But even you you who is good what goodness have shown to us
Explain to us
Teach Us
Hug us

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Nandita Haksar and Sebastian M. Hongray began their political journey as human rights activists while studying in the Jawaharlal Nehru University. In the early 1980s, they began working full time in the human rights movement. ey led the rst cases against the Indian Armed Forces, for committing human rights violations, in the Supreme Court and before the Guwahati High Court. ey took up cases of illegal arrests, torture and also unfair compensation for development projects such as the Hundung cement factory. ey have also been involved in the Indo-Naga peace process, and Haksar has represented NSCN leaders internationally, before the UNHCR, Geneva and before the courts in ailand. Their publications include The Judgement That Never Came: Army Rule in North East India; ABC of Naga Culture and Civilization: A Resource Book (Nandita Haksar); Across the Chicken Neck: Travels in Northeast India (Nandita Haksar) and The Exodus Is Not Over: Migrations from the Ruptured Homelands of Northeast India (Nandita Haksar). Haksar and Hongray are married and live in Goa and Delhi and sometimes in Ukhrul.

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