‘Time to Introspect’: commentaries in the Naga media

BY Subarno Chattarji| IN Regional Media | 27/03/2010
Media and Nagaland--Part III. While reporters voices are largely absent in Naga media there are vibrant editorial and citizen commentaries that enhance the public sphere in myriad ways.
SUBARNO CHATTARJI analyzes these.

                        A Hivos funded study on the Hoot


Research coordinator in Dimapur, Athili Anthony Sapriina. Research director, Sevanti Ninan. Research consultant, Aloke Thakore. Analysis: Subarno Chattarji. This series is indebted to Abraham Lotha and Dolly Kikon for their critiques of the monitoring study and its initial analysis. 


While reporters voices are largely absent in Naga media there are vibrant editorial and citizen commentaries that enhance the public sphere in myriad ways. The latter is a unique aspect of the Naga media landscape allowing private citizens public space to join debates related to the Naga Nation and its complexities. A survey reveals underlying themes and continuities and a rich interplay of opinions and counter-arguments.

A recurrent topic is the anxiety of identity. ‘We Nagas are unique, having unique cultures in each tribe. We need to hold on to it, it is our identity,’ writes Jhonny R. Kohima highlighting the ways in which original clan names are being lost. [‘Are Nagas losing identities?’ Nagaland Post, Nov. 28, 2009] Kohima sees tribal distinctions not as divisive but a nomenclature that enables the preservations of ‘our traditions and identities’.

Kohima’s urging takes on an overt political tone in Kaka D. Iralu’s piece on the peace package offered by the Government of India: ‘We want India, Burma and the whole world to know we are not Manipuri Nagas or Arunachali Nagas or Assamese Nagas or Burmese Indian Nagas. We are simply Nagas without any prefix or suffix attached to our national identity. And of course, we have not been fighting all these years so that in the end India and Burma can brand us as citizens of another country or people. […] We, Nagas are stating this undeniable and irrefutable fact, because like any other nations on earth, we also have our own distinct history, geography and national identity which has been given to us by God and handed down to us by our forefathers.’ [‘On the Question of a Solution to the Indo-Naga Conflict,’ Morung Express, Dec. 3, 2009, p. 6] Iralu reiterates the Greater Nagaland idea and while it is inclusive of all Nagas it tends in this formulation to flatten diversities and distinctions within Naga peoples.  The cohesion of the ideological nation-state is at the expense of contraries within that distinguish the Naga Nation from other contiguous communities. It is interesting that national identity is conceived as a divine dispensation thus placing it beyond the pale of everyday political disputation or negotiation.

Scato Swu catalogues atrocities committed by the Indian armed forces in the 1950s and further alienation of Naga peoples from India: ‘Human value, dignity, rights and national rights were virtually nullified by the reign of terror which was carried out without the opinion of the Nagas. Government of India became counter-productive and a powerful agitation spread throughout Nagaland.’ [‘My Experience,’ EM, Dec. 8, 2009, p. 6] Swu concludes with answers written for the Naga National Service which had questions such as ‘Why do you think you are not Indian?’ and ‘How long do you think the Nagas can resist the Indian Armed Forces?’ ‘They answered: From the beginning of the world up to date the Nagas were never Indians nor can the Indians become Nagas.’ Naga identity is seen in terms of absolute and implacable ‘otherness’ as well as perennial hostility. While the resentment and anger is comprehensible within contexts of systematic violence Swu perceives Naga identity as a pre-existing entity outside history as it were. There is in this article as in Iralu’s piece a paradox: a very deep political engagement which gains strength and definition from the apolitical and ahistorical.

Not all citizen essays are as combative as the ones by Iralu and Swu. Tali Longkumer, a retired IAS officer, commemorates his father Dr. Imkongliba Ao, ‘under whose presidentship the delegation of the Naga people convention popularly known as the NPC negotiated with the Government of India in signing the 16 point agreement’. [‘Dr. Imkongliba remembered,’ NP, Dec. 1, 2009, p. 4] It is unsurprising that Longkumer supports the agreement brokered by his father but he does so not only on filial grounds but on political ones: ‘The 16 point agreement was not an individual agreement. It was an agreement between two recognized groups that received the over whelming support from the people though admittedly some objected to it as that is natural in a democratic society.’ The essay attempts to project the agreement as a starting point for further negotiation and ultimate peace rather than a contentious past that stands in the way of reconciliation.

Analyses of Naga nationhood/statehood are not limited to the citizen commentaries cited but constitute a thread in editorial commentary some of which are critical and self-reflexive. A Nagaland Post editorial lamented that ‘Even as emotive social and political issues create a cacophony, rational views seem to be drowned and also too few and far between.’ [‘Being current,’ Nov. 23, 2009] It was aware of the need for responsible media within fraught political spaces, a media that fostered ‘rationality and maturity’ and expanded rather than diminished democratic debate: ‘Whether absence of free, frank and fearless dissemination is reflective of the lack of true democracy in tribal Naga society because people do not want to talk openly lest it be considered a personal attack; sometimes the restraint has been taken to its extreme limits.’ The analysis touches on cultural contexts that frame media reports. Abraham Lotha observes that cultural, tribal, and communitarian sensitivities are crucial in the Naga public sphere and the editorial focuses on how these constrain media vigilance. It acknowledges a degree of self-censorship and gestures towards a need for more rigorous commentary. 

The Nagaland Page fulfils some of the desire for balanced viewpoints editorializing on a variety of subjects from the ghettoization of students from the North East in Delhi and the concomitant failure of governance (Nov. 16, 2009), to media and democracy in an age of consumerism (Nov. 18, 2009), to the need to combat violence against women (Nov. 27, 2009). On the issue of statehood, culture, roots it celebrated being Naga: ‘Let’s start with whatever blessings we have in the shape of our natural and human resources but most of all let’s celebrate our laughter, our resilience, our music and dances, our ability to absorb the new while retaining the old, our cohesiveness despite our constant bickering.  Let’s celebrate our roots, our culture, our traditions and our age-old systems and structures that have been our anchor and held us together when stormy weather darkens our days.’ [NPage, Dec. 1, 2009] This upbeat tone might seem naïve but in its references to ‘constant bickering’ and ‘stormy weather’ it maintains a more reasoned sense of possibilities and problems than overtly polemical pieces.

Editorials in The Morung Express elevate media discourse in their myriad reflections ranging from the idea that borders are not just cartographic markers but expressive of ethical and moral values (Nov. 10, 2009), to the need to respect sovereignty (Nov. 18, 2009), to the imperative of moving beyond sterile debates and hatred (Nov. 25, 2009). In ‘Time to Introspect’ it not only celebrates Naga identities and achievements but looks squarely at failures: ‘Successive governments since Statehood have done more of sloganeering then [sic] doing real work for welfare of the people. […] Even as we write, we know that there are those who have no proper access to healthcare; schools are in a debilitated condition because public funds have disappeared; there are absentees of teachers and doctors because they would rather be in Kohima or Dimapur. One can go on to list the inadequacies – of more than 45 years of statehood. Why should we only list the achievement/s? Why not also confront the failure/s?’ [ME, Dec. 1, 2009, p. 6]

These are valuable points and questions and not always mentioned in the reportage or more extreme commentaries. While the Naga Nation is often articulated and framed in terms of absolute opposition to the Indian state that framing permits transference of all blame onto the Indian government and leads to a lack of introspection. Undeniably the Indian government has much to answer for but The Morung Express editorial highlights the need to look within, to move beyond an us-versus-them syndrome which perpetuates cycles of ignorance and hate. It is interesting that statehood rather than nationhood is stressed and while that might seem a semantic irrelevance, it may also indicate a somewhat different ideological perspective from which the editorial approaches the question of Naga identity and pride. 

Editorials still largely focus on political issues related to the Naga Nation and negotiations with the Indian government. However, recent changes reveal a focus on the human cost of decades of conflict along with a widening of the ambit of what is political. Thus lack of good governance and economic development, the role of the media in conflict and reconciliation scenarios, and the role of civil society along with awareness that the Naga issue is an emotive one often manipulated for political gains figure in editorial comments.

The shift in editorial focus finds parallel in citizen commentaries such as an essay by Rosemary Dzuvichu on ‘violence against women’ which provides global and local perspectives on the fact that women bear the brunt of traditional wars and civil conflicts. ‘Violence against women in the North east has been a subject of great concern, more so, for the decades of unrest, militarization, atrocities and conflicts, over the past many decades, which have largely affected women as victims of violence. Arrests, torture, rape, sexual abuse and death have darkened the pages of "her story."’ [‘Break the Silence,’ EM, Nov, 27, 2009, p. 7] She goes onto detail violence against women in Nagaland, the lack or tardiness of legal redress, and some problems with customary laws: ‘There are certain customary laws that need to be amended and made more gender friendly, to protect women who have been victims of violence. As of now, customary laws of certain tribes on rape are not stringent enough and often the victim is unable to get appropriate justice.’ Dzuvichu not only highlights the patriarchal nature of some tribal laws and mores but also indicates how the traditional – a sphere of veneration in Naga (and many other) social formations – can equally be a cover for the oppressive and iniquitous. In her commentary – significantly reprinted in all papers under survey – Dzuvichu expands the scope of the political indicating spheres of oppression and struggles that seldom register in mainstream Naga media discourse.

If the reportage in the Naga media is largely monochromatic and ventriloquistic in its bland repetitions of press releases, the citizen commentaries and editorials reflect a vast array of opinions, ideas, prejudices, anxieties, fears, and hopes jostling with one another for argumentative and political space. The breadth and vigour of the debate contributes to ideations of the Naga Nation, its contradictions and problems along with its possibilities and futures.

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