Sunday, January 13, 2013

No future without forgiveness

First of all a tribute to the Mizos and their Chief Minister for being willing to get involved in the messy Naga problem and trying to help. From the reports in the news papers, as I write, it is not yet clear if he has actually taken on the responsibility of mediating between the Government of India and the NSCN (IM). What is clear is that things have moved considerably in that direction.

What the Mizoram Chief Minister is offering to do is an act of real Christian charity and kindness to us as a neighbour. From the way we have behaved and acted with all our neighbours, it cannot be that we have earned their respect and love. But few of our people ever look at things from perpective of others, or are willing to do so. We can only hold on tenaciously to our own points of view, no matter that others may see such an attitude as incredible. We have, like the proverbial ostrich, buried our head in the sand. Naturally, we do not see anything except what we want to see --- if your head is buried in the sand what you see can only be a mental projection and just as unreal. People may be seeing our shame, and nakedness, and have all kinds of reactions – of revulsions, outrage, anger, etc. But we remain blissfully ignorant, our heads still firmly buried in the sand. The imagery is unfortunate but still true.

Many of our neighbours, not without grounds, feel that our people have militarized their societies. This is not to say that there was no disgruntlement in their societies. Perhaps, the ground even ripe. But, if so, the fact still remains that our people exploited and took advantage of such disgruntlement. That is not a neighbourly thing to do. Many of them, today, feel bitter towards us. Several have been frank enough and kind, to express their feelings. But there are others who silently hold their grudges. The result is that while so many Nagas ‘boast’ of their ‘freedom struggle’, Naga society has been ringed with unfriendly neighbours. And till date, no Naga decleration has gone out, in friendship, to our neighbours. How cold and stone-hearted we have become. And how blind to what we are doing to others.

In the circumstances, if the Mizoram Chief Minister does get involved in the mediation efforts, one hopes the Naga people, and especially the NSCN (IM), will keep in mind that a neighbour is trying to help --- perhaps, the only neighbour willing to do so.

One question which has not been raised publicly as yet but which must, of necessity, be asked and discussed, is how serious we are in wanting to have the Naga problem settled once and for all. The same question could be asked of the Government of India. But we need to first settle the issue among our people. This may look ludicrous to some. But the sections of those in the forefront, and those who will play pivotal roles in deciding and settling the issue, speak otherwise. Each faction, loudly or softly, want to be recognised as the foremost, if not the only group, in the negotiations. Again, we speak of reconciliation and unity. But we want these only on our own term. If our terms are not met, then, in the name of the Naga people, we are willing to throw away, at one go, all the hard-earned gains made so far. Are these signs of our seriousness to solve the problem? Do we really have the good of our people at heart? Are we willing to make some concessions for the sake of our people even if these entail some sacrifice for our side? And willing to explore all possibilities? If not, we will be selling our people short, will not be using those who are trying to help, and taking both for a royal ride.

Archbishop Puncie said, "Those who do not wish to look at the past, or understand the past become easy victims of fatal lies and suspicions about other people in the present". Are we willing to look at or understand the past? Difficult to answer. But are we suspicious of each other? Have we been victims of the lies spread by vested interests? The answers, I am sure, are obvious to everyone.

How do we then heal history? Political initiatives can take us so far, but then the weight of history is often left largely unaddressed. A former Irish Republican activist wrote to Nicholas Frayling, author of ‘Pardon and Peace’, who I was privileged to meet in Liverpool about two weeks ago, "It is not present-day injustice which fuels the conflict in this land … The real trouble is Cromwell and King Billy, and nobody knows how to bury them". Much of present day decisions and actions have been forged on the anvil of feelings and attitudes, which have been formed in the past. The Bible also talks of the sins of the father visiting the sons. This, I think, is a fit case for comparison.

Therefore, history needs to be revisited, however, unpleasant and painful, and properly laid to rest so that it does not continue to come back to haunt us. If we do not do this in the right way, we can risk damning ourselves to only "tinker with consequences instead of addressing causes" and presenting a vicious cycle of hatred and revenge from which there is no escape. This was the whole point of the Truth and reconciliation Commission in South Africa. There is need to break the chain of hate and cause a paradigm shift.

In the circumstances, there is ‘no future without forgiveness" (the title of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book) in our situation. And as Michael Henderson, British author, says, "Neither forgiveness nor its inverse, repentence, will alone solve the world’s problems or bring peace. But without those two elements, it is hard to see how settlements will prevail overtime". Our people need so much to move from mutual life-renewing humility and contrition, and from blame to understanding. Reconciliation, and the restoring of relationships, is the only way forward. This also means a true give-and-take.

Conditional reconciliation on the basis that "I will reconcile if you give in to my terms", or "only my terms", will not work. Forgiveness entails penitence and, to the extent possible, reparation. The basis must be that, before God, we have all sinned and fallen short; not a comparison with other human beings. To look for forgiveness, without repentence, is to look for reconciliation on the cheap. And true repentance, and forgiveness cannot be gained cheaply. It costs. "I am sorry" are the most difficult words in any language, to quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

The time for statesmanship and to show greatness is upon us. Some encouraging signs have been witnessed in the last few months at the highest political levels, underground and overground, among our people. It is important that they do no explain these away or try to qualify them out of existence or meaninglessness, which sometimes do happen, especially with those politicians who think that unless they have clever explanations for every action, they put themselves on shaky ground. But ‘cleverness’ also has its limits. There comes a time when human intelligence alone becomes inadequate. And it is important that we accept our humanness with humility. We must learn to understand and be willing to make concessions. Archbishop Tutu says making concessions is a sign of strength, not weakness, because only a person who is strong can make concessions.

What the Naga situation requires is a real break-through somewhere. But the break-through is not coming because all the principal players are also contending parties without any real neutral force. Any potential neutral force emerging in society has been systematically dismantled or marginalised out of existence by the contending parties out of fear and suspicion. Once the neutral force has been disturbed, the contending parties can only go back to take up their old stagnated refraints as if there is no tomorrow. And history keeps repeating itself. Credit-seeking and blame-sharing are once more the games played out. The politics of brinkmanship once more rules. More lives get lost. More bitterness generated for the next generation.

How long can this continue? It is clear that if we are to break out and break free of the shackles of the past, there needs to be a clean break somewhere. Some will have to be willing to make concessions and to sacrifice. The silent majority must also be allowed to become vocal and to be heard. The Naga Church too must be willing to take on a greater role, and be in the vanguard of the fight for peace, not only because of its extensive influence among the Naga population but also because forgiveness and repentance are properly in the domain of religion and God, and Church leaders are rightly the trained specialists in the business.

The Bible talks about "If you say you love God and hate your neighbour, you are a liar’. Quite down to earth, don’t you think?


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