Friday, June 21, 2024

Tourists welcome… Sunday closed


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By Patricia Mukhim

The verbal spat between the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF) and the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) youth wing over the concluding function of the Autumn festival falling on a Sunday calls for a public debate. Meghalaya is trying its best to hard-sell itself as a tourism destination. But any tourist who enters this ‘abode of clouds’ on a Sunday is unlikely to get anything to eat. Most food joints at Nongpoh are shut down for the day. Even in Shillong there is not much activity. If people wish to visit Sohra or any other place they would have to carry a packed lunch or starve. This is not how a tourist destination behaves.

What we often forget is that India is a secular country. We may profess any faith of our choice but should we impose its tenets on others who choose to believe otherwise? Secularism in India means equal respect for all religions. In other words the state is expected to remain equi-distant from all religions. But the state, more often than not leans over backwards to please some religion or religious groups and not others. As citizens we take our cue from the state’s behaviour and soon begin to believe that our religion has overriding importance over others. Then terms like “Meghalaya is a Christian state,” gain currency. This, to my mind is not a good thing to happen. Religion is best practiced as a personal faith. That we observe Sunday rites and rituals as a community is merely a corporate expression of our faith. Nothing more, nothing less.

Attempts to be loud and overbearing in expressing our faith or any faith for that matter, border on fundamentalism. And India has often been a victim of fundamentalist forces. They have tried to wreck the diverse fabric of this nation and have given birth to megalomaniacs like Narendra Modi, a man who is behind the Godhra riots and all its pernicious outcomes. Modi’s recent ‘sadhbhavna’ fast or a fast for peace is a sham if ever there was one. Those whose hearts are not large enough to accommodate differences cannot become peace ambassadors. They are already victims of one-dimensional thinking and suffer from the malaise of “always wanting to be proved right.”

Stephen Covey’s latest book – The 3rd Alternative speaks clearly about the causes of conflict. Covey says, “the 1st Alternative is my way and the 2nd Alternative is your way. The fight usually boils down to a question of whose way is better. Several methods of conflict resolution do not end in a win-win situation but coerce one or the other party to compromise and/or accommodate. Such methods may end the immediate conflict but plant the seed for another one. The 3rd Alternative is about more than just passively accepting demeaning conditions for peace. The 3rd Alternative transcends the traditional conflict resolution methods by creating a third option, a 3rd Alternative that moves beyond ‘your way’ or ‘my way’ to a higher and better way – one that allows both parties to emerge from a debate or even heated conflict in a far better place than either had envisioned. By applying the 3rd Alternative no one has to give up anything, and everyone wins.

Covey cites striking examples from first hand experiences. One which merits reading is that of the Canadian metropolitan police force which was able to transform a crime-ridden community by abandoning their “them versus us” mentality and changing the profile of police work. Essentially the Canadian metropolitan police transformed itself from a formidable force to be feared, to that of a friendly neighbourhood police who could get the confidence of the residents. Another excellent example is that of a judge who concluded one of the biggest environmental lawsuits in American history without setting foot in a courtroom. The third example is of a principal of a high school for the children of migrant workers. This man raised their graduation rate from a dismal 30 percent to 90 percent and tripled their basic skill levels all because of creative problem solving. There are many more examples worth citing but they would take up too much space. The bottom line of Covey’s book is to get out of stinking thinking which is ego-dominated and to transcend to a level where the issue and not the personalities involved in the conflict become the primary focus.

In Meghalaya we have seen too many examples of projects abandoned or delayed because one group opposes the project and makes it a personal issue and a ‘must win at all costs’ argument. When people take this obdurate position, dialogue is impossible. If an issue is what is important no one should take a position from where they cannot backtrack or will have to do so at the risk of losing face. The MTDF is trying its best to promote tourism in Meghalaya using all the ingenuity at its command to list out the events and hoping that they will appeal not only to tourists but to the local fun loving populace as well. But we live in a State where religious paranoia is a real thing. MTDF do’s are associated with a bit of ‘letting the hair loose’ sort of fun and games. We are not a repressive society but there are kids coming from repressed families who become wild in their expression of freedom away from home and from prying eyes. Last year there was a prank somewhere on the Umiam-Shillong highway. These are inevitable in a State where nearly 58% of the population is below 25 years.

Take into account the fact that there is not much outlet for fun and frolic, the dogmas imposed by different institutions, an educational system that does not allow space for creativity and you have a heady cocktail of youth who want to scream, “I want to break free,” and will rev up their motorcycles to frightening speeds. We may ask, “Don’t they want to live?” Their answer is “We want to live our way, not your way.” This huge communication gap between the elders and their protégés is what’s problematic. And bang in the middle of this societal trauma steps in the NCP with its value loaded dictum that there should be no Autumn festival on Sunday. Those who are not suckers for politics can make out that this is all about scoring cheap political mileage. They have probably been able to spread the bad word to Ri Bhoi as well thereby instigating other pressure groups there to follow suit with similar diktat. But who is really thinking of the public and has anyone conducted a survey and asked for a how of hands as to how many people don’t want anything fun happening on a Sunday? Does laughing and enjoying oneself on a Sunday make one a sinner? Do we worship such a strict God that he does not even want us to take a break on a Sunday with our kids?

Societal repression is bad enough; now we have a political party stepping in to tell us what is good for us on Sunday. Give us a break man and take up other more important issues that are plaguing the state. Enough of moral policemen! What we need are better traffic police along the Umiam-Shillong stretch on the concluding session of the autumn festival. It would be very sporting of the NCP youth wing to lend a helping hand here. (The writer can be contacted at [email protected])


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