Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Coronavirus Cogitations: Lockdown Festival, Indeed!

Monalisa Changkija

Having spent my childhood in several outposts in the 1960s and ‘70s, I literally grew up on wildlife. In those days, most of these outposts were termed Circles, some EAC headquarters ~ over the decades, a good number of them have been up-graded to Sub-Divisional and ADC headquarters. Virgin forests flourished and flora and fauna thrived in abundance. It’s not that wildlife then was not hunted and consumed ~ it was a way of life. But hunting and fishing were traditional community practices ~ even considered sacred. And there were several rituals that were strictly followed before, during and after community hunting and fishing. Moreover, the catch of every such hunt was shared amongst every family in the village. Researchers of our tribal cultural and traditional ~ even religious ~ practices, will inform you that hunting and fishing were not done by individuals ~ just because they were in the mood and wanted to have fun or show off their hunting prowess. Great responsibility was given to only the people with the expertise to hunt and fish ~ and they were held in high respect. Moreover, hunting and fishing outside the bounds of cultural and traditional norms were even considered taboos. Obviously, besides the generation and regeneration of our flora, our ancestors were exceptionally knowledgeable about our fauna’s cycles of reproduction and knew that in certain seasons, the flesh of wildlife was unappetizing. This means that our ancestors were great conservers and preservers of our forests and wildlife. It is not for nothing that traditional societies are widely acclaimed as natural environmentalists and ecologists.

Evidently things have changed over the decades for the worse for our rich and abundant forests have been destroyed and our rare flora and fauna falter on the verge of extinction. The reasons are many but mainly the transition from our traditional subsistence economy to a more capitalist/market-oriented economy and the corollaries thereof ~ which, at that time, were totally alien concept and experience for us. But we have proved to be hard-core capitalists and extremely market-oriented now, haven’t we? The other reason today is plain and pure hedonism. Some may say that it is also because of lack of awareness but I don’t agree because environmental concerns ~ and protection and preservation thereof ~ were intrinsically linked to our cultural and traditional way of life. Moreover, since the 1970s, several village authorities across Nagaland had already banned hunting and fishing outside the traditional norms and declared punitive action against defaulters. In fact, increasingly our village authorities and villagers are actively involved in the conservation and preservation of our wildlife. The Amur Falcon saga is a case in point.

And no, it is definitely not due to unavailability of food that has made some of our people wantonly destroy our wildlife. “We are having a Lockdown Festival”, “We are going to have a party for one week” ~ come on, does that sound like people at death’s door due to starvation? While, over the decades, the level of poverty has increased in our rural areas ~ even more so amongst our urban poor, I’m told ~ due to several factors, it is not as if our rural folks are starving to death. If you look at the way PDS system works ~ warts and all, inarguably ~ even if our Food and Supply wallahs remain asleep and unresponsive, our village councils wouldn’t allow them to remain so for long. Nor our district administrations, especially after the lockdown when they have been specifically instructed as regards to food grains to everyone ~ ration card or no ration card. Besides, there is abundant vegetable and herbs in our rural areas, which even feed our urban areas therefore a month or so of vegetarian diet wouldn’t kill anyone ~ this may actually reduce the rate of Hypertension and Diabetes, which I am told is increasing in our rural areas. This also validates the need for encouraging household animal husbandry in our villages. Hopefully our concerned Government Department will take note of this and prepare our villages for future eventualities.

This short period of lockdown has seen many birds and animals claiming their space and flocking all over the place, even in urban areas. This is the time for them to breed and procreate ~ which will eventually lead to the direly-needed ecological balance and enrich our environment. We have no reason to fear that our wildlife will swamp us with over-population because our wildlife numbers are alarmingly low. But if it happens, be sure that the experts within and without the Government will tell us what to do. It is extremely sickening to excuse, justify and exonerate our blood-thirsty and meat-craving behavior. Such appalling behaviour has no roots and sanction in our culture and traditions nor does it have any place in civilized society. You are aware that I’m talking of the 2 videos on the wanton fish and wildlife poaching recently in Nagaland that went viral, I hope? To be sure, all Nagas are not as uncaring to finer sensitivities as these poachers have proved to be. True, these poachers have definitely sent a very wrong message to the world. But it’s not so much our image that I care about as much as the truth about our way of life. You see, it’s our way of life ~ positive or negative ~ that sets the tone of societal value-system, which works the other way around too. So, I am deeply concerned about the misinformation, erroneous impressions and misinterpretations we have about our own society, culture and traditions, which potentially will dictate the psychological and other societal profiles of our younger generations and decide the quality of lifestyle of our future generations.

Fifteen years ago, in his first tenure, our present Chief Minister had very assertively signaled the urgency to preserve and promote our wildlife ~ he even issued directives that no VIPs should be presented with wildlife. He himself, I am told, refused to accept such presents. I just hope that his passion for the same has not abated. Reports say that the locations of the above-mentioned poaching have been identified however I don’t have any reports of the poachers being arrested. Police are also reported to have expressed their inability to pursue the matter ~ they are probably too occupied bashing up doctors, and harassing the public and lady Officers of the Disaster Management authorities. And we know the limitations of our Forest Guards ~ which our Government needs to be transparent about and take responsibility. Under the circumstances, our Chief Minister must now call in the Cavalry. If anyone, it is the Army that will do the job and hopefully put the fear of the Lord in the hearts and minds of confirmed and aspiring poachers. If they cannot, please allow me and my seething band of old fogies to do the needful. Lockdown Festival, Indeed! So far, we know only of these 2 incidents but there might be many more across the state ~ think about it. I and my seething band of old fogies are ready.

 Yesterday our Government had issued a list of lengthy and detailed consolidated revised guidelines for implementation of the Lockdown till May 3, 2020. The following is unambiguously clear:


 Offences and Penalties for Violation of Lockdown Measures

  1. Section 51 to 60 of the Disaster Management Act, 2005
  2. Punishment for obstruction, etc. — Whoever, without reasonable cause

(a)  obstructs any officer or employee of the Central Government or the State Government, or a person authorised by the National Authority or State Authority or District Authority in the discharge of his functions under this Act;

 So, I am wondering whether those cops, including the Traffic personnel, who allegedly harassed a lady Officer of the state Disaster Management authorities at Wokha have been, or will be, booked under the aforesaid guideline. I am also wondering why first a doctor was assaulted and now allegedly a lady Officer has been harassed in our Home Minister’s home district. No, this is not a tribal issue ~ because the assaulters and harassers are likely not all from that district. It is most likely a huge heap of unconstitutional measures of impunity. But why is this so? A matter of exploiting a Home Minister’s power? Our Home Minister must immediately rein in the cops, including Traffic personnel, at Wokha. They are creating unnecessary fear-psychosis and scripting negative history there.

And now let me tell you this ~ after I first started writing in the now-defunct Nagaland Times 35 years ago, I stopped eating wildlife. But I continued making Venison pickle for several years more ~ simply because my dear and near ones seemed to like it and would asked me to make more. Yes, my Venison pickle was quite a hit ~ I learnt it from my Mother. Anyway, my Mother and Mother-in-law were very fond of wildlife ~ what with their husbands having been posted in all the Government-forsaken outposts in the early decades of their careers. As the years passed by, I would try to “create awareness” and “educate” my Mothers on abstaining from wildlife as food. Their response was the same: “I have eaten wildlife all my life so who are you to tell me not to eat them now?”  That would silence me ~ and I don’t get silenced so easily. But they had a point, I must admit, because in those days, hunting for wildlife was very different from the wanton poaching done nowadays. Those days, it was disciplined and seasonal community hunting ~ and within prescribed limits. So, my 80+ Mothers couldn’t fathom that things had changed radically from the 1960s and ’70s. But surely, the younger generations must know that and live in the present ~ and not in an imagined past?