British Connect - Eastern Mirror
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Editorial

British Connect

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Oct 27, 2016 11:10 pm

There is a delicious irony to the British Council India’s new-found desire to develop new connections with our Naga culture. As reported in the local newspapers on Thursday, the director of British Council India, Alan Gemmel has announced that this year’s Hornbill Festival will feature “a British connect with a series of cultural activities”. He has been quoted as saying: “We are very keen to develop stronger partnerships with cultural institutions across India, particularly in the northeast and Nagaland”. This is part of the cultural exchange programmes that Britain and India have agreed to conduct this year – aimed at developing better relation and new connections between the two countries in the future.

While the entire package of this British connect program features music, fashion and educational relationships as well – it is the cultural aspect that really prompts the irony. The director of the British Council India is right in his assertion that “there is a long and rich set of connection that exists between Britain and Nagaland.” After all, Naga people were under British administration for more than half a century. And it’s not even seventy years since they left Naga soil as colonial rulers. There is no doubt that the British arrival, in association with the American Baptist missionaries, brought education to our land. The Naga people became civilized.

But they were also told that theirs was the way of the savages – that the Naga culture was uncivilized. There is no arguing the fact that the living conditions of our forefathers back then were what we consider today as not advanced. It certainly needed polishing and education. But with the sweeping colonial ideology and its Euro-centered worldview that gave birth to such romantic notions as the “manifest destiny” and the “white man’s burden” of bringing western civilization and Christianity to the rest of the supposedly benighted and heathen world, the Naga culture was also victim of it, wholesale. The process was without any filter, and even today we are feeling the effects of that same process. From A, we were fast-tracked to Z. Without really mastering the remaining letters from B to Y, we were reconfigured to accept Z (the white man’s civilization) as the ultimate.

The biggest collateral damage of that process was perhaps our culture. By dismissing the Naga way, back then, as savage, wild and uncivilized the British colonial rulers had set in motion the slow death of the Naga culture. It can certainly be argued that it was the American missionaries who played the bigger role in the demise of the Naga culture, which was closely linked to their belief system back then – animism. It was the missionaries who prohibited the newly converts from practicing their old ways. It is said that some of the British administrators were actually inclined towards letting the Nagas live their own way of life.

But all arguments end when we consider that everything that happened was under the watch of the British rulers. They certainly were guilty of being half-hearted in their convictions to preserve the Naga way, if they had any. Today there are attempts to revive the same culture – most visibly in the form of the Hornbill Festival. We call it tourism these days, which is all fine because we have an economy to run and sustain. But it is also in this context that the irony strikes.

A century ago, the British people came to our land, branded our culture as uncivilized and installed their own. Today, the British people are coming to our land as tourists to witness us parade our culture that they once dismissed as uncivilized. More than being mere tourists, they want to connect with our culture today. Without any prejudice or malice, this however, has the feel of a curious cycle coming to full circle for sure.

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By The Editorial Team Updated: Oct 27, 2016 11:10:18 pm
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