Our Common Crisis: What are We to Do?
Part - 1

Niketu Iralu *

The write up reproduce here is an excerpt from the lecture delivered by renowned Journalist Niketu Iralu on the Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture

"Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood"
– Marie Curie

Arambam Lokendra and I were together in Madras Christian College, Tambaram, way back in the last century, almost in the first half of it! So when he phoned me a few months back I was so happy we were picking up the threads again. He invited me to give this lecture as part of the series in memory of his brother, Arambam Somorendra.

I told him he was giving me an assignment I am not qualified enough to handle, but I was accepting the invitation because I regarded neighbours reaching out to one another to be more important than anything else. So with deepest appreciation I am standing before this distinguished gathering in Imphal today believing we share the same perception.

Needless to say I feel highly honoured to be given the privilege to be associated with the lecture series that seeks to pay homage to the enduring memory of a rare son of Manipur who was a patriot, a poet, a thinker and a writer who passionately loved his people and fought for what he believed to be important and right for them and himself.

I was very grateful that Lokendra said I could invite others also to come with me. So taking advantage of the kind offer I urged some of my close colleagues, youth leaders and relations to consider coming to this occasion, not to listen to my talk, but to meet, listen to, and get to know you, our neighbours.

On behalf of all of us who have come from Kohima I do want to thank you most sincerely for giving us this opportunity. I should add here that we have come keenly conscious of the well-known caution that love is blind but neighbours are not, and we do not see ourselves as others see us!

The Arambam Somorendra Trust has made possible this coming together. If we will thus learn to listen and think together, we may find the way to evolve the wider common stability we now need for this region. If our commonsense and wisdom will not do it because it is still tied to the comfort zones of the past, although they are no longer comfortable, our dire needs are compelling us to develop mutual good will, compassion and understanding to nurture the future we must bring about together.

What I will say today will not be adequate to do justice to this occasion. I propose therefore that before I go further, we observe a moment of shared silence to try and discern the potential of this occasion. In addition let us also think of all who have died in Manipur and Nagaland over the past decades in the upheavals of our desperate struggles for our aspirations. For if we will learn to shed tears for one another we will shed less blood of one another.

I would like to start by describing the wider setting of which we are a part. I think it gives a helpful perspective to what we will be discussing this afternoon.

We are on the edge of the infamous and dreaded Golden Triangle of Burma, Thailand and Laos, one of the two main sources of heroin in the world. But we are on the edge of another triangle that is even more extraordinary which we need to become aware of.

If we connect Kolkata, Lhasa and Rangoon with three straight lines, we discover this other triangle! The Lhasa – Rangoon line cuts across where we are. No name has been given to this triangle yet. But one of these days it is going to get one because 7 Nobel Prize winners have come from within this triangle.

4 of them are for Peace: Mother Teresa of Kolkata, the Dalai Lama of Lhasa, Aung San Suu Kyi of Rangoon, and Mohamed Yunus of Dhaka. The other three are CV Raman for Physics, Rabindranath Tagore for Literature and Amartya Sen for Economics!

I shall leave it to you decide what the thinking, values and achievements of these great men and women from our part of Asia should mean to us as we search for ways to solve our problems. I personally think we are very fortunate indeed to share with them the mental and moral environment they have created for our part of the Continent and the world by their steadfast loyalty to their values.

The theme suggested to me for this talk was "(my) concerns about the strategic challenges facing the Naga polity today and the foreseeable future", and "the Naga people's response", whether it is "adequate or otherwise." As these are issues I do try to understand I welcomed the suggestion.

I realize to say something adequate on this occasion, I should be a highly qualified professor of history, who is knowledgeable also in a host of other subjects! Alas, I am nothing of the sort by any shot. Therefore, I regret that a scholarly paper of the kind you are right to expect from such a lecture is not what you will be getting from me today.

So bear with me, and let us see where this discussion may take us?

After reflecting on the points suggested to me and the society we have produced I decided to call my talk "Our Common Crisis: What Are We to Do?" After seeing the title some perhaps have felt that for me to say we have a common crisis is presumptuous and unjustified. Some may feel I am too naïve and out of touch with reality to think that anything can be done about our crisis and problems. When we have the time for interaction at the end of my talk, I hope what you feel will be expressed and discussed.

I have tried to understand what "the strategic challenges facing the Naga Polity today and the foreseeable future" means. I take it to be referring to the struggle by the Nagas from about 70 years ago till today. It represents their decision to construct their history on their consciousness of themselves and known facts of their roots, rather than on what others thought they should be or not be, and their struggle to get India and the world to recognize that position.

Trying to understand the struggle of the Dalits in modern India, James Massey writes, "…only historical roots can provide the clue to the lost identity of the Dalits". ("A Concise History of the Dalits"). The same perception has, I believe, operated with the Nagas also. It was an instinctive struggle to get the foundation right first. This has I think resulted in the foundation becoming permanently set and rigid, tending to paralyze the future.

The sub-title of author Namthiubuiyang Pamei's last book on the Naga struggle ("Naga Crucible") is - "A movement in search of its people". This seems to aptly describe what this crisis is at this stage. This happens in all human struggles. What we need to do is to find the way out by understanding it together first instead of blaming one another, or denying there is any crisis at all.

What does this "consciousness of themselves", from which the Naga struggle germinated, mean? I shall try to explain how I see it.

Rajagopalachari, the first Indian to be Governor General of India and the last man to hold the post, came to Shillong in 1947. Two Nagas went to see him, Pfurhitsu Terhuja and A.Z Phizo. They joined the line-up of representatives of tribes and communities from the region outside the Raj Bhavan to see Rajaji.

The Secretary to the Governor announced that each group was allotted only a few minutes. Pfurhitsu was resplendent in the full regalia of a village elder, complete with thick ivory arm bands and his striking shawls draped over his shoulder. He stood ramrod straight looking into the distance.

When their turn came Pfurhitsu started to speak with Phizo translating his words. Looking straight into Rajaji's eyes he conveyed the position of his people to the visiting leader.

Turning to the translator Rajaji asked "Who is he?" Before Phizo could translate it, Pfurhitsu replied loudly with deliberate emphasis, "I am a man!" He had learned some English when he was a Dobashi attached to the British Deputy Commissioner in Kohima.

The Secretary butted in to say their time was up. Rajaji sharply told him not to disturb saying "Don't you see I want to listen to this man?" The rest of the queue waited and Pfurhitsu completed what he had come to say. Phizo said later Pfurhitsu did what no one else could have done by being fearlessly himself.

To be continued.....

* Niketu Iralu gave this speech at Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture which was later published at Imphal Times
This article was posted on June 25, 2018.

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