Saturday, January 16, 2021
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This conversation


Monalisa Changkija

Why did we even have the conversation about our people stranded in various places across the country, who want to come home? This conversation, which raised a lot of heckles, actually mirrored the minds and hearts of our people but most of all, it brought to the surface the palpable fear and panic in a lot of the “brave Nagas”. True, the novel Coronavirus is an extremely terrifying virus and we must fear it but not to the extent of losing our senses and humanity. The very fact that a good number of our tribal organizations were against our people returning home from cities across India exposes the calibre and quality of public leadership. And mind you, they are all all-male organizations.

Of course, those who want to come home must come and it is heartening that some of them have reached home. Hopefully, those who are still waiting to return home will be able to do so soon. Now, because so many tribal organizations and individual have shown their fear and panic about the return of our people from Indian cities, the conversation must continue. What if after returning home one or a few of them test positive for COVID-19? How are we going to deal with it? Will we start the blame game, indulge in victim-shaming and stigmatizing or are we going stand by the patient(s)? Are we going to let fear and panic overwhelm us and lose our senses or are we going to look at the challenge right in the eye and overcome it?

Understandably, one reason for this fear is because of the inadequacy of our health infrastructure, which has already been exposed from Day 1. But surely now that our Government has assured us that much has improved in the last month or so, we have nothing to fear? Or, have we? For our Government the Litmus Test will begin only if there is a positive case in Nagaland. But then, Guwahati is always there, isn’t it? But more importantly, let us be reminded that a lot of people have been cured of COVID-19 also. So, it is imperative to stay positive and prayerful. The WHO says that the virus may never leave us and that we will have to learn to live with it. In that case, much depends on us to fight this virus. This means we will have to change our khushi-khushi ways.

Now, what if the virus is already present here? Considering the very low rate of testing in Nagaland, how can anyone guarantee that Nagaland is free from the virus? So far none from Nagaland has tested positive but how many suspected cases were re-tested several times after the first test? Then, there are instances of people with no travel history and contact with positive persons testing positive. More notably, as the lockdown was eased to a certain extent in the past couple of weeks, there has been an increase in the volume of traffic transporting food and other essential commodities. Because no testing of the drivers and handymen were done, how do we know that the virus has not entered Nagaland? What if they were asymptomatic therefore potential carriers of the virus? And now, since alcohol is abundant in Nagaland, it means that there are people from Nagaland, merrily to-ing and fro-ing ferrying alcohol from Assam. Would they be identified and tested? Here, I will not even talk about these people violating lockdown norms, etc. I will only suggest that our Police personnel posted at Dimapur are tested at the earliest.

Yes, we have the problem of insufficient facilities to quarantine a large number of people. But should that be a problem at all? One cannot blame the Government for not having adequate quarantine facilities because this virus was unexpected. However, we have more than enough facilities in Nagaland in the form of church guest houses, school and college hostels, hotels, etc. In Dimapur, we have schools and colleges that regularly advertize their state-of-the-art hostel facilities ~ now is the time for them to offer these facilities to people who need them. Notably among them are the Livingstone Higher Secondary School, DPS Dimapur, St John’s, Maple Tree, etc.; then there is Tetsoe College, as also a good number of Theological Colleges with hostel facilities. Actually, before the Government or anyone asks them, they should be the first to offer these facilities. Well, this is what I would expect of the truly educated and genuine educators. What, after all, is education if without a value-system, especially compassion and humanity? And right now, the need of the hour is compassion and humanity for those who have suffered hunger, loneliness and emotional, mental and psychological trauma far away from home.

There is also nothing to stop the Government from requisitioning these private facilities at time such as these. Right now, our Government needs to stop thinking of displeasing powerful lobbies with the next election in mind and prioritize our children, our people, who have had a harrowing time in Indian cities due the lockdown. Let’s not forget, these are the people, who went out searching for livelihood to keep body and soul together and to send money home instead of remaining unemployed here at home holding a begging bowl. These are the people our Government had failed miserably by its failure to create jobs. These are the people, who didn’t compromise their values with backdoor appointments. All kinds of leaders here preach about self-reliance but these faceless, nameless, unsung and unheralded youngsters practice self-reliance.

See, the catchword here is home. What is home? And, who tells their children not to come home, especially at times such as these? What kind of people abandons their children? It has been repeatedly said that the world will no longer be the same ~ well, nor will Nagaland. So much has already been exposed ~ more so, the governmental, public and tribal leaderships. It was already known that these leaderships were based on political power plays but now it is unambiguously QED. So, how will the younger generations challenge these leaderships? What are the priorities of the younger generations ~ some vague utopian dreams and schemes or existential issues of life and livelihood, of rights and entitlements? Will our younger generations uncompromisingly demand food, jobs, schools, hospitals, roads and an unthreatened life or fall prey to promises and lies of a heaven on earth built on the foundation of identity, race, religion, culture and traditions? These and more such issues will inevitably emerge in the course of time. Are our varied and various leaderships ready with answers? Will our leaderships be repentant and ask for forgiveness? Will the younger generations forgive? No one remains unchanged after the ordeals our youngsters have undergone in the past months of the lockdown far away from home. I think in these few weeks a few leaders have been born, which augurs well for Nagaland.

At no point of time did our Government say that it would not bring home our people suffering due to the lockdown outside the state. It knew that it would have to bring them home so what was it doing all this time? After May 3, states were already arranging buses to bring home students from Kota, Rajasthan, after that, it is history. Yes, there was the fear that we could not have handled so many people with so less quarantine facilities. But the facilities were already there in the form of school and college hostels. So, why was it reluctant to requisition them under the Disaster Management Act? Even more crucial, why is it even ready to pay Rs. 10,000/- to them to opt to stay back wherever they are? In effect, not to come home? In effect, a Father telling his children: “I’ll pay you. Just don’t come home”. Much to say here but suffice it to say that our Government, as also our tribal organizations ~ all-male bodies ~ have shown that their fear of the virus is greater than their love for their children. But I also cannot understand the silence of our Mothers. I had expected our Mothers to make a big noise about bringing home our children ~ even if they come with the Coronavirus.

This is not an issue of being emotional as opposed to pragmatism because at some point or the other this virus will find its way into all lands ~ especially because of our khushi-khushi ways. In Dimapur, there doesn’t even feel like there is a lockdown ~ and, superimposing a Commissioner & Secretary over the district administration has made no difference. In fact, this move of the Government will have adverse impact in future. Its constitutionality is also questionable. Right now, Dimapur needs active, effective and efficient administration, not PR exercises ~ and most of all not appeasement of public organizations that thrive on power plays. If anyone tests positive in Dimapur, who had had nothing to do with returnees from Indian cities, the Government will have to take the responsibility for not addressing the administrative requirements/lacunae of this district.

Somehow I also feel that for some of our tribal organizations asking our people in Indian cities not to return home now is the fear of tribal stigmatization at a subconscious level. There could be a fear that in the event anyone tests positive, his/her tribe would be forever blamed and stigmatized. But why should it be so? Because we look at everything through the prism of tribe and function on the basis of tribe thus perpetuate and encourage tribalism at all levels, so we can understand and analyze things only through the perspectives of tribe and tribalism. Now, this haunts us with a vengeance ~ so much so that we are ready to abandon our own children in the hour of their need. Coronavirus indeed has a strange way of not only exposing our weaknesses but also hitting us where it hurts the most. We are told that people with co-morbidities are most vulnerable to it ~ and it appears that tribal considerations and calculations are also non-medical co-morbidities.

What we have always needed most, and especially now, is the generosity of spirit. Nothing matters more or is more important ~ especially political, racial, religious, tribal, cultural and traditional considerations and calculations ~ than humanity, which necessarily implies the generosity of spirit underscoring compassion and empathy. Let’s not desert before the ship sinks ~ for the ship is far from sinking. And our ship is every precious life born on this land. One way or the other, we will survive, we will thrive, for the Coronavirus too shall pass ~ we must, we will, make it pass. Abandon your fear, not our children.