naga question

Isak Chisi Swu (1929-2016): The Bible scholar who backed a violent struggle for a Naga homeland

In the confusing debate about which Naga tribes are authentic, Swu brought legitimacy to the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah).

For many people who follow affairs in the North East only loosely, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) was an armed outfit led by a person named Isak Muivah. As it turns out, that name actually contained the identities to two people: Chairman Isak Chisi Swu and the General Secretary Thuingaleng Muivah. The confusion about the group that has been fighting for a separate territory for members of the various Naga tribes was not merely semantic. Command actually lay solely with Muivah and he was the face of the deadly group that has been responsible for serial massacres, literally waging a war against the Indian state, intimidating civilians, imposing taxes, smuggling narcotics and arms and setting up smaller armed groups across the region.

On Tuesday, Chairman Isak Swu died in a Delhi hospital at the age of 87 after a prolonged illness. While Muivah was the real power behind the group, Swu was an uncharismatic guerrilla, the silent partner that provided the group some legitimacy of claiming to be a Naga outfit fighting for a cause that actually predates Indian Independence. When Swu took ill last year, the Indian government hurriedly declared an agreement to a protracted negotiation that has been going on for decades. In August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed that after half a century of bloodshed and some 80 rounds of talks, the Naga issue has been settled.

But when people later enquired about the terms of the so-called framework agreement that had purportedly been reached, the government’s response was that they offered nothing but dignity, respect and honour and apparently that is all the Nagas wanted (despite several thousand lives having been lost in the process).The government argued the Naga groups – which are spread across several Indian states and also Myanmar – had not discussed geographical integration in previous negotiations. Therefore the government explained integration could also be cultural and that Nagas did not need to break away from other states territorially.

This was a sure recipe for confusion. The government has yet to spell out the fine print of the agreement.

Deep roots

The roots of the insurgency are deep. In 1946, the Naga National Council urged the British not to hand their territory over to India. Since then, it has been a long and bloody resistance to break free from India. But along the way, the Naga movement was split, subverted and corrupted.

The course of this armed rebellion that had terrorised the people and the state has been deeply shaped by tribal loyalties. The early leaders like Angami Zapu Phizo were Angamis. The Aos and Angamis form the power centre of the Nagas and the Aos were not averse in talking to India. But the other tribes were divided.

Muivah took over the reins in 1988, after the National Socialist Council of Nagaland spilt into factions named IM and K (led by SS Khaplang). But he is a Thangkul and his tribe geographically (and historically) falls within Manipur. In one indication of how the struggle for the integration of Naga-inhabited areas or the demand for Greater Nagaland or Nagalim remains violently contested and imagined, the Thangkuls are called “kaccha Nagas” and the major tribes do not see them as true representative of the Nagas of Nagaland.

That is why Muivah always had Swu next to him, a Sema Naga who allowed him to claim the authentic voice of the Nagas. Swu, however, is said to have spent most of his life in his Bible studies, leaving Muivah to call the shots.

With Swu gone and an agreement that has no clarity whatsoever, the road ahead could spell trouble. The NSCN(K) broke away from talks with the government last year and has been since striking hard at Indian security forces. It is now likely to try to swiftly move in and gain ground in the bitter turf war. Khaplang is a Hemi Naga from Myanamar and a contested claimant to the Naga war of resistance.

A real Naga

Swu was always a shadow and not exactly a leader from whom the Nagas would expect anything. But he was still “one of our own”, they would say, unlike Muivah. So he will be forgotten easily. The ageing Muivah does not have many options before him to replace his comrade. If he chooses a Thangkul, the group will be out of the great game. Many other Naga leaders are too old to take over.

Perhaps this something the Indian government interlocutor RN Ravi (who signed the framework agreement) and the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had anticipated. They made the NSCN(IM) the representative group, keeping in mind its armed strength and capabilities but also tribal dynamics. The NSCN(K) operates primarily from Myanmar and the Indian government is trying to carry out strikes there.

The Naga people are tired of talks, of the illegal taxation imposed by the armed groups, of guns and blood and of the past. But they will fiercely demand that the government come clean and be sincere and honest in whatever has been agreed upon. They deserve some peace.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.