Breaking the Tribal Sting

The Morung Express Poll held last week witnessed an overwhelming 94% of the respondents categorically agreeing that tribalism is destroying the very fabric of the Naga society. Only 4% responded in the negative while the remaining 2% stood on the fence. The observation that most Naga tribes have their own ethnocentrisms not only in respect to other tribes but also within their own communities therefore cannot be wholly denied. That tribalism is a curse for Nagas as Caste System is for the Hindu society as commented by one respondent should therefore be taken as a warning that the structural flaws within the tribal order will need critical intervention of the society.  

Unfortunately, the “curse” doesn’t seem to limit itself only to intra-tribal systems. As per response of the poll even the Naga national movement has been invaded by the Tribalism virus. Factional killings are almost taking the form of a tribal feud infusing deep hatred against one another and thereby preventing any form of dialogue to take place. Another sad commentary is that Nagas are a jealous race that always hates to see progress in someone; when one progress, everybody wants a part to bring them down. It has also been observed that people have become so narrow-minded; one cannot speak one’s mind freely because they start threatening you in the name of clan, village (or) tribe. The slow deterioration of brotherly ethos in the so-called Christian society of the Nagas is therefore a matter of serious concern. 

Tribalism as we see it today in its ugly manifestation is therefore no better than communalism and in a way is similar to those who espouse communal ideology—the creation of the belief that people who follow the same religion have common secular interests i.e. common political, economic, social and cultural interests. This is the bedrock of any isms whether one calls it communalism or tribalism. To say that in a multi-tribal society like the Nagas, the secular interest of one tribe are dissimilar or opposed and divergent from other tribes is therefore a dangerous notion to subscribe to. Thus, like the communalists who will assert that Hindus and Muslims or Sikhs or Christians cannot have common secular interests and are bound to be opposed to each other, in a similar fashion different tribes will be seen as mutually incompatible, antagonistic and hostile to each other.

If one studies the phenomenon of religious communalism it is observed that the functioning of a modern democratic political system in a traditional society divided among caste and diverse religious communities has led to the growth of this virus. The pre-requisite conditions for the smooth functioning of a liberal democratic system are not yet fulfilled. As a result, more often than not religion and caste become convenient means for political mobilization. Thus the compulsion of electoral politics in an uneven economy and traditional society has contributed to the continuation of communalism. 

Similarly in the context of the Nagas, going by the trend, society appears to have more of a tribal sting than a secular character. One has to remember that a secular state and society guarantees individual freedom, deals with the individual as a citizen, is not connected to any particular tribe nor does it seek to promote or interfere with the tribe. In the Naga context therefore, while the institutional norms governing the State and society preaches secular ideas, the existential reality is characterized by the growth of tribalism and inter-tribal rivalry and conflict. 

Admit it or not, tribalism in Naga society is here to stay. Rather than deny it, attempts must be made to initiate a dialogue to address the issue rather than to conveniently brush it under the carpet. The scourge of tribalism that exists underneath the surface could one day divide and destroy Naga society. It is time for educated Nagas to begin reexamining afresh beliefs, customs and social practices that foment chauvinistic attitude and at the same time encouraging the growth of a rational-scientific outlook in order to instill a progressive mindset. Most importantly, society has to be reorganized along democratic lines and on ideas of individual equality, reason, tolerance and promoting pan Naga feelings and spirit of nationalism.

On a more practical level, various suggestions have been made over the years in seminars and public discussions. For instance in schools, students from the same tribe should not be hostel roommates and must learn to stay or live with someone from another tribe or language group. Similarly, tribal picnics, unions, associations, etc. should be discouraged.  Rather, one should encourage class or inter-tribal picnics, unions, fellowships, etc. Promoting inter-tribal marriage is a popular suggestion and there is great merit in this. Even suggestions of having only inter-tribal colonies, inter-tribal churches, inter-tribal clubs, associations, etc can be taken up. It will take a long time at least to do away with tribalism in Naga society, but one must make every effort to reduce this evil.