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The Naga Nation on the Net

This paper explores the use of the internet for nation-building in Nagaland by groups which have been engaged in a power struggle with the union of India. It looks at the perpetuation of Naga nationalism in the framework of Laclau and Mouffe's discourse theory and Gramsci's concept of hegemony. Building upon earlier studies that have established the potential of the internet to promote nationalist ideologies, it brings to light how particular political ideologies are constructed and reinforced through the internet to address issues intrinsic to the Nagas who have historically lived independently with little interaction with non-Naga groups. The nationalist ideology placed in the context of discourse theory is methodologically approached through analysis of texts in political web sites dedicated to the Naga issue.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200861The Naga Nation on the NetMaya Ranganathan, Shiva Roy-ChowdhuryThis paper explores the use of the internet for nation-building in Nagaland by groups which have been engaged in a power struggle with the union of India. It looks at the perpetuation of Naga nationalism in the framework of Laclau and Mouffe’s discourse theory and Gramsci’s concept of hegemony. Building upon earlier studies that have established the potential of the internet to promote nationalist ideologies, it brings to light how particular political ideologies are constructed and reinforced through the internet to address issues intrinsic to the Nagas who have historically lived independently with little interaction with non-Naga groups. The nationalist ideology placed in the context of discourse theory is methodologically approached through analysis of texts in political web sites dedicated to the Naga issue.A different version of the paper was presented by Roy-Chowdhury in November 2007 to the Manipal University as a postgraduate dissertation.Maya Ranganathan ( is a postdoctoral research fellow with the National Key Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, Australia. Shiva Roy-Chowdhury is a postgraduate student of communication in the Manipal Institute of Communication, India.The demand for a union of all the Naga inhabited areas sur-rounding the present so-called “neocolonial” structure of Nagaland as recognised by the government of India, presents itself as a problem which has largely been ignored by the powers that be as well as the mainstream media [Bezboruah 2006]. Historically, the Nagas with limited interaction with non-Naga groups remained an independent entity until they were annexed, first by the British and later by India (ibid). When the Naga intellect decided to invoke nationhood, there began a power struggle that has by and large remained unmonitored by the rest of the world, including the dominant media in India. It is in this context that a study of Naga nationalism perpetuated through the use of the internet becomes significant. Today the “internet” has been restructured as a generic label that “refers to the elec-tronic system and space where many people can present their ideas to produce a new computer ‘reality’ which is the sum of the various opinions, ideas, practices and ideologies” generated by millions who use this medium [Mitra 1997]. The “data” has now taken the shape of perceivable messages converting the internet into a mass medium where ideologies are expressed, ideas are formed and public opinion is generated – a part of Habermas’ “public sphere” which delineates public opinion with its conse-quent transformation and creation of identity and identity politics.1 Drawing from B Anderson’s seminal work, Imagined Communities, this paper explores the hegemonic articulation and the antagonistic dynamic between the Indian nation state and the minority Naga nationalism online [Anderson 1991]. Among the host of Naga nationalist web sites a purposive sample of three has been selected for rhetorical analysis.2 The History of the Naga MovementNagaland, comprising 16,527 square kilometres was carved out of Assam on December 1, 1963 and accounts for 0.17 per cent of India’s total population. The demand for unification of all the Naga-inhabited areas under a single administered state either “autonomous or independent” depending on who is making the demand, is the bone of contention in the north-east of India [Choube 1985]. The Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagalim-Isaak Muivah (NSCN-IM) is at the forefront of demanding a Greater Nagaland based on the claim that the Nagas were, prior to the “unwelcome annexation” by India, a territory under British governance. Prior to India’s independence on August 15, 1947, the Nagas also declared their independence, which till date has not been recognised.3 Statehood within the framework of India’s Constitution has been unacceptable to the leaders and the found-ing fathers of the NSCN-IM, namely, Thuengaling Muivah and Isak ChisiSwu.
SPECIAL ARTICLEjuly 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly62Naga nationalism dates back to mid-20th century when following the first world war some Nagas were sent abroad by the British as part of labour corps, thus exposing them to “currents andpolitical changes” [Hazarika 2006]. Upon their return to India,20Nagas came together and formed the Naga Club which presented a memorandum to the Simon Commission in 1929 stating, “when the British leave, they should leave the Nagas as they were before the colonial powers came to the hills” (ibid). The Naga Hills District Tribal Council was established at the initiative of the British deputy commissioner in April 1945. In February 1946 the council re-named itself the Naga National Council (NNC) and organised itself as a federation of several tribal councils and brought out a small newspaper called theNaga Nation, the first step towards dissemina-tion of Naga nationalism.4 In the 1940s, A Z Phizo assumed leader-ship of theNNC and met British officials to persuade them of his convictions and dreams that “they should be as independent of India as India was to be of Britain” [Hazarika 2006]. The plebiscite of 1951 when volunteers of the NNC went to far-flung villages to collect thumb prints of every Naga to announce that 99.9 per cent of the Nagas sought independence, “emotion-ally integrated the various Naga tribes”.5 When Phizo and the NNC persisted with their campaign by “boycotting the general elections in 1952 and launched a violent secessionist movement”, the first clashes erupted in the Naga Hills district of the state of Assam.6 New Delhi rushed troops to tackle what was a “political challenge” thereby unfolding a history of violence and terror in the north-east of India (ibid). According to web sites and, theNNC set up the federal government of Nagaland (FGN) and unfurled its flag and proclaimed a president, parliament and ministers under the leadership of Phizo on March 22, 1956 with a military wing called the Naga Federal Army (NFA) to drive out Indian forces. The NFA eventually succumbed to the Indian military might. To deal with the situation, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, was subsequently enacted by the government of India.7 Phizo, however, escaped to the then east Pakistan in December 1956 and, subsequently, to London in June 1960. In the meantime, some Nagas took stock of the situa-tion, and resolved that “even if independence was not possible, the land, identity and individuality of the Naga people should never be compromised”. In mid-1957, moderate leaders headed by Imkongliba Ao came to the fore [Chandra 1999]. The result was the agreement that led to the creation of the state of Nagaland by India in 1963, which “gave the Nagas worth and significance in the eyes of the world”.8 After numerous attempts at pacifying Naga resistance, in 1972, the centre banned theNNC, the FGN and the NFA as “unlawful associations” under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act of 1967. The security forces launched a massive counter-insurgency operation and forced the insurgents to the negotiating table. An agreement known as the Shillong Accord was signed between the centre and a section of the NNC and the FGN on November 11, 1975, according to which the NNC-FGN accepted the Indian Constitution and agreed to come over ground and surrender their weapons.9 However, a group of about 140 activists of the NNC, who had gone to China for training, “repudiated the Shillong Accord and refused to surrender”. They formed a new underground organisation called the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) under the leadership of Thuengaling Muivah, Isak Chisi Swu and S S Khaplang on Burmese soil in 1980. Today, the NNC and the NSCN have both split further with each competing for “supremacy and legitimacy as the official representative of the Naga independence movement”.10 The Naga NationThe construction of a distinct Naga identity has been challenged by intrinsic factors like “tribal particularism and intertribal rivalry” [Choube 1985]. The Naga nation comprises 39 tribes.11 During the colonial rule, Nagas lived atop mountains with signs of fortification still intact and head-hunting, an institutionalised form of inter-village warfare occasionally taking place, even though it was criminalised by the colonial state. According to Hutton, neighbouring villages spoke “dialects or languages totally incomprehensible to one another”, and in their communi-cations involving war-making or alliance-building, they relied on sign language, which “reached a high state of development”.12 The “exclusion” that initially began with the inner line regulations of the British administration, “kept Indian culture and religion on the other side of the fence” and created a controlled environ-ment for the Christian missionaries to proselytise and the “administrators to provide enormous thrust to conversion” [Jafa 2006]. The missionaries “collaborated with the colonial authori-ties and helped keep the nationalist influence out of tribal areas”, besides “encouraging their isolation from the rest of the popula-tion of Assam and India” [Chandra 1999]. Therefore, even after the British left India, the hill tribes of Assam had no cultural affinity with the Assamese and Bengali residents of the plains. The tribals also “feared losing their identities and being assimi-lated by what was seen as a policy of Assamisation” (ibid). Today, Christianity is an essential part of Naga identity. Groups such as theNNC lace their separatist rhetoric with free use of Biblical imageries. Isak Chisi Swu,NSCN-IM’s chairman, was the one to coin the phrase, “Nagaland for Christ”, which found its way into theNSCN’s lexicon. The slogan “Nagaland for Christ” hangs over the churches in theNSCN camps.13 The Christian identity which distinguishes the Nagas from the mostly Hindu and Muslim population of the Indian heartland has been partly an act of cultural resistance that also parallels the political and armed resistance. Thus, the British with their socio-political, cultural policies and most decisively, religion, have played a significant role in the construction of a distinct Naga identity. The Naga groups advocating independence began using the term Nagalim to describe the Naga homeland to distinguish it from the Indian state of Nagaland and adopted English. ‘Lim’ is a word in the Aodialect that refers to land. While the term Nagalim had been used by Naga student leaders for awhile, in 1999 the NSCN-IM began formally calling itself the National Socialist Council of “Nagalim”, instead of “Nagaland”. Naga Nation on the NetIn the context of the constraints faced by the dominant media in India in covering the Naga issue, the internet has emerged as a potent tool to define identity through discourse, to argue for the
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200863need for an alternative national construct and to manufacture consent. The first of the web site chosen for analysis isNSCN on-line (, the official web site of NSCN-IM that continues to demand for an independent Greater Nagaland and aims at “promoting independence for a region including Nagaland and some of the surrounding areas”.14 The second is “” ( which deals with Nagaland’s past, present and the future or Greater Nagalim,15 while the third, “Nagarealm” ( de-clares no political affiliation but nevertheless seems to defend the Nagalim movement, albeit in a subtle manner. The exploration of Naga nationalism on the web sites is presented in the following pages in three sections: first, the laying down of the political agenda, secondly, the use of technological features of the internet, and thirdly, the content presented.1 Political AgendaThe “first historical steps of informational societies”, according to Castells, is the tendency to “characterise them by the pre-eminence of identity as their organising principle” [Castells 2000]. Clearly, the most significant “aspect of identity making is the naming process” and the web sites flag Nagalim [Everard 2000]. registered in Netherlands is owned by the Naga International Support Centre (NISC), which it claims has been set up “to focus attention” on “Nagalim, homeland of the Nagas”. The home page further asserts, “NISC stands by the oppressed Naga people”. is critical of India as at the outset it states that Nagalim is “landlocked and inaccessible to outsiders, because of India’s travel restrictions” and that Nagalim “has been practically isolated from the outside world”. It also claims that “in 1954 India invaded Nagalim”. It states, “NISC wants to make it known that the human suffering in the Nagalim and the rest of north-east India should stop”. The site’s home page that links to a news archive lends further support to the political agenda. Of the 15 news items uploaded on October 16, 2007 in the archives page, at least 13 were in support of the movement. One of the two stories which were from the Indian government’s point of view was “China abetting insurgents in north-east” from the local newspaper,The Nagaland Post which dealt with the issue of a secret dossier allegedly prepared by the “Indian Intelligence Bureau” on how the “insurgency in the north-eastern states has been compounded by suspected covert support from Chinese authorities and the prevailing geo-political situation in the immediate neighbourhood, particularly in Bangladesh and Burma”. Among the four stories that were clearly in defence of the movement or organisation, the article, ‘Centre Has No Policy on North-East Subversives’ from the magazineOrganiser alleged that the Naga groups are “clueless about the intent and purpose of the union home ministry”.16 The author argued that the groups who had laid down arms were “confined in camps with no signal from the centre” for their rehabilitation and “frustrated leaders and cadres of two outfits” were contemplating a change of heart after the treatment meted out to them by the local as well as central governments, thus underlying the futility of toeing the Indian line. Another story, though unrelated to Nagaland, titled, ‘PREPAK to end fund drive October 9 next year; offers to give up struggle if unsuccessful by 2015’, related to the banned People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK)’s demands for the establishment of an independent state of Manipur.17 The fact that carried the press release of a “banned organisation” signifies its defiance of the Indian Constitution.18 declares in a banner on top of the page that it is the official web site of the NSCN. TheURL also indicates that it belongs to the NSCN-IM. Its stated aim is “promoting independence for a region including Nagaland and some of the surrounding areas”. It is hosted from Bangkok in Thailand.19 On the home page, the NSCN-IM declares: “the Indo-Naga issue is neither a question of ‘separation’ nor ‘secession’ from India... Nagalim was and is never a part of India and as such, Naga independence is neither a question of separation nor secession from India.” The next section contains the preamble adopted by the NSCN-IM which declares Nagalim to be “an Independent Sovereign Christian Socialist Democratic Republic” as on April 6, 1996. Nscnonline asserts that it has been struggling for “self-determination against colonisation in the region” and that the plebiscite of May 1951 yielding a 99.9 per cent vote in favour of independence from India justifies its struggle. The five stories uploaded on October 18, 2007 on the home page shared the views of eitherNSCN-IM or were clearly in support of the Nagalim movement. Nagarealm which does not have a political declaration on its home page unlike the other two web sites however reveals its political affiliation subtly. It is hosted from Kohima, which is the capital of the Indian state of Nagaland.20 Out of the three web sites chosen for this study, Nagarealm is the lone web site operating from within the nation. and,although dealing with issues specific to Nagas in India prefer operating from beyond the legal domain of India, perhaps to avoid legal action. The focus of the site is on news, information and entertainment. Yet, five out of 10 of the stories on the home page of Nagarealm accessed on October 18, 2007 were found to be in support of the Nagalim movement. 2 TechnologicalFeaturesThis section discusses some of the features of the material on the net.2.1 HyperlinksContrary to enabling greater pluralism through “off-site linking”, hyperlinks are used in the Naga web sites to provide navigational interactivity leading to a carefully structured navigation of the site, leaving no room for the reader to manipulate meanings [Brunsden, Morley 1978]. The hyperlink on the bottom of the home page links to a page in a book titled ‘Enter the Forbidden Land: The Quest for Nagalim’. Of the nine active links that link to off-site web pages, there are four that link to sites with similar opinion, leading to “solipsism”. The potential to provide more information irrespective of approval is clearly ignored and the “history” page on links to nine more pages on-site. The forum and gallery pages are only accessible to members who register with the site. Despite the possibility of debating information provided through a facility for discussion
SPECIAL ARTICLEjuly 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly64on Naga history, culture, news and even a provision for general chat, there were no comments as on October 20, 2007 [Aelst, Walgrave 2002]. The “Top 10 page” innovatively positions content by ranking the most viewed article or section on, simulating the “we write, you read” dogma of the press [Deuze 2003]. too offers no off-site hyperlinks to the reader. Nagarealm’s off-site link to the Reuters web site which is a commercial news agency can perhaps be seen as an attempt at creating a notion of objectivity. Apart from links to four ethnic web sites, Nagarealm links to sites like and which are clearly inclined towards the idea of greater Nagalim. In effect, hyperlinks, though innocuous in their presence, attempt to reinforce opinion rather than accommodate different views.2.2 FeedbackIf the core of concept of interactivity that sets the internet apart from the traditional media is “feedback”, there is little evidence of an understanding and appreciation of the concept among the Naga web sites. merely provides four email links in its contact page to the organisation, its secretary and webmaster, treasurer and chairman leading utmost to nominal interactivity. However, displays a greater awareness of the interconnectedness of relationships, and provides for a feedback page that allows a registered user to send messages to the organisation, either as “private messages” or posting as “news” [Rafaeli, Sudweeks 1997]. It also has a forum for registered users which features discussions on Naga history, culture, news and press releases as also general topics such as “Friends of Nagas in Europe”, thus facilitating “reciprocity” and “contribution to debate”, two features that define public sphere [Jankowski 2002]. The news section on the home page allows registered readers to post comments on the stories and articles which are later dis-played below the story. Spontaneity is curbed to the extent that to access this site one has to be a registered member but comments which are posted are displayed instantaneously.21 Nagarealm, on the home page, has a “news submission” link to user submitted articles thus providing facility to exchange roles in mutual discourse [Williams, Rice and Rogers 1988]. The web site also had a discussion forum where ‘How to survive as a student in the Big Indian Cities? The funny side!!!’ was found to be the most popular topic on October 21, 2007. The most interesting feature however, is the “surveys and polls” page which seems to “accommodate increasingly complex and divergent social interests without conceding independent political space for opposition or dissent” [Rodan 1996]. On October 18, 2007 were featured 44 polls on a range of issues such as “Naga factions leaders/cadres are abusing their power and status for personal ends”which had 81 votes out of which 83.95 per cent believed that Naga factions were indeed abusing power.22 The polls present a contrasting picture of current Naga sentiments underscoring the potential of the medium to allow pluralism. 2.3 ImagesThe most effective use of images among the pictures of men and women in traditional attire on is evident in the maps page.23The page effectively depicts the asserted “Naga nation” (Nagalim) in the first map which includes major chunks of the neighbouring states of Manipur, Assam and Myanmar, presenting “a scientific abstraction of reality” [Anderson 1991]. The second map highlights the boundaries of the “so-called Nagaland” and “Indo-Burma” borders. The third map shows, what the NISC describes as the arbitrarily formed Indian state of Nagaland. The web site uses its leader Th Muivah’s “mug shot” as its site icon which is displayed in the address bar of the browser as well as on the page tabs, thus creating a national leader. The banner displays the NSCN-IM’s self-styled government’s “national flag” which is incorporated as an iconic representation with every news item in the news section, indicating the nation’s “quasi-developmental capabilities for forming, supporting and enforcing a common will” [Oommen 1997]. The NSCN’s gallery page has five sections allowing for the “veneration and exaltation” of the land and people that make the nation [Smith 1991]. The section featuring pictures of the Naga landscape is called “Natural Beauty” which is a celebration of the land, depicting vast expanses of green and blue top hills spawning with flora and fauna.24 The section featuring Naga culture contains pictures of Naga tradi-tional dances in rich ethnic wear. The “People’s movement” section features pictures of Nagas protesting with placards, cloth-banners with slogans demanding peace. The page also carries photographs of Naga leaders, Th Muivah and Isaac Chisu Swu. The “consultations and meetings” page seeks to highlight the credibility of the movement’s leaders as representatives of the Naga people. Among the pictures was a photograph of NSCN leaders with India’s union home minister Shivraj Patil and the Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh, thereby indicating the Naga leaders’ “official status” as the prime movers of the Naga movement. Nagarealm has very few graphical enhancements on its pages unlike However, it has an extensive gallery with similar sections as that of with additions like sections on tourists attractions, north-east tribals, north-east – seven sister’s abode, and news snapshots.2.4 PersonalisationWhile the use of interactive elements is minimal in, imbibes the medium’s ability to permit personalisation and customisation. allows the users to login to their personalised accounts. Sections like “feedback”, “forum”, “journal”, “submit news” and “surveys” are only accessible to registered users. Once users log into,they have access to their private space on the web site and can send private messages to other registered users and deactivate the public message broadcast. The user can configure the length of other people’s comments and also send personal messages. The site also allows the user to customise the look and feel of his personal space on site by giving the option of “themes”. The user can also maintain a “journal” on the site, which can be made public or private, representing “a shift in the author-reader relationship” [Everard 2000]. features a music section with song titles likeMy land and people, Oking the shifting capital, The Nagalim song, The weeping Nagalim andTrumpet of victory. Most of these songs are written in English, perhaps considering the lingual-diversity of the Naga tribes and to reach
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200865a wider audience. The titles indicate the attempt by the NSCN-IM to evoke the spirit of Naga nationalism through the medium of entertainment using rock and pop music to attract the youth. The extensive use of interactive elements in is an attempt to ensure that all the online needs of the user is taken care of, which may dissuade him from leaving the site. Nagarealm also offers personalisation and customisation, the significant feature being its feedback forms. The use of technological features by the Naga web sites can be seen as nationalism as “a discursive formation” shaping the form of representation [Calhoun 1998].3 Presentation of ContentThis section looks at the content on the Naga web sites.3.1 AlternateExpressionsThe portrayal of the internet as an “alternate media” stems from the possibility that “unmediated, unadorned and unreported” documents which find it difficult to penetrate mainstream media, can thrive on the net – unquestioned and unmonitored [Lister 2003]. NISC’s web site, and NSCN-IM’s official web site, registered in Netherlands and Bangkok respectively, beyond the control and purview of the Indian government, makes it possible for them to disseminate the political ideologies of these organisations without fearing reprisal from those critiqued. While, the official web site of NSCN-IM, which is in the forefront of the Naga movement, currently under a ceasefire agreement with the Indian govern-ment states on its home page that “Nagalim was and is never a part of India and as such, Naga independence is neither a question of separation nor secession from India” (emphasis added), the official web site of the government of the Indian state of Nagaland describes Nagaland merely as “a vibrant hill state located in the extreme north-eastern end of India” in an attempt perhaps to convey the indifference of the Indian government to the demands for Nagalim.25, ironically, draws support for its demands by quoting the father of the Indian nation, Mahatma Gandhi “I will come to the Naga Hills; will ask them to shoot me first before one Naga is shot” reacting to the alleged “forceful union” of theNagaHillswith India.26 Abstracts of documents like the “cable to the excellency” after the self-styled declaration of Naga independence is featured in “Naga history” on Excellency (.) Kindly put on record that Nagas will be inde-pendent (.) Discussions with India are being carried on to that effect (.) Nagas do not accept Indian Constitution (.) The right of the people must prevail regardless of size (.)27These documents are not attributed to sources, raising doubts as to their credibility. Nevertheless, they indicate the web site’s efforts to provide an alternate voice. Similarly, the web site accommodates press releases denied space and time by the domi-nant media. Nagarealm, the site hosted from within the Indian state of Nagaland, comprises information on its districts, festi-vals, educational institutions, economy, jobs, church news and Nagaland/Naga history. However, it puts across its views on Naga history in an extremely subtle manner unlike the other two web sites. It is not clear whether the subtlety is due to constraints it faces owing to it functioning from within the geographical boundaries of the nation or because of its convictions. But a conscious effort on part of all the three web sites to justify the Naga claim for self-determination, thus revealing antagonistic world-views is evident [Laclau and Mouffe 1985].3.2 The ‘Other’In all the web sites, the Nagas are the “we” with the Indians becoming “other”. The web sites speak for the Nagas who are un-lawfully being subjugated by the Indians.Interestingly, takes the position of a bystander to educate the readers about the Nagas, who are referred to in the third person. Although the presence of one group, the Nagas, automatically indicates the presence of the “other”, the “other” is not mentioned in the dis-course but is left to be understood by the reader. For instance, the account of history is presented thus:The Nagas have lived under the pressure of invasion for more than 50 years. To come out of the isolation forced upon them – and the inter-national community to recognise their struggle for self determination, they need your attention and help. The Naga International Support Centre is determined to make the Nagas and their struggle known to the world. To enable us to project their rights there are several intrigu-ing opportunities to consider. 28The “diexis” of the homeland is embedded in the words such as “they” and “their”, rather than “we” and “our” although clearly indicating that the Nagas are the “oppressed” and leav-ing little doubts as to who the oppressor is [Billig 1995]. The home page of on October 24, 2007 carried a piece written byNSCN-IM leader Th Muivah in which he said, “God has stood by us … he has hitherto won all the battles for us from then up to now. He has also softened, to a measure, the hearts of the “opponents” and made them admit the hard fact that the solution to the Indo-Naga issue is not in the military might of India but in the positive political approach.”29 Read in the context of the other material on the web sites, a complete picture of the discursively manufactured distinction between the Nagas and the “other” emerges. The distinction laces every argument and is clear in some articles. In the article titled, ‘The Need to Introduce Naga History in School Textbooks: A Political Perspective’ on, a poser reads “We the Nagas study Indian history, but do we study Naga history in school or college level?”30 The pronoun “we” is used to calculated effect to draw clear the distinction.3.3 HistoryThe process of unification of the nation through a constant process of conveying a common historic fate, common triumphs of the past, national history speaking of grandeur, a national mission, assurance of the nation’s worth for mankind is evident in all the web sites [Gerth and Mills 1954]. The narration of history projects “equilibrium” in the past prior to the advent of the British, the “degradation of the situation” and the “state of disequilibrium” in the present, and an attempt to re-establish the “initial equilib-rium” [Todorov 1990]. The Naga history effectively begins from the British invasion of the Naga Hills, but stops short of terming it
SPECIAL ARTICLEjuly 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly66a “conquest” perhaps to indicate that the Nagas were never under the dominion or rule of any Indian or British empire. However, it must be noted that the British indirectly ruled the Naga tribal areas through the village elders who were heads of the tribal village council., in its “history pages”, discussesthe basis of the claim of Greater Nagalim from the perspective of cultural differences and the ways in which the British treatedthe Nagas. For instance, laws passed by British India or the assemblies under the 1919 Indian home rule and the Government of India, Act 1935 were not made applicable to the Naga areas. Apparently, this was in recognition of the fundamental differences underlying the social and cultural practices between Hindu and Naga societies. also maintains that “north and eastern part (of the Naga Hills) which formed the larger part of the Naga territory, was left uncontrolled and unoccupied by the British” which “remained almost unvisited, entirely self-governing and completely independ-ent even when India attained her independence from Great Brit-ain in 1947.”31 The “Naga history” which the site refers to as Na-galim history has instances of uprising against the British by the Zeliangrong Nagas – spearheaded by Jadunang who was later hanged by the British. The site terms it a “heroic revolution” on account of the “staggering number of Nagas who were shot dead, hanged or otherwise imprisoned” and allegedly “never made public by the British authorities.” accuses India of betraying the “ten years agreement” which according to the site, guaranteed, the government of Indian Union will have a special responsibility for a period of 10 years to ensure the due observance of this agreement; at the end of this period, the Naga National Council will be asked whether they require the above agreement to be extended for a further period, or a new agreement regarding the future of the Naga people be arrive at.32But as things turned out, according to the site, “the agreement was no longer considered to exist by the Indian government” and the Naga Hills were forcefully annexed by India causing wide-spread resentment. The “degradation of the situation” is recounted through a narration of the incidents of “massive indiscriminate ransacking and ravaging of Naga villages” by the Indian armed forces [Todorov 1990]. It further claimed that on October 18, 1952 “Zasebito of Zotsoma village was shot dead on the main road at Kohima by a sub-inspector of India police”. He was a judge of the Kohima Central Court and was the first Naga to be shot. The web site goes on to name the victims of rape committed by the first Maratha Regiment and presents a statistical and descrip-tive account of the atrocities that allegedly went on unabated in “Free Nagalim”.33 further accuses the then prime minister of India, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru of being in league with the prime minister of Burma, Thakin U Nu and completing the division of the Naga Hills. It further goes on to condemn the Shillong Accord as “the most ignominious sell-out ever made in the history of the proud Nagas”. Nagarealm, how-ever, is less blatant unlike the other two web sites. In its history page it states:...In spite of all setbacks, behind the suspicion and the anxiety over the poli-tical issues, social crisis, changes to the Naga society in the recent years, the Nagas throughout the decades have grown in knowledge and free-dom, which many would agree is the real point of the Naga History.34All the three web sites can be seen involved in the “construc-tion of a new common sense” changing the identity of the Naga groups [Laclau and Mouffe 1985].3.4 CultureGiven the diversities among the tribal groups that constitute Nagalim, the “process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute or related set of cultural attributes” is indeed difficult [Beniger 1986]. However, this is attempted in the web sites by drawing out similarities among the different tribal groups and underscoring the differences with the Indians. The page on culture in describes the word “Naga” as a “collective name of many tribes” descending from a common ancestor. The introductory page displays pictures of a Naga man and a woman in tribal attire. It goes on to declare “Nagalim” as their ancestral homeland and describes the ancestral symbols of common origin found in Makhrai-Rabu-Khyafii, a Mao – Naga village in the state of Manipur, partly hinting that the village is an integral part of the Naga nation. The Nagas are described as “tough and defiantly self-reliant people”.35 Describing their resemblance to south Asians, the difference in their physical appearance with the Indi-ans is reinforced. Attention is drawn to the life style of the Nagas – their warring and head-hunting ways – and the strategic loca-tions of their towns perched atop peaks living in isolation result-ing in the evolution of a diversity of languages. It is asserted that today Nagamese is the common language and that although they comprise 16 major tribes speaking different languages, they “forged a common identity during the British colonial period”.36 As “nationalism is primarily a cultural doctrine or, more accu-rately, a political ideology with a cultural doctrine at its centre”,, even when it does not carry a separate section on Naga culture, features pictures of Naga traditional dances and rituals in the gallery page [Smith 1991]. On the home page, the Naga national flag enshrines the colours – yellow, blue, green, red and white – predominantly used by the Nagas in their hand-loom works. Nagarealm also does not have a section dedicated to Naga culture, but has a section featuring Naga festivals that states “Nagaland is replete with festivities all through the years as the tribes have their own festivals”. The unifying issue however is religion. The only state with over 80 per cent Christian population in a Hindu-dominated country, Nagaland remains a devout Christian state free from religious extremism.37 in its history pages refers to the Nagas “egalitarian communal social structure” which “differed greatly from the stratified caste system of Hindu society”.38 The page further alleges that it was “impossible for them to live together in harmony” based on claims that the Hindus and Muslims hated the Nagas because of their consumption of “beef” and “pork”. alleges that soon after the British left India and “Free Nagalim” was annexed as the Naga Hills district of Assam, India began attempts to “inculcate” Indian nationalism by converting the people to Hinduism. It also accuses the Indian government of “bringing Hindus into the region in administrative positions and introducing Hinduism as a compulsory subject in schools. Chris-tianity, it claims, was banned as a “foreign religion”, including the reading of the Bible and Christian burials, thus appealing to
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly EPW july 19, 200867the religious sentiments of the masses by identifying the nation with the religious community [Smith 1991], in its preamble on its home page declares in the ‘Manifesto of the NSCN’ that it attempts to constitute an Independ-ent Sovereign Christian Socialist Democratic Republic. The NSCN-IM charges: “the forces of Hinduism viz, the numberless Indian troops, the retail and wholesale dealers, the teachers and the instructors, the intelligent, the prophets of non-violence, the gamblers and the snake-charmers, Hindi songs and Hindi films, the ‘rosogula’ (a sweet) makers and the Gita are all arrayed for the mission of supplanting the Christian god, the eternal god of the universe”.39 The web site cites the Freedom of Religion Bill, 1978 introduced in the Indian Parliament which forbids further conver-sion to Christianity as an indication that the Indian Constitution can be changed by the majority to suit their purpose. However, Nagarealmdetails the role of the American Baptist Missionaries in educating the Nagas and evangelising them at the same time. “Education” was a tool the missionaries used effectively. “Literacy was the stamp of authority that gave Christianity supremacy over traditional customs and belief”.40 Nagarealm has a separate section on its web site dedicated to ‘News from the Church’. 3.5 NewsThe Naga nationalism project is most apparent in theextensive coverage of news. does not have news on its home page but incorporates it in archives. An article titled ‘Jamir Should Say Sorry:NSCM-IM’ featured in all the three web sites repeats the NSCN-IM allegation that the Naga politicians are be-traying Nagas for their own political interest. Another story, headlined ‘NSCN-K claims ‘victory’’ featured by both and Nagarealm details how NSCN-K managed to score some po-litical points over its rival, the IM factions, by “claiming to have extracted an assurance from Delhi to dismantle all ‘unauthorised camps’ of its rival.”41 Understandably, did not pub-lish this story. Instead, it published a story on October 22, 2007 dated to ‘October 22, 2004’, titled ‘NSCN-IM AcceptsPM’s Invita-tions to Visit India’ – a significant development in the Indo-Naga peace process whentheleadersofNSCN-IM, Th Muivah and Isaac Chisu Swu accepted Indian prime minister’s invitation to visit India for furthering the talks. The news offered on the web sites present a political debate for the readers who can leave com-ments, if they wish to do so thereby providing a space for interac-tion to take place between the users. But more importantly they construct and convey particular ideologies.ConclusionThe nation of Nagas with a specific geographical demarcation in which people are integrated by a combination of several objective relationships and are striving to achieve their political aspiration for independence has found in the internet a potential tool for nation-building. This is especially significant as the movement for Nagalim runs counter to the official Indian nationalism propagated by the dominant media in India. Thus, the Naga web sites, often registered outside the geographical boundaries of the Indian nation state where the writ of the Indian govern-ment does not run, employ the different features of the internet to propagate Naga nationalism. While the very names of the web sites reveal their political agenda, the content presented defends the movement for Nagalim either overtly or covertly, thus countering the dominant media’s portrayal of the move-ment as unlawful. In this context, the alternate media of Naga web sites seem to be engaged in a dialogue with the dominant media, thus contributing to some extent, to the creation of a public sphere. The technological features of the internet which have spawned visions of the creation of a Habermasian public sphere are used, ironically, to reinforce particular viewpoints. Thus, hyperlinks which could be employed to present an array of information to readers, thus enabling them to make their own judgments, are employed by these web sites solely to link to on-site material, leading to solipsism. Similarly, the provision of feedback form in the web sites indicates notional interactivity as there is no evi-dence of its democratic potential being realised. Typically, the web sites are dominated by content that was clearly not the staple of dominant media. Given the fact that some of the web sites are registered outside India, they prove to be a storehouse of information that would never be featured by the mainstream media operating within Indian laws. Indeed, a con-stant distinction is sought to be created between “us”, the Nagas and “them”, the Indians. This is attempted, through a rendering of a detailed history which sets the Nagas’ past apart from the Indians, justifying the turmoil in the present and leading to hopes for a different future. Interestingly, the commonness among the Nagas is sought to be created, not by presenting a unifying culture, but by laying stress on the common religion practised by them. The differences in languages and customs between the different tribes are sought to be downplayed by stressing the Christianity that binds them as one. The nationalism project is however, most apparent in the presentation of news in which the support for Nagalimisconveyed both overtly and subtly. News items are so chosen as to convey first, the aspiration for a separate nation-state and secondly, the ways in which the aspiration can be re-alised. Thus an exploration of the Naga web sites in the context ofnation-building reveals that while the Nagas seem to have found a potential tool in the internet to “rearticulate social real-ity using an alternative national construct” they are however yet to employ the medium to the fullest [Sutherland 2005]. Notes1 However, the perception of Internet as an ideal public sphere has to be evaluated in the context of its ephemeral nature. The lack of mediation or moderation which is inherent in the Internet may lead to the vociferous articulation of a particular viewpoint which may send the audience into a “spiral of silence” thereby negating the concept of “public sphere”.2 See C Sutherland (2005), ‘Nation-building through Discourse Theory’,Nations and Nationalism 11 (2), pp 185-202 for the appropriateness ofdiscourse theory to study nationalism as an ideology.3 accessed on October 12, 2007.4 accessed on October 13, 2007.5 accessed on October 13, 2007.6 The state of Nagaland that we know today was carved out of the state of Assam’s Naga
SPECIAL ARTICLEjuly 19, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly68Hills district which was formed after the British left India.7 The Act gives sweeping powers to the Indian Army and paramilitary forces to control insur-gency in the north-east. See accessed on October 13, 2007.8 accessed on Oct 13, 2007.9 nagaland/backgrounder/index.html accessed on October 13, 2007. 10 accessed on October 13, 2007.11 accessed on October 14, 2007.12 Cited in accessed on October 15, 2007.13 RadicalismandSecurityinSouthAsiach10.pdf ac-cessed on October 15, 2007.14 accessed on October 10, 2007.WHOIS is a TCP-based query/response protocol which is widely used for querying a database in order to deter-mine the owner of a domain name, an IP address, or an autonomous system number on the inter-net.15 on October 17, 2007. 17 Kangleipakis the ancient name of Manipur. See accessed on October 17, 2007. The story, however, is an an-nouncement by the group that ‘it would stop all coercive collection of funds from Oct 9, 2008.’ It goes on to declare a “deadline of 2015 to fight with all its might to achieve its cherished goal of re-storing independence to Manipur”, failing which it would leave the path of revolution forever. This story was originally published in yet another local newspaper based in Manipur called the Imphal Free Press. 18Article 19 Clause 2 of the Indian Constitution states, “laws may be passed by the state impos-ing reasonable restrictions on the freedom of the press in the interests of the security of the state, the sovereignty and integrity of India”, which is why press releases issued by “banned or proscribed organisations” do not find their way into the mainstream media or in this case the print media. See Basu D D (2003, 19th edition), Introduction to the Constitution of India, Wadhwa, Nagpur, pp 103-104 and also and-freedom/8753.html accessed on October 18, 2007.19 ac-cessed on October 18, 2007.20 See accessed on October 19, 2007.21 One of the authors of this paper (Roy-Chowdhury) registered under a fictitious name and managed to easily post comments which were generated instantaneously. 22 See See See See accessed on October 22, 2007.27 Ibid.28 News&file=article&sid=320&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0 accessed on October 24, 2007.30 News&file=article&sid=248&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0 accessed on October 24, 2007.31 accessed on October 24, 2007.32 Ibid.33 accessed on October 24, 2007.34 accessed on October 24, 2007.35 accessed on October 24, 2007.36 accessed on October 24, 2007.37 See accessed on October 24, 2007.38 See accessed on October 24, 2007.39 accessed on October 24, 2007.40 accessed on October 24, 2007.41 accessed on October 24, 2007.ReferencesAelst and Walgrave (2002): ‘The Role of Internet in Shaping Anti-Globalisation ‘Movement’’,Infor-mation, Communication and Technology, 5, 4, pp 465-93.Anderson, B (1991, second edition):Imagined Commu-nities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Na-tionalism, Verso, London, New York.Beniger, J R (1986): The Control Revolution: Techno-logical and Economic Origins of the Information Society, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass, p 6.Bezboruah, D N (2006): ‘India’s Forgotten Corner’ in Asharani Mathur (ed),The Indian Media Illusion, Delusion and Reality Essays in Honour of Prem Bhatia, Rupa & Co, New Delhi, p 91.Billig, M (1995): Banal Nationalism, Sage, London, p 94.Brunsden, C and D Morley (1978): Everyday Television: Nationwide,British Film Institute, London, p 23.Calhoun, C J (1998): Nationalism, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, p 124.Castells, M (2000):The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture,Vol 1,Blackwell Publishers, Oxford, p 22.Chandra, B et al (1999):India after Independence, Viking, New Delhi, p 111.Choube, S K (1985): Electoral Politics in North-East India, Universities Press (India), India, p 163.Deuze, M (2003): ‘The Web and Its Journalisms: Con-sidering the Consequences of Different Types of Newsmedia Online’,New Media and Society, 5, 3, 203-230, p 220.Everard, J (2000):Virtual States: The Internet and Boundaries of the Nation-state,Routledge, London, p 58.Gerth, H and C W Mills (1954): Character and Social Structure,Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.Hazarika, S (1995): cited in S Hazarika (2006): ‘Ter-rorism and Sub-alternity - III: India and the Sub-nationalist Movements in Mizoram and Nagaland’, pp 356 and 357. 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In open reviews anyone can comment on a paper submitted for publication. This will increase transparency in reviews as well as enhance partici-pation and involvement of the research community. EPW occasionally posts a submission on its web site and invites comments.Visitors to the EPW web site and readers of the journal are encouraged to offer detailed comments. EPW will discuss the comments with the author and a revised version will be processed for publication.Please visit the Open Review section on our web site ( to read and comment on the paper currently submitted for Open Review.

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