Debunking Army officers perception of Nagas

By: R.B. Thohe Pou

Published on 3 Dec. 2005

Nagas are subhuman and filthy and due to this consideration a big gap was created between the Nagas and Indian government after the British left. Nagas are subhuman and filthy but do you know who consider you as subhuman and filthy?

According to Concise Oxford Dictionary, subhuman means “less than human in behavior and intelligence. And filth means disgusting dirt, which means the Nagas are very dirty.”

Do you need to know others’ perception on you? Some people say that let others think and say whatever they like – its okay for us if we are not.

So what is your perception? One of the Indian officers who served in Naga Hills in 1953-57 truthfully writes what the Indian officers’ perceptions were on Nagas. They (Indian officers) considered the Naga people as subhuman, filthy and not worth mixing. I believe that what he writes was right because many Indian army officers had displayed through their actions after 1956 when the Naga Hills was declared Disturbed Area; the Indian army started moving to Naga Hills and on March 27, 1956, section 144 of the Indian Criminal Procedure Code, was enforced almost in entire Naga Hills.

When the Indian military forces came to Naga Hills, “the military forces went on burning almost all the villages with all contents in the Naga Hills District and the village were regrouped in a central place and confined under strong stockades and the inhabitants not allowed to go out from the stockades so that the underground Naga workers were cut off from their families communication and supplies.

The church leaders were persecuted by the Indian Military Forces, churches were desecrated which were used as rest camp of Indian forces. The inhabitants were collected in the church and tortured there, girls and women were molested, raped and beaten by the Indian forces sometime inside the church.” (Op.cit.Vashum: 81). Till late 1990s the Indian army officers were showing that the Nagas are subhuman and filthy through their action in violating the Human Rights in Naga Hills.

The Indian army officers considered that posting to Naga Hills was a punishment and they did not want to mingle or study about the Nagas. Kanwar Singh was an Indian officer who served in Naga Hills from 1953-57 writes the perception of the Indian officers in his book, “The Nagas of Nagaland”. To quote, “None of the officers from Assam stayed for any longer period with Nagas as they considered it as a punishment posting.

They naturally were always keen to get out and often managed it through contacts. The question of studying Naga way of life, mixing with them, knowing them and their customs etc therefore did not arise with them. In fact, they considered these people as subhuman, filthy and not worth mixing. Therefore, naturally a big gap was created between the Nagas and the government after the British left.” (Kanwar:194).

Even before Kanwar truthfully writes about the Indian army officers’ perception on Nagas in his book – the ill-treatment and Human Rights violation to the Naga people was conspicuous, which was reported by Jasokie in 1954. The Naga National Council sent Publicity Secretary Jasokie to Mokochung to study the situation and submit a first-hand information report. An extract from his report read as follows:

“They (the plains people of Hindustan) believe that their way of life is the right way; but such way of life horrifies us. They are disgusting to us.(they Hindustani) are not prepare to accept us a human beings and, therefore, it is easier for them to go out of all human decency in their dealings with us.

I say this not to agitate the emotional feelings of our people but that they have such an attitude towards our people is an undeniable fact..they think that by harassing the people they have done a great service to India, but actually India lost the friendship of the people.” (M.Zinyii:32)

Well, why they consider Nagas as subhuman and filthy? If we study the tribe of Assam and some tribes in Bastar region in central part of India – these tribes are still very backward as compare to Nagas. Why such kind of attitude and understanding was created among the Indian army officers and commenced to torture the Nagas and violate the human rights? Are they considering the Nagas as subhuman and filthy because they have different food habits?

The people in different geographical location have different food habits; religion and personal likeness also make us to vary in food habits. So because of Nagas’ food habits, they should not consider the Nagas as subhuman. Nagas are not only the people who practiced headhunting; headhunting was practiced worldwide. There was headhunting in Indonesia, Africa, Europe, Philippines, Malaysia etc.

Therefore because of headhunting practiced by the Nagas cannot be considered them as subhuman and filthy. In fact, there was a great essence of headhunting and the modern people still practicing headhunting in different ways or forms.

Should we consider that the Indian officers were ignorance about the Nagas and because of this, they considered the Nagas as subhuman and filthy? But the Indian officers are well-educated people and they do not consider the other human being as subhuman.

We need to know the others perception and treatment on us otherwise we will be like some one who always assume that the other people also eat what we eat. I do not know if any Nagas had earlier rise any question regarding the erroneous perception of the Indian Army officers on Nagas.

Even if our elders or seniors had rose earlier – today our youngsters also need to know others’ perception on us. It cannot say that today the Indian officers (civil or army) have not such kind of perception on Nagas but definitely we can say that the Indian officers are gradually learning the culture and customs of Nagas and who Nagas are. One of the serious problems with the Indian officers is that they do not mingle and study the nature and customs of the Nagas.

I am sure that Nagas are very honest and amicable people. The Indian officers posted in Naga Hills still need to study the Nagas’ culture and customs so that they can work together peacefully with the Nagas. Some of the Indian officers like Kanwar Singh, Maj.Gen. Sardespande, Mullick, B.N., Rammuny Murkot etc had studied the Nagas’ culture and custom and had written their books on Nagas.

The Indian officers (civil or army) who mingled with Nagas and studied on Nagas have very positive attitudes towards the Nagas. One of the Indian Army officers, Maj.Gen. Sardespande writes about the Nagas as,

“Nagas are magnificent. You have to see and live amidst them to believe this simple statement. A very large majority of us know little about them. The little that we know is about their nakedness, headhunting and anti-national, hostile, underground, insurgent activity for the last thirty years of independence India’s consciousness of it northeastern periphery.

By nature they are suspicious, sensitive, wary, distrustful, inward-looking, volatile and very very proud. There cannot be a better friend than the Nagas once he identifies his friend; there cannot be a worse foe than the Naga once he feels deceived or let down. Deep inside his inscrutable exterior and penetrating eyes there is tremendous warmth, great geniality, sharp intellect and immense good will” (Sardespande: vii)

The Indian officers study on Nagas in 1980s had brought some changes in their wrong perception and apathetic attitude towards the Nagas. However the human rights violation is still reporting in some parts of Naga Hills even after the Cease-fire with the NSCN (IM) and the Government of India was declared in 1997. The recent 15 Case studies on “Violations of Cease-fire Agreed Ground Rules” by R.N. Kumar with L. Murthy for Civil Society Initiatives on the Naga Peace Process – shows the Human Rights violation in Naga Hills that in September 2000, at Khongsang village in Tamenglong District, Manipur, the Army Screened Video Films, which was suspected to be pornographic.

The church building and school building were occupied by the Indian army. The churches in many villages were occupied and desecrated. What would be the sentiments of the Hindu people if the temples are desecrated? Again in the early of 28th December 2000, a unit of the 15 Jat Regiment patrolling the State Highway in Tamenglong District, Manipur was attacked by suspected Naga underground.

In this attack – one officer was killed and four others were wounded. To avenge the attack by the underground the Jat Regiment – led by Lt.Col. K.S. Madan trekked down to Tabanglong village and randomly picked up ten persons and shot them down in different location in the village. Eight of them died instantly while two persons survived with serious injuries. (Ram N.K.: 152).

Whenever the underground attacked the Indian army, to avenge the attack – the Indian army tortured, raped and killed the innocent villagers which became the customs and culture of the Indian army like the Nagas killing the innocent wild animals in the jungle. The above cited human rights violation and illegal occupation of buildings and churches are just some examples of recent occurrence during cease-fire.

The Armed Forces Special Power Act, 1958 (AFSPA), which is still in force allowed a person of any rank in the Armed Forces to shoot to kill for the maintenance of public order to destroy any position or shelter, to arrest, without warrant any person and enter and search without warrant any premises, without fearing prosecution, suit or other legal proceedings. Not only given Armed Special Power to the Indian Army Forces – most of the Indian Army officers also have apathetic attitude and misunderstand about the Nagas, which lead to more Human Right violation.

Do the Indian officers still consider that Nagas are subhuman and filthy? Do they still consider that posting to Naga Hills as punishment? We may believe and trust our educated Indian officers and all the Armies that they will now not consider and have such kind of attitudes towards the Nagas in this century. It is very easy to consider the other people or community as low or high unless we know them. But in fact all the human beings are same and equal; there is not such human being as low or high or subhuman.

For better co-existence, administration and to remove Human Rights violation in Naga Hills – the AFSPA needs to be removed and change the apathetic attitude of the Indian Army. The apathetic attitude and misunderstanding on Nagas can be vanished only when the Indian Army officers and politicians mingle with the Nagas and study the culture and customs of Nagas.

The Indian and Nagas need to study and know the cultural difference in order to build a better relationship. The Indian government denied to have talks with the Naga Insurgent leaders without condition till 1997. However after the Indian studied the Naga history and recognized the unique history of Nagas – the Cease-fire was declared between NSCN (IM) and the Govt. of India in 1997 to have talks unconditionally.

There were many round of talks between them but nothing concrete solution is brought till date due to some reasons. To speed up and to bring Peace and Concrete Solution for the Nagas – the Indian politicians and masses need to study more the Naga history and recognize the unique history of the Nagas.


1. Kanwar Singh (1987): The Naga in Nagaland: Desperadoes, Heroes of Peace, Delhi: Deep and Deep Publication.
2. Mhiesizokho Zinyii (1979): Phizo and the Naga Problem, Dimapur: Nagaland Times Press.
3. Ram Narayan K.& L.Murthy (2002): Four Years of the Cease-fire Agreement between NSCN: Promises and Pitfalls, New Delhi: Civil Society Initiatives on the Naga Peace Process.
4. Maj.Gen. Sardespande S.C. (1987): The Patkoi Nagas, Delhi: Daya Publishing House
5. Vashum R., (2000): Nagas’ Right to Self-determination, Delhi: Mittal Publications