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Tag Archives: Easterine Kire

Web-chat with Easterine Kire on IBNlive

Northeast is, more often than not, absent from any discourse on Indian literature. Here's a chance to gain some perspectives on the subject, its uniqueness, its similarities with mainland literature, the painful and violent political history that shapes it. Easterine's latest work, Bitter Wormwood, gives a poignant insight into the human cost behind the political headlines from one of India’s most beautiful and misunderstood regions. The book is published by Zubaan Books.

http://ibnlive.in.com/chat/easterine-kire/northeast-in-literature/794.html

Excerpts from the web-chat...

Q
Indian academic circles have ignored literature from the northeast. In most courses of Indian Literature, or Contemporary Indian writing, literature from the Northeast is mostly ignored. Why do you think this is, and what should be done?
EASTERINE: Hello, this is an interesting question. About thirty years ago, there wasnt much literary production from the north east in the sense that we were not getting published, we had very little translated literature in English and whatever was available was poetry and writings by anthropologists on the region. So the mainland universities cannot be blamed for ignoring literary input from the North east. But now that so much is being published from the NE, there are no excuses for Indian academia to ignore literature of the NE region.
Q
NE wasn't in Mughal's HINDUSTAN, that's the reason mainland Indian didn't recognize NE ?
EASTERINE: This is a highly politically loaded question because if we go into it, I have to honestly state that during the time of the Mughals, the NE was not part of India and even India was not India as we know it after 1947. Historically speaking, the Naga hills were colonised by the British in the 1800s and on their departure, the British ignored Naga appeals to leave them out of the Indian union. Rather treacherously, the British halved Naga territories and gave the one half to Burma and the other to India. So, there was no cultural connection between mainland India and the NE. There wasn't even a historical connection so it is not surprising that following Mughal Hindustan, mainland India did not 'recognise NE' as you have put it.

 

 

In which Namita Gokhale's selects her top reads for 2011 and includes three Zubaan Titles

We're extremely delighted to find three of our titles featured in Namita Gokhale's list of Best titles of 2011. For Zubaan, this comes close on the heels of Venus Flytrap, Zubaan's anthology of women's erotica, being listed in at least five publications as one of the significant books to look forward to in 2012. Clearly we're doing something right. However, it isn't complete until you read the precious titles that we put out on the shelves. These are the three books in Namita Gokhale's list.

 

A Terrible Matriarchy By Easterine Iralu

It’s the coming of age story of a Naga childhood, situated in both internal and social strife. Documenting a society in transition, it evokes the spirits of time and place, of births and deaths and passings. Iralu’s writing has the quality of pared down simplicity, with an aftertaste of hurt and irony. “For some days after Vimenuo’s father’s death, people could speak of nothing else. There were stories of people who saw him on their way back from the fields in the late evening. They said he appeared to them near the stream on the way home, his face turned away from them. But of course they knew it was him immediately; he wore the checked flannel shirt that was his favourite when he was alive.”

Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here

 

The Bad Boys Guide to the Good Indian GirlBy Annie Zaidi and Smriti Ravindra

Aka the Good Indian Girl’s Guide to Living, Loving and Having Fun, this delightful book actually covers much more serious territory than the unsuspecting reader might first deduce. The “Good Indian Girl” is the subject of much Bharatiya and diasporic angst. Dedicated to “All Indian Girls: Good, bad, ugly, little, perfect, plump, married, dead”, this tour de force goes through the complex territory of sex, virginity and sacrifices in the name of family, culture and nation. As the authors elucidate, “You can access a kind of default nationalism through the simple process of not having any fun...”

Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here

 

A Street in Srinagar By Chandrakanta

The book has been effectively translated by Manisha Chaudhury from the original Hindi. The shadows of violence loom over Ailan Gali, a street in Kashmir where the houses are stacked against each other in shoulder rubbing intimacy. These multiple tales of memory and transition, of migration, modernity and exile hold together a novel which invokes the sounds and smells of a place the Pandit community once called home.

A Street in Srinagar has also been shortlisted for the DSC Prize to be announced at the Jaipur Literature Festival!

Buy your copy on Flipkart by clicking here

"Big Indian publishing houses don't think the northeast will sell" : Easterine Iralu interviewed by Kim Arora, Times of India
Easterine Kire Iralu is Nagaland's first novelist in English, who has written books like A Naga Village Remembered, des-cribing the battle between British forces and one Naga hamlet, and Mari, set amidst the attempted Japanese invasion of India in 1944 via Nagaland. Speaking withKim Arora , Iralu discussed how her state became defined only by conflict, a fine tension vibrating between Naga and Indian identity - and the politics of publishing:

How did you start writing?

I'm a reader. I started as a bookworm. I loved books. It came naturally to me to write at some stage. At university, i was reading African writers. Those were encouraging...African literature resonated in me. It made me feel it was possible to write my own novel. When i was 22, i did my first volume of poetry, the first such collection published by a Naga in English...I did short stories, then A Naga Village Remembered, the first novel by a Naga in English. I kept writing because i felt we needed to create written Naga literature. We have so much oral narratives but with the oral dying out, it's all going to be lost.

Speaking of writing narratives, please tell us about your folk tale project.

I'm a partner with two others in a publishing house, Barkwea-ver. For us, it's important to have folk tales written down...we're encouraging youngsters to bring them to us...I tell my young friends - if you're interested, sit with older people and get their stories...as they listen to these, youngsters learn their culture.

Do you think young people aren't learning their culture?

Yes - because of the lifestyle they have. Kohima is too urbanised. You no longer have the village setting where in the evenings, you sat with the elders and they told you stories. Youngsters don't do fieldwork which isn't just labour - you learn so much about nature, seasons, birds, native names, etc. Hopefully, they'll learn these things when they write down the stories. It's a lifelong project.

Why is rich Naga literature so under-represented in wider Indian writing?

Because of the politics of publishing - for many years, the media presented us as the region of conflict. The culture was underplayed. Ordinary life was not valued. We became defined by the conflict. It's so irritating - infuriating actually!

This is one way of showing there's more behind the conflict. The people and their lives are interesting...there are people whose stories need to be heard but the big Indian publishing houses don't think the northeast will sell. For many years, they didn't want to publish books from the northeast. It's not just Indian publishing but publishing over the world - but i've proved them wrong with a wonderful market in Nagaland and others outside. There is definitely a market.

You mentioned the Indo-Naga conflict - are Nagas getting over this and integrating today?

I don't believe people from my generation or my children's generation will ever feel that they're Indian. We will always feel we're Nagas. There's a huge cultural difference. But we are able to embrace India, understand Indian culture...only if you're a Naga, you will understand. You have a sense of belonging to a smaller degree to India. Your identity is always as a Naga...you can have a sense of belonging to India. But you know that because of the history and culture, you'll never really be Indian. You'll always be fully Naga in your mentality...we should actually build up on that - the levels of belonging, the levels of Indian-ness.

Fresh Off the Press! Latest Titles by Zubaan

Happy New Year Folks!

We're ushering in 2012 with some fantastic new titles that are wonderfully written and make for an excellent read. Poignant, political and provocative, that seems to be the three qualities these titles share with each other.

First up, we have Easterine Kire's Bitter Wormwood. If you're at all interested in the politics of India's Northeast, this book is right up your alley, and if your knowledge of Nagaland is limited to Akhuni and Raja mirchi, then this book is the perfect introduction. You can buy your copy here. Read Easterine's introduction to the book for free right here on The Zubaan Blog.

Next, we have Saswati Sengupta's The Song Seekers. As the monsoon rains wash over the city of Kolkata, four women sit and read and talk in the kitchen of Kailash?the old mansion of the Chattopadhyays where Uma comes to live after her marriage in the summer of 1962.

Her husband s silence about his mother and the childhood tragedy that beckons him from the shadowy landing of Kailash, the embroidered handkerchiefs in an old soap box in her father-in-law s room and the presence of the old, green-eyed Pishi intrigue Uma. But it is only as she begins to read aloud the traditional Chandimangal composed by her husband s grandfather to celebrate the goddess that the smothered stories begin to emerge...

The novel weaves in the history of the militant goddess recast as wife, the Portuguese in Bengal, the rise of print and the making of memories from the swadeshi movement to the turbulent sixties in Bengal as Uma discovers that the foundation of Kailash is not only very deep but also camouflages the stench of death."

You can pick up your copy here

And we have Seventeen, a brilliant new collection by Anita Agnihotri, translated by Arunava Sinha.  By turn intense, brittle, angry sad and torn apart in conflict, the stories bring out the different faces of human hardship and explore the India that is still largely unknown. Set in metros and villages, in small-town India and in international suburbia, the stories run the gamut of experiences both everyday and extraordinary. From deeply personal relationships against the backremove of turmoil to intensely social truths told through the unique life of individuals, each of these stories is a picture of human fragility. This is literary craftsmanship at its best.

Pick up your copy here

 

Bitter Wormwood: Introduction

The struggle for independence from India by the Naga people, indigenous inhabitants of the Naga Hills, has been a story hidden for several decades. Cleverly concealed by censorship on newspaper reports, there was only one western journalist, a British war correspondent named Gavin Young (The Daily Telegraph) who managed to enter Nagaland illegally in the 1960s and report what he saw of the genocide and rape and torture of the Nagas by the Indian Army.

The IWGIA (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs) 1986 report The Naga Nation and its Struggle against Genocide, recorded that as many as 100,000 Nagas were killed in fighting with India beginning from 1956. Naga Federal government statistics claim that villagers who fled their burned villages and died of starvation and disease bring the number closer to two hundred thousand from the 50s to the 60s. The main source of information for the IWGIA report was Naga historian Dr. Visier Sanyu.

The first killings occurred in 1948 when two Nagas were shot dead by the Indian army in Tuensang, followed by another two killings in 1950, and the attack on Khonoma village and Lungkhum village in 1953. In 1954, the numbers rose to 64 Nagas killed and at the beginning of 1955, 279 Nagas were recorded killed by the army. Between January 1955 and July 1957 the estimated damage stood at: 79,794 houses burnt, 26,550,000 mounds of paddy burnt and 9,60,000,000 rupees worth of goods destroyed (source: The Naga Chronicle p.148 and p.181).

The IWGIA report documents some of the tortures in April and May 1955 by the Assam Police Battalion, beginning with the burning of 200 granaries of Mokokchung village. This was accompanied by atrocities like beating a pregnant woman and forcing her to give birth in public, raping of the village women and killing of the menfolk. In September the harvest was destroyed by the same police battalion and five village women were raped, amongst whom were two minor girls. Both young students and adults were shot and killed or tortured to death by the battalion.

In 1956, the Indian army began taking prisoners and using them for target practice. Groupings of villagers and tortures of the villagers became routine by 1957. The stories of torture documented by both the IWGIA and The Naga Chronicle seem to surpass each other in the army's inhuman treatment of the Nagas: men were tied to poles and burned; they were buried alive; their genitals were given electric currents. Each instance of torture was more gruesome and horrible than the next. The report lists the tortures and repression of the Nagas by the Indian army as "i) execution in public; ii) mass raping; iii) deforming sex organs; iv) mutilating limbs and body; v) electric shocks; vi) puncturing eyes; vii) hanging people upside down; viii) putting people in smoke-filled rooms; ix) burning down of villlages; x) concentration camps; xi) forced starvation and labour." One of the stories of rape had as its intention the desecration of the village church of Yankeli where four minor girls were raped by the Maratha contingent on 11 July 1971. The church building was abandoned by the villagers after that incident.

Of the reports, one of the most pitiable incidents occured in 1962. The village of Matikhru was attacked by the Indian army and all the women and children were chased out of the village. After that all the male adults were tortured and beheaded. This was followed by the burning of the village. The village holds an annual Remembrance day when they re-enact the killing of the 12 male members of the village.

The conflict which began as a peaceful resistance of Indian occupation escalated into a violent full-scale war after the death of Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhiji had supported the Naga right to remain independent of India and even declared that anyone who tried to force them into the Indian Union would have to deal with him first. Sadly the Mahatma was killed in that first rush after independence and Nehru, the first Prime Minister of free India, chose the path of military aggression to make the Nagas submit.

At the height of military oppression in 1956, the Naga Army was formed and its members traveled to China and East Pakistan to find arms to fight the Indian army. Subsequent groups that went to China in the mid-70s were exposed to Chinese Marxist ideology. Factional killings begun by breakaway groups erupted in the Naga National Council in this period, eroding the Naga cause through the years.

In 1980, the first factional group called themselves the National Socialist Council of Nagaland and used the slogan, "Nagaland for Christ." After some years, there was a split in the NSCN, and two factional groups appeared, the Isak Muivah and the Khaplang factions. The factions began killing off the leaders of the Naga National Council, and drug addicts and drug peddlers, as well as members of their rival groups on a large scale right through the 80s, 90s and up till 2008. In the continuous infighting amongst the Naga freedom fighters, Naga society was riven apart by extortion, and rapid brutalization.

Today, many young Nagas struggle with a confused identity. This confusion began after India launched its war of occupation and enacted the creation of Naga statehood in 1963. Statehood was an agreement between a small group of Nagas and the Delhi government. Under statehood, Indian citizenship was imposed on Nagas, but they were denied many of the rights of citizens of India under the Indian constitution. Laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act and the Disturbed areas act took away the fundamental rights of Nagas and continued to put them at the mercy of the armed forces.

The situation in the Indian metropolises is worrying. Students and workers from the Northeast continue to face a large percentage of racist attacks. The Times of India dated Oct 27, 2009 carried a long article entitled, "Girls from NE soft target in city." It listed various incidents including the rape and murder of a 6 year old girl from the North-east, the murder of a Naga girl by an IIT student and the beating up of Naga and a number of North-east people by locals. Sexual harassment and rape of Naga girls were initially denied redressal by the police in Indian cities but by 2009, the Ministry DonNER had decided to set "North-East Connect" to provide relief to beleaguered students (Assam Tribune, Oct 30, 2009).

The North East Support and Help Centre (NESHC), a very crucial helpline begun in September 2007, recorded that 86 percent of people from the Northeast had experienced racist attacks. Shortly after the murder of the Naga girl, the Times of India carried two more reports on Nov 7 and Nov 9, 2009 on the beating up of two Naga students and the molestation of a Naga girl. The bitterness and suspicion between the mainland Indians and Nagas in Indian cities easily triggers new conflicts contributing to the alienation.

In Nagaland, Christian groups and civil society groups such as the Naga Mothers Association, Naga Hoho, Naga Baptist Church Council, the Gaonbura and Dobashi association, Naga Students Federation and Naga Christian Fellowship have vainly tried time and again to bring the warring Naga groups to reconcile with each other. However, in 2009, all the peace efforts seemed to be making some headway. The State Police recorded a total of 12 factional killings as contrasted with a total of 300 in the previous years (source: Comparative Crime Statistics for the year 2006, 2007, 2008 up to 15th dec, 2009. Nagaland Police) give the source of the statistics.

With killings on the decline and the active efforts of the Forum for Naga Reconciliation (FNR) group, there seemed to be a flickering light in the horizon. The Nagas were hopeful that the quest for lasting peace in these long-troubled, tear-sodden hills of home was in sight. The Reconciliation team is made up of apex tribal bodies and organizations and has been very active for the last 36 months of its life. Led by Dr Wati Aier, the FNR brought the NSCN IM and the NSCN K to sign a "Covenant of Reconciliation" declaration where both parties promised to pursue Naga reconciliation and forgiveness.

Though there have been a few hiccups, the forum is still maintaining course and found support from the international Baptist World Alliance which consists of 120 nations. The BWA which met in Kuala Lumpur in July 2011 passed a resolution supporting the Naga reconciliation process (report carried in The Morung Express July 9, 2011). The FNR's appeal to the Naga public makes the search for peace a community responsibility.

This book is not meant to be read as a history textbook. For the purpose of reading about the history of the Naga struggle, researchers should read comprehensive books on the topic for example, The Naga Chronicle, The Naga Saga, Nagaland File and Naga identities and The Naga resistance. This book is not about the leaders and heroes of the Naga struggle. It is about the ordinary people whose lives were completely overturned by the freedom struggle. Because the conflict is not more important than the people who are its victims.

Easterine

September 2011.

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