Conflict and reconciliation in Naga newspapers

BY Subarno Chattarji| IN Regional Media | 15/03/2010
Media in Nagaland�Part I. �The making and the un-making of the Naga Nation�: narrating conflict in the Naga English media.
SUBARNO CHATTARJI examines how newspapers use language to create a Naga identity.

                 A Hivos funded study on the Hoot

 

Research coordinator in Dimapur, Athili Anthony Saprina. Research director, Sevanti Ninan. Research consultant, Aloke Thakore. Analysis: Subarno Chattarji. 

 

A survey of four English language newspapers over a month (November 10 December 10 2009) reveals interesting connections in terms of the ways in which �'�the Naga Nation�'� and its political and ideological spaces are mapped. These mappings occur in and through various modes: language usage, the relative absence of the reporter�'�s voice, and editorials along with citizen commentary. This article looks at some lexical markers that frame media debates in The Nagaland Post, The Nagaland Page, Eastern Mirror, and Morung Express.

One way of creating a specific Naga sense of identity is to use terms that describe political functionaries in a particular linguistic manner. Thus C. Singson is referred to as �'�foreign kilonser (minister) of the [Khaplang] faction [of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland].�'� [NP, Nov. 11, 2009, p. 5] Appellations such as �'�lieutenant�'� to describe NSCN-IM cadres provide a quasi-military validation for what are insurgent groups from the Indian government point of view. [�'�IM cadre assaulted, left unconscious,�'� Newmai News Network, Dec. 4, 2009] They also contribute to the idea of the Naga Nation formalized through references such as �'�The Federal Government of Nagaland�'� [�'�FGN no to Common Platform,�'� EMN, July 23, 2009]. Terms such as �'�kilonser�'� are repeated in reportage and along with the density of reports detailing the positions of various groups fighting for the Naga cause and jostling with each other indicate a political world separate from the Indian state. The linguistic frames not only create alternative media and political spaces members of the Naga underground are often referred to as �'�national workers�'� or extortion is translated as tax  but also project as normative organizations who do not entirely control the machinery of governance. Legitimacy as it were is conferred by rhetorical means.

Impung Chang�'�s �'�The Making and the un-making of the Naga Nation�'� [NP, Nov. 11, 2009, p. 7] articulates some of the issues related to the ideation of conflict and Naga identities. He begins with a basic question: �'�what is it that makes me a Naga? Is it something in the blood or is it something in the shared culture, or are there some external factors that came about through colonialism? Moreover, how do I know that I am a Naga?�'� Referring to Benedict Anderson�'�s notion of �'�imagined communities�'� Chang attempts to show how Nagas are in fact a nation. As with many reports the analysis sees Naga identity primarily as a political one: �'�it is the shared experience of a political reality and struggle, and a common political aspiration that ultimately becomes the basis of a Naga nation.�'�  It makes a clear distinction between the �'�Naga Nation�'� and the �'�Indian State�'�. This dichotomy is not merely a matter of semantics as it demarcates the specificity of Naga non-belonging to the entity called India. Thus in much of the reportage there is a reference to negotiations between officials of the NSCN (or other groups) and the GoI. Linguistic clarity helps to define one aspect of Naga identity, albeit in a negative frame of what it is not. Within this media and analytic frame �'�colonial rule�'� of the British and the Indian state is indistinguishable: �'�the nation had been found and built on the basis of political resistance to imposition of colonial rule over the Nagas, whether it was the British or Indian.�'�

While Chang is proud of Naga coherence and its expression in kinds of identity politics, he is aware of the dangers faced by the collective: �'�today, as a result of tribalism, the compromising posture of the Naga elite, the divisions created by the state and the indifference bred into the minds of people through years of colonial occupation, the concept of a Naga identity is increasingly facing the threat of disintegration.�'� Tribalism is used to divide the Nagas by Indian intelligence and the GoI and Chang asks for greater vigilance against a perennial enemy and current occupier. Within this parameter the creation of Nagaland itself was a backward step for Nagas outside the boundaries of the current entity called Nagaland. The focus in this and some other articles is on a Greater Nagaland comprising contiguous tribal areas in adjoining states in the north east along with Burma. �'�One of the first attempts in this direction came when in 1957 the Intelligence Bureau of the Indian government brought together some of the Naga bureaucrats and elite to form the Naga People�'�s Convention, which subsequently created the Nagaland state. The creation of Nagaland state pushed the efforts made by our national leaders to forge unity among all the Naga tribes backwards. Large majority of the Nagas inhabiting what is today Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Burma were excluded from the Nagaland state that was formed.�'� Chang is aware of problems within the Naga tribes and communities but they are exacerbated in his view by the Indian state. While Chang creates an us-versus-them framework and highlights the necessity of Naga integration he doesn�'�t analyze in any depth the political viability of the Greater Nagaland idea. He is, however, clear that the Nagas are not part of the Indian union and that the situation in Nagalim is a political one, rather than a law and order issue as successive Indian governments have indicated through policy and action on the ground.

Racial and ethnic difference, the separation from India and Indians are occasionally reported. Atul Cowshish�'�s �'��'�Racism�'� in Delhi and National Capital Region (NCR)�'� [NP, Nov. 29, p. 20] highlights the stereotypes that operate and allow the awful incidents to proliferate and go unpunished. The commentary also reiterates the centre-margin paradigm where ethnic differences along with cultural ones further a sense of �'�otherness.�'�

Chang�'�s essay provides a template for some of the reportage on the Naga situation, particularly in terms of the �'�Indo-Naga�'� issue [NP, Nov. 28, p.1] which is often presented as one of implacable difference and opposition. There are commentaries, however, which consider this type of nationalism to be counterproductive. �'�Nationalism that has nothing to offer except death and destruction and built on the notion of independence without the masses should not be mistaken as a legitimate demand.�'� [NP, �'�Setback to peace�'�, Dec. 6, 2009] While this editorial is about the ULFA issue in Assam it also conflates some of the realities in Nagaland which has suffered decades of violence. 

It is within contexts of unremitting conflict that reportage emphasizes an alternative mediation of realities within Nagaland: this is the overt use of a religious specifically Christian language and narrative. These narratives propose modes of reconciliation. One example is a message by the Rev. Kari Longchan, Director of Peace Affairs, Nagaland Baptist Church Council. Rev. Longchan �'�stated that Naga Society needed to develop good character, right mindset and integrity to build up the Naga Society and added that Nagaland Baptist Church Council is taking initiation [sic] working amongst the various underground faction proclaiming to forgive one another and to stop killing their own brother. He also said Naga people were loving, kind and merciful people therefore should build unity and work together socially and economically to bring glory to God and restore peace in the land.�'� [NP, Nov. 12, 2009, p. 2] The NSCN-IM motto �'�Nagaland for Christ�'� sums up this Christian framework and the density of Christian referents is indicative of its importance in political and social discourse.

The Christian paradigm emphasizes peace and brotherhood along with a need to examine faults within rather than blaming forces without that are inimical to Naga fraternity. It recasts the political debate characterizing the Nagas as a Christian people with special responsibilities not only politically but morally and ethically. Numerous articles emphasize this moral-religious dimension. Morung Express pointed to the failure to live according to Christian ideals [�'�Culture of Violence,�'� Dec. 2, 2009]; on 14 October 2009 it referred to �'�prayer warriors�'�, [�'�Peace and Unity of the Nagas�'�] an alternative paradigm to prevalent animosities and conflict; Eastern Mirror said that the greatest enemy is sin [�'�Who is hampering peace and unity to prevail?�'� Oct. 28, 2009] and on June 18 it expressed an awareness of the contradiction between Christian teachings of brotherly love and turning the other cheek, and violence. [�'�The voice of God to Naga freedom fighters�'�] While a Morung Express poll revealed that 67% of Nagas do not consider Nagaland a Christian state, yet Christian rhetoric is crucial to narratives of the state and conflict.

A Nagaland Post editorial �'�A time to heal�'� stressed the binding force of Christian faith for the various Naga tribes: �'�The Church therefore plays a vital role as a mediator for reconciliation. Biblically, the first step towards reconciliation is repentance before God and to seek forgiveness. From those who have been wronged and willingness to forgive by those who have been wronged.�'� That these Biblical injunctions are flouted often is noted in some reports but there are exceptional commentaries which seem to resent Christian morality and its implications.

Naga media provides space to citizenry to express their views through extended commentary. In one such essay, Thepfulhouvi Solo while acknowledging the importance of the Church rejects its reconciliation model urging it to follow a more down-to-earth political praxis: �'�The Naga society with its many ignoramus [sic] and weaknesses has great hope for good: the pastor, the reverends and the Church organizations have great responsibility for creating the role model Society, more than the chief minister. The church must never allow the evil of sophisticated �'�forgive and forget�'� solution to creep into the Church.�'� [NP, �'�When compromise is evil,�'� Dec. 5, 2009] In another context Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio declared, �'��'�Hope in heaven is through Christ, but hope on earth is through politics,�'��'� [EM, Nov. 19, p.1] seemingly secularizing political spheres. That the Christian frame is far from monolithic is reflected in statements such as Solo�'�s and Rio�'�s but it is a paradigm that informs much of the media debates related to issues of Naga identity, violence, and reconciliation.

The overt manifestations of Christian rhetoric �'� �'��'�Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord!  My dear Countrymen, on this auspicious day, I would like to thank God for granting us this beautiful time to celebrate our 62nd Naga Independence Day.�'��'� [Isak Chishi Swu] �'� are startling in the context of a constitutionally secular India, but they could also been seen as a rhetorical and political mode of emphasizing precisely that distance from the Indian state. While Christianity serves within Nagaland as a clarion call for unity and peace it helps to differentiate itself from what could be construed as a predominantly �'�Hindu�'� India. As with the rhetoric of the Hindu Right which is exclusionary Naga Christian identities speak to the Naga Nation and implicitly exclude others. It is interesting that Christianity is perceived as indigenous to the Naga people rather than a colonial import and that while British colonialism is critiqued one of its cultural legacies is embraced as a means of creating solidarity within and distance from the new colonizer, India.

 

 

Also Read :
Media in Nagaland�'�Part II.

�'�Nagas at crossroads': reporting conflict in Nagaland

 

 

 

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