Nagas in Social Dilemma
By: U A Shimrat
A general perception that getting ?urban-exposure? is like baptising to so-called ?modernisation.? Nowadays, the urban and rural characteristics imposed certain social and economic entity in defining the concept of modernity. In urban, people can access to various kinds of materials and economic infrastructure. Perhaps, higher the ?accessibility? to the urban assets enhances the modern expression as well as impression. Or is the criteria like driving expensive cars, going discotheque, eating out very weekend become the symbols of modern expression? In most of the time, modernisation is measure based on criteria, expression and status. There is misunderstanding in the conceptual framework of modernity and westernisation (also ?westoxication.?). We mistakenly accept the concept of modernity in term of material comfort and money culture. The concept of modernisation in material outlook per se is more or less aping of western culture. As we see the present trends of modernisation is much more than an outer manifestation of lifestyles.
The term modernity has been misrecognised in many traditional societies. It is often evaluate in term of materialistic outlook, technological advancement and contemporary artifacts. No doubt, these parameters are important and necessity in daily life. But, this is not the parameters to judge for any social development. Well-known Sociologist, Dipankar Gupta in his book, ?Mistaken Modernity? rightly pointed out that modernity has to do with attitudes, especially those that come into play in social relations. He further emphasis that modernity is characterized by an attitude of equality with, respect for others. It also demands a baseline similarity so that people can live with dignity and can realistically avail of opportunities to their better condition of existence.
In traditional societies like Nagas, the parameters of culture, values, and practices were the main social organ and identity. These components integrate the social fabric and uphold the traditions and heritages. Let us understand the overview of social attitude and modernisation in the Naga society. Allow me, here, I am writing my own perspective of what I understand the word modernity. My understanding in the present view of modernity may be old-fashioned approach.
Phase of Transition
No nation can maintain its greatness by disowning its roots, values and legacy. Like other traditional societies, the Nagas also possess rich traditions, value system, culture and heritages. For, over a period of time immense distortions have crept into the Naga traditions. The transition of Naga social elements began when the ?world? made contact with the Nagas during British colonial expansion in the Indo-Burma frontier (Myanmar). The introduction of western education and Christian faith brought tremendous changes in the ?Nagas way of life? and belief systems. These two doctrines came along with western ideas, image and lifestyles. It was in a way, a turning point in the history where the Nagas confronted with the reality of a much bigger world. Eventually, but inevitably, could not ignore the circumstance and so close to embrace it. With that the old Naga ?way of life? came to wear away consequently.
Many Naga and non-Naga scholars have already been written about the Christianity and modern education on western lines and concept. Indeed, as a result of rapid growth of education and Christianity there is a drastic shift in socio-cultural system. The modern education improves Naga livelihood and health status, and diversifies economic system. The spread of Christianity brought both positive and negative impact in Naga society. The changes include belief system, mindset and attitudes. However, this new faith virtually wears the traditional foundation like dances, folk songs, customs, practices and stories. The new religion based on church system brings radical changes in the social practices (also the changes helped in the emergence of some sort of socio-religious institution and unified platform). The Christianity re-modelled the Naga traditions by abolishing feast of merit, ceremonies and rituality. The feast of merit, disapproved by the missionaries in fact has important social and economic functions. Given feast of merit is a social reciprocal system manifesting generosity, compassion and concern to the community.
Moreover, such practices enhance social cohesiveness and communitarian feelings. Today, many young people do not even remember the traditional stories; do not know the songs and dances.
In this context, I would rather agree to Varrier Elwin who openly attacked the work of missionaries for their irrational teaching to the tribals. He argued that they undermine tribal traditional institutions- they taught the tribal to be ashamed of their own culture. The convert was made to abandon the developed traditions of song and dance, and customs. During the process of proselytisation many Naga customs and culture have been abandoned even burnt and destroyed beyond repair. Subsequently, many cultural practices become Christian taboos portraying as ?sin? things. Drinking Naga rice beer is ban among the Baptist denomination. The traditional festivals is abandoned (give priority to Christmas), folk songs and dances is dying (taking over by hymn), traditional games is no more popular (chess, carom, card, etc., is coming in). The Naga game called ?the tiger and the men? is nowhere to be found. The process created a ?vacuum? between the Naga traditions and the Christian faith. And it is not fill sufficiently by the early missionaries and educated Nagas. Much could be comprehend is that this vacuum would later threaten the Naga identity and social solidarity. At the moment, I am not saying Nagas is totaling losing traditional authoritarianism.
Today, many Nagas fail to understand the implications that the ?past? lives with the ?present? and is inseparable from the ?present?. The most unfortunate is the present generation who is not aware of the Naga rich cultural heritage and tradition. Instead of keeping the tradition, the Naga tends to follow white man?s belief system (a kind of paradigm that man was created to dominate and control nature). As said, land and natural endowment is the foundation of the Naga society. The fact is the present Nagas fail to understand the deeply rooted philosophy. It was the sense of values, which made past Naga so great. Moreover, there is lack of any urgency in rediscovering the values, ethics and indigenous knowledge system. Or is the process of modernisation superceded the concept of traditionalism? This reminds me of a statement given by the eminent jurist, Nani Palkhivala- ?It has been my long-standing conviction that India is like a donkey carrying a sack of gold- the donkey does not know what it is carrying but is content to go along with the load on its back. The load of gold is a fantastic treasure- in arts, literature, culture, and some sciences like Ayurvedic medicines- which we have inherited from the days of the splendor that was India?.
Naga society is in the stage of labyrinth crossroad of social dilemma. The social dilemma includes psyche and perception as well as modernity. The Nagas is indeed in fast lane changing the gear quite fast. Many dramatic transformations have been taking place in the society in term of qualitative and quantitative statistical outputs. But, what is the tragic is ignorance of the Naga traditions. The traditional ?treasures? is not fully utilise for the advantage of the community. The treasures like arts, culture, ethic and indigenous knowledge system and are threatening in the midst of what is called modernisation influence. Here, another ?vacuum? is created between the Naga traditions and modernity. The modernisation process is overwhelmed with western ideas, image and concept. At this trend, exert of external pressure is so strong which sweep the treasures at the threshold of losing faces. Much is seen in the present situation. The entertainments too are shifting more towards satellite culture and less space is given to traditional entertainments (festivals, songs and dances and leisure). These make the third vacuum in the Naga cultural ethos.
Now, the question that needs to ponder is the perception of modernity. In the Naga society, the level of modernity is measures in term of materialism and money power. Look at the urban Naga, what goes by the name of modernisation is nothing but blind aping of western life patterns. The Nagas is receptive to new ideas and concepts. But, the ?receptivity? become ?vulnerable? on one hand, as the present education systems is not prepare to rationalise in absorbing the exogenous ideas. This results in a ?submissive response? to alien ideas and customs. And the influenced idea tends to dictate the concept not in Naga perspectives. This manifests that modernisation process is taking on the guise of westoxication. In fact, successful modernity does not supercede a tradition or shift it in different direction. The basic essence of modernisation is much more than an outer manifestation of lifestyles.
The Naga attitudinal behaviour still manifests immature social system. The essence of tolerance, accommodation, principle, dignity and accountability is changing in the midst mistaken modernity. This basic essence is eroded due the emergence of money culture, market force and greed. Of course, the present money power pose major detrimental factor in the social development. The money culture is an outcome of the Naga political struggle and has direct correlation. Since the inception of full scale Indo-Naga conflict, the State machinery systematically pumping massive sum of money in Naga society in order to facilitate sectarian politics. The systematic manipulation weans away section of the Naga people. This has results a rampant corruption, greed and individualism. No doubt, the money culture has done colossal damaged in the social system. For instance, emergence of class system (so-called elite), pressure group, partisan attitude in the society (Naga forget to invest the money for infrastructural development instead drain away in a few individual pocket). The process eventually allows submissive response paving way to exogenous influence to play major role and control. The above situation and factors make the society aggressive, corrupt, intolerance and irrational. Christianity doctrine too fails to deliver from this confusion stage.
Attitude and Unification
The Naga spirit of ?nationalism? emerged not due to the enthusiastic ambition. But it is established eventually based on historical facts and socio-cultural similarity. Naga history cannot be a mere reference to the ?tour-diary? of British adventurous political agent and anthropologists. As noted earlier, Nagas translate history through the tradition of oral narration, folk songs and dance. Naga does not have much to boast about its history traditions in writing. Today, the Naga needs what E.M.Carr says (in his book ?What is History?), ?to review the present in the light of the past also means learning about the past in the light of the present?. Such exercise in fact, promotes a deeper understanding of both past and present through the inter-relation between them.
In the Naga political struggle, the demand of Naga unification of all Naga inhabited areas is one main agenda. Unfortunately, the demand is yet to materialise. The rational reason behind the non-unification of Nagas is mainly attributed by social and political factors. In social front there is lack of emotional attachment/integration, attitudinal differences, intolerance and individualism. The political reason is lack of consensus. The methodical external political interference and internal politicking have done great damaged in the struggle. Naga political system have breed too many pseudo-leadership as well as ?ism? among the Naga communities (this is also true in case of the Naga social organisations). The tragedy is misuse of the political struggle and creating mental barrier and suspicion among the various Naga groups.
At this juncture, the unification among the various Naga groups should begin at the bottom level starting right from the individual and self. One important pre-condition in Naga unification is to uphold the traditional value system at the same time, keeping the attitude of tolerance, accommodation, and communitarian feelings. The main stumbling obstruction in Naga unification is not the political dimension or intra-ethnic hatred or inter-community interference but the attitude and mindset of individualism. Sometimes, we give too much blame to the politics.
One question that needs to ask is Nagas? attitude and scope of modernity in the society. At the moment, the attitudinal level and accommodation mindset is low below the horizon. The trend of modernity and attitude is falling into the line of political patronization, corruption (emotionally and spiritually), ism, hatred and factionalism. Yet, not to lose hope but must cultivate hope, a hope that every individual break free from the bondage of receptive westoxication and individualist mindset. As Dipankar Gupta said, ?(y)et, in spite of the many differences that exist among people, modernity demands a baseline similarity so that people can live with dignity and realistically avail of opportunities to better their conditions of existence.?
Today Naga politics is a mess and complex phenomenon. It is true that the Naga politics struggle begun to repel many young persons. It is because the historic-political consciousness and enthusiastic among the youth is dying. The present multiplying problems have put the Nagas to a severe test. No doubt, a sharp line is drawn among the respective communities. Therefore, this gap needs to build a bridge of negotiation, understanding and sincerity. With this essence, Naga should move forwards for the constructive modernisation and attitude.
Modernity is nothing to do with a mere based of explicit exponential growth of urbanisation and industrialisation but an attitude of equality with respect for other. Understanding own culture would give the true concept of modernity and personality. Both the Naga traditions and modernity outlook can co-exist and supplement to each other. In other word, contextualise and adapt in Naga way of life. It is a matter of adoption and adjustment, that is, to traditionalise the modernisation process vis-୶is modernise the tradition. The most fundamental thing to keep in mind is an essence of adoption to an extent of desirable perspective depending on the need and respectively of a society.
Today, it is a new perspective of the very world that had known, now revealed in all its complexities in many ways. This sense of awe and wonder was felt less by the successive generations that come. Here, the word modernity becomes one confusing paradigm for the Nagas. This modernisation process immense changes the attitude, outlook, personality and in general the society. It would perhaps be a hasty generalisation that the sense of community feeling has been substituted by individualism in Naga life. And the vacuum created in the Naga society is the overall fall-out of modernisation process
The basic objective must be draw appropriate lessons from history, culture and value system. The present generation needs urgency in rediscovering the roots, the values, ethics and indigenous knowledge system. The recovery process need to fill the vacuum, that is, the vacuum between Naga traditions and Christianity and modernity also, unification. Or else the spirit and aggressive process of unkind modernisation would supercede the tradition and Naga identity.