Views & Reviews
Rights, Resources and the Covid-19 Crisis of Nagaland
Waking up to a slew of criticisms against the government seem to have become the new normal for the Covid-19 Pandemic phase in Nagaland. Apart from the red zones, the spaces people now fear to tread lately are the social media sites. It is all about what the government has not done and what they should do, and it’s just excessive. Yes, a democratic form of government allows us to critic the government and keep it in check, but too much of it and especially during an unprecedented, alien crisis as Covid-19, seems quite unhealthy. Before we have even learned to obey the rules of social distancing, we have all become social justice warriors. It’s like activism (of any form) has become synonymous with “always against the Government”. There is no denying that apart from the Covid-19 pandemic we also have the corruption pandemic, but the truth is that our system is corrupt and we are all part of it. It is a collective development of years. But a crisis such as this requires us to be more rational and less passionate; and more importantly, to be cooperative and supportive of each other.
The art of not being able to do things in moderation seems to be a pattern found among us Nagas whether it is drinking or socialising, corruption or consumerism or freedom and now, even ‘activism’ which is mostly composed of criticising and advising. I am not sure if people are just really frustrated with the years of functioning of the state or if people are unconsciously ventilating their crisis frustration or detached with the reality of Nagaland itself or all of it. There seems to be so much of gap between the high morals-ideals and the ground reality-practicality. This is not to say that we should not strive to have morals, ideals and principles, but it needs to be balanced with the context of the society we live in. Many of our educated lot are aware of the national-international news/information but do not read our local dailies. I regard our local dailies to be a source, even if a minor one, of the realities of Nagaland. Our exposure to the modern life and globalisation has helped us ‘catch up’ with the world in many ways; it, however, has left us feeling entitled and hopeful of the provisions of our counterparts from the developed societies. Just as we had learned to emulate the modern-global life, we have also learned to copy the sense of entitlement. I say copy because we have not been able to contextualise it. Before we learnt how our system actually functions, we have learnt to criticise it.
It’s like deconstruction before any construction. We consider ourselves to be service providers before we could produce anything. Then we go on to sue people for plagiarism when more than half of our population still do not know what plagiarism is. Also, we suggest things like cycling for a cleaner environment while not realising that many kids start demanding cycles from parents, many of who either use the public means of transport or walk, which is cheaper and safer. I say safer because our landscape and nature of roads are not meant for cycling and can be dangerous. There are neighbourhood stories of children cycling their way through long distances, bunking classes and returning to very worried parents waiting to lash them. It’s like beautiful dresses and high heels on pothole filled roads (I still don’t find that comfortable nor logical, but of course, it’s the individual’s wish). These are few examples of why ideals and ideas need to be contextualised. Not everything that’s good is good for everybody. It could be less helpful, enhancing nobody’s life and also influence young minds away from their realities.
We don’t mind spending so much on music/arts and lavish festivals and we cheer leaders for such expenditure, but when this crisis arrived, many artists are turning into Bob Dylans ( Dylan’s fans would really mind that). The culture of keeping our government in check is required and needs to continue even during the normal times but with rationality and the wisdom of when and what to. A healthy democracy will require a balance of critic and cooperation.
The recent announcement of Rs. 10000 by the government as a relief measure for those who choose to retract their return received much clamour. First of all, the government did not impose on anyone not to return, but put out that relief as an incentive for those who can afford not to return. The shouts for justice for the people in real distress is pointless, because people in actual distress will return anyway. Then, there are those who have registered to return due to parental pressure or are ‘not really in distress’ people. Such people can choose to be honest (or not) and bypass the grant if they do not need it (I know people who have already retracted their forms and are opting out of the money too), while others can see if the incentive can help them decide for the return. Second, I think it’s reasonable on the side of the government to take such steps as there is concern regarding the entry of people from red zones to the green zones. Since they cannot stop anyone from coming, I think they should have the liberty to try such strategies. Thirdly, the criteria for the eligibility of such grants has been much argued, from self-made videos to memes to write ups and appeals etc. But I don’t understand why the government should pay you (or me) for staying back. In the first place, many of us have opted to stay back for many reasons, one of which is having a support system of some kind. Now that the issue of Rs. 10000 has been raised, everyone has become a victim. Sure, I would want that amount myself if it is feasible, but Rs. 10000 to the thousands of Nagas ‘stranded’ outside? Can we imagine our demands from the very state that is lacking in facilities and resources? Plus how will we even identify who will be eligible for it even if it materialises. The implications of such victimhood will only eclipse the plight of the actual victims. The demand for such amount is only a draining of our meagre resources which will be crucial in case we are infected, the probability mounting with the returning of people to Nagaland.
I understand that these are all done out of good intentions, but some rationality and practicality will be helpful right now. We, as the public, should not just blindly criticise the government or support everything that sounds pro-mass. Before we voice out our support or criticism, it would require a right thinking citizen to question and think. Think from all perspective-rights of the people, responsibility of the authorities, governance, and the context of our society, not just the one in our minds or on the social media but also the one that is made up of our neighbourhoods, people in the forefront and more importantly the other side of the story. As much as we share the news and videos of what is wrong, let us also learn to do the same for all the wrongs that have been made right, otherwise, all we get is a prejudiced perspective.
This lockdown has only made the implicit explicit. Our basic institutions are not as we want them to be, but the effort is being made. Likewise, we could accept the reality of our lives in all other spheres as well and reflect on how we will proceed post Covid-19. Let us construct before we learn to deconstruct. No human is immune to error or being prejudiced. As much as tyranny can arise from the powerful and is more likely to be, it can also come from a mass that is in the pursuit of what they think as just and right by shutting down the other side. I remember Uncle NiketuIralu always making one point in his speeches/talks which I always find relevant for the Nagas. It goes something like, we have to know what/who we are because anything less or anything more is harmful. It’s all about the balance. It’s never healthy to think of ourselves as less or not know who we are, but I also take it to be dangerous to think of ourselves more than whom we actually are. In the present context, though many might not agree, I feel that we need to balance our rights with our resources. Then only can we move forward. This crisis has seen the worst and the best in humanity, may it bring out the best in both our leaders and us, the people.
Research scholar, JNU