Monday, December 4, 2023

Sound of silence

Naga people, especially those who have cultivated over the past decades the habit of reading our local newspapers, are no strangers to what is currently being described as war of words. The rat-a-tat of language dressed as press releases and statements. But again, this war is a constant accumulation of thousands of battles and appears far from over. The violence of words has continued to find a stage in all fronts and is not limited to the political language alone. Per era, perhaps, the tone and even the expression might have differed. But shots have continued to be fired; some with more finesse and bite than others, though that hardly tempers the wounding nature of their messages. No names but we are witness to another such war in our political theatre today. And as already underscored, this is nothing new to us. In a sense, this is merely the resumption of an old battle. But what has been of interest, at least to us, is the reaction of some influential organisations, associations and political parties. Again no names but a number of such organisations/groups/parties have emerged as defenders of the freedom of speech and expression, using the spaces in local newspapers to underscore the same. This is a wonderful thing: to defend an individual’s right to speak and, if necessary, express views that can be considered divergent. By all means, this is a principle worth the pursuit ~ thus, defence ~ because societies cease to be democratic in its absence. It is as simple as that. So, the display of such enlightened resistance by the organisations/groups/parties is a welcome derivative of what is no doubt an ugly and undesirable situation. But give it a different context and the problem becomes un-ignorable. Because this public defence of the right to speak and express one’s view being mounted by the organisations/groups/parties clearly suffer from selectivity. Surely, this is not the only instance when somebody’s right to speak and express her/his views has been seen as necessitating a public defence. In fact, many of our Naga organisations/associations/parties are widely known to apply muzzles of similar nature on their members, simply to suppress divergent voices and views. Some have even resorted to such tactics publicly, with no remonstrations from any quarter. This is the sound ~ the sound of silence ~ that sings loudest in the sad orchestra of our Naga elegy. Because this silence, an imposed one, is clearly the child of selectivity. Recall the year 2017 and how some of our Naga organisations, dominated by male members, had attempted to thoroughly muzzle those voices in favour of 33% reservation of seats for women in Urban Local Bodies. To oppose the conduct of ULB elections with 33% reservation of seats for women, the tribal bodies had imposed State-wide bandh; all forms of movement were restricted; Government offices were not allowed to function and Government vehicles restricted from plying. Those in favour, especially the women activists, were subjected to various forms of threat and intimidation. In the course of the protest, two young lives were lost. That was in the early months of 2017. Fast-forward to five years, and we now find ourselves in the midst of a different war. Verbal rounds are being fired off from all sorts of trenches ~ wounding and maiming one another, some noticeable and other injuries invisible. At which point, enter the saviours/defenders wearing their cloak of selectivity. Armoured with years’ experience of applying the muzzle, theirs is a mission to protect and rescue a sound they have actively (but not yet successfully) pursued to shrink into silence. So it is in this context that we are prompted to view the recent defence of the sound so vigorously mounted by some of our organisations. As defence-worthy as the right to speak and express is, we cannot help but call out the duplicity of some of those in the trenches.