Globalization And The Problem Of Identities In The North East With Special Reference To The Nagas


By Dr. Xavier P. Mao
In this paper, I would like to examine globalization as a concept as well as a fact. i.e. a synthesis of both conceptual and empirical enquiries. Different religions of the world have the basic message about the common origin of all living beings. In other words, all human beings, animals and plants have common source or origin. According to Upanishadic Hinduism, Vasudhava Kutumbakam which means the world is one family. According to Christianity, all human beings are children of God. Even according to Islam, Prophet Mohammad is for all humankind. The holy scriptures of all major religions and the myths and legends of tribal societies speak of the oneness of all living beings. But at the contextual level, differences and contradictions abound. Biologically and psychologically fundamental human inclinations and feelings are the same. Culturally different manifestations and behaviors are exhibited. That is to say, text says something and context gives something else due to human weakness and limitations. Migrati
on is a fact of life whether in the past or now. Trade and commerce across the continent was also a fact of life even in the past. But today because of science and technology, space and time have been conquered. The world has become a global village. Inter-dependence of societies and states are on the increase. Inter-marriage within and across the continent is ever on the increase. Globalization is a powerful transforming force in reshaping modern societies and the global order. The contemporary process of interactive internationalization has led to massive shake-out of societies, economies, institutions of governance and world order. Even the nation-state sovereignty is no longer a territorially defined barrier but a kind of bargaining resource with powerful new territorial forms of economic, cultural, religious and political organization. The ever increasing pace of global interconnectedness is creating chains of interlocking political decisions. The contemporary globalizations is as it were recreating or reconstituting the traditional power, functions and authority of national governments, so much so that the institutions of territorially demarcated sovereign states appear anomalous.

Globalizations as understood today had its vague beginning in the 1960s in the writings of French and American scholars. Slowly it gained popularity as a kind of lived experience of our time. In its contemporary usage the concept of globalization has come to mean a common perception that the world is quickly changed into a social cultural space by economic and technological forces.  Any development in one part of the globe can have deep impact for the life chances of individuals or communities or societies on the other side of the globe.

Realistically speaking for good or bad, the countries today are inseparably connected. In a sense, all nations are parts of a unified single society, the needs of which are interdependent. The fact of interdependence is ever more clearly visible in the economic sphere than in any other field. Modern culture is increasingly transcending national boundaries. Communications and interdependence of different nations in the field of culture is visibly palpable in today’s world. Even the concept of national security itself is outdated in view of the development of sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missile and other deadly weapons. Therefore, the security system of the nation-state is illusory. Either security is collectively international or no security at all.  In the light of such development, what has dawned upon humanity’s consciousness is how to develop a just and humane international law and international institution to re-model and re-order the relations between the states. Nationalism, ethnicity and tribal identity assertion tend to promote the forces of conflict and division. It seems to me, nationalism and internationalism are not mutually exclusive. The ideal of internationalism does not involve complete rejection of nationalism. Internationalism and different cultural distinctiveness of nations can mutually cross-fertilize each other. In the context of the above discussion, I would like to examine the problem of the identities in the North-East and Nagas in particular.

In a truistic sense a thing is identical only with itself. Symbolically B is identical with B and not with anything else at all. This law simply states that the laws of identity and contradiction are exclusive in nature. But such logical laws do not speak about the world of nature much less about human beings and society. Now the important question is: what does one mean when one talks of religious, linguistic, ethnic, racial, cultural identity and so on? As a matter of fact today, identity questions are being raised throughout the world and different forms of agitations resorted to, in order to get or bargain more and more political, economic, religious and cultural freedom and autonomy for natives and certain groups of people. With these preliminary and introductory remarks let me now turn towards the problems in North East. It is a fact that the Nagas, Mizos, Garos, Khasis, Jaintias , Boros, various tribes of Arunachal Pradesh, and other North East tribes are ethnically, linguistically and culturally different from people of other parts of the country. Now the vital question is: In what sense they are different from other Indians and what do their identities consist in? This important question has not been properly and adequately answered by the advocates and adherent of the identity thesis in the North East. On their behalf the thesis could be defended partially as follows by explaining the concepts of human and society. The concepts of human and society contain both universal and particular elements. All human beings whether Indians, Chinese, Japanese , Africans, Americans, Germans and so on contain some universal elements. Similar is the case with societies. Because of these universal elements we talk of Human and Society in capitals. This is how the concepts of human and society have been used in great religious traditions like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Islam. Thinkers like Plato, Hobbes, Confucius, Lao-tsii, Rousseau and many others talked in these terms too. But at the same time the particular and the spatio-temporal dimension of human and society cannot be overlooked. Seen in this human and society could be considered as mixture of both universals and particulars. A tribal or for that matter any nationality is first of  a human being and then a Naga, Mizo, Garo, French, Italian and so on. Therefore, logically speaking there should not be any difficulty on the part of a tribal or any nationality in identifying oneself with other human beings. They can live together. The Upanishadic and Advaita traditions of Indian philosophy including Jainism and Buddhism even went further and sought to establish the identity of all beings both living and non-living.  Seen in this light, different particular identities like ethnic, racial, linguistic, religious and cultural entities inhere in the universal and all pervasive identity of human being and being. Despite all the present strategies adopted to resolve the tricky problems of the North East, solution remains elusive till today.

Historically speaking for multifarious reasons, tribal people throughout the world have been pushed to inaccessible and hostile forested and hilly regions. In this context the North Eastern tribal people are no exception to it. Consequently over the ages economic development has become uneven in the region. It was partly because of impersonal socio-economic forces and partly because of conscious and deliberate neglect by others. Such complex situations require careful analysis and understanding. Right knowledge and proper understanding is likely to lead to right action.  Identity of an individual or society is always multi-layered. As per the cartographic evidence put forth by the Indian historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma, D.N. Jha, D.D. Kosambi, D.N. Mukherji etc. the present North-East India did not constitute the Mauryan Empire. Even the Indian National Anthem does not make any mention of the North East. In other words, the present North-East part of India fell beyond the pale of ancient Mauryan Empire. Subsequent cartographic evidence also shows that North-East did not constitute the Gupta Empire in the 6th century A.D. But in due course of time after the Turko-Afghan, the Mughal for the first time in the 16th century i.e, in 1578 conquered Koch Behar. Subsequently Kamrup and some parts of Garo hills also came under Mughal rule.  With the advent of the British, almost all North-East came under British Empire, except rugged, inaccessible hilly areas were left un-administered. Thus, stage by stage the North-East became part of present India. Similarly, even the North-Western part of Myanmar occupied by over a million Nagas was not part of the early successive Myanmar empires. International boundaries were drawn and redrawn after the emergence of nation-state politics. As such the international boundary between India and Myanmar is artificial for many tribes of the North-East. Even the boundaries of the states were drawn and redrawn arbitrarily without caring for the wills and interest of the people. Thus cartographic evidence clearly shows that larger part of North-East, before the coming of the British was not a’ part of India then, particularly Nagaland. Even linguistically, culturally and ethnically most of the tribes of North-East are not part of India as I mentioned earlier. Formation of a state is a result of contract or coercion. But at the time of India’s independence, Nagas under the leadership of A.Z. Phizo refused to join the Indian union. The Nagas have inhabited in forested and inaccessible areas in a way no man’s land. Acculturation and effective intermixture of cultures take hundreds of years. It is in the broader context of history, culture and racial relations that I attempt to explore and analyze the problems of the identities in the North-East and particularly the persistent assertion of the Naga Independent struggle. It is this historical root coupled with complete racial difference which inspired legitimacy to the call of Nagas’ movement for sovereign, Independent Nagaland. The Naga str
uggle has given inspiration to the secessionist or separatist movements of all the North-East ethnic groups. A new social elite, modern educated and Christians that began to emerge after the mass conversion to Christianity. Systematically, articulated their history and interest in the form of extreme exclusive ethnic identity assertion.

As I mentioned earlier it was only the British who gradually extended their rule over the entire North-East by 1889 except the Naga areas of Myanmar. It is also a historical fact that before the coming of the British, the concept of territorial political authority for a number of tribes put together was unknown among the hill tribes. The British followed a policy of slow administration through a plan of governance, which according to them was best suited for the hill tribes. As a result they did not interfere too much with their traditional existing religious and political institutions. The tribal hill areas of North-East were treated by the British differently from the mainland British-India as excluded or partially excluded areas. In other words, the British had a non-interference policy in the affairs of the hill tribal societies, unless they were compelled to do so for the interests of the British Empire.

It seems to me appropriate and proper to reflect and examine the present day problems of ethnic identity assertion and the so called sovereign, independent movement against the aforementioned historical background. It is also true that multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-linguistic identities of this North-East like anywhere else in the world are not fixed for all time to come. According to some scholars, ethnic identity assertion is nothing but a slogan or a hoax for some educated elites to get some benefits for themselves. Is ethnic identity really a myth or reality? Should economic or political development be imposed from above by an impersonal group of outsiders or it should be in accord with the ethos of the natives? There has been opposition, confrontation, conflict, disappointment and apprehension while implementing some policies and propagating certain messages about polity, democracy, education, language, culture and unity in and through diversity. In my considered opinion, no one can afford to dismiss these issues as mere slogans, nonsense, meaningless, baseless and unfounded.

However at the same time a question arises as to what binds people together? Is it ethnicity, religion, language, culture and so on? Perhaps the bonding force and strength comes from somewhere else. The source and fountain head is certain level of knowledge coupled with moral values of mutual love, fellow feeling and empathetic understanding. In this connection, it is necessary to state that an individual or ethnic group or nation have multiple identities. As for example, a tribal is a human being distinguished from other animals. He has political, religious, linguistic and cultural identities as well. Some identities are wiped out and some are retained whereas new identities are created or recreated. Identity in this sense is not static and fixed for all time to come. Sometimes one is not sure of which identity one is talking about. For example, religious identity of the North-East tribal people are practically wiped out and replaced by new religious identities of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and to a certain extent even Islam. Thousands of languages have already disappeared in the world. Even the linguistic identities of the North-East tribal are being gradually wiped out. Similarly, other identities are also under process of change. One identity is overemphasized and highlighted over the other identities. But the question is, is it proper and essential to do this way? What is the most important identity of all identities? Sometimes political identity over weighs other identities. Morally speaking right to secede from any political unity is a basic and natural right of human beings. But this right can be exercised only when the genuine concerns of the community are not addressed or when there is oppression, repression, exploitation or discrimination of all types exist.

Nagas constitute an ethnic group, they are not one linguistic group. As a matter of fact, Nagas constitute various tribes and sub-tribes. They do not understand each other’s languages. This shows that Nagas did not constitute a linguistic group. Nagas today inhabit Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal, Assam and Myanmar. Since the inception of the inchoate collective consciousness of the Naga movement from 1918, the government of India has not holistically addressed the political question of the Nagas, hence the persistence of the longest running insurgency in India. The widespread perception and feeling of the Nagas is their reluctance to identify themselves as Indians despite more than 5O (fifty) years of India’s rule over them by force, fraud and financial gifts. This is clearly evidenced by the common expressions like ‘we are in India but we are not Indians’. ‘We are Indian citizens but we are not Indians’. Thus the typical expression of the so called ‘Naga National Workers are: “Indian occupational forces have occupied our land”. “Indian State has forcibly annexed Nagaland to the Indian Empire and divided the Nagas,” etc. Now if we have a close look at the Naga problems, partly the Government of India is to be blamed and partly the Nagas themselves are also to be blamed.  The Political question on identity of Nagas is not at all in the priority list of the government of India. G.O.I is not at all prepared even to address the integration of the contiguous Naga areas issue which is very much within the framework of the Indian constitution, not to speak of other sensitive issues like federal relationship or a separate defense force and the like. Any government that comes to power at the centre is more worried and concerned about its own survival. Therefore, the party interest overrides the national interests most of the time. India itself is in the process of nation building. The liberal democracy is yet to take deep root in Indian polity. Corruption is very rampant in every walk of life.

Nagas have not been able to develop a common language of their own and their literature. On the contrary, ‘Nagamese’ the non-Naga language is being popularized by the so called ‘Naga National Workers’ out of ignorance and apparent necessity, hence the travesty of creating new linguistic identity against which outwardly they resist as that symbolized Indian cultural imperialism. Attempts should be made to develop a common Naga language, literature, music, traditional arts and other skills. Since language is one of the most important and significant terms of culture. It embodies its non-material aspects and dimensions. Historically speaking various groups have developed their specific language. But now the question is: is script a necessary part of language? It maybe mentioned in this connection that Sanskrit one of the biggest members of Indo-European family of languages was not committed to writing for ages what to speak of having a Script? In due course of time Kharoshtri and Brahmi Scripts were adopted and later on it was replaced by Devanagari the present script for Sanskrit. For obvious reasons of the Christian missionary initiative, the tribal languages of North East have adopted Roman Script there is no need to go for a change in the script. Though the tribal of North East have accepted Roman script for their languages yet they have not been able to develop it. It is a fact that there is an automatic linguistic communication but language grows and develops through deliberate conscious effort.  Today the language policy of India is such that what to speak of encouraging local languages it positively discourages the growth and development of vernaculars. Perhaps India is the only country in the world where different states compete with each other to give even primary education to small children not in mother tongue but in a foreign language that is English. Unusual mad rush throughout the country for English medium education testifies to it, the North East tribal people are no exception to it. The appropriate language policy should be to lay emphasis on Mother Tongue. English and Mother Tongue both should be together. And the medium of instruction up to class VIII should be in mother tongue of the child and not any other language This type of language policy will not only preserve the identity of any tribe or people but will strengthen it .Out of all the identities to my mind, linguistic identity is primary and fundamental. It goes without saying that a tribe or a people or a nation is known by the language that it speaks.

Today, the organization of the ‘Naga Movement’ is so rigid and not based on the modern liberal democratic values. Their organizational hierarchy is based mainly on seniority however corrupt or crooked he or she may be. As a consequence, for the last two decades or more, highly educated and public spirited individuals are not joining the movement. On the contrary, they have developed contempt and disgust for their anti-people and anti-society activities. And the result is degeneration, fragmentation, factionalism, decadence within the movement. Many Naga individuals strongly feel that they are by and large, more of liabilities rather than assets of the Naga aspiration and hopes of the Naga people initially launched as one common political entity. Therefore, over a period of time, many identities have undergone a sea change. Even the concept of sovereignty has undergone change in the context of ever growing interdependence of individuals, communities, societies and nations, for the welfare of all. As matters stand today.  North-East tribal people including Nagas are willy-willy living in India. Some Indian intellectuals are of the opinion that in a democratic set-up like India the North East tribal people should reconcile to live with India and should concentrate on their social and cultural development. Sufficient care has been taken by the constitution. Yet the Nagas in general strongly feel reluctant to identify themselves as Indians.

To conclude the genuine interests, concerns, fears of the North-East tribal people should be addressed by government of India by way of creating new states, extension of 6th schedule provisions to some more areas and high degree of political autonomy to the Nagas. This is possible if the Government of India can muster up a strong political will to address these concerns, and on the other hand, the various North-East tribes, should abandon the exclusivist tendencies or demand for their particular ethnic group despite so tiny without proper historical and cultural back-up. Further I wish to reiterate that no identity whether ethnic, racial, cultural, religious and linguistic remains fixed for eternity; it grows, evolves and changes. So any demand or feeling for a fixed identity of any kind is perhaps not reasonable therefore, not desirable. For reason known to all, the North East is economically underdeveloped than the rest of the country despite higher literacy rate than the average Indian literacy. But today things are different. Great changes have taken place in almost all spheres. This has been because of the democratic culture of the Indian polity however weak it may be. But at the same time suspicions, doubts, resentments and misgivings are bound to arise from time to time in any multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-linguistic society and India is no exception to it. Such impediments can be overcome if the present democratic set up is strengthened by evolving systems of effective checks and balances supported by mutual love, fellow feeling, empathy and amity preached and advocated by all great religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Bahai faith, Buddhism, Jainism and Islam.

Author is Associate Professor,
Department of Philosophy,
NEHU, Shillong – 793022 .


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