The Mid-Term National Workshop (hybrid mode) on Liangmai Nagas and Cognate Tribes in North East India: Origin, Identity Formation, Issues and Challenges was organised by Prof. Ajailiu Niumai under the aegis of Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion & Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), University of Hyderabad from 1st to 2nd August 2023. This workshop is a part of her ongoing research project on “Liangmai Nagas in the Globalised World,” funded by the Institute of Eminence (IoE), University of Hyderabad (UoH). It brought together scholars, thinkers and experts in the domain of social sciences like Prof. Virginius Xaxa (Institute for Human Development, New Delhi), Prof. Gopal Guru (former editor of EPW and retired Professor of Political Science, JNU), Prof. Anand Kumar (retired Professor of Sociology, JNU), Prof. Meenakshi Rajeev (RBI Chair Professor, ISEC, Bengaluru), Prof. Elungkiebe Zeliang (Mizoram), Dr. Tasongwi Newmai (NCERT, Shillong), Dr. Poujenlung Gonmei (Highland National College affiliated to Manipur University) and Dr. Veronica Khangchian (ITM, Gwalior). Prof. B. J. Rao, Hon’ble Vice-Chancellor, University of Hyderabad was the Guest of Honour and Prof. Jyotirmaya Sharma, Dean, School of Social Sciences Chaired in the inauguration. The Resource Persons discussed the epistemological and ontological aspects of doing research on tribes from an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives with a special focus on how the Liangmai Nagas and its cognate tribes have been systematically marginalised. They interrogated the existing understanding of people known as ‘tribes’ in North East India and on the trajectory of tradition and modernity, including the impact of neoliberalism on these tribes. Besides, they debated the historical background, cultural identity, gender relations and religious practices (old and new) of the Liangmai Nagas and its cognate tribes. They addressed the various issues and challenges such as exclusion, marginality and stereotypes that these tribes face in the contemporary society.
Prof. Gopal Guru highlighted the significance of ‘situating and understanding’ as effective research tools for tribal studies, where situating tribal questions into a certain kind of methodological framework, makes methodology important for studies. He points out the limitations of ‘understanding’ because understanding requires certain conditions which are related to knowledge of a particular situation. He favoured the methods of situating, locating, and positioning for tribal studies which are more accurate compared to understanding. Prof. Virginius Xaxa argued that the tribal cultural and ethnic identities have been sometimes marginalized and excluded in the national discourse. And, this exacerbated the issues of insurgency, linguistic differences, and ethnic conflicts which lead to a sense of alienation. He said that imposition of monolithic identity to the tribal people leads to problematization of identity formation in the North East Indian communities. Prof. Anand Kumar emphasised that the tribal identity has been perceived as the ‘other’ which leads to constant struggle for self-recognition and self-determination. He affirmed that identity development in the North East has been often problematized by political, social, and historical context.
Prof. Elungkiebe Zeliang traced the origin of the Liangmai, Zeme, Rongmei aka Kabui and Npui Naga tribes to a common ancestor. Inspite of their common origin, they have been asserting their smaller identities based on linguistic lines. He argued that they have been divided by the colonial government and hence, they live as minorities in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. They have been facing multiple issues and challenges due to social and political divisions. However, he argued that the way forward for them is to strive for unity in order to thrive as a community. Dr. Poujenlung Gonmei argued that the colonial state fragmented these tribes territorially. English was used to create a new class, and sanskritic words/languages were used to dehumanize the people with pejorative terms viz; Kaccha, Sikka, Makhai and the like. More interestingly, unmindful of the futility of the state-evading strategy of ‘divide yourself that ye be not governed,’ the colonized people believe that being fragmented and recognized as ‘tribe’ is normal and the end of their existence. The state as an institution of power is a major cause of exclusion and marginality of the Zeliangrong Nagas. Institutionalized in colonial values, they believe that truth, reason and progress will provide them emancipation. But, the wilful denial of justice to their society that is caught between state-evading strategy and state-embracing strategy suggest that the interest of the state outweighs that of the people in the margin.
Dr. Tasongwi Newmai critically analysed the interface between the state, the state accorded identities, competition for developmental resources and emergence of territorial indigeneity within the Liangmai Nagas and cognate tribes. He explored the commonalities of these cognate tribes and how the colonial state and the states in post-colonial independent India accorded recognition of these tribes as different Scheduled Tribes (STs) in Assam, Manipur and Nagaland. He interrogated how the introduction of state especially creation of the state of Nagaland vivisected the contiguous homeland of these cognate tribes into different politico-administrative units which in turn emerges as the basis for social and ethnic boundaries within the same ethnic community. He underlines the competition for resources, ethnicisation of the territories within the states and how it resulted in the process of ‘othering’ which ultimately leads them to suffer from subjugation, exclusion and marginalization in the face of competitive ethnicity within the larger Naga ethnic organizations. Dr. Veronica Khangchian analysed the impact of customary laws on women to inherit ancestral property in the Zeliangrong society from gender lens. She argued that internalisation of patriarchal values among women leads to ‘acceptance’ of their positionality via their cultural ideology. She has examined the role played by ‘custom’ and ‘law’ in hindering women from inheriting ancestral property. She argued that the advent of Christianity, and modernity, certain customary laws have become almost redundant but the traditional practice of inheritance rights remains majorly intact as many people re-assert their identity through the customary laws.
Prof. Ajailiu Niumai pointed out that she has decided to take up this project since there is scant scholarly work on Liangmai Naga tribe (who were known as Kaccha Nagas earlier). There are some books, booklets and pamphlets written by a few Liangmai Nagas in English and in Liangmai lat (aka dialect) and published by local publishers and the Tribal Research Institute, Imphal, Manipur. However, since she is the first woman among the Liangmai Naga tribe to be awarded Ph.D degree from JNU, Post Doctorate from University of Iowa, USA and became the first Liangmai Naga Professor in the Central University, she decided to do a research on her own tribe. She expressed that it is proper to investigate her interest to study the Liangmai Nagas even if she is an ‘insider’ to the field, as she is in a better position to conduct series of interviews with her people. She argued that the concept of ‘tribe’ in North East India is based on a social constructivist view of culture and identity. According to this view, culture and identity are not fixed or essential, but rather constructed through social processes and interactions. It is linked to ideas of community, marginalisation, exclusion, autonomy, and identity. Each session was followed by question and answer session where all the Resource Persons and participants raised questions to test their assertions and in the process, they exchanged ideas. This deliberation provided new insights and set the foundation for further research.