Unity of Zeliangrong : Is it a bitter pill to swallow ?

Kamei Samson *

Noney Keithel(Market), Tamenglong District - Manipur :: 3rd Week of August 2012
Noney Keithel(Market), Tamenglong District - Manipur :: 3rd Week of August 2012 :: Pix - Daniel Chabungbam

The Zeliangrong community today stands as one of the most divided and confused group. The division pervades in areas ranging from identity, denominations of Christianity to customary practices. Absence of written records and lack of use of scientific method like carbon-dating in establishing the credibility of their history have been boon for those who religiously endeavour to herald darkness of division among the Zeliangrong. Unfortunately, a significant size of people who subscribes to common origin of Zeliangrong is instrumental in injecting the serum of division.

Before I delve further into the theme of this article, I would like to plead those people who are of the view that Zeliangrong is an organisation and not a name of a tribe, and similarly to those who subscribe that Zeliangrong is a tribe and not an organisation to leave aside the debate and focus the thinking from the point of view of the people who are believed to comprise the Zeliangrong.

The primary dilemma that weakens the Zeliangrong identity and thus their unity is the question of who comprise Zeliang-rong. In Manipur, Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui are believed to be Zeliangrong despite the name Inpui not inserted in the name Zeliangrong. Unfortunately, the Inpui are hardly known in Nagaland and Assam. Knowledge about Inpui being one of the Zeliangrong is alien to some Zeliangrong in Nagaland and Assam.

What went wrong in Assam and Nagaland that accounts for widespread ignorance about Inpui who also claim that they are also descendants of one of the sons of Nguiva of Makuilungdi? However, the Inpui had succeeded in reasserting or reclaiming their identity as one of the Zeliangrong and further succeeded in separate recognition as Schedule Tribe of Manipur on 9th January, 2012. Some leaders in Manipur justified the separate recognition of Zeme, Liangmai, Rongmei and Inpui on the basis of different dialects spoken by these groups. Some claim that on the basis of different dialects spoken they should be recognised as distinct tribes. However, there is another school of thought that espouses that Liangmai dialect is the origin of the other three dialects and thus further strengthens the belief that the four communities share common origin and thus separate recognition would demolish the fountain of unity of Zeliangrong.

In Nagaland, the name Inpui seems to be new for many and Rongmei are not completely recognised as tribe. Only those Rongmei settled in Nagaland prior to 1963 are recognised as Tribe from 2012. Who were they until then? However, the government of Nagaland, with reference to the Rongmei, according to Morung Express report dated July 24, 2012, has clearly stated that the designation 'Nagaland tribe' is strictly only for the families and their descendents who settled in Nagaland prior to 1963, the year Nagaland attained statehood. This benchmark year for recognition of Rongmei is disturbing and disheartening.

Does the Zeliang of Nagaland think the Rongmei settled in Nagaland after 1963 are impure Zeliang-rong? Or, is it because they do not want to share the reservation benefits blessed by the Government of India and the Nagaland State? What is the rationale for non-recognition of Rongmei settled in Nagaland after 1963 as Nagaland tribe? Or, are some Rongmei in Nagaland responsible for this problem? Another question was engendered by the writings on boards of shops in Dimapur- 'Zeliang Rong'. There 'Zeliang' and 'Rong' were written separately. 'Are Rongmei untouchables?'

The Zeliangrong Christians are also constantly haunted by differences of man-made denominations of Christianity. Inter-marriage between different denominations among the Zeliang- rong still needs serious contemplations. Some might have to do with the risk of inviting religious sanctions. Such attitude is not absent even among the Church leaders leading and guiding the young Zeliangrong souls in Indian metropolitan city. Pastors, Catechists and other church leaders openly criticise the doctrines of other denominations. This preaching of differences between different denominations of Christianity within Zeliangrong community has caused severe wounds on the fragile fabric of Zeliangrong unity.

Catholics are mocked as worshippers of Mary, the mother of Jesus, while the early Baptists were criticised for celebrating and eating meat on Good Friday. Some claim that one must be Catholic if he or she desires to continue drinking despite being Christian. Catholics too claim that all other denominations except Catholic are manmade, while Catholic was founded by Jesus Christ. The Catholics seem to fabricate a history. Jesus Christ did not coin the name 'Catholic'. Even the word 'Christians' came into being long after the death of Jesus Christ. One might wonder whether all these differences and allegations were actually preached by William Pettigrew and Father Ravalico. Or, are the Zeliangrong Christians abusing the souls of those who truly served God?

Who would deny the fact that the early unsophisticated Zeliangrong Christians were one of the culprits responsible for contempt and disrespect hurled against Jadonang Malangmei and Rani Gaidinliu? Unfortunately, the elements of hatred for Jadonang and Gaidinliu still linger in the minds of the Christian elders. Some Zeliangrong Christian elders still claim that Jadonang and Gaidinliu worshipped Satan and offered human blood to Satan. They even say that both Jadonang and Gaidinliu drank blood.

One might imagine what other communities would say about the two figures when their children harbour such hatred for them. Thus, the Meitei people are not to be blamed for falsely accusing the two figures of offering human blood to Satan. Today several Zeliangrong young Christians are sincerely making effort to salvage the threatened identity and culture of Zeliangrong. It is time for the elders to repent their misconceptions and propaganda and speak the truth about Zeliangrong before expecting other communities to do the same.

Zeliangrong traditionalists are identified as jou-jangmei (jou= wine; jangmei= drinker). In fact, jou-jangmei is used to identify all the traditionalists irrespective of whether they drink wine or not and irrespective of the ages of the traditionalists. The term jou-jangmei is used even inside the church while delivering sermon after reading the Holy Bible. This is self-mockery by Zeliangrong Christians as there are several instances of Zeliangrong Christians drinking wine and engaging in despicable acts irrespective of their denominations. Interestingly, the Rongmei Christians call themselves as raningmei, meaning worshipper of God, to identify themselves as distinct from the traditionalists.

The wrong information spread by naive Zeliangrong Christians about the traditionalists does not necessarily absolve the Zeliangrong traditionalists from their role in weakening and fragmenting the Zeliangrong. They are also equally responsible for the degradation of Zeliangrong community. No Zeliang- rong legendary figures or Jadonang or Gaidinliu at any point of time promote selling and misuse of wine as means of livelihood. Taking undue advantage of the religious significance of wine in Zeliangrong culture, several Zeliangrong traditionalists and Christians make, and sell local-made wine. The religious significance of wine in Zeliangrong manifests from cradle to the grave.

However, this commercialisation of wine to the extent of misuse has been one of the reasons for decaying the Zeliangrong community. Several Zeliangrong bright youths have dissolved their energy and morality in wine. Several families have lost the bliss of family life. Several women have been rendered young widows. Is this the time to cast away the commercialisation of wine? In fact, we have delayed it for too long. So what do we do? The answer is simple. STOP IT NOW! Lack of alternative means of livelihood is sometime cited as a reason for selling of wine. That would be a self-contradiction and self fatal stabbing leading to self-destruction. Livelihood is to sustain one's life while misuse of wine erases lives. Let us confine it to rituals of our culture.

All these problems might seem very trivial when juxtaposed with the contemporary Naga political issues and various other political and economic upheavals. However, one must understand the harm they have done on the fragile fabric of unity of Zeliangrong which further impedes their endeavour in resolving any issue be it political, economic, social or religious that primarily and ultimately hinge on unity. They have affected even the 'apex body' of the Zeliangrong. It's been observed that Zeliangrong Union enjoys greater influence in Manipur while Zeliangrong Baudi spreads its wings more freely in Nagaland.

So which body should the Zeliangrong people approach in times of difficulties? Who will resolve Zeliangrong problems when the leaders in the said two 'apex bodies' are not reconciled yet. One might ask, if the organisations are more important than the Zeliangrong people? Will the organisations exist without the land and the people? The Zeliangrong lands are diminishing day by day and their people are divided gradually while the 'apex bodies' still assert their legitimacy and authority sans unity. Now is the most crucial time for the two 'apex bodies' to come to an amicable solution and help the Zeliangrong people in building one Zeliangrong with one apex authority before another conflicting body is engendered as a result of their conflict.

Finally, I would like to beseech the various armed groups operating in Zeliangrong lands that claim to protect the land, resources and people to cease the flow of blood and tears of the people with their guns and bullets. No matter what, the Zeliangrong people do not desire any killing by any group. In any Zeliangrong traditional court, use of physical violence against the culprit in the presence of the elders is not acceptable. Once a culprit is brought before Peikai (village council) justice is delivered by the wisdom of the elders and not through violence. Today factional killings in Zeliangrong lands have threatened the survival of the people.

We despised the Indian Army for deflowering the virgins of the land in the past. The rein of this beastly act seems to have been handed over to the near and dear ones of the past victims. This is reflected in the words of Sanjib Baruah (2011: 101) who said in his work Strangers of the mist: Tales of war and peace from India's Northeast that 'Unlike today's modern fighters, who specially prey on women, make extortion their way of life and money their god, the Nagas were honourable guerrillas. They rarely molested women or looted ordinary people. That special virtue was left to the Indian Army and the paramilitary forces to display in full force'.

Are the armed groups more supreme than the people? If the people who they claim to be fighting for are not happy with their fratricide they must come to people with humility and not with guns and bullets. They must, consciously or unconsciously, not use the lands of the people as battlefields for factional killings, or fratricide to be more appropriate. Because the Zeliangrong people loves you all and do not want that any of you should die in the hands of your own brothers and sisters who were born and nurtured in the same land you all claim to protect.

I might sound extremely utopian, but every factional conflict must be resolved through dialogues and negotiations. If they fail, the matter must be brought to Peikai. Zeliangrong traditional practices must be respected by all the armed groups operating in Zeliangrong lands. We all know the day on which Chuksumei was performed. There was no violence on that day. Old conflicts were resolved through Zeliangrong tradition in peace. Today the Zeliangrong people pray for similar tradition to be followed for peace and tranquillity. If the Nagas can talk with the Government of India who cursed the Nagas with Operation Blue Bird under the condition of ceasefire for fifteen years towards peace, why should negotiations between factional groups of Naga fraternity be utopian?

If, silencing the voices of those who pray for Zeliangrong unity will silence the cacophony of guns and cries of Zeliangrong widows, mothers and children in the lands you all claim to protect, here I stand as one of them.

* Kamei Samson wrote this article to The Sangai Express
The writer is a Ph.D. Scholar at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
This article was webcasted on November 07 2012.

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