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Op-Ed

Tradition of Criticism

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By EMN Updated: Aug 13, 2014 10:45 pm
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B. Thohii Shuru

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]radition of criticism has been the vigorous habit of the West ever since Plato set criticism going. It has remained the basis of Western thinking since then and it still persists in the contemporary. There has not been one great mind in the West who has not attacked conformity and authoritarianism. Plato’s saying embodies the methodological principle of what has been called the Socratic method. Self-criticism is therefore a prescription for keeping a society healthy and progressive, and save a society from decay and degeneration. Criticism does not necessarily imply any rejection of established institutions and ideas, it only insists on searching and continuous examination, to bring about revalidation. India’s most eccentric writer, Nirad C. Chaudhari said, “No nomos, no way of life, no system of values, can remain living without it. It has to be welcomed even if the criticism has to be in part destructive”. “To shun it”, he asserted, “is to court decay”. In India, genuine and vigorous habit of criticism grew amongst Indians with the coming of Western influences in the 19th century. In Bengal this criticism was the first step towards the creation of the modern Bengali culture which later expanded into the modern Indian culture. Not one reformer in Bengal from R.M.Roy to Tagore spared either his people or their hidebound traditions in self-criticism. But these reformers were also attacked not just unjustly but also malevolently by the conservatives of the day for which Tagore felt resented, agonised, and was driven to bitterness. His most agonizing expression came to light only towards the end of his life. All the reformers in Bengal in the 19th century paid the price in obloquy to discharge their duty of criticism.
In Naga society, I believed, we do not have healthy tradition of criticism. All that we have is otherwise inclined. Before the coming of Western influences and Christianity, Naga society was, in anthropological term, primitive. There was no pan-Nagas awareness; each village was besotted in its own little world. Political awareness of the collective entity called Nagas, now in the concept of ‘Pan-Nagas’, developed with the beginning of political awareness by some Naga leaders through Western influences brought by colonialism and Christianity. During pre-Western influences, Nagas’ way of life and system of values were simple and based on village tradition and authority. With modern concept of Pan-Nagas, Naga society became broader but also not without complexity of ‘Tribalism’, manifested in diverse tribe interests. This, I believe, is one hurdle that comes in the way of building a healthy social growth in the collective entity called Nagas
Fairly, we do have today critics who are critical of modern Nagas’ way of life and value system. Intellectuals from both secular and theology have tried to keep up the critical spirit of criticising present social life and system of values in modern Naga society. But all these criticism are confined to generalisation of social ills and crimes that have become too wide spread in Naga society. Most criticism has not gone beyond rue in general perspective. Every sane Naga is concern about the degeneration of modern Naga society but pathetically too little is done to change it through policies and a will-to-do by the established institutions in our society. Rueing alone without evolving mechanism to change through human efforts from our established institutions would not take us to the light of change we desire. As much as change is desire from Naga individuals, change from our established institutions is also desire. We have not evolved a liberal habit of self-criticism amongst us. A robust and healthy tradition of criticism, like the West, need to be developed in our society where our self-criticism is not confined to generalisation of modern Nagas’ social ills only but also being critical about our established institutions.
Presently, Naga society’s system does not allow critics to exercise their free mind. Criticism on our established institutions or be that ‘authority in power’ is not welcome and those few intellectuals who dare to be critical and not be in conformity with authoritarianism are left to their own risk. Our society needs to open up and accept self-criticism as a tradition that would save modern Naga society from decay and degeneration. As a society we need to have culture of self-criticism on our social life, system of values, and more important, our established institutions of both government and non-government need to accept criticism from the critics because this criticism should not be viewed as rejection of our established institutions and ideas.
Conviction is that matters to be a critic. Sartre, a writer, rejected the Nobel Prize because of his conviction that a writer must be a non-conformist. He asserted, “The writer ought to refuse to transform himself into an institution”. Nirad C. Chaudhari, for his eccentricity and hard-hitting criticism of India’s social life and system of values, said, ‘…when I exercise some self-criticism, both as an individual and as the member of the collective entity called Indians, I am denounced as unpatriotic’. For being called eccentric by the fossils in bureaucracy and academic life, he said, ‘I take it as the highest recognition of my efficacy as a writer’. The need of eccentricity in a society is best put by Mill: “Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time”.
To go with the above, I am afraid our system does not permit an eccentric to be true to his conviction like the West or other developed societies. We have eccentrics to criticise our social life and values that are apparently in degeneration but we don’t have yet great minds of Platonic idea that would attack conformity and authoritarianism like in the West. Naga society is still gripped under system of tradition and authority where eccentricity is not yet accepted especially when an eccentric dare attack any of our established institutions. The Nagas in general are also more inclined to be conformists. These institutions include that of government’s institutions, civil organisations, religious organisations and NPGs. Critics are quite critical with government institutions but one become cautious when it comes to civil bodies and NPGs. Sometimes leaders in civil bodies are in question on public issues but critics who questioned their policies are not welcome and are often denounced as anti-people and dealt with authority. Our NPGs almost enjoys immunity from criticism. A critic hardly does it or if at all dares to point the wrongs of our NPGs administration as far to the public interest is concern, one is careful and cautious in his point lest one become non-conformist. Of course here we need to keep the differentiation between what is constructive criticism and negative criticism by both NPGs and Naga eccentrics. It would be unbecoming on the part of civil bodies and NPGs if zero tolerance is apply to any form of criticism from any civil Naga. And of course a critic cannot be libellous and seditious in his criticism.
Perhaps, one reason for Nagas not having a healthy tradition of criticism is because of our inherent psyche rooted to tradition and authority originated from our village polity. That imbibed protectiveness of image as a group is still active. And any form of criticism of a village by another or a tribe by another tribe is not taken well even today, despite of the pan-Nagas. At personal level also a Naga is hyper protective of one’s image and does not go well with criticism. A Politician, bureaucrat, public leader, and head of the organisations are very protective of one’s image. They don’t accept criticism; they are over reactive to any form of criticism. One wonders whether Naga leaders can take positively and laugh at themselves if they are cartooned, caricatured, and hard-pungent cliché are accorded to them in printed Medias and journals like in the West and other societies. Gripped under the prevailing system, the Nagas in general are also conformists; most criticism does not go beyond rue or are confined to group discussion. Few Naga intellectuals who dare to exercise criticism on our established institutions are denounced as unpatriotic.
Nagas too need to open up and welcome vigorous habit of self-criticism into our society to create modern Naga culture lest the collective entity called Nagas remain in vanity and continued to live uncritically with the same old uncritical spirit.
(The view expressed in this article is my personal view only not intended against any leader or organisation whatsoever)

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By EMN Updated: Aug 13, 2014 10:45:05 pm