Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Silenced society

Last week, Temjen Imna Along Longkumer, Nagaland Minister for Higher Education and Tribal Affairs, was in the eye of the storm because of a comment he made in a television talk show. Anyone can agree or disagree with what he said ~ but he has a right to his opinion, as does everyone on whatever issue. Besides, no individual or collective has the prerogative/sole proprietorship of any issue, as all issues affect and impact on the lives and future of lakhs of people. So what did Imna Along say, which raised the heckles of so many organizations? Reportedly he told a news channel: “Any solution that would come (to the Indo-Naga issue) should be under the Constitution of India and it should be under Indian Union”. The key word in his aforesaid quoted statement is “should”, which he repeated twice in the same sentence. He DID NOT say: “Any solution that would come (to the Indo-Naga issue) must be under the Constitution of India and it must be under Indian Union”. This connotes that his statement was merely his opinion. We don’t know what would ultimately be the outcome of the Indo-Naga issue, parleys for which still continue and we don’t know whether Imna Along’s opinions would even be discussed in these parleys ~ much less sway the direction of these parleys. However, the focus of this Editorial is not about Imna Along’s opinions on the Indo-Naga issue or any other issue but on the right to opinions and expression ~ in fact, on the very essence and quality of civilizational and democratic ethos in our society. Mainly due to historical, political and economic factors, dominant collectives in our society have dictated the ‘mainstream’ narrative of our historical, political, economic and social identity and lived-lives through the prism of our cultural ethos. Consequently, human and democratic rights, freedoms and liberties became casualties. There are numerous instances of people being “summoned” to kangaroo courts, humiliatingly tried, derisively punished, denied self-defense and under duress made to apologize verbally and in written, which are then mandatorily published in local newspapers. All these methods are psychological, mental, verbal and sometimes even physical violations of “guilty” persons’ right to opinion and expression, right to self-defense and right to fair trial ~ the very core of justice in civilized and democratic societies. These methods also violate a person’s dignity and reduce him/her to nothingness ~ so much a part of the cancel culture. Ours is not a silent but a silenced society because such instances accentuate the absence of democracy, which is further corroborated by the pervasive fear instilled in our society. How long and how far can any society carry on with such self-shackling methods? Why is there so much fear of open disagreements, differences, dissent and defiance ~ and discourse and debates thereof? Why are the tone and tenor of our disagreements so bellicose? Are our narratives on whatever issue ~ whether “mainstream” or not ~ so fragile that contrary opinions and views can so easily dismantle and destroy them? Don’t these antediluvian methods obliquely provide some glimpses into our psychological mind-space, especially vis-à-vis our absolute convictions and self-confidence in the rightness of our historical, political, social, cultural, as also the ethicality, of our beliefs, causes, ideologies and aspirations? Several generations of Nagas have traversed through some very notable personal and public epochs in our life time that have changed us from what we were. Today’s generations are now the inheritors of the accumulated and filtered experiences of these epochs and they will further relay their own experiences to the generations after them. Experiences open the mind’s eyes and lessons are learnt or not learnt ~ which cannot be silenced and suppressed for too long, either ways. It is such experiences that become lessons for any society ~ now it’s at our own peril to learn or not learn them. History has always been the greatest teacher ~ therefore we must remind ourselves that whatever political, economic, social, cultural dreams and schemes any individual or society may harbor, ultimately events outside our control inevitably ace them. The pandemic is a case in point. None of us know what our world would look and feel like after this COVID-quake is over, or whether it will be over during our life time. These pandemic times offer us an opportunity to cherish and dignify lives, rights and liberty by making space for contrary/conflicting opinions and allowing the spirit of generosity to pervade our society?