Towards understanding the misunderstood

Sushanta Talukdar
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Sushanta Talukdar

On February 29, 2012 a congregation of Naga people that included leaders, cadres and followers of five Naga underground outfits and representatives of various Naga organisations representing Naga people from Nagaland, Assam, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh as well as Myanmar closed ranks at a “Reconciliation Meet” at Dimapur in Nagaland under the aegis of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) to adopt the resolution: “the Nagas are a sovereign people, who uphold the principle that sovereignty lies with the people and hence abide by the concept that the will of the people is supreme.”

The Reconciliation Meet recognised that the “sovereignty of the Naga people is at the core of the uniqueness of the Naga historical and political rights. To understand the essence of these resolutions, essentially articulated to carry forward the Naga nationalists' assertions for Nagas' independence from India, one needs to understand first and foremost the Nagas, their long history from the Nagas' own perspective.

Mainland “outsiders”

Authored by the father and son duo-Homen Borgohain, a veteran journalist, Sahitya Akademi award-winning novelist and writer and widely-read columnist of Assam and his son Pradipta Borgohain, who holds a Ph. D from the University of Illinois, and currently teaches English at Gauhati University as an Associate Professor, this book is a narrative of the relationship between the Nagas and the “outsider” from mainland India.

It is the outcome of a methodological study done by the Borgohains dealing with the relationship between the people of the Northeast and other Indians and focusing on the experiences of the Nagas — the experience of the people from the region being made to feel like an “outsider” in the rest of India. The authors while taking the readers through the turbulent and strife-torn history of the Nagas have tried to probe the relationship between the Nagas and the rest of India from the premise that prevailing constitutional and political reality is that Nagaland is a part of India and while they are Nagas, first and foremost, it is still difficult to deny their “Indian” identity. They have made a conscious attempt of looking at the Nagas through the eyes of the Nagas, interviewing and interacting with Naga scholars and thinkers.

Naga unity

The first chapter titled “Many Races, Many Faces” introduces the readers to the core of the study in the course tracing the development of Naga unity and nationalism amidst fierce rivalries between clans, villages or tribes. The Borgohains have cited Anungla Aier, Director of Women's Studies, Nagaland University, whom they met in Nagaland's capital Kohima in 2009, to bring out an important finding of their study that clan or village loyalties do not stand in the way of a Naga's larger sense of belonging to a collective identity of being a Naga.

“Because I belong to my village, I belong to my clan; because I belong to my clan, I belong to my tribe; because I belong to my tribe; I belong to the Naga race,” she says, which perhaps best explains how the Nagas, despite their long history of bloodshed and divisiveness can close ranks to rise together under a common identity of the Naga race, against their adversaries.

A cocktail of unique story telling style used to narrate the engrossing interactions which the authors had with the interviewees, the emotions and sufferings of the Naga people, the rich elements of the Naga way of life and the academic excellence of encapsulating a highly complex issue such as Nagas' struggle for Independence and endless tales of Naga history in just 218 pages, has made this book an attention-grabbing one not just for the academics and students of political history, and social anthropology but for the non-academic readers as well.

The book can be expected to remove some misconceptions about the Nagas which many people from the rest of India have owing to their prejudices. The Nagas, according to the authors, are “arguably the most distinctive but misunderstood race in India.”



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