The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

miscellaneous papers, notebooks and letters on Nagas by Ursula Graham Bower, 1937-1947

caption: Naga nationalism
medium: notesarticles
date: 1961
person: Graham Bower/ Ursula
date: 1937-1946
person: private collection
text: [9] [draft article]
text: The Commonwealth's Unknown War : a summing-up by Ursula Graham Bower
text: For the best part of seven years the Unknown War has dragged on its bitter course, but only in the last month or so has it become so much less unknown that it is possible to attempt an assessment.
text: In the first place, one must correct some misapprehensions. The Nagas are no longer a remote and picturesque mountain people, incapable of political organisation. In the last sixteen years they have met the challenge of changing times by a stupendous leap forward, springing in less than a generation from what was virtually an Early Iron Age culture into the mid-twentieth century. As early as 1945 there was an urgent demand for schools in even the most rural and backward areas, as the Nagas - whose intelligence was never in doubt - realized that to survive they must develop; and the naked village brats of that time are the doctors and clerks and pastors - and guerrillas fighters - of today. The fear of alien neighbours pressing in on them from the teeming and adjacent plains combined with already widespread Christianity to break down tribal divisions and enhance the existing sense of common Nagadom. Backwardness there still is; but the effective Naga of 1961 is a literate, politically- conscious Christian, with as passionate a national feeling and desire for independence as a Pole or Irishman; and it is as such that one must deal with him. Anything else is fantasy.
text: We also know more now of the origins of the war. It is doubly tragic that it should have sprung from this very need for development; the Naga wished to develop, but he desired to do it in his own way; the Indian wished to develop him, and it was unquestionably with the very best of intentions that far-reaching improvements were planned. But the resulting influx of strangers, and possibly not greatly respecting the Nagas, planting roads and schools and hospitals and military installations, and insisting on extensive Indianization without regard to existing cultures or institutions - merely exacerbated the villagers throughout the area. When to this was added the belief - rightly or wrongly - that they were the victims of the political bad faith of the regional Assam Government, the train was laid for rebellion.
text: Another point which has been clarified is the feelings of the bulk of the Naga population. There now seems little doubt that the grant of Statehood has not been enough, and that support for the Indian-recognized Naga People's Council is limited and mainly urban, while the vast majority of villagers freely supports the N.N.C. It is quite impossible to believe that 2000 N.N.C. Home Guards (that is the Indian figure - I should put it higher) can so effectively terrorize some 300,000 of their fellows, backed by 30,000 Indian troops, that they can move about freely to Cabinet meetings, escort foreign journalists and collect taxes under the noses of the protecting forces. The picture is, in fact, very different - of an astonishingly united people behind the N.N.C. and actively or passively assisting it; and this is a factor which must be faced and reckoned with. Yet another item in the sum, and a grimly weighty one, is the hate and distrust of India which are growing on the long-memoried Nagas. Matters are currently at such a pitch that they will probably bedevil Indo- Naga relations for the next two or three centuries, as the doings of Cromwellian generals in Ireland bore unexpected and bitter fruit in World War II.
text: And, finally, what is to be the outcome and the solution ? The problem, of course, is bound up with the world-wide question of minorities - of the right of small ethnic and cultural groups to retain their identity in the shadow of larger and more politically powerful ones, and in the present climate of world opinion there are few who would not pay at least lip-service to that right. So far as he minorities are concerned, India is in a difficult position. For one thing, they are legion; for another, they have in recent years reacted militarily against the pressure of the majority community. In these circumstances, the granting of Statehood to Nagaland was a bold and courageous gesture, but unhappily for hopes of a solution, the onlooker is left with a feeling that it not only came too late, but was made to the wrong people, and that Dr. Imtonmglippa's SEE government depends largely on the Indian army.
text: What, then, can be done ? India's concern for this vital frontier - which is also a Commonwealth frontier - is necessary and legitimate. The Indian Government refuses to negotiate with the N.N.C., and public opinion in general behind it, seeing the rebels merely as scattered and intransigent bandits. But there are not now wanting signs that other and better-informed Indians are aware of the true position and of the need for a new approach to a settlement. Expensive though the war is in men and materials, India could no doubt continue it indefinitely, thus in the short view saving "face" and providing a useful training- ground for her troops. But armies do not endear themselves to the country fought over, and so long as the emergency persists there is a grave risk of outside intervention; either the Nagas will turn to China in desperation, or China, or some other power, will take advantage of the troubled waters. Additionally, if 2000 guerrillas are already engaging 30,000 troops, one may ask what would happen if India were faced with invasion elsewhere while the Naga area was actively hostile and unpacified. At the least, it would be war on two fronts; at the worst, it could be very dangerous. As has been pointed out only too often to the British, it is better to make concessions when they are received with gratitude than to wait till they are wrested from you. A contented and peaceful Nagaland would be a valuable buffer-state on this vulnerable border, and it is for the parties concerned - and that includes the Commonwealth - to review the realities of the situation and find a way to lasting peace.