Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Why Hornbill Festival in the midst of a pandemic?

The Angamimiapfü Mechü Krotho (AMK) the apex body of all the Angami women observes the recent order issued by the Tourism Dept. Govt. of Nagaland directing various concerned Depts. to prepare for the Hornbill festival comes as a rude shock. It ‘takes the wind out of the sails’ of the frontline workers who have been tirelessly and indefatigably involved in the fight against Covid. The Medical Dept. on the 18th of Oct. 2020 pointed out that the positivity rate of Nagaland at 8.5% is higher than that of the country at 7.9%. Symptomatic cases have increased to 4% and positive cases among people with co-morbidities have increased. More hospitalization and severe cases are expected in the coming days. It has raised deep concerns that uncontrolled transmission has been witnessed and the figures suggest community transmission.
Unlock does not equate with freedom to celebrate festivals in crowds:
The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi made an impassioned appeal on 20th Oct. 2020 for people to adhere to SOPs citing that although lockdown is over, the virus is still around. A look at any public areas and markets in Nagaland clearly affirms that the SOPs and protocols are flouted with impunity. The lack of any mechanism to check and ensure adherence to SOPs seems to make it worse. If the present lack of compliance to SOP is any indication, there is not much reason to belief that it would be adhered to in crowded gathering and festivals, and proven right in the recent Durga Puja festival celebration in Dimapur. Various Ministers and Govts. in other states have appealed to its citizens to limit the essential festivities to their respective homes in view of Covid-19. But quite the contrary, the Govt. of Nagaland declared its intention to celebrate the Hornbill festival. Kerala that was once portrayed as a ‘model state’ for keeping the virus in check saw an alarming spurt in the case of Covid during Onam celebrations. The Union Minister for Health and Family welfare Dr Harsh Vardhan stated that Kerala has paid the price for gross negligence and others must learn from the mistake of Kerala. Movement of people due to trade and tourism led to increase in case and the epidemic curve of Kerala changed completely due to Onam festivities across the State.
How significant is Hornbill Festival for the Nagas?:
Is the Hornbill Festival a sine-qua-non to the identity and the existence of the Nagas that we must celebrate under any circumstance including a pandemic? Does the life of the people of Nagaland hang by the significance and the successful annual conduct of this manufactured festival of extravagance? It is neither an ancestral festival of any tribe nor a religious festival that we are duty bound to observe, but rather more of a glorified Govt. effort to project and showcase the various culture and tribes of the Nagas in a bid to promote tourism. The sad reality is that the Hornbill festival continues to be a financial liability to the Govt. Why then cannot the Hornbill festival be suspended in a crisis as ominous as the Covid pandemic? Why risk the lives of people to Covid on one hand, and on the other hand financially burden a Govt. that is already struggling in a pool of huge fiscal deficit?
Our educational institutions and religious institutions are either closed or partially closed in the interest of safety, and the value of health and lives is given precedence over academic and religious activities, and rightly so. Protocols restrict the gathering of less than a hundred in weddings and funerals. One wonders as to why and by what importance the Hornbill festival gets precedence over the academic or religious obligations, thereby risking health and lives? Hornbill Festival is a hit-and-run event that attracts people from far and wide within a small time frame into a small area. Hence to hold Hornbill festival amidst the pandemic would be bereft of rational logic. It would negate all the hard won efforts of the frontline workers comprising of Medical, Police, Administration, Municipals, Civil societies, and various volunteers amongst many others who have collectively fought thus far.
Hornbill festival in Pandemic: A shoot in the foot with misplaced priorities.
The Dept. of Tourism represented by its Add. Secretary has gone on to contradict herself stating that, (quote) “the department was in the process of working out modalities for holding the festival in virtual form besides participation of foreign and domestic tourists in the festival” (unquote). While it remains to be seen how tourist would participate and simultaneously be virtual, the various artiste of the State cannot be treated like “Clowns in a Circus” to risks their health and lives to perform for the pleasure and entertainment of tourists whether off line or online. The performance would require bringing in local artiste in hundreds from various parts of the districts thus congregating thousands at the festival site to perform. One cannot imagine the practicality of wearing masks and maintaining social/physical distance of six feet in a traditional dance that requires jumping and acrobatics, or holding hands in close proximity, howling and ululating the various war and dance cries. Not only would the participant be short of breathe by the hindrance of the masks but it would rob the natural appearance of the traditional events. Conversely, performances in the natural form without masks and physical/social distancing would put them at risk. Therefore, in spite of all the red flags that exists, for the Govt. to remain adamant to organize a festival not only risks its artistes insensitively, but perhaps even goes deeper to expose one of the two; ‘that either the organizing Dept. or Govt. officials has vested interest’, or ‘has misplaced priorities’ and has not given the recent increase in Covid morbidity and mortality the attention and seriousness that it deserves.
Unless the Govt. desires to put Nagaland in the map of super spreaders, it would augur well for the Govt. to reconsider its decision and cancel the Hornbill 2020 in the interest of safety and sanity and save itself the ignominy of being forced to cancel it by the public at the last moment.
A humble alternative suggestion:
To be truly virtual and online, it would mean no physical participation. If the Govt. must, it can organize an entirely virtual event under a theme, “The bests of Hornbill” to post online and replay the best of the past recorded hornbill events in different categories, which would be truer in the sense of the word ‘virtual’.
The Biblical proverb “where there is no vision, the people perish” can’t be more true. May the leadership in the Govt. exercise wisdom and prudence, for with great powers comes great responsibility and the health and lives of the people are placed in the responsible hands of those that governs the day.

Kevinourheno Seyie Shürhivino Nakhro
President, AMK General Secretary, AMK