Tribute

First person: When Naga leader Isak Chishi Swu cooked me some soup

The man who crossed over to China and took up arms against India before agreeing to the peace process was a kind and gentle person.

The immediate reaction of the Naga public and the Indian media to the death of Isak Chishi Swu, the 87-year-old Chairman of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) was that it could have an adverse effect on the peace process.

But I was surprised at the depth of my own feeling of personal loss. It was like losing a father – a father who looks after you and protects you even when you are grown up and have a family of your own. The presence of the father is a source of constant comfort and reassurance and as long as Swu was alive, even when he was in the hospital lying in a precarious condition, there was a feeling that we were somehow safe and things would somehow work out.

It was with this feeling of personal loss that I accepted the invitation to speak at the Condolence meeting held at the Nagaland House in New Delhi the day after Isak Swu died.

The I of the I-M

The most powerful and moving testimony was from Thuingaleng Muivah, the General Secretary of the NSCN-IM - the M in the IM – and considered the prime minister of the Government of the People’s Republic of Nagalim. He reminded those present that he and Isak Swu had been in the movement since the 1950s when they joined the Naga National Council under the leadership of Angami Zapu Phizo.

Swu was appointed the foreign secretary by the Naga Federal Government – he participated in the peace process in 1964 in that capacity. The peace talks failed and it was then that the two leaders made contact with China. Swu had led batches of Nagas through the thick wet jungles that separate Burma from India – an area called by the Naga insurgents as Eastern Nagaland.

In an interview some years ago with Swu’s wife, I heard the account of how they walked though the jungles, crossing streams and being pursued by both the Indian and Burmese armies. At the end of the day, they would find their clothes full of leaches and spend an hour killing them and getting ready for the next day’s march, often without food.

On one occasion, they came across a wild boar – he came sniffing around but went away. I asked why the boar had not attacked them and Swu replied with a twinkle in his eyes: “We smelt of the jungle.”

Swu was welcomed by the Chinese and took arms training from the People’s Liberation Army but he did not give up his deeply held Christian faith and persuaded the Chinese to build a church for the Naga insurgents.

Armed and trained by the Chinese, the Naga army took on the might of the Indian army and thus began the Indo-Naga conflict. The Indians thought they would be able to suppress the Naga movement with military might. Naga villages were burnt down, men tortured and women raped. The intolerable conditions led to a section of the Naga National Council signing a peace accord during the emergency in 1975.

Swu and Muivah condemned the Shillong Accord and by 1980 they decided to split from the Naga National Council and form the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. By Nagaland they meant all the Naga inhabited areas in India and in Burma. In India, the Naga inhabited areas included the entire state of Nagaland, four districts of Manipur, parts of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh.

In 1982, the NSCN had their first major ambush in Namthilok in Ukhrul district of Manipur when they blew up a convoy of the Indian army in which many soldiers lost their lives.

From then to 1995, the two leaders had to face many challenges – from the Indian army, Indian intelligence agencies and within their own organisation. It was remarkable that the two, Swu and Muivah stuck together and faced each challenge without compromising their values or objective of having an independent, sovereign Nagalim.

Then in 1995, the Indian government under PV Narasimha Rao sent feelers to the NSCN leaders and finally Rao met the two leaders in Paris where he said India was prepared to see the problem as a political problem and was ready for peace talks. It was the political maturity of the two Naga leaders that they accepted the invitation and by 1997 the talks began in right earnest.

Muivah retraced much of this history and paid tribute to his comrade of more than five decades. He said Swu, older by several years, had always understood him and they had never had any occasion to differ politically.

‘Calm and patient’

Several men from the Indian intelligence community were present to offer their condolences. National Security Advisor Ajit Doval offered a wreath, while former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee and Interlocutor in the Indo-Naga talks, RN Ravi, praised Swu for his statesmanship and patience and said he hoped the peace process would soon conclude with an Accord. Swaraj Kaushal, advocate, who was involved in the peace process in the early stages, said that when he was first asked to negotiate he had found Muivah much more inclined to get angry and they had so many fights that they became friends. But it was the calm and patient Swu who helped establish trust. He said a solution could not just emerge from a microwave but it was also not something that we could put in the deep freeze and forget about.

Messages of condolence have been pouring in from political leaders such as Sonia Gandhi to the chief minister of Nagaland and bureaucrats involved in the peace talks, such as RS Pande and K Padmnabhaiah.

Bharat Bhushan, the journalist who had interviewed the two Naga leaders at the time of the ceasefire in 1997, recalled that Swu said that the peace process was not only about politics but had a higher spiritual significance. Swu told Bhushan that he believed that Indians were not born to kill Nagas. They would have to be friends and he deeply believed in the peace process.

Every single speaker remembered Swu as a kind, gentle person, a “perfect gentleman” was how MP Neiphiu Rio described him. N Ravi said he felt he was in the presence of a deeply spiritual being when he talked to the Chairman of NSCN.

Uncle Isak

Swu’s eldest son spoke on behalf of the family. He said since both his parents had been fighting in the jungles, all the four children were brought up in Eastern Nagaland – that is, Burma. The only time they had all come together was in 2000 when the entire family met and lived together.

I remember Swu had told me in an interview that he got news of the birth of his son while he was imprisoned by a rival Naga faction with a death sentence hanging over his head. He had got a secret message coded in Biblical language from his wife. But he had not told me that he never met his children till they were grown up. He would never speak of his personal problems or pain.

I met Swu on many occasions to interview him. But it was only later that I got to know him more – and he became Uncle Isak. That was the time when the Indian intelligence agencies played their dirty tricks and arrested Muivah when he was coming for the talks. It was said the arrest was a result of the rivalry between the different agencies. I had gone to Bangkok in my capacity as a lawyer to represent Muivah.

My dearest memory is when my husband Sebastian [Hongray] and I shared a meal with Uncle Isak and Uncle Muivah in a Bangkok mall. They took us to their favourite restaurant where they served the Mongolian Pot – wide variety of fish and meat with vegetables being brought raw so that we could choose what we wanted and put it in the boiling soup in front of us. The problem was that the morsels had to be deftly picked up with chopsticks and I did not know how to use the chopsticks. To save me embarrassment, Uncle Isak picked up pieces of meat and fish and cooked and served the dish to me. It was rather like a mother hen feeding her chick! The thing is I did not feel at all awkward.

In 2011, Sebastian and I set off to travel all over the North East and we had gone to tell Uncle Isak and Uncle Muivah about our intentions. Uncle Isak immediately said he would say a prayer for us. I remember telling Sebastian that despite being such a vehemently agnostic person, I felt his prayers had kept kept us safe throughout the 15,000 kms drive.

On one occasion Uncle Isak’s guard said that he had escorted him to church while they were in Thailand. He was horrified to see that he had signed the register with his large, generous handwriting – his full name and his designation as Chairman of the NSCN. We had smiled at Uncle’s naivety. But looking back it was a reflection of a man who was always himself – true to his political and religious beliefs. It was just a simple reflection of his enormous integrity. It is his moral and spiritual authority which the NSCN or the Naga national movement will find hard to replace.

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

Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

Watch Billions Now

2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

Watch Westworld Now

3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

Watch American Horror Story Now

6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

Watch Empire Now

7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

Watch Modern Family Now

8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

Watch The Deuce Now

9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.