On May 16, 2011 a two-day National Seminar was organised in the University of Delhi, North Campus, New Delhi. The two day functions marked a series of sessions that debated and discussed the social, political and cultural challenges of Tribal identity in the Northeast. Northeastern states of India have a significant Tribal population. We bring you today the first of the two part story on the subject. This is based on the speeches of Dr. Xavier Mao, Assoc. Prof. Dept of Philosophy, NEHU (North Eastern Hill University) and Dr. Kamei Aphun, Asst. Prof., Dept of Sociology, Delhi University. Here the topic has been dealt with special reference to the Naga community.
Dr. Xavier Mao: Different religions of the world have common inclusive view about the life and its origin. In Hinduism it is said, ‘Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam’, i.e. the whole world is one family. Christianity says that all human beings are children of God. The very word Islam means peace. Biologically and psychologically all human beings are same. It’s only culturally that they differ.
The world is getting interconnected at an ever increasing speed. This particular phenomenon of globalization is challenging traditional power authority. This is gradually making all nations part of one unified society. Nationalism and internationalism, as a result, is no more exclusive. Globalisation tends to synthesise multi-ethnic, religious or cultural identity in some sort of hybrid identity.
Northeast was never a part of India during Mauryan or Gupta Empire. It was only during the Mughals that the Kamrup and parts of Garo and Jaintia hills of NE became part of the then India. The British control of NE was fragile and they didn’t interfere in tribal matters until their own interest was hampered. Nagas also boycotted joining the Indian Union in 1947. Even today the boundary between India and its neighbouring states like Myanmar is unnatural for many tribes of NE.
There has been a systematic subtle exploitation of Naga and other tribal community post independence. The government of India has not holistically addressed the Naga issue. The rule of the Indian government has been basically through force, frauds and financial gifts. The liberal democracy is still to take roots. For the government, Naga issue was never a priority. The government never upheld provisions under its own constitution and give the Nagas their state. The Nagas are also to be blamed for this.
Dr. Kamei Aphun, who is also a visiting faculty in Beijing University put forth a couple of question in his presentation.
1. Can we imagine a community without identity?
2. Can a particular culture be superior to the other?
3. Can the lifestyle of another culture be adopted without disturbing our own cultural identity?
4. Is identity fixed or socially constructed.
Dr. Aphun said that identity is a process and it’s always changing. He underlined the factors other than globalization that lead to change in tribal identity in NE:
2. British Colonialism
3. Religious Conversion
Dr. Aphun said that the relation between tradition and modernity is always of conflict and globalization encircles everything. Market, money, media, migration, modernity are all extensions of globalization. It widens the gap between the rich and the poor, deepens disparity and relative deprivation, changes power equation and brings new hegemony. What it also as a result of all of these factors is sidelining the marginal communities such as tribals and threatening the traditional economy, culture and values.
Over emphasis on material wealth and consumption led culture ignore human values as individuals become consumers. Smaller groups tend to merge with the mainstream, losing identity and legitimate rights are subjugated. Precisely these are the challenges in front of the Tribals of NE which need to be addressed.