Starting with resolving the issues of conflict-driven drug addiction and alcoholism, the NMA has inserted itself into the state-Naga peace process, with women finally having a say.
Neidonuo Angami was born in a village in Kohima, Nagaland, on 1 October 1950, at a time when Nagaland was ravaged by fierce hostilities between the Naga underground army and Indian security forces. She spent her early childhood hiding out in the dense, precarious jungles. When she was six years old, her father, an interpreter with the state administration, was captured and killed. Her mother did her best for Neidonuo and her four siblings under strenuous economic conditions. The conflict, and its personal backwash, seared all of them.
Neidonuo started formal education only at the age of eight, studying at Kohima's Cambridge School (now the Mezhur Higher Secondary School). She then went on to Baptist English School and the Government High School, from where she matriculated in 1968. She was active in extracurricular activities, often leading her school's contingent during interschool parades and National Cadet Corps activities.
After her pre-university from Kohima College, Neidonuo became a sub-inspector in the first batch of Nagaland's women police force. It was a brief stint. She got married and had three daughters. Between 1972 and 1974 she worked as a teacher in Kohima. Neidonuo also formed the Nagaland Weavers' Association, facilitating the participation of various groups in international trade fairs.
The Naga Mothers Association (NMA) was formed on 14 February 1984 as a state-level voluntary organization mandated to fighting social evils. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, social problems--especially alcoholism and drug addiction--had become forbidding, breaking up families and causing street violence and theft. Neidonuo and some mothers met to discuss how to cope with these challenges. They emerged feeling strongly that it is the homebound mother who suffers most, and that only mothers understand the extent of damage that these situations cause to the social fabric.
A common maternal platform originated to combat violence and its resultant social evils. Every Naga tribe sent its representative, and the NMA came into being. Neidonuo served as its first general-secretary (1984-1992) and went on to become its president for two consecutive terms.
In her association with the NMA, Neidonuo has been instrumental in the emergence of several other establishments: the NMA Youth and Women Welfare Organization (1986), to fight drug abuse and trafficking, alcoholism, and HIV/AIDS; Mt Gilead Home (1989), a rehabilitation center for drug addicts and alcoholics, the first of its kind in India; the NMA HIV/AIDS Care Hospice (2001); an income-generation paper recycling project with the Mt Gilead Home.
Neidonuo's most crucial contribution through these years has been the boost her activities have given the peace process. Among other moves, she launched a peace movement with the leitmotiv, "Shed No More Blood". This campaign led to a meeting between various Naga underground groups and the NMA, giving the former an opportunity to meet and share the pain and grief of Naga mothers. Having attended innumerable funerals, Neidonuo deeply felt the gravity of the anguish that attended the struggle. In all her speeches, she asked the Naga men to stop slaughtering their own people, and spoke for thousands of dispossessed mothers. The NMA appealed for a total cessation to the killings, offering itself for a mediatory role. As a result, the NMA joined hands with other mass-based organizations such as the Naga HoHo (the apex body of all Naga tribes), the Naga Students Federation, and the Naga People's Movement for Human Rights. Together, they nurtured and sustained the ceasefire between the Naga underground groups and the government, and midwifed the ongoing peace process.
At a time when unidentified dead bodies were legion, the NMA took the initiative to honor the dead. It worked alongside government agencies to prepare coffins and burial grounds; it collected Naga shawls from various churches and women's bodies to cover the dead with full Naga honor, and organized funerals with local pastors. This honoring of human life even in the face of death gave the NMA the amplitude to appeal for peace.
In many situations, Neidonuo and her colleagues virtually placed themselves between warring factions and risked becoming victims of the gratuitous killings inevitable in armed conflicts. Arranging a meeting with the leaders involved, first, building trust and confidence, and slowly working their way up to the top leaders. The NMA had to have a number of closed-door, very low-key, secret meetings with a few people before it went public about its meetings. The ceasefire agreement between the Government of Nagaland and the Naga underground leaders helped tremendously in facilitating these meetings. In a sort of mirroring, because of these trust-building meetings, the government and the underground leaders are able to keep extending the ceasefire.
Neidonuo and her colleagues made several visits to underground camps under very difficult situations to listen to the non-State armies and plead with them to come to the negotiating table. The NMA and its sister organization, the Naga Women Union of Manipur (NWUM), went to all the Northeastern states to meet civil societies and government leaders. Neidonuo and her colleagues also met with leaders in New Delhi - a sort of serial methodology - requesting them to expedite the Naga peace process. She represented the NMA in various consultations for the peace process held in Nagaland, Thailand, and New Delhi.
Neidonuo was involved with the "Journey of Conscience"--a people-to-people dialogue initiated in 2000, in which several Naga people's organizations participated-- from the conceptualization stage through execution and completion. About 70 Nagas traveled to New Delhi, and were joined by 2,000 Naga students in the city. They met with Indian civil society groups, journalists, lawyers, student bodies, professors, social workers, and politicians. The Naga people felt that confabulations must go beyond negotiating rooms, and that people on both sides must get fully involved in the peace process. They also felt that the Naga struggle carries a lot of misconceptions in the Indian media, and that the people of India are deprived of the true stories and suffering of the Naga people.
With no professional skill or support, Neidonuo and her colleagues have built up a successful peace initiative. Naga women, after all, are believed to be traditional peacemakers. But after the NMA became deeply involved in peace and reconciliation activities, its members realized the requisite for exposure and training: they attended training sessions organized by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America in Kolkata in 1999. They also attended a number of workshops and seminars in India and abroad. Neidonuo was instrumental in disseminating this expertise through peace meetings, workshops, rallies, and visits to various Naga areas, especially those most severely affected.
Today, Naga women have a role in the peace process between the State agencies and the non-State army. The trust-building process continues even in the midst of occasionally resurgent violence and constant suspicion. The NMA has provided a common platform for different parties and factions to meet and dialogue with one another.
However, peace-building is a fulltime job. Neidonuo, who is a single mother, is also responsible for caring for her aging mother. Her fully active work leaves her with very little time to care adequately for her family. She has also had to confront structures and systems that pointedly never discouraged human rights violations. She saw how vested interests determined the rate, frequency, and randomness of individual victimization. In a state that comprised different ethnic groups, she was often misunderstood, accused of being biased towards one group or being antigovernment. Her family has had to bear the brunt of this constant expression of public opinion, living with the fear of attrition on her life.
In 2000, the government marked its appreciation of Neidonuo's role in the peace process by conferring the prestigious Padmashree Award on her. Cobbling together two sides of a bitter, protracted war seems to have become a woman's prerogative.
Neidonuo Angami was born at a time when Nagaland was ravaged by combat between the Naga underground army and Indian security forces. She spent her early childhood hiding in the dense jungles. The mother of three girls, Neidonuo is the driving force behind the NMA, which was formed in 1984, and of which she is one of the founding members and former president. In the late 1970s and the early 1980s, social problems in the state-especially alcoholism and drug addiction-had become severe. Neidonuo and a few mothers, while meeting to share their concerns, felt very strongly that mothers suffer the most in conflict situations, and that there ought to be a common platform for them.
Neidonuo's signal contribution is the fillip her activities have given the peace process. She launched the Shed No More Blood campaign, which led to a meeting between various Naga underground groups and the NMA. Neidonuo and her colleagues often virtually inserted themselves between warring factions and risked becoming victims. In the long run, however, these trust-building meetings have helped the government and the underground leaders to keep extending the ceasefire. Another remarkable initiative was the Journey of Conscience, a people-to-people dialogue in 2000. Neidonuo was involved with it from its conception through execution and completion. About 70 Nagas traveled to New Delhi to meet civil society groups, officials, and other concerned people. They felt that colloquy must go beyond negotiating rooms, and that people on both sides must get fully involved in the peace process.
With no professional skills or support, Neidonuo and her colleagues have built up a successful peace initiative. Today, Naga women have a role in the peace process between the state agencies and the nonstate army.
The prolonged and sustained half-century-long Naga political standoff with the Indian government has resulted in killings, displacements, militarization, and economic disparities. The conflict and tension have also led to incredible levels of alcoholism and drug abuse in Nagaland.
Naga Mothers Association (NMA)
South Asia | India