Thursday, February 22, 2024

Indelible lines

Today let’s focus on child abuse ~ and crimes against women and children, which are happening, possibly increasing, particularly since last year’s lockdown but discounted by our society. When the media spotlights a few of these dreadful cases, sometimes the larger Naga society makes a hue and cry but mostly it is the victims and perpetrators’ clans, tribes and villages that condemn or support ~ unfortunately, sometimes along tribal lines. Then the din subsides until the next crime against women and children occurs ~ and if the media spotlight it. It is not just a question of the public’s short memory ~ where women and children are concerned, our society has no memory. Fortunately, there are an increasing number of social and legal activists in Nagaland dedicated to advocacy against all forms of these heinous crimes. The larger Naga society may condemn but does not actively involve itself in the advocacy of prevention and punishment of such crimes. That is a primary reason such crimes are committed with impunity ~ although very few are reported. Most of these crimes are unreported not just because of stigmatization but also due to pressures by political big-wigs, money and muscle power and by family, clan, tribe and village of both victims and perpetrators. Besides, most victims are voiceless due to poverty, ignorance of law, fear of repercussions, being non-locals and police apathy, etc. The voiceless don’t know who and where to turn for help and justice. If we check the backgrounds of victims of all forms of child abuse in the past few years in Nagaland that the media reported, it is very noticeable that they were mostly from either Eastern Nagaland or non-locals. Although perpetrators’ identities are often concealed, most of them are allegedly from so-called “forward” tribes and most such cases are reported from Kohima, Dimapur and Mokokchung. When these abuses and crimes are spotlighted, somehow we mistakenly believe that the perpetrators have disgraced our tribes, clan, and villages. But clans, villages and tribes have nothing to do with the commitment of such abuses and crimes. There are rotten apples in every basket. A perpetrator doesn’t commit abuses and crimes because s/he belongs to any particular family, clan, tribe or village but because s/he is rotten through and through, without the sense of right and wrong, without compassion and humanity, without moral compass and without the fear of the Lord but with a strong sense of entitlement based on implausible self-perceptions, inflated self-image and superiority complex. It is also dangerous to blame family atmosphere and environment, up-bringing, friends’ influence and alcohol, etc., which are frequent societal and legal defenses for criminals. But considering that most people from the most deficient backgrounds and abject poverty don’t resort to crimes, substance abuse, etc., negates such defenses. Instances of theft due to poverty and hunger are different issues ~ poverty and hunger are crimes committed by political, economic, social and cultural systems and structures and the indifference of privileged sections of society. But no psychological rationalization can justify these horrific mental, physical and sexual abuses. A psychologically-challenged abuser must be institutionally treated ~ but not let off scot free. True, Nagas have a very strong sense of the collective however the family, clan, tribe and village cannot and must not take responsibility for individual decisions and actions, especially for criminal activities. While we must vehemently condemn such criminalities, we should not feel ashamed that the abuser is one of our own. In fact, if we are ashamed then we must do everything ~ tribal, customary, cultural, traditional and legal to prevent such crimes and ensure that the culprits are penalized unhindered. The culprit(s) must take responsibility and face the consequences. The clan, tribe and village must ensure that s/he faces the music. This will convey a strong message that the clan, tribe and village are not responsible for any criminal. Our only responsibility is to ensure that any criminal, irrespective of race, religion, clan, tribe and village, is held accountable and penalized for her/his moral and legal wickedness. Just as the collective cannot and must not take glory from an individual achiever, so also we must not cover ourselves with shame for someone’s criminal activities. In fact, our only collective responsibility is to ensure that no political, money and muscle power, customary, cultural, traditional and legal pressures are exerted and allowed to impede the delivery of justice to victims. We must know where and when to draw indelible lines.