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CHINGMAK KEJONG

India,

Chingmak Kejong combines modern values and traditional governance to involve all sectors of society in the process of democratization in Northeast India.

This profile below was prepared when Chingmak Kejong was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.

INTRODUCTION

Chingmak Kejong combines modern values and traditional governance to involve all sectors of society in the process of democratization in Northeast India.




THE NEW IDEA

Chingmak introduces less-engaged members of society to the concept of modern civil society to promote democratization, civic participation, and government accountability. Although apathy generally characterizes the mood of the public in Northeast India, community is the historical foundation of traditional tribal governance. Chingmak's conception of a functional, contemporary government relies on the participation of diverse sectors of society to inform public decision-making. By reinvolving elders and including women and young people in the governing process, he fosters leadership, facilitates the reemergence of community-based activism, and helps draw attention to the issues affecting people the most. He is strengthening governance using traditional Naga community values and practices, such as reasserting the role of elders, promoting leaders with character, and bringing accountability back into governance. Though he is rooting governance in traditional systems, he recognizes the importance of incorporating modern democratic values like greater participation by all people in planning and decision-making, giving women a voice in governance, and building leadership among youth and children. Chingmak advocates a strategy that marries traditional and modern aspects of governance so that people can have forward-looking and yet effective systems for managing their lives and affairs.




THE PROBLEM

Rapid cultural modernization and loss of historical identity have caused major rifts in the Naga society of Northeast India. In addition to fractures in tribal unity, people now deal with political corruption, widespread violence and crime, drug abuse, HIV/AIDS infection, and unemployment. People who earlier had control over their lives and their affairs have suddenly become mere bystanders. Many community norms, traditional institutions, and practices for dealing with affairs have fallen by the wayside in the shift to Western-style democracy. The Nagas historically focused on leaders with character, but under the easily corrupted contemporary system, the wealthy have emerged as political leaders. However, they have not earned the respect on which chiefs have traditionally relied. As a result, the community members have rapidly lost faith in public representatives and become politically apathetic in the process.

With the failure of the government to involve its citizens, the church has become the most influential institution among the Nagas. However, church leaders ignore the problems caused by bad governance and choose to avoid worldly problems and social issues. Moreover, traditional organizations, which are headed by small groups of highly educated urban elites called the Hoho, exclude women and young people. This disconnect between the major actors in the Naga community and the regional government–with its alienating social policies–continues to prevent real change that will benefit the whole society. Only when people learn to lead themselves will there truly be governance for all.




THE STRATEGY

Chingmak's strategy lies in the conversion of indifferent social bystanders into active citizens with control over their own governance. He introduces the concept of civil society into the community through participatory group assessment activities like role-playing and original skits. Based on these programs' findings, Chingmak helps the villagers establish a place for Citizens' Forums of elders in their communities. The Citizens' Forums act as central-planning bodies for the villages.

Through civil society training and the establishment of Citizens' Forums, Chingmak helps diverse groups, including elders, women, youth, and church representatives, stake a claim in public decision-making. They take on issues ranging from education to local construction and infrastructure projects. In order to influence the formal Village Committees and address the most important regional needs, community members form local societies like the Parents' Education Committees. As a result, locals can both mobilize community resources for immediate effectiveness and create a model for more long-term change.

In addition to the Citizens' Forums and local societies, Chingmak facilitates the creation of women's groups to secure full recognition of many interests that had formerly been overlooked or ignored. In 2002, Naga women's groups inspired a groundbreaking District Collector order that prevents development funds from being released to any village that does not include women in its central management committee. Chingmak feels that it is only a matter of time before women also take part in Citizens' Forums and other traditional bodies.

One of Chingmak's most important objectives has been to promote the church's involvement in the pressing issue of HIV/AIDS. As part of its categorical noninvolvement in topics it perceives as being outside of its realm, the church has shied away from participation in the fight against the epidemic spread of sexually transmitted diseases despite their tremendous threat to Northeast India's youth. By taking advantage of his own position and credibility as pastor in one of Nagaland's largest churches, Chingmak established an unlikely alliance of pastors from different denominations throughout the Northeast. Now, several training and awareness programs later, the clerics have become counselors and educators on the topics of sexual health and World AIDS Day is a major event on the church calendar.

Based on his success bringing concepts from civil government to the church and the community at large, Chingmak began to integrate a place for the Chang Hoho, the highest Naga tribal decision-making body, to lend more formality to Citizens' Forums. He facilitated a consultation on the communalization of schools and is working with the Hoho to establish a link with a Citizens' Forum in every village. Chingmak envisions that, with time, members of the Citizens' Forums (including women) will be elected to the Hoho and to similar forums and Hoho relationships will be adopted all over the region. He is already preparing plans for a training institute, which will draw from the successes in the Naga region to help replicate his program in other areas and fulfill his goal of engaging all Indians in the governmental process.




THE PERSON

Since his high school years, Chingmak has been troubled by his tribe's loss of traditional values and poor adjustment to modern life. As a young man, he organized debates among his peers within the church on topics ranging from the importance of local culture to the traditional sanctity of marriage contracts to the adverse effect of religion on community life.

Chingmak became a pastor for a small village church but was criticized by his wife for preaching religion while members of his congregation died from drug and alcohol abuse and AIDS. He left the church and founded the Eleutross Christian Society to address the issues affecting young people the most. After a decade of offering only temporary solutions, however, Chingmak realized that the answers lay in the strength of the community. He felt that he could not go on sweeping society's dirt from the surface but instead needed to dig deep into the Naga community to instill the skills necessary to manage affairs from the bottom up.

At 36, Chingmak has established himself as a credible and effective leader and has begun garnering attention from both the government and powerful church circles. He is a member of several influential policy organizations shaping public decision-making on education, drugs, and HIV/AIDS. Though he is still young, Chingmak is permanently committed to his idea and is building a strong infrastructure with which to launch his program on statewide and national levels.




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