Frans Welman is a photojournalist, writer and documentary filmmaker based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Presently, he is the secretary Nagas International Support Center (NISC). Starting out as a clinical psychologist with a preference for cross-cultural psychology, he used that focus to start a journey eventually carried him on the doorstep of Nagaland. Working in the prominent Dutch anthropological Royal Tropical Museum, education department, for quite a few years brought him the conviction to stand by indigenous peoples’ right to self determination, so the people can achieve self-rule. Ngathingkhui Jagoi had an opportunity to catch him online at Yahoo chat room and put across some questions related to the Naga issue recently. Excerpts:
Ngathingkhui Jagoi: Please tell me how you first came in contact with the Nagas?
Frans Welman: It was 1988 I meet General Mowu in London. He told me about the problem being faced by the Nagas. Later, I met the NSCN-IM collective leadership when they attended a meeting an UNPO meeting in 1992. They also told me about the Naga people’s movement for self determination and I found the Naga issue very interesting. So I decided to tour the Naga homeland and I did. I am a photographer and I shot quite a good number of photographs about the Burmese Nagas during my visit at Lahe village…..
NJ: But you became a great writer instead …. (lol)
FW: No, I am not… (lol)
NJ: Ok, judging by the reports generating from both print as well as electronic media, you or for that matter, NISC is often viewed as a mouth piece of NSCN-IM. How would you like to straighten this up if you are not?
FW: Mouthpiece of the NSCN-IM? Yes, I have heard that before but never saw any substantiation for it. Of course it is an easy way to sideline an unwanted critique. Yet, self respecting organizations would take the trouble to base their accusations with facts and arguments. The Naga International Support Center as described in the book the ‘Forbidden Land’ came into existence only because of the fact the right to self determination is denied to the Nagas. In the book ‘Out of Isolation’, soon to be published in Delhi the history in the conflict between the Government of India and the Nagas is described and that includes the rifts among them which began with the 16 point agreement and the emergence of Nagaland state, grew worse by the Shillong Accord, more so by its implementation of disarmament and the foundation of the NSCN, which in turn later split into the NSCN Khaplang after a bloodbath inflicted on what is now the NSCN Isak Swu and Th. Muivah based on disagreement and unwillingness to remain one front against the enemy India.
Because several factors in the assessment of the history play important roles and it is a fact that only the NSCN-IM is talking on the basis of achieving an honorable solution to the conflict, naturally the NISC supports the wish of the Naga Peoples so their right to self determination in this is honored. However, NISC supports that wish for all Nagas, yet NISC knows not all Nagas want to be free of the dominance of India. They have their own interests at heart and as essentially Free people can vent them openly. It is different however when one imposes on the other and thus cease to be representative of the people at large. Though even those Nagas profiting from the divide and rule instigated and perfected by the Government of India when asked what they actually want their answer in majority is clear cut; we want to be free, left alone, independent, sovereign. The main problem is that because of this successful divide and rule, less and less Nagas think that is feasible and leave it up to the prime NSCN-IM to do them the honors. So, concretely NISC cannot be a mouthpiece of the NSCN-IM for the simple reason it is critical on all Naga organizations where human rights are concerned which includes the right to self determination.
NJ: GOI always claims that she inherited land of the Naga from British. What is British’s reception to this? Is Britain responsible to this long tracked up conflict between Union of India and the Nagas if they do accept this charge?
FW: After the decolonization process The British are not involved much and do not show much accountability to what was predicted by their own people in the field and what came out afterwards, the protracted war between the invaders as the Nagas feel it and the Nagas who insist on their right to self determination. Just before the handover the Nagas declared independence and sent the declaration to the United Nations, UN. Though the UN acknowledged reception of that declaration it did not act on it. The British who could have had a hand in the United Nations along with India, in reality had no jurisdiction to hand over, if they disputably did so, the Naga Hills to India and Burma. In fact only a relatively small portion of the Naga lands were ever administered and the other lands were called by them the Un-administered areas of the Free Nagas.
After so many years of being kept in isolation hardly a Briton knows about the Naga Peoples and it would be very difficult to get the Naga issue on the agenda’s of the Government of Great Britain or parliament, the House of Commons. Yet, through the Parliamentarians for Self Determination, and NGO, there is a possibility to pursue this so that in the end Britain comes out with what it actually did which makes India so certain it handed over Nagaland to the Union of India.
NJ: You are informed on what is happening in ‘Nagalim’. What is your impression on the visit of the Collective leadership? Would you please commend on home front situation pick up during their stay, from off shore view, I mean?
FW: At first with their first visit to their homeland Nagalim, it looked like many Nagas were delighted. Their homecoming after some 30 years of exiled life was felt as inspiration and encouragement. But, positive developments for the Nagas are often followed by negative ones. The divide and rule policy has been stepped up and in a relatively short period of time that was successful in deepening the rifts between tribes, organizations, people. When they came, many hoped the ceasefire would turn into real peace talks, talks that would lead to a long awaited solution, the solution to be free of India. That did not happen during their stay and this time it has been as long as nine months already. Without peace in sight trouble in Nagaland is overwhelming, recent killings are incomprehensible and the credibilities of many are under pressure.
The question now is; is it because their presence their Naga adversaries stepped up their attacks to undermine their authority, or is it because the Government of India feels the heat and wants to do its utmost to discredit them through using their divide and rule tactics? It is difficult to assess properly but speaking on my own behalf, I should say that the GoI on the basis of the ‘Look East Policy’ and geopolitical issues is trying to do good and bad. The GoI wants the conflict solved without losing face, so the hawks in the GoI want to smash the Nagas and now use divide and rule tactics while the doves like to open up the Northeast to South East Asia and need a peaceful springboard for that. In this turmoil, this power wielding the peace talks take place and the NSCN leaders as in Nagaland. Both the good and bad forces are at work and the Naga leaders have no weapons but the people themselves to fight the psychological warfare which has been stepped up since they set foot in India and more so when they came to Nagaland.
NJ: The progress of the talks seems lethargic, why, according to your observation? Please suggest how both parties can behave in order to make the talks progressive.
FW: The question is simple, the answer is not, for in the absence of policies it is difficult to fathom the Indian Government. We can try to find their objectives though by studying what they have done and reason about that. I have noticed before that at the onset of the conflict the first Prime Minister unleashed the war on the Nagas primarily because he felt insulted at Kohima when there to meet U Nu of Burma. Overseeing things three things make it thus difficult for the Government of India to concede anything to the Nagas: one is the matter of prestige the dwarf standing up to the mighty giant, the dwarf capable of resisting nevertheless. Two is the geopolitical situation with China and so India feels it has to have its borders secured and three I feel that India in expanding mode now economically feels overly confident and cannot think of conceding anything much to what it sees as an insignificant people which has extra ordinary demands.
Yet the right to self determination in view of the GoI’s stand if it is at all to be acknowledged and worked on during the talks when it is not left to just the GoI and the Nagas. The right to self determination is part of the covenant of the United Nations, article one, and so the international community should be involved in the talks for peace. Nagas are part of the international community and the legacy of the British should be examined, appraised and juxtaposed against the right to self determination. When things have come that far an amicable solution can be worked out, so that the Indians will leave Nagaland but will have forged a strong bond between them and have become friends on several mutual point of interest and cooperation. If that is not done playing for time would only destabilize the Naga Society more which in the end leads to disintegration and so it will be easy for the Government of India to annex Nagaland for good.
NJ: Now, cease fire extension is subject to progress of the talks; improvement of ground realities at home front (in Nagalim, to be on Naga side) can be symbol of progress, do you see any sign of improvement? What might possibly lead to dead log in regard to ‘indefinite’ duration?
FW: No, I do not see any sign of improvement; in the recent past there has been one significant one which I thought could lead to a solution, but it did not materialize. This was the recognition of the history and the situation of the Nagas by the Government of India, a prerequisite for the NSCN-IM to conduct the talks as they have stated in their proposal a few years ago. And, as I have pointed out further progress is not made for while at the same time talking about peace during a cease fire destabilization if perfected. I think however that the word ‘indefinite’ was chosen well for it refers to the idea that the ritualistic talks on the extension alone consumed much time. Now both parties engaged in the peace talks can only talk peace and hammer out a path to achieve that, if they fail to do so, the peace talks will be abrogated.
NJ: Enlighten outside supports to Naga rights to self determination, please. Is UN official recognition of world indigenous peoples’ declaration under serious consideration? What are the changes with the term ‘self determination’ recently reviewed? Please enlighten.
FW: It must be a coincidence that while writing answers to your questions the United Nations on September 13, 2007 adopted the Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples. This is a breakthrough after some 20 years of discussing in the Human Rights Council by the Indigenous Peoples. And, I show you the article in which the right to self determination is enshrined:
Article 1. Human Rights
Indigenous peoples have the full right to all human rights recognized under international law;
Article 2. Equality with Other peoples
Indigenous peoples have equal rights and dignity with all other peoples including freedom from any kind of negative discrimination;
Article 3. Self Determination
Indigenous peoples have the right to self determination. This means they can freely determine their political status and identity and pursue their own economic, social and cultural development;
Article 4. Strengthen Cultures
Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain and strengthen their cultures and systems while at the same time having the right to participate in the Canadian society if they so choose;
Article 5. Belong to a Nation
Every Indigenous person has the right to belong to a Nation
The NSCN-IM is a member of the UNPO and recently I interviewed the secretary general on your question and so I refer you to that publication
NJ: World powers especially US & Britain are not prepared to sever their bilateral ties with India in spite of Naga’s political reality. What fate is in store for the Naga when Naga’s faith in them is ignored or, what is the other option for the Naga? Please suggest.
FW: To recognize the rights of Indigenous Peoples those World Powers you mentioned do not have to sever ties with India. They can talk to India diplomatically and encourage that country to come to an honorable solution. Those powers only ignore the faith of the Nagas because of these two things:
Firstly, the Naga issue is internationally judged as a domestic conflict, it is regarded as something India should deal with. Of course when the situation goes out of hand and it is obvious that that country has violated international laws, committed state terrorism, or even genocide, the international community could intervene. But, because India has been capable keeping Nagaland isolated, like no journalist can freely enter the region, and because India is a big power, a big player, itself now, that international community knows very little about the fate of the Nagas.
Two – It is in the interest of the Naga Peoples to be known to the world and this irrespective if the Nagas think they are ignored on purpose or just by way of not informed well enough actively. So, it is my suggestion to the Nagas to become known to the world, for I think that in that case the Nagas become more equal partners to the Government of India in the Peace Talks. In the Netherlands we have this saying: to be unknown is to be unloved.
Although it is admirable and laudable he Nagas have been able to stand up for their rights for so long, in the end, the big power – the elephant will trample the small one, the mouse, to death if no other interventions on how to prevent that are taken. So, I call on all Nagas, their organizations, civil and military ones, to do their utmost to be known in the world so the Nagas can take their rightful place among the peoples of this earth and can avail of their rights. In doing that they will create the situation by which they will no longer stand alone, but will know others are there to aid them in protecting their rights.
NJ: Lastly, many Nagas feel that with the presence NSCN-IM, there is ‘botched up’ instead of ‘step ups.’ How would you like them to behave at home front?
FW: Though I realize it is simple to say this, I would like the NSCN to behave true to its nature, in accordance with its principles.
source:Imphal Free Press