Hindu influence on the Heraka Zeme of Nagaland

A group of nAga-s inspired, by rAni Gaidinliu, has remained heathen, and has successfully resisted Christianization in Nagaland. Their links with Hindus are among the topics explored in Longkumer’s thesis (pdf link). Excerpts are below:


Syncretism with Hinduism

The ideology of the RSS and VHP has already seeped into Heraka rhetoric and their talk is often peppered with these nation-building bumper stickers. Phrases such as ‘all religions have truth, compassion, and love and are like streams that go into the one ocean’ or ‘invasion of foreign religion and foreign culture will bring total destruction of Naga society. Beware of this danger’—are all too common. These phrases reflect neoHindu projection of self and tradition and constitute part of the mass programme of such unifying Hindu solidarity. Further, powerful symbols such as om and the svastika are commonly found in Heraka homes; images of Ram and Sita, distributed by VHP activists, find their way into these homes as well (see photographs 23 & 24). 185


The Bhuban cave pilgrimage and identity with viShNu:


Hindu support

Janjati Vikas Samiti (as registered in Nagaland) or Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram188 , under the umbrella of Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (ABVKA) 189 , are active with the Heraka in developmental projects, education and also in providing organisational support. Integration with ‘Bharat mata’ (mother land)190 is a huge financial and cultural investment, pursued by the Kalyan Ashram. For example, Kalyan Ashram has recognised Rani Gaidinliu and Haipou Jadonang as freedom fighters and have included these and other vanvasi leaders around India in a promotional poster that is pasted on almost all Heraka and Kalyan Ashram offices (see photograph 25).

In Saraswati Vidya Mandir, their morning pledge is: Bharat [India] is my motherland. All Bharatiyas are my brothers and sisters. I love my country. I am proud of her rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall give respect to my parents, Acharyas [teachers], Classmates and all elders and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and my People, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperities alone lies my happiness. BHARAT MATA KI JOY. 210


From the mysterious Nangalôg, a fabled past has been created that links the ‘Nagas’ to the rest of India. This tenuous link is strengthened by the position of ‘Hindu’ organisations whose aim is to embellish and preserve such links. They are thus able to tie the notion of vanvasi into the larger notion of a ‘Hindu’ identity, espoused by stalwarts of the RSS and VHP, and viewed as encompassing the land of the ‘Hindus’. Therefore, the Heraka are seen as preserving the sanatan dharma (eternal faith and culture), which is treated synonymously with traditional Hinduism.


Significant part of an otherwise patronizing quote from a VHP worker:

“As a teacher I want to help the Heraka preserve their culture. Heraka is related to Hindu: if I believe in a tree, I worship, same with the Heraka. Purnima (full moon day) is also similar; they, like us, also worship the sun. Heraka are called parampara 194 before becoming Heraka. Heraka is an early form of parampara [sic] 195 . The Hindus have no problem with accepting the Heraka in its fold, as it is also Hindu (religion of the soil). 1”

These patronising views are perhaps not uncommon among ‘Hindu’ groups, who often view the Heraka as helpless, and needing guidance. But the overall view is largely centred on the notion that the vanvasi population in general needs support to ‘progress’.

The ‘Hindu’ organisations say that they are unwilling to associate themselves with the rhetoric of ‘enlightenment’, ‘civilising’, and ‘saving’, which they consider a part of Christian mission ideology. However, they also often project this view unwittingly.


Conflict with Christianity

The Heraka and Paupaise on the other hand see the use of zao as an important part of their tradition and the Heraka have gone to the extent of justifying its use by using the popular slogan ‘loss of culture is loss of identity’. Most Heraka will state that slogan in a drunken stupor. When I first went to the Heraka village, I was given a cup of zao at five in the morning at one of the homes I was visiting. This first drink was surrounded by apprehension; the first suspicion about any outsider is that they are missionaries. By accepting the cup of zao, I was no longer a Christian missionary or a Baptist in their minds. 1

… That is to say, becoming Christian immediately brings improvement ‘not just in self-esteem but in health, education, and the prospect of social and economic advancement’ (Brown 2002: 7) which the former (Heraka) did not. There is therefore intense competition between the Heraka and Christian to have control over these ‘resources’ (schools being the prime example), which is further intensified with evangelisation on the part of the Christian church to convert the Heraka; while the Heraka work hard to maintain the status quo.

… While these developmental trends continue with the aid of ‘Hindu’ organisations, there is clear opposition by the Christian majority who attempt to thwart their plans. In Hsongle, where the Christians form the majority in the village council, they have been able to influence the council vote against the running of a Heraka school because it is partnered with the VHP.

… He told me that this ‘convert’ and his family had been disowned by his Heraka family and had been thrown out of his house and had nowhere to go. … I was witnessing a difficult displacement, not a massive mobilisation of population from one place to another, but of one family, clutching on to their possessions of cooking utensils, clothes, furniture and animals, and photos of Rani Gaidinliu in frames and tiny lockets around the neck of the mother and daughter. I could not help but wonder if they would dispense with those images?

…Moreover, he openly remarked that for him becoming Christian meant getting further education. He said he wanted to study theology. His intention, as many people told me (Heraka and Christian) was to develop his interest in politics and that, as he said, ‘becoming a Baptist would profit me, as Nagaland and most of the Nagas are Baptist and also the Baptists are the ones spear heading the movement for a Naga solution’. For Heseu, becoming Baptist speaks to his notion of a pan-Naga identity rooted in a particular understanding of Christianity.


Paupaise view

The Paupaise, the ancestral way of life, often do not understand why the Heraka and Christian quibble; in Paupaise eyes, they are the same (as in foreign), in that Christianity is started by Jesus Christ and Heraka by Ranima.

“I heard from others that Heraka is still practising Zeme song and dance. But the practice of song, dance, and wearing of ornaments alone is not complete Zemese and not complete Zeme. To be a complete Zeme and Zemese [Zeme practice], they should follow the rituals as we are doing, because they are original, from our ancestors. So Heraka are half-Zeme. What they are practising is empty (perua)’.”

…The Heraka would respond by saying, ‘the Paupaise generation is the kemeume generation (prophecy generation) and it is over. Now is the generation of the Heraka, as every people has generations that they live under according to the situation and context. 2


Subversion by Christian memes

…As much as they are comfortable with their position, they also realise that being seen as Hindu is a difficult road to tread. For example, students that attend ‘Hindu’ institutions reflect on the exercise of worshipping ‘Hindu’ gods with a little apprehension. 212 A former Heraka pupil told me, “for example, we have two aarti (prayers) in the evening: we pray to 2 to 3 gods: Lakshmi (wealth), Saraswati (knowledge), Ram/Sita (for us tribals, they are like our ancestors). Before we go to bed, we have two prayers: the first one is a mantra and we pray to Ishvaar (Bhagwan) to give us rest, then the Heraka have a prayer song, Ndibantu Dinkuinin. We don’t pray to the statues, or idols, but we pray to our unseen God, Tingwang.”

For the Christian and also to some extent the Heraka, monotheism implies a form of worship, which is anti-Hindu. God is in the sky, limitless, and accessible wherever one is. No earthly images, as with the ‘Hindus’, can portray such a powerful being. It is difficult to say if the Heraka are anti-Hindu here or just trying to beat the Baptist Christians at their own game.

…Indeed, the cosmology was reconstituted, with the abolition of various gods, reduction
in sacrifices, and the establishment of a monotheistic god. This enabled the Heraka to
change in a way that was demonstratively beneficial, aiding adaptation to a changing
world that the existing ancestral religion, Paupaise, could not.


Some harmless borrowing from Christianity:


Current situation

Now some estimates say that 90% of the Nagas are Christians. 208 The importance of Christianity has become imbedded in Naga identity not only as a religious tradition but as an act of cultural resistance to the largely ‘Hindu’ and ‘Muslim’ population of mainstream India (Baruah 2003: 329).

…English became attractive for upward mobility and government jobs; Nagas never really adopted Hindi as it was seen as the language of the ‘Indian rulers’. In fact, the official language of Nagaland is now English.

…Traditional clothes, necklaces, beads, wood carvings and so on were burnt publicly as a sign of shedding of ‘old clothes’ and taking on ‘the new body of Christ’. This symbolic Christian imagery not only affirmed the religious solidarity of the Nagas but it also led to the overhauling and indeed the loss of traditional culture overnight. Their aim was to create a gulf, to sever the ties between their ‘past’ lives and the present and future promise


Are the Heraka with Hindus and India?

It must be mentioned that the position of the Heraka is amorphous at best. They want to be part of the ‘Naga fold’ and have publicly stated so, but historically the Heraka have had a tense relationship with the Naga Christians over proselytising. Secondly, although the Heraka receive considerable support from ‘Hindu organisations’, they are wary to be seen as too close to them because then the Naga Christians will label them as ‘Hindu’ therefore jeopardising their relationship with the larger Naga population.

…Their numbers are largely
concentrated around North Cachar Hills, and Heraka is practised mainly among the
Zeme. Yet the majority of the Nagas are Christians. The Heraka are largely antiChristian
in their rhetoric because of conversion tactics employed by Christians in the
past. Therefore, they try to distance themselves from Christian schools (in some cases)
and instead rely on Government schools or schools started by the VHP like Saraswati
Vidya Mandir, Vivekananda Vidyalaya and Kendriya Vidyalaya

… Although the Zeme Heraka have endorsed their support for a ‘Naga solution’, they are in a difficult position, especially with relation to the Indian state (with the support of the RSS and VHP) on
the one hand, and the relation with the majority Christian Nagas on the other.

…The Heraka say that the Naga claim for independence should be based solely on the common ethnic links and not on religious affiliations.

…And, where better for
such Christians to target their propaganda but against Rani Gaidinliu, by questioning her
loyalty to the ‘Nagas’ and by making her an agent of ‘Hindu’ India? Rani Gaidinliu saw
the Naga Christian vision of either/or as limiting and countered such accusations by
stating her position that she was both Naga and Indian.

… In fact, the position of Rani Gaidinliu and the expression of her ‘Indianness’ as well as her ‘Naganess’ is something the Heraka does not want to draw attention to, due to the present political sensitivities. Naturally, the Heraka do not wish to commit to any single group or ideology in this system. Due to their ambiguous position, one gets the impression that the Heraka have to oscillate between these two powerful groups they have to confront and live with everyday.


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