Statement Against ‘Racist Remark’ and Academic Bullying of a Naga Tribal Scholar

In a time when people from northeastern states of India are subjected to racism in the wake of Coronavirus fear, there is epistemic racism in academia against a Rongmei Naga scholar, Richard Kamei for writing an email to Prof. Noam Chomsky to update him about the discourse of citizenship unfolding in India and the discontents it has generated within indigenous tribal peoples of the northeastern region due to the precarity of their position. An open letter written by Suraj Gogoi and Angshuman Choudhury on 20th February 2020 to Prof. Chomsky in objection and as a counter to Kamei’s letter can only be considered as petty and callous as much as it is misleading. What is even absurd here being that Gogoi and Choudhury did not see the content of email in its entirety written by Kamei to Chomsky, and they wrote on mere belief. This, along with a characterisation of Kamei as presenting “misleading narrative” in a downright slanderous tone, tells more about their insidious intention of the authors themselves on things unknown to them.

Screen Grab of the published version of the open letter to Noam Chomsky by Suraj Gogoi & Angshuman Choudhury

We have seen the content of email written by Kamei to Chomsky, and they are testimony to historical account and events of the region, in congruence with how indigenous tribal communities continue to face structural violence in the form of racism, socio-political marginalisation, and challenges in self-determined aspirations for a dignified and autonomous existence. He wrote it to Chomsky out of concern by presenting the anxiety and fear of indigenous people stemming from their experiences from the past and how they feel that the recently enacted Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in India pose a grave danger for the indigenous peoples in the region as it can advance settler colonialism further through settlements of foreigners.

We would like to point out that in addition to settlers history in Assam and Tripura, the Naga Hills had witnessed Naga tribes waging a series of raids in nineteenth century against the British and their subjects for encroaching into the lands of Nagas. In response to the raids, many Nagas were killed including women and children, several villages burnt down, granaries ransacked and burnt. Furthermore, there is evidence of alien socio-economic practices as well as cultural forms imposed on the people. In Manipur, Shanti Das Gosai is remembered for overturning the culture, religion, custom, and literature of native Meitei community; this speaks about the depth of Bengali influence in terms of culture as a means of colonialism. . Similarly, the literature of Rongmei Naga tribe is also written in Bengali script. This wave of colonialism and wilful implanting of settlers and external cultures have been contributing to gradual erasure of tribal identity, and culture, loss of lands, and demography change. The problem of migration and settlement in indigenous lands needs a serious engagement, and to this Kamei in his article has expressed that,

On the question of immigrants, the state has a big role to address it in humane ways by prioritising indigenous peoples rights and ensuring at the same time that foreigners/persecuted minorities from neighbouring country get a fair support to lead a dignified life by settling them in other parts of the country which does not come under tribal lands.

The Constitution of India recognised the unique culture, custom, identity, and history of indigenous tribal people of northeastern states including the rest of India, and provides protective provisions to safeguard the interests, rights and resources of indigenous people in the form of Inner Line Permit (ILP), Sixth Schedule (autonomy), Article 371 A etc. However, not all the northeastern states in India are covered by these provisions. With the introduction of Citizenship Amendment Bill, and passage of CAA, indigenous people of northeastern states of India expressing their fear from settler colonialism and gradual erosion of cultural identities as well as their rights and reserve over the land, have registered protests since the year 2016. Later, Manipur and Dimapur district of Nagaland came under ILP. Meghalaya, Tripura and Assam continue to protest.

The anxieties of indigenous people from northeastern states of India, came from their past experiences with colonial and post-colonial history, and they view that CAA is an attempt of being overwhelmed by foreigners in a methodical manner. This feeling has rather united all the ethnic communities in opposing CAA despite differences and tense equation from the past on ethnic lines.

It is on these regards that Richard Kamei wrote to Noam Chomsky and others on his personal capacity, and he cross checked with them before sharing their solidarity messages on social media.

Kamei was earlier labelled ‘ethnofascist’ by Suraj Gogoi, to further dominate a tribal voice for expressing genuine concerns. It is rich with racial powerplay considering the fact that ethnic politics of Naga tribes bear unequal relation with dominant Ahoms from the past followed by the British colonial rule, and the ongoing search for Naga political solution. An assertion to secure rights and recognition of their existence and land which had been overwhelmed by these histories is a legitimate concern. To which, Kamei wrote earlier:

I was being accused ‘ethnofascist’ for writing this piece:

The pattern remains the same which emanates from the structure they benefit from, like how they cast a doubt on any indigenous epistemology that I must be insincere with vested interest, or how could a tribal person managed a correspondence with Chomsky, Scott and others. This has been always the case when an indigenous express in a language which doesn’t toe their scholarship, tribal voices will be put through a test on whether we are lying or hiding the truth.

Ethnicity in northeast gained prominence as a result of British colonialism. In the case of Naga tribes, the nation building and its nationalism expressed through its movement since the Naga Club deliberation of self-determination to Simon Commission in 1929 is to reclaim its nation of Naga tribal communities. The movement continues till today with bitter histories filled with violence and the demand through Naga peace talks is where they are at today. The attachment of fascism or fascist lexicon with ethnic groups here is rather misplaced, Nagas are not out to claim anything which is not theirs or to impose any arbitrary rule beyond their territories, the Naga struggle is about claiming which rightfully belong to them and to gain recognition of their identity, culture and custom. The portrayal of various ethnonationalism of northeastern states of India as one is simplistic and lack understanding of diverse characters of ethnicity and their roots, forms, and differences. For instance, as a consequence of colonialism led ruptures the undivided Rongmei Naga tribes (which Kamei belongs to) today find themselves in the state of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland with new order of politics and configuration in which existing definitions on ethnicity and ethnonationalism is still grappling to understand the complexities they are in. The words of Jack David Eller can be read here to contextualise expressions of diverse ethnic groups in northeast region:

Ethnic group and nation are often used synonymously, and nation and state are often used synonymously, which is not only empirically wrong but leads to the logical conclusion that ethnic group is synonymous with state, which is absurd. In fact, not all ethnic groups are nations but some are; not all ethnic groups or nations have or want states, but some do. Terminological sloppiness leads to muddled thinking and mental and political mistakes.” He further added that, “Not all nationalism necessarily seeks or results in a national state, and not all nationalist movements represent real, concrete, already-existing nations. Some nationalism sets more modest goals, such as “national” recognition of a region or province and perhaps a certain amount of devolution of power to the regional or provincial level.

It can also be reminded here of what Kamei explained about the politics of the region,

Indigenous people and their struggles more often than not find themselves in a different direction which resides outside of political correctness on the basis of ideological spectrum.

The politics of naming the Nagas by outsiders are heavily loaded with a historical weight of racism emanating from positions of dominance and power. The labelling here by Gogoi should not be seen in isolation from this process for the fact that it is part of the same hegemonic privileges which described the Nagas a savage, uncivilised, barbaric, unthinking, and so on.

We Naga scholars and concerned scholars from northeast and beyond, thank and extend gratitude to Noam Chomsky, James Scott, and Survival International for taking cognizance of these concerns and extending their support to indigenous people of northeastern states of India in these difficult times. The aspersion cast by Suraj Gogoi and Angshuman Choudhury using their positions of power is a manifestation of racism operating tacitly and overtly in academia spaces. We condemn the statement made by Gogoi and Choudhury in trying to intimidate, malign, and delegitimize an indigenous voice. We urge academic and non-academic publication houses to come up with ethical guidelines for strong adherence when it comes to writings on indigenous tribal people from northeastern states of India, so that scholars who are not tribals like Suraj Gogoi and Angshuman Choudhury do not contribute to appropriation, assimilation, misinterpretation and misinformation about tribal people and their struggles. We take strong objection to Suraj Gogoi’s labelling of Naga scholar an ethno-fascist, for this amounts to racism, and vilification of the whole Naga tribal communities. We commend the efforts taken by Richard Kamei to highlight the concerns and challenges faced by indigenous communities of northeast. We unconditionally extend our support and solidarity to him. It is important to note that voices of Naga tribes cannot be shouted down into the echoes of left/liberal/global humanist discourse, as they will continue to write and assert as they speak in their mother tongues, chant, and sing folk songs in keeping their identities and struggles alive.

Signatories 

  1. Arkotong Longkumer. University of Edinburgh
  2. Alok Prasanna Kumar, Advocate and Senior Resident Fellow, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy
  3. Ruby Hembrom, adivaani
  4. Sanjay Barbora
  5. Dr. Kaustubh Deka
  6. Raile R Ziipao Asst Professor Central University of Punjab
  7. John Gaingamlung Gangmei, Social Work Faculty, Rajiv Gandhi University (A Central University) Arunachal Pradesh
  8. Roderick Wijunamai, Lecturer, RTC
  9. Mathanmi hungyo
  10. Dr D Apao
  11. Paveine Vemai, Assistant professor. English DU
  12. Shaokhai Mayirnao, Scholar
  13. Somingam PS, Scholar Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  14. Gofort, Research Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  15. Albert Povah (PhD Scholar Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)
  16. Onhring Langhu (Research Scholar TISS)
  17. Soring Raman Phd scholar
  18. Tenunukshi Longchar Master Student TISS Mumbai
  19. Livika, Tata institute of Social Sciences
  20. SK Rinchanpam, M.Phil/PhD Scholar @ Tata Institute Social Science Mumbai
  21. Ramachan Shimray, Phd Candidate, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  22. Supong Lkr
  23. Pheiga Amanda ( PhD , TISS)
  24. Juliana Phaomei
  25. Nondiya Wanth
  26. Menokhono, Research Scholar, Tata Institute if Social Sciences, Mumbai
  27. Zajano Z Yanthan, Ph.D. scholar , TISS Mumbai
  28. Isaac, TISS alumni
  29. Veronica Quikiumaliu Wijunamai, MA in Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  30. Totivili K (Student)
  31. Bowang Kho, Research Scholar, Manipur University
  32. Veilou Paotei, Thelogical Research Student
  33. Somiwon A Shishak
  34. Guangpuanang Kahmei (NPMHR)
  35. Duanguanglung Kamei, Alumni, TISS, Mumbai
  36. Lucy Khrasi
  37. Nathan Kho, Phd CHS/SSS, JNU New Delhi
  38. Vinoto Shohe
  39. Evelyn Sekho
  40. Kadiguang Panmei, Ph.D scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  41. Chamsi Gonmei, Master in counselling and psychotherapy
  42. Gracy Ayee, PhD Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  43. Asone
  44. Thiemneihzo, Research Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  45. Lal, Ph.D candidate at Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai
  46. Zaza
  47. Dr. Usham Rojio, Manipur
  48. Thongam Bipin, Imphal
  49. Kulajit Maisnam ( Research Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai)
  50. Akoijam Malemnganbi, PhD Research Scholar, University of Hyderabad
  51. Korimayum Joneyziaur Rahman, North East Students Association(General Secretary) Jamia Millia Islamia
  52. Dr. Sabina Y. Rahman, Asst. Professor, MGAHD-TISS
  53. Shaheen Ahmed, PhD Candidate, Monash University
  54. Khullakpam Sharif( MA student)
  55. K.Sharif ( former Vice President, Delhi Association of Manipur Muslim students. M.A Student in Ambedkar University Delhi)
  56. K Javed Mehedi, MBBS, former VP and GS of Manipur Students’ Association Delhi
  57. Makakmayum Furkan Sharief ( PhD scholar Manipur University)
  58. Dr. Abhay Xaxa, Independent Researcher
  59. Joy P Lakra, Doctoral Candidate, TISS, Mumbai
  60. Johnson Minz
  61. Kanchan Ekka, Research Scholar Tiss, Adivasi Students Forum
  62. Shitiz Chaudhary, Yale University
  63. Sanjeev Dahal, PhD Scholar, Boston College
  64. Karan Deshmukh
  65. Sreejith Sugunan (Research scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University)
  66. Saumya Ranjan Nath, ( PhD Student, University of Sussex, Brighton,UK)
  67. Srikrupa Raghunathan, Goldsmiths and TISS alumni
  68. Pushpendra Johar, Senior Research Fellow, University of Delhi
  69. Jaffer Latief Najar, PhD Scholar, ISS, The Hague, Netherlands
  70. Jit Hazarika, PhD candidate, Tata Institute of Social Sciences
  71. Allan
  72. Shubham Sharma, Alumni, TISS, Mumbai
  73. D. Khaling
  74. Devaki Purohit ( M.A SW-TISS, 2008-10)
  75. D. Tripura, PhD
  76. Sukanta Debbarma, professional Research Officer, ANU, AUSTRALIA
  77. Hari Purna Tripura, PhD Candidate, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany
  78. Amaresh Debbarma, PhD Scholar. Central University of Gujarat.
  79. Prasenjit Debbarma
  80. Amit Kumar, Freelance Journalist Assam
  81. Luis Gomez
  82. Paul G. Keil PhD, Czech Academy of Sciences
  83. Forrest Hylton, Universidad Nacional de Colombia
  84. Gertrude Lamare, researcher, London School of Economics and Political Science
  85. Subra Chakma
  86. Bablu Chakma, PhD Candidate, RUB
  87. Girija Brahma
  88. Amar Borgoyary
  89. Phungkha, PhD Scholar, TISS Mumbai
  90. Fwishali Basumatary, Doctoral Scholar, TISS, Mumbai
  91. Cornelius Iswary, Student (MA), TISS
  92. Nibedita H Mishra
  93. Pravin Ghunnar, PhD Research Scholar TISS, Mumbai
  94. Bhawesh Pant (M.Phil) TISS, Mumbai
  95. Rajat Malik
  96. Setu Kumar Verma, PhD Research Scholar, University of Hyderabad
  97. Rimi Tadu
  98. Upasana (M.A. student, TISS Mumbai)
  99. Aniruddha Bora, Studied MA Social Work in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  100. Hymavathi M. (M.A. Comparativeliterature at University of Hyderabad)
  101. Sobia Parveen
  102. Gaurav
  103. Rakhee Naiding, Ph.D research candidate, UoH
  104. Mumtak
  105. Bidyut Sagar Boruah
  106. Monali Longmailai
  107. Upasana Sarma, M.Phil Scholar, TISS
  108. Puja Konch, Research Scholar,TISS
  109. Swagat Raj Pandey, Program Officer, Social Science Baha, Kathmandu, Nepal. TISS Alumni 2007-09
  110. Dr. Tarun Luthra, Geophysicist
  111. Naga Students, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai
  112. Mung Ja
  113. Zaw Doi
  114. Chanthingla Horam (Research Scholar, IITB)
  115. Dr Pritom Chowdhury, Technical officer, Tocklai Tea Research Institute, Jorhat, Assam

 

 

 

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