Naga editor's book banned by tribal body

BY SUBIR BHAUMIK| IN Media Freedom | 21/11/2014
Upset with Monalisa Changkija's new book, the tribal body Ao Senden has banned it.
Once again, writes SUBIR BHAUMIK, the issue of freedom of expression is at stake. (Pix: Monalisa Changkija; photo credit:

 The tribal body responsible for the welfare of the Ao Naga tribe in Nagaland, the ‘Ao Senden’, has banned a book by award-winning Naga journalist Monalisa Changkija for making allegedly false allegations about it.    


Changkija is Editor of the Nagaland Page and won the 2009 Chameli Devi Jain award (along with Tehelka  magazine’s Shoma Chaudhury) for Outstanding Woman Media Person. While the Ao Senden has claimed in a press release that it is a ‘statutory apex body’ of the Ao Naga tribe, Changkija’s book, Cogitating for a Better Deal, insists that it is an NGO with no mandate to arbitrate in disputes within and between villages. That has set up the stage for a face-off.

The book is actually a collection of six papers that Changkija had presented at different seminars. In it, she also wrote: Still, the Ao Region IM and the Ao Senden tied up, allegedly after being paid a good sum of money, and expelled Changki village from the Ao community and the Ao Senden.”  

Changkija, known for her courage in taking a stand, is in no mood to back off from an inevitable confrontation with the Ao Senden. This, say Nagaland-watchers, could be quite a handful for any journalist. The Ao Senden assert that if this kind of wrong doing like poison percolate further, it will lead to disaster.

 “I stand by what I wrote,” she said.

 By challenging the legality of the Ao Senden and calling it an NGO, she has also raised the issue of the conflict between Indian law and Naga customary law – the first interpreted by Indian courts and the second by the likes of the Ao Senden.

The ban follows an Ao Senden hearing on the issue attended by Changkija and her husband who belong to the Ao tribe. She told the Hoot that on November 9, she received summons from the Ao Senden for ‘writing against us.’  The Yaongyimsen Village Council was also invited as a witness because that is her husband’s village.

Changkija is an Ao but does not speak the language. Naga tribes often do not understand each other's dialects and the lingua franca, Nagamese, is a variation of pidgin Assamese. “At the hearing, held on November 11, I made it clear it was not my purpose to hurt anyone’s sentiments and apologized if that had happened,” she said.

When asked why she had called the Ao Senden an NGO, she replied that was her interpretation. “I said that I had come to that conclusion on the basis of books written by our elders and on the basis of government documents.”

On linking the Ao Senden with the NSCN-IM and the alleged payment of money, Changkija said that she had reported that as an allegation.

Obviously dissatisfied with her explanation, the Ao Senden banned the book immediately during the hearing. On her behalf, her husband offered to publish any publish the Ao Senden’s refutations and rebuttals to what she had written, which they found to be incorrect/disagreeable/objectionable, in newspapers and insert footnotes in the book itself, as a “conciliatory gesture” but it was rejected. 

In a statement, the tribal body’s president, Sangyo Yaden, and general secretary, Tsupong Longchar, said: “The Ao Senden honour the constitutional provision and status of freedom of press and expression. However, the Ao Senden asserts that the provision cannot be misused and no one is permitted the power and liberty to write anything without evidence.”

More ominously, it added: “The Ao Senden asserts that if this kind of wrong doing like poison percolate further, it will lead to disaster.”

Though the book can be circulated outside the Ao region in Nagaland and indeed in the rest of India, the ban raises the same key issue as the conflict between writer Taslima Nasreen and Muslim clerics when the latter issued a fatwa against her, namely, can social or religious bodies muzzle the freedom of expression enshrined in the Indian Constitution by appearing to be the last word on whether a book or an work of art hurts the sentiments of a community?

Meanwhile, Monalisa is undeterred. "I will take it as it plays out."

Subir Bhaumik, a former BBC correspondent and founder editor of the now defunct "Seven Sisters Post", is currently senior editor with the Dhaka-based He is author of two books on North East India -- "Insurgent Crossfire" and "Troubled Periphery".  

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