Volume 17 Number 4
Who Will Break the Chain of Hate?
01 August 2004

'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind', said Mahatma Gandhi.

A chain of revenge and counter-revenge starting from unhealed hurts is the story inside every conflict. The chain becomes bloodier with every act of 'paying them back in their own coin'. Some current conflicts threaten to spiral out of control. It is easy for those outside to pass judgement from comfortable distances. But for those directly involved, the possible consequences of defeat are so grave that hitting back good and hard, to cause maximum damage, is seen as the only safe road map to follow. Meanwhile, more and more families and communities are subjected to fear, hate and destruction beyond what the human spirit should have to bear.

We must all take responsibility for the terrible legacy of revenge. It is after all the human family which has nurtured this legacy, and allowed it to become the monster it is. Each of us has to recognize where we have ignored the hurt we have caused others, and made them think revenge is the answer. 'An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind', as Mahatma Gandhi said.

In his novel, The Devils of Loudon, Aldous Huxley wrote, 'Those who crusade not for God in themselves, but against the devil in others, never succeed in making the world better.' When I came upon this recently, it jolted me. I realized with shame that in my work for reconciliation among my people in Nagaland, I had gone quite far in crusading against the devil in others and received applause and public recognition for this. I felt I was exposing evil, weakening 'anti-social elements'. But I was not aware of how this had killed my sense of my need for God and his guidance, grace, purity and wisdom.

One day a friend told me that the way I had made my point at a meeting of Naga leaders had deeply embittered a group of people. After careful reflection I wrote to the person I was told I had embittered, asking him to forgive me and to help me to see the things in me which hurt or annoy others. He immediately wrote back thanking me and asking for a chance to talk.

For half a century we Nagas, who live on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border, have struggled desperately for our aspirations. A sketch, written in the 1970s and based on the true story of a Naga family, tells of a mother who has lost two sons in inter-tribal rivalry for control of the struggle, and whose third son is about to set off to avenge their deaths. She cries out:
Who will break the chain of hate?
Who will break the chain of sorrow?
Ancient wrongs shed blood today,
Wrongs today shed blood tomorrow.
Who will break the chain of hate and fear?

Thirty years on Nagas are still struggling. But our struggle now includes a parallel search 'to break the chain' so that the peace process and unconditional talks going on with the Government of India may lead to an honourable settlement. Nagas have understood the urgency of going beyond the blame and revenge which have paralysed relationships within the Naga family.

In December 2001, Naga Hoho, the apex body of all Naga tribes on both sides of the Indo-Myanmar border, and the Nagaland Christian Forum launched an initiative for reconciliation. At the launching ceremony, the presidents of 29 tribes read out a pledge they had signed on behalf of their tribes.

The pledge stated: 'We will start a process whereby we will truthfully examine the ways and areas in which we may have hurt others so that the needed changes may begin with us, leading to practical steps of restitution to make healing lasting. We will go beyond seeing only where others have hurt us and be ready to see where we too may have provoked them to hurt us, so that forgiving and being forgiven will become possible.'

It was a powerful moment. Many wept as they heard a choir sing, 'Healing in our nation'. Ten orphaned children, victims of the political violence in Nagaland, stood beside, or were held by, the singers. Others spoke, forgiving those who had hurt their families grievously, or simply said they had come to learn about forgiveness as they too wanted to play their part.

Many Nagas do believe we have been given a dependable road map which all sides can trust as we walk together to find a just solution. It has come from our acknowledgement of the failure of past ways to meet present and future needs. May the first steps taken together in faith inspire us to transform the obstacles ahead into our common strength. This is our prayer and commitment.

Other conflicts are, admittedly, more complicated, older and wider in scope. But they too are often sustained by a failure to acknowledge that we each have our share of responsibility in the wrongs of others. The decision by the Nagas to try a new way in their corner of the world may help others in their reflection on new ways forward.

Niketu Iralu was Convenor of the Coordination Committee preparing the ground for renewed negotiations between Nagas and India, and is a member of the Nagaland Baptist Church Peace Committee.

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