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Pfürhitsü remark ‘I am a Man’ put C Rajagopalachari speechless

(Speech delivered by Niketu Iralu on Nov. 7 in the inauguration of Naga Archives & Research Centre, Dimapur, Nagaland)

C Rajagopalachari was the first Indian to be Governor General of India. He was the last Governor General of India as after him the title was discontinued.  Rajaji, as he was usually called, visited Shillong in I think 1948 soon after India’s independence. Representatives of various tribes and communities from all over Assam came to meet him. Before he met the people lined up outside the Raj Bhavan, an official announced that each delegation was allowed only a few minutes to say a few words. Pfürhitsü Terhüja and AZ Phizo had come to represent the Nagas. Pfürhitsü stood erect and looked straight, displaying the striking colours of his tribe. His right hand held a shining spear thrust into the ground at an angle. His words to Rajaji, the respected “warrior from the South,” clarifying the Naga political position, were strong and clear. After listening to his first authoritative sentences Rajaji turned to Phizo who was translating him, and asked, “Who is he?” Before Phizo could reply, Pfürhitsü looked at the VVIP and declared with deliberate firmness, “I am a man!” His English came from his years as a DB of the British DC in Kohima. Well trained in handling such situations the Naga spokesman continued with increased vigour. His allotted time was over and the official on duty said so and tried to stop him. Rajaji turned to the official and said “Why are you disturbing? I want to hear what this man has to say”.  Pfürhitsü was able to say what he had come to say taking the time he required.

About two years ago I gave a talk in Guwahati at the Vivekananda Institute of Culture of the Ramakrishna Mission. I was asked to speak on the Nagas, their history and their culture. The audience was made up of Assamese, Bengalis, Marwaris, Punjabis, and others. They were men and women who were doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen, professors, writers, journalists, government servants, and so on.  I narrated what Pfürhitsü had said to Rajaji in Shillong over 50 years earlier and said the heroic struggle of the Nagas represented our people’s attempt to tell India and the world that we understood ourselves to be a people and a nation as justified by the facts of our history and the sacrifice we had made to defend our identity. And our defense of what we believe to be important for ourselves does not mean we are against India or any other nations in any way because we regard ourselves as an honourable neighbour with a history that deserves to be respected, though we may be very small in size and number.  

At the end of the talk the distinguished Assamese physician who had chaired the function said to me, “That story of the Naga leader saying ‘I am a Man’ to Rajaji has touched me”. He said it made clear the reason for the Naga struggle and the human crisis it has produced. The understanding and goodwill he showed touched me and gave me hope. The memory of that occasion has never left me.

What we are doing here today is very important for us. In establishing Archives to preserve collected documents on what has happened in our recent history, we are affirming to ourselves that our aspirations and beliefs and our struggle for them are important to us. Aspirations and dreams felt and understood in human hearts, minds and souls set human beings apart from all living beings and define our unique common identity we call humanity.

But mankind today is threatened by the chaos and destruction produced by the clash of aspirations of different peoples, nations, cultures and civilizations. 

It is natural and important for our proper growth in all dimensions of life that we too, like others, aspire and dream and struggle to consolidate our identity as we have done. We regard this inaugural function today as a humble but serious attempt to pass on “a legacy of hope” from the meager progress made thus far to the coming generations.

It represents our assessment of ourselves, and our determination to learn to go forward with others as we should. Yet we are keenly conscious that Nagas are just at the start of their journey in a world where others far larger, much more experienced, than them are shaping the course of events. I am saying this to say we consider the coming of our two closest neighbours, our distinguished guests from Assam and Manipur, to be with us on this occasion as a highly valued gesture of friendship and goodwill. You have accumulated so much more than us from your wider, longer encounters with others in the world from which we need to learn for our own future growth.

Now coming to paying tribute to our people, I start by expressing my sincerest appreciation to Rev Dr VK Nuh for his pioneering initiative in getting this Archives established today. It is a priceless contribution to our society.

Conscious as I am of our serious shortcomings and of the consequences of our mistakes and wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others over the years of our crisis, I do believe the pioneers of the Naga struggle did the right thing in launching their struggle. I do believe also that by taking their stand to desperately defend their identity based on the facts of their history, the Nagas have achieved something, they have covered some distance, namely, that they are a people and a nation. To limit the status of nationality only to those who have become members of the elite club of the UN is a conceptual construct made by a few old nations in a hurry. Membership of this Club is not the final word on the stories of peoples and nations. The world and mankind are going to discover possibilities for societies and communities to live together than what have prevailed thus far.

So I pay my humble but deeply felt tribute to our people for the tenacity and courage they have shown thus far to assert what they believed was true, right and honourable for themselves. They launched out without counting the cost because they could not know what it was going to be from their limited exposure to the wider world.

What I want to emphasize is that we urgently need to know ourselves correctly without fear or pretense. If compared to others we have discovered we have completed only up to Upper Primary School level, we do not need to waste our time and resources and damage ourselves by regretting we are not able to do what others who are University graduates are capable of doing and achieving! We need to discover what we have achieved and know that we are not more than what we really are. But we need to rejoice and find confidence in the fact that we are not less than what we are. The Nagas of today should be humble, compassionate towards one another, realistic, responsible, and intelligent enough and build on the foundation your grandfathers and pioneers have achieved and passed on to you.        

Feeling for one’s own identity and defending it, at the same time accepting joint responsibility by all to help one another to learn to live together in mutual trust and goodwill is now the toughest challenge for all mankind. For that way alone we will be able to grow safely together on this planet earth, our common shrinking, threatened sanctuary.

I want to end with Cardinal John Henry Newman’s well-known observation:

“To live is to grow. To grow is to change. To grow fully is to change often”.

This surely is the clear unquestionable roadmap we have to understand and accept for the challenging years ahead.

 

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