Thursday, July 18, 2024

What’s making news


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By Albert Thyrniang

Presently the prominent talking points in the media and in private circles are the appointment of Idashisha Nongrang as Meghalaya Director General of Police (DGP), drugs and the indigenous peoples’ debate.
The newsmaker Nongrang created history by being the state’s first woman and tribal DGP. But it is her distinguished service that took her to the top. Political parties and pressure groups unnecessarily lobbied for the former Director General of Meghalaya, Civil Defence. The NPP in KHADC even credited the chief minister and deputy chief minister for Nongrang’s elevation. These entities do not believe in systems. Evidently the 1992 IPS batch officer rose to the pinnacle purely on merit. Neither sex nor ethnicity was responsible for her career growth.
The acting DGP in 2021 assumed office on May 20. She has a fixed two-year tenure to make a difference in the police establishment. On her first day at work she promised to change the hostile perception of the public on the police. She has allotted time for the public to personally meet her. The law-keepers are often branded as a brute force against protesting groups but a meek one at the border. Videos of tear gas shelling and lathi charge on teachers at Secretariat vicinity and women at Lumshnong village, Jaintia Hills were created along with visuals of police personnel running for cover from catapult attacks in the border village of Lapangngap. The new DGP could turn the police into a people friendly force.
Notably the newly appointed DGP also vowed zero tolerance towards extortion of truckers on highways. She even assured extreme measures to curb it. She claims the frequent and blatant cases of extortion are worrying police officials and the secretariat as well. The topmost officer might firmly deal with extortionists in the notorious stretch of Shillong bypass for example. She could be tough against members of pressure groups and thugs who indulge in the unholy business but, it is feared, she has to also rein in her own personnel who give in to the temptation of making quick bucks from plying trucks. Once while traveling from Umiam to Jowai, at Mawryngkneng a police man was with a stationery truck on the left side of the road. On the other side was another officer. After we drove past a co-passenger informed that the police at the right side was keeping watch of the in-coming vehicles. When no one is in sight he would direct his colleague to pocket the money from drivers. It is a daily and nightly affair he revealed. On the way back to Shillong a similar example was noticed at Sohryngkham. Before outward actions, the DGP has to set her own house in order.
News is splashed across all media of pressure groups’ operations against drug users and peddlers. The government is on collaborative mode with NGOs, church organisations, educational institutions and village councils to tackle the menace. Some ‘offenders’ were apprehended by enthusiastic volunteers. According to the social welfare minister, Paul Lyngdoh, Meghalaya’s success rate in tackling drugs is 20%, that is, 15% more than the national rate of 5%. I would say, “hold your horses before such jubilation.”
It is easy to blame and condemn drug addicts. They need to be treated with compassion. A habit, good or bad is hard to break. An addict cannot give up a habit just like that. This is true of any addiction.
A groups of mothers were complaining, ‘Ki kpa ki khun ki dih buaid jan man ka sngi. Ngi sneng ngi mai ia ki hynrei kim sangeh.’ (Our husbands get drunk almost every day. We exhort them daily but they don’t give up alcohol. After a patient hearing this author simply said, “From today don’t eat kwai (areca nut and betel leaf) or use tobacco.” Surprised they protested, ‘Why do you tell us so’? My answer, ‘A habit is the same. Before you demand from your husbands to quit drinking, first try to stop the traditional consumption’ was my reply. About a week later when I met a couple of them they confessed they could not manage without Kwai. Sometime back an article announced, “KWAI: A difficult balance between cultural practices & public health concern.” Khasis and Jaintias consider kwai consumption as unique to them. There is a legendary story to back the claim. Folks justify kwai consumption insisting it to be part of the local culture. But kwai consumption is not unique to the natives of Khasi-Jaintia Hills. In Garo Hills too people are fond of kwai. In Assam and other north eastern states and in the rest of India too kwai is consumed in other forms. Just for the record kwai (areca nut), the fruit of the palm species called Areca catechu is native to the Philippines. Betel vine (leaves) probably originates from Indonesia.
Kwai consumption is habit-forming and unhealthy. But its ‘cultural’ connection makes consumers continue with the habit. The practice also incurs unnecessary expenditure. For any social gathering kwai is a priority. A person told this writer, ‘If kwai consumption is stopped what about those selling them and the growers? Well, areca nuts are used to manufacture the best quality paints. As for commercial uses of betel leaves stimulants, antiseptics and fresheners come from the Piperaceae family. So, no one will not go out of work.
In relation to drugs we look at kwai as an intoxicant. If we want our youths to cease their habit (taking drugs) parents should challenge themselves to give the kwai eating habit. Likewise parents who smoke and drink should stop doing so for the sake of providing good examples to the young. Only then will we have the moral authority to advise adolescents not to fall prey to drugs. Parents can proudly say to their children, ‘See we managed to give up kwai, drinks and smoke. You can also come out of drug use. The Latin proverb says, “Verba docent, exempla trahunt,” meaning – Words instruct, illustration leads.
A flurry of articles and letters have been gracing this page debating on indigenous people vis-à-vis conversion. One letter specifically states that Christians are no longer indigenous. It is true Christianity discards many aspects of traditional beliefs and culture. But why target Christianity alone? What about Islam and Hinduism for example? Conversion is conversion! Why the discrimination? Christianity reached India in the first century itself. Islam came with the CE 712 Arab invasion. Today in Meghalaya, the plains in Garo Hills are dominated by ‘Muslims.’ In Laban (a Shillong locality) there is a huge glass mosque – the only one in India. Some pockets of Ri Bhoi districts have been ‘Islamised’. So a section of the indigenous population too has embraced Islam.
What about converts to Hinduism? If Christians and Muslims are no longer indigenous so too Hindu converts for the reason that indigenous religions and Hinduism are distinctly different. A misconception is created and propagated that most tribes in the North East have converted to Christianity. This is not true. Look at Assam. Most of the plain tribes have identified themselves as Hindus. They were not originally so. The Meiteis in Manipur and the Ahoms in Assam are prominent examples, Many among the Bodo, Deori, Sonowal, Mising, Hajong, Rabha, Karbi, Dimasa and other tribes have come to call themselves Hindus. Many of them celebrate Hindu festivals. They have lost their own culture. They have forgotten their own language. If these converts to Hinduism remain indigenous so also Christian converts.
It is Christianity that preserves cultures. In Assam this is evident. Hill tribes who are influenced by Christianity are more vibrant in their culture than the plain tribes who have been influenced more by Hinduism. With regards to language it is Christians who have contributed towards preserving and developing tribal languages through publications of dictionaries, grammar books, text books, religious books and other literary works. So how can Christians not be indigenous?
The CUET fiasco too was in the media glare. The CUET fiasco in Meghalaya is because NEHU caters to the majority of students in the state. Practically all the colleges are affiliated to the central university. There was no such rush in Assam for example because the states has its own universities. The neighbouring state recently declared that CUET is not necessary for admissions. Meghalaya can’t afford to follow suit. In our state students who miss CUET may drop out or forgo a year at least. CUET has also reversed roles. Till class XII the poor and the rural students study in ill-equipped government schools while the rich are educated in posh private institutions. CUET has ensured that the rich have easy access to central institutions while the poor are forced into private universities against their means or give up on their dreams altogether. Until the state government is ready with alternatives CUET should be out. Like the Tamil Nadu government an Assembly resolution against CUET should be adopted.


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