The Naga Nation on the Net

IN Digital Media | 19/07/2010
The Hoot excerpts a passage from Maya Ranganathan and Usha M. Rodrigues’ Indian Media in a Globalised World.
Selected and introduced by SUBARNO CHATTARJI

Interpreting Media

July 2010

As part of The Hoot’s continuing commitment toward creating greater media awareness and fostering debates related to media issues we are excerpting a passage from Maya Ranganathan and Usha M. Rodrigues’ Indian Media in a Globalised World. New extracts will be posted on the site every month and readers are invited to send in comments, book recommendations, and reviews.

The phenomenal growth of Indian media since economic liberalisation in 1991 has been the focus of numerous academic studies along with journalistic commentary. Indian Media in a Globalised World ‘addresses various issues that have impacted or failed to impact on Indian media in the era if globalisation.’ The volume deals not only with print and television but with issues such as freedom in the Indian blogosphere, citizen journalism, and the creation of a Naga nation on the net. The chapter outlines a qualitative analysis of three websites that ‘create and further Naga nationalism.’ The websites are: NSCN online (http://www.nscnonline.org), http://nagalim.nl, and http://www.nagarealm.com What is significant is not only the ways in which the internet is employed to create an exclusive and oppositional identity, but also the manner in which some online themes – such as the central role and value of religion in public life – are a mirror of print media concerns in Nagaland. ‘The Naga Nation on the Net’ offers valuable insights into media and political spaces of a region often neglected by mainstream media in India.

Maya Ranganathan, Usha M. Rodrigues. Indian Media in a Globalised World. New Delhi, London: Sage Publications, 2010. http://www.sagepub.in/browse/book.asp?bookid=1485&Subject_Name=&mode=1

INDIAN MEDIA IN A GLOBALISED WORLD 

MAYA RANGANATHAN Monash University, Australia
USHA M RODRIGUES University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia


2010 / 300 pages / Cloth: Rs 550 (9788132104018)

SAGE Publications

 

‘The Naga Nation on the Net’

Maya Ranganathan

Technological features

...

Images

The most effective use of images among the pictures of men and women in traditional attire on Nagalim.nl is on the ‘Maps page’. The page effectively depicts the asserted ‘Naga nation’ (Nagalim) in the first map which includes major chunks of the neighbouring states of Manipur, Assam and Myanmar, presenting ‘a scientific abstraction of reality’ (Thongchai cited in Anderson 1991: 173). The second map highlights the boundaries of the ‘so-called Nagaland’ and ‘Indo-Burma’ borders. The third map shows, what the NISC describes as the arbitrarily formed Indian state of Nagaland. The Nscnonline website uses its leader Th Muivah’s ‘mug shot’ as its site icon which is displayed in the address bar of the browser as well as on the page tabs, thus creating a national leader. The banner displays the NSCN-IM’s self-styled government’s ‘National Flag’ which is incorporated as an iconic representation with every news item in the news section, indicating the nation’s ‘quasi-developmental capabilities for forming, supporting and enforcing a common will’ (Oommen 1997: 14). The NSCN’s gallery page has 5 sections allowing for the ‘veneration and exaltation’ of the land and people that make the nation (Smith 1991: 9). ... The ‘People’s movement’ section features pictures of Nagas protesting with placards and cloth banners with slogans demanding peace. The page also carries photographs of Naga leaders, Th Muivah and Isaac Chisu Swu. The ‘consultations and meetings’ page seeks to highlight the credibility of the movement’s leaders as representatives of the Naga people. Among the pictures is a photograph of NSCN leaders with India’s Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, thereby indicating the Naga leaders’ ‘official status’ as the prime movers of the Naga Movement.

***

Presentation of content

Alternate expressions: The portrayal of the internet as an ‘alternate media’ stems from the possibility that ‘unmediated, unadorned and unreported’ documents which find it difficult to penetrate mainstream media, can thrive on the Net—unquestioned and unmonitored (Lister et al. 2003: 177). NISC’s website, Nagalim.nl and NSCN-IM’s official website Nscnonline, registered in Netherlands and Bangkok respectively, beyond the control and purview of the Indian government, makes it possible for them to disseminate the political ideologies of these organisations without fearing reprisal from those critiqued. While Nscnonline, the official website of NSCN-IM, which is in the forefront of the Naga movement states on its home page that ‘Nagalim was and is never a part of India and as such, Naga independence is neither a question of separation nor secession from India’ (Emphasis added), the official website of the government of the Indian state of Nagaland describes Nagaland merely as ‘a vibrant hill state located in the extreme North Eastern end of India’ in an attempt perhaps to convey the indifference of the Indian government to the demands for Nagalim. Nscnonline, ironically draws support for its demands by quoting the Father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi: ‘I will come to the Naga Hills; will ask them to shoot me first before one Naga is shot’ reacting to the alleged ‘forceful union’ of the Naga Hills with India.

***

... [T]he website accommodates press releases denied space and time by the dominant media. Nagarealm, the site hosted from within the Indian state of Nagaland, comprises information about its districts, festivals, educational institutions, economy, jobs, church news and Nagaland/Naga history. However, it puts across its views on Naga history in an extremely subtle manner, unlike the other two websites. It is not clear whether the subtlety is due to constraints it faces owing to the fact that it functions from within the geographical boundaries of the nation or because of its convictions. But a conscious effort on the part of all three websites to justify the Naga claim for self-determination, thus revealing antagonistic world views, is evident (Laclau and Mouffe 1985).

The ‘other’: In all the websites, the Nagas are the ‘we’ with the Indians becoming the ‘other’. The websites speak for the Nagas who are unlawfully being subjugated by the Indians. Interestingly, Nagalim.nl takes the position of a bystander to educate the readers about the Nagas, who are referred to in the third person. Although the presence of one group, the Nagas, automatically indicates the presence of the ‘other’, the ‘other’ is not mentioned in the discourse but is left to be understood by the reader. For instance, the account of history is presented thus:

The Nagas have lived under the pressure of invasion for more than fifty years. To come out of the isolation forced upon them - and the international community to recognize their struggle for self determination, they need your attention and help. The Naga International Support Centre is determined to make the Nagas and their struggle known to the world. To enable us to project their rights there are several intriguing opportunities to consider.

The ‘deixis’ of the homeland is embedded in words such as ‘they’ and ‘their’, rather than ‘we’ and ‘our’, although clearly indicating that the Nagas are the ‘oppressed’ and leaving little doubts as to who the oppressor is (Billig 1995: 94). The home page of Nscnonline on 24 October 2007 carried a piece written by NSCN-IM leader Th Muivah in which he said,

[G]od has stood by us … he has hitherto won all the battles for us from then up to now. He has also softened, to a measure, the hearts of the ‘opponents’ and made them admit the hard fact that the solution to the Indo-Naga issue is not in the military might of India but in the positive political approach.

Read in the context of the other material on the websites, a complete picture of the discursively manufactured distinction between the Nagas and the ‘other’ emerges. The distinction laces every argument and is clear in some articles. In the article titled, ‘The need to introduce Naga history in school text books: A political perspective’ on Nscnonline, a poser reads: ‘We the Naga study Indian history, but do we study Naga history in school or college level?’ The pronoun ‘we’ is used with calculated effect to draw clear the distinction.

History: The process of unification of the nation through a constant process of conveying a common historic fate, common triumphs of the past, national history speaking of grandeur, a national mission, and assurance of the nation’s worth for mankind, is evident in all the websites (Gerth and Mills 1954). ... Nagalim.nl, in its ‘history pages’, discusses the basis of the claim of Greater Nagalim from the perspective of cultural differences and the ways in which the British treated the Nagas. For instance, laws passed by British India or the Assemblies under the 1919 Indian Home Rule and the Government of India Act 1935, were not made applicable to the Naga areas. Apparently, this was in recognition of the fundamental differences underlying the social and cultural practices between Hindu and Naga societies. Nscnonline also maintains that the ‘North and Eastern art—(of the Naga Hills) which formed the larger part of the Naga territory, was left uncontrolled and unoccupied by the British’. This area ‘remained almost unvisited, entirely self-governing and completely independent even when India attained her independence from Great Britain in 1947’. The ‘Naga history’ which the site refers to as ‘Nagalim history’ has instances of uprisings against the British by the ‘Zeliangrong Nagas’—spearheaded by ‘Jadunang’ who was later hanged by the British. The site terms it a ‘heroic revolution’ on account of the ‘staggering number of Nagas who were shot dead, hanged or otherwise imprisoned’ and allegedly ‘never made public by the British authorities.’ Nscnonline accuses India of betraying the ‘ten years agreement’ which according to the site, guaranteed,

[T]he Government of Indian Union will have a special responsibility for a period of ten years to ensure the due observance of this Agreement; at the end of this period, the Naga National Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people be arrived at.

But as things turned out, according to the site, ‘the agreement was no longer considered to exist by the Indian Government’ and the Naga Hills were forcefully annexed by India, causing widespread resentment. The ‘degradation of the situation’ is recounted through a narration of the incidents of ‘massive indiscriminate ransacking and ravaging of Naga villages’ by the Indian armed forces (Todorov 1990: 29). It further claimed that on 18 October 1952 ‘Mr Zasebito of Zotsoma village was shot dead on the main road at Kohima by a sub-inspector of Indian police.’ He was a judge of the Kohima Central Court and was the first Naga to be shot. The website goes on to name the victims of rape committed by the first Maratha Regiment and presents a statistical and descriptive account of the atrocities that allegedly went on unabated in ‘Free Nagalim’. Nscnonline further accuses the then Prime Minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of being in cohorts with the Prime Minister of Burma, Thakin U. Nu, and completing the division of the Naga Hills. It further goes on to condemn the ‘Shillong Accord’ as ‘the most ignominious sell-out ever made in the history of the proud Nagas.’ Nagarealm, however, is less blatant than the other two websites. In its ‘history page’ it states:

In spite of all setbacks, behind the suspicion and the anxiety over the political issues, social crisis, changes to the Naga society in recent years, the Nagas throughout the decades have grown in knowledge and freedom, which many would agree is the real point of the Naga History.

All three websites can be seen to be involved in the ‘construction of a new common sense’ changing the identity of the Naga groups (Laclau and Mouffe 1985: 183).

Culture: Given the diversities among the tribal groups that constitute Nagalim, the ‘process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute or related set of cultural attributes’ is indeed difficult (Beniger 1986: 6). ...

The unifying issue however is religion. The only state with over 80 per cent Christian population in a Hindu-dominated country, Nagaland remains a devout Christian state free from religious extremism (Census India: online). Nagalim.nl in its ‘history pages’ refers to the Nagas, ‘egalitarian communal social structure’ which ‘differed greatly from the stratified caste system of Hindu society.’ The page further alleges that it was ‘impossible for them to live together in harmony’ based on claims that the Hindus and Muslims hated the Nagas because of their consumption of ‘beef’ and ‘pork’. Nagalim.nl alleges that soon after the British left India and ‘Free Nagalim’ was annexed as the Naga Hills district of Assam, India began attempts to ‘inculcate’ Indian nationalism by converting the people to Hinduism. It also accuses the Indian government of ‘bringing Hindus into the region in administrative positions and introducing Hinduism as a compulsory subject in schools. Christianity, it claims, was banned as a ‘foreign religion’, including the reading of the Bible and Christian burials, thus appealing to the religious sentiments of the masses by identifying the nation with the religious community (Smith 1991: 49).

Nscnonline, in its preamble on its ‘home page’ declares in the ‘Manifesto of the NSCN’ that it attempts to constitute an Independent Sovereign Christian Socialist Democratic Republic. The NSCN-IM charges: ‘the forces of Hinduism viz., the numberless Indian troops, the retail and wholesale dealers, the teachers and the instructors, the intelligent, the prophets of non-violence, the gamblers and the snakecharmers, Hindi songs and Hindi films, the rosogula makers and the Gita are all arrayed for the mission of supplanting the Christian God, the Eternal God of the universe.’ The website cites the ‘freedom of Religion Bill, 1978’ which was introduced in the Indian Parliament and forbids further conversion to Christianity as an indication that the Indian Constitution can be changed by the majority to suit their purpose. However, Nagarealm details the role of the American Baptist Missionaries in educating the Nagas and evangelising them at the same time. ‘Education’ was a tool the missionaries used effectively. ‘Literacy was the stamp of authority that gave Christianity supremacy over traditional customs and belief.’ Nagarealm has a separate section on its website dedicated to news from the Church.

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