For more than half a century, hatred and mutual suspicion have been the dominant social ideologies between the natives and “outsiders” in Nagaland and other North-eastern states. I say this despite my profound admiration for the Naga spirit and the utmost regard for their friendship. Notwithstanding their broad-heartedness towards many things in life, it is ironic that often “contempt” for non-Nagas has come to resemble a symbol of true manhood.
On the other hand, the non-tribal “outsiders (or plain Manu)— Indians from the plains, as distinct from the hill people — have grown to underestimate Nagas or find fault with them. And this has not come about solely because of long years of insurgency or political instability, even if these issues are partly responsible for such a state of affairs.
By disposition and design, the Nagas are short-tempered and this is again punctuated by their highly emotive and egoistic nature — perhaps hardly understood by mainstream Indians. Perhaps this would explain why Nagaland member of parliament Neiphiu Rio reportedly turned down Prime Minister Narendra Modi&’s offer to join the Union council of ministers as a minister of state. How could a former Naga chief minister join as a junior minister? Anyone else in his position from, say, Odisha or Bihar might have.
I would say Nagaism has often remained an unmediated glorification of complexity and myth. But hidden in this complexity is the Naga sense of vigilantism. A wrong-doer in their eyes ought to be punished. Which is why the law, as mainland India sees it, can be made a mockery of.
The 5 March 2015 incident (in which an mob raided the Central Jail at Dimapur, grabbed the alleged rapist of a Naga girl and lynched him) has brought into question the renowned Naga character of fairness and uprightness.
My acquiantance with the Nagas and other North-eastern tribes makes it no easier for me to judge the Naga people as the most aggressive community in the region — and that is putting it mildly. The principle of democracy and the spirit of religious faith — so adhered to by the Nagas, both from their traditional point of view and since the advent of Christianity — has been trampled upon.
There&’s already talk about the collective failure of the state government, police, the influential church, civil society, the Naga Hoho or such organisations and public leaders. Chief minister TR Zeliang&’s principal political detractor, the rebel Naga People&’s Front, has issued a statement that both Zeliang and his home minister Y Patton have miserably failed to estimate the people&’s angst. This resulted in the breakdown of law enforcing agencies, thereby leading to the death of accused rapist Syed Farid Khan.
It said, “Had there been timely intervention from the government, such ugly and inhuman incidents could have been averted.” Other citizens in and around Dimapur have called it a “huge wake-up call” that requires corrective steps to change people&’s attitudes, take positive action and to make people accountable.
But more than the people&’s angst, it is important to analyse why the incident got so out of hand. This is the first time such an incident has taken place in Nagaland. Of course, the charges were serious, and few cases of molestation of women are heard of in Nagaland. And even if there are, most of these involve allegations of excesses and human rights violation by the Army and paramilitary personnel against local Naga women, courtesy Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.
In 1993, there was a similar charge of molestation against a few individuals, all locals belonging to a particular group. The vigilante element was active then too and the accused were paraded in Dimapur town itself. It is not without reason that 22 years ago the media hype was nowhere near the situation today. So it is also important to reflect that perhaps things would not have come to such a pass had there been strong condemnation of the 1993 episode itself. On the contrary, things were forgotten, much in keeping with the adage about letting sleeping dogs lie.
However, with regard to the 5 March incident, there is yet another element that needs to be scrutinised. This time around the people&’s anguish was directed against a Bengali Muslim. Muslims, like Hindus in Nagaland, are considered “outsiders” or plain Manu.
Importantly, since the 1990s thousands of outsiders — obviously mostly Hindus from Nagaland — including Nagaland government employees, have left the state permanently. One reason being growing the “hatred” and communal tension. These again got magnified due to extortion demands and threat letters served to “outsider Nagaland government” employees from time to time.
But it must be noted that local Nagas — for that matter, unlike the Mizos — did not really improve upon the dignity of labour factor nor display any entrepreneur skills. Thus, the vacuum for labour, especially certain odd jobs in the small-scale business, did exist. The Bengali Muslim population — albeit from Assam — and possibly a few from across the border, got an avenue to exploit that vacant space.
The illegal migrants — as they are called, whether from Assam, Nepal, Bangladesh, etc — are in Nagaland today because they offer “cheap labour” and are willing to take up jobs local Nagas would not, and perhaps even other outsiders from the mainstream — like West Bengal, Bihar or Rajasthan — would stay away from.
On the other hand, Bengali Muslims allegedly work with such methodology that local anguish against them could have been fuelled further in the last few years. In recent times, many Bengali Muslims have married local Naga women and in the process established a foothold. It is not without good reason that the term “Sumi-Mia” (or Naga-Mia) has come to be part of the local lingo.
So the possible angle that the local fury was also guided by “mass hatred” towards a Mia (as Bengali Muslims are called in Dimapur) cannot be overlooked.
Politics is also a factor that needs to be examined properly by the one-man judicial inquiry ordered by the Nagaland government. The ghastly episode has certainly put Zeliang on the backfoot, exposing his government&’s lapses. Last month Zeliang created history by winning 59 votes in the trust motion in the 60-member house. His administrative efficacy faces the litmus test. On the other hand, his detractors — the NPF (Noke) group has found a fresh arsenal to lambaste and question why, “till date”, the chief minister has maintained a mysterious silence.
The episode also gave a much-needed political fodder to Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi, who faces a tough battle against the BJP in next year&’s assembly election. Not surprisingly, Gogoi is playing the minority card to the hilt to harvest dividends in Bengali-Muslim stronghold pockets like Karimganj, from where lynched victim Syed Farid Khan came.
“Attacks on people of a particular community, especially those belonging to a minority, can have widespread repercussions in Assam, which has a huge population of Muslims,” an obviously politically smart Gogoi said in his protest missive to Union home minister Rajnath Singh.
The author is a special representative with The Statesman in New Delhi and author of the book The Talking Guns: North East India. He blogs at www.bestofindiarestofindia.com