Friday, August 14, 2015

Who is a free person?



Morung Express Editorial
 
The Nagas’ fight for that thing called ‘freedom’ is as long as the lifespan of an average Naga. But it doesn’t seem that ‘absolute freedom’ which we also call as ‘political sovereignty’ will be possible in our time or anybody’s life time. But in this many, many years of freedom struggle, how many of us ponder on ‘what does it mean to be free?’ How do we define a free person or people? Besides the political and economic rearrangements, how will that freedom taste like to the individual? 

In our present set-up, who do we think is the freest person? In the WordWeb dictionary, ‘freedom’ is defined as ‘the condition of being free; the power to act, speak or think without externally imposed restraints’. To go by this definition, none of us experience complete freedom because we all suffer from restraints. Even the chief minister or the governor of our State cannot act, speak, or think freely all the time. We often have the misconception that only if we go higher in social or economic strata, we will become our own boss. But there is circularity in the social hierarchy that the ones at the top are subject to the masses, as in the case of politicians. Some may be of the opinion that a thinker, an artist, a free lancer, or a university professor is freer than other government officers because of freedom of thought and speech. There is truth in that and is a good point to ponder when one chooses a career path. But each has his/her restraint, for example, to act out his ideas for societal change beyond the four walls of the university campus becomes a restraint in the professor’s freedom. 

Most Nagas who fight for political freedom also profess another kind of freedom which makes the two strange bedfellows. We often see the rainbow flag and the cross of Christ side by side (sometimes, amusingly we also see the flag of Israel with the Naga flag). The cross is a symbol we use as a legitimizing factor and an impetus for our freedom struggle. But the symbolism gets discomforting that the cross is used as a symbol of freedom. The message of the cross is one of liberation. But the pathway to freedom is where the two doesn’t seem to match. The cross is a symbol of defeat. The hero of that freedom died the death of a criminal and hung outside the city walls some 2000 years ago. It is a freedom which comes from submission and surrendering. The message of the cross has political ramifications. But it is a freedom which does not come by overthrowing a political enemy by hook or crook but by winning them over. The means to achieving that freedom is as important as the end of having achieved it.

National freedom wasn’t a foreign thought to the people among who the message of the cross came. Good News meant in the minds of the people, freedom from foreign occupation. Messianic expectation of all things included kicking out the Romans, rebuilding the temple, and return of YHWH to Zion. And when Jesus talked of Kingdom, people must be filled with hope. But Jesus would turn this expectation upside down. Instead of focusing on the Romans, he asked the people to give up their way of being Israel and trust the kingdom he was bringing. The characteristics of the new kingdom were so distasteful to the people that they hanged him, collaborating with their foreign oppressors. We Nagas have created a very dangerous mix of pseudo-religion and nationalism where we use the former to legitimize the later. But true freedom will come when we give up ‘our way’ of attaining that freedom and surrender ourselves (personally and corporately) to the character of the cross. 

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in  

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A confusing time



Morung Express Editorial
 
Is it a time to rejoice or fear? The signing of the ‘framework agreement’ between the NSCN-IM and Government of India, even before the content is made public, seems to have a polarizing effect. It resulted in a thanksgiving candlelight program in the southern Naga areas, scratching of heads in the north, a lot of speculations in between, and flexing of arms in the neighboring States. But, it sure is amusing that there should be a thanksgiving program before the content of the ‘agreement’ is even made public. It speaks of the general sentiment of the people in those areas. Meanwhile, in Nagaland, there were ‘no celebration or bursting of crackers, no banners or festoons to mark the occasion’, as reported by the Indian Express.

A lot of speculations are doing the rounds meanwhile as to the content of the agreement. Some speak of extension of Article 371A, forming Pan-Naga Council, while some talk of armed battalions for surrendered IM cadres, and so on and so forth. But it might be the case that the signatories themselves are not so sure how the agreement will be worked out it detail because it was perhaps just an agreement on some broad principles. NSCN-IM is said to have roped in Professors from Golden Gate University, San Francisco and Australian National University, and a Kenyan Academician to work the details with Government of India. But keeping the agreement a secret will only make it harder for the public to accept any ‘accord’ or solution arrived at. 

Do the negotiators have the people’s mandate? Speculations and rumors are not the way to go for bringing peace. The belligerent parties should be made to understand what is being reconciled. But the agreement was shrouded in secrecy and it caught both the Home Ministry of the government of India and the Nagas by surprise. The government of India’s willingness to talk only to those groups who are willing to talk makes it a poor peacemaker. The civil society doesn’t only means the few individuals who are holding the so-called apex bodies. The public should have been consulted. But if the leaders of the apex organizations are also expressing shock and surprise at the agreement, having the mandate of the people is out of the question.

 A coincidence which can fuel speculations is that the NLF consultative meeting at Jotsoma with various apex organizations was soon followed by the agreement signing in Delhi, then swiftly by the Chief Minister giving a clarion call to Nagas to not harbor negative feelings against Modi or Muivah. Is the State government playing the role of ‘John the Baptist’ paving the way for the ‘good news’ (framework agreement) and the role of the Apostle Paul in appealing to the Nagas to accept the agreement? But the difference here is that the ‘missionary’ does not know the content of the good news, and he asks the people to blindly believe. Or is it the case that some of the public leaders who expressed shock and surprise but are appealing to the public to accept the agreement knew all along the content of the agreement? Again, this is in the domain of speculation. The various tribal organizations’ agreement to the five points resolution of the NLF at Jotsoma cannot be taken as having the people’s mandate for what is being negotiated in Delhi. As the Sumi Hohos said, in a couple of hours they cannot decide and they should go back to the people.

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in  

Living beyond our means


Morung Express Editorial 

When the last State general election came knocking, there was talk that BJP might come to power at the Centre in the next Lok Sabha election. So, if the NPF wins in the State and BJP at the Centre, some believed that money will start pouring in again. One reason which people believed to be the cause of our perennial budget deficit was that NPF government in the State and Congress government at the Centre are opposed to each other. So, Nagaland was never given enough money. The expectations of positive change came through with thumping victories for both NPF and BJP. But from the first State budget (2015-16) since the BJP took over at the Centre, it seems like the financial situation has not changed.  

What could be the reason that money has not poured in as expected? One reason could be the factional fight within NPF which led to induction of Congress legislators into the ruling coalition. Nagaland earned the status of being the only State where BJP and Congress came together to form the government. The situation which led to the coalition suggests that it was not the Naga national issue which joined the two together although that is the reason being projected. But by the infighting, we managed to create a situation which will not win the favor of any government at the Centre.

Another explanation could be that Nagaland is insignificant and whichever government takes over at the Centre, the funding would have remained the same and the budget deficit would have continued anyway. Ours is a small State and we neither have the numbers nor other resources to affect the Centre to look our way. We do have potentials but that is how things stand at the moment. 

Perhaps another reason could be some change in policy, where the BJP government has other priorities than caring for poorer States like Nagaland. Although I am not well versed on Niti-Aayog, it seems like the alternative to Planning Commission may adversely affect poorer States and States where there is poorer planning mechanism. Under the new central government, there has been budget cut in Health and Education and the effect of this has been felt. Is this a sign of the changes to come? In pursuit of a certain model of economic development, there is possibility of pursuing progress through a form of market capitalism which favors the multi-national companies and private players at the expense of social programs which favor the poor. During the earlier years of UPA, there was the MGNREGA and NRHM which were mega programs favoring the poor. But under Modi, except for appealing to give up LPG gas subsidy, promises of digitizing the nation and building smart cities, there is no innovative mega scheme or program for the majority poor.      
  
Every year, we hear of budget deficit of over a thousand crores. So, what are the plans to get rid of this deficit? The one thing we love to do is to go to Delhi with our traditional waist coats as begging bowls. One area which stood out from this year’s State budget is to increase taxes for revenue generation. But that will not be sufficient to cover up the deficit. Other major plans to increase revenue or pluck leakage were found missing. Instead, the budget session seems to have been dominated by discussions on the Naga political issue, which is being discussed over and over, in public forums, kitchen discussions and in the booze joints. Instead, the plight of our farmers from Pfutsero in Dimapur recently, their livelihood being affected by a syndicate run by unscrupulous agents in our own land, should have been a very hot topic of discussion, to cite an example. We keep on saying, ‘there is no fund’, ‘there is no fund’, yet we live like ‘high-profile beggars’. It is time to realize that we are living beyond our means, and we must start to think deep, plan and work hard to overcome the huge deficit.

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in  

Childhood Obesity



Morung Express Editorial
 
Before, children used to play outside. Now, they play indoors. What constitutes ‘play’ has changed that ‘playing’ mobile games require minimal physical activity. The lack of physical activity causes obesity which is a risk factor for lifestyle diseases like cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, certain cancers, etc. But what we might be missing here is that children have stopped playing outside not only because they have got newer playing tools like video games, smart phones or laptops. They stopped playing outside because the playgrounds have been vanishing. Every small open space is used to construct a building. When I go to Pfutsero to the locality where I was born and raised; right in the middle of my childhood football ground, there is now a staff quarter building. It is very important for town and city planners that in each locality, there is a park or an open space where children can play and adults can walk.       
    
Price of healthy food like organic vegetables and fresh fruits are skyrocketing. Junk food is easily available and affordable for everyone. Junk food is a slang word use for food items which are low in nutrition and high in salt, sugar and fat: potato chips, aloo bhujia, fried chicken, burgers, pizzas, carbonated drinks, etc. Because of junk food, 20% of school children in India are overweight. In the diet, not more than 30% of energy should come from fats. But in potato chips, 50-60% of calories come from fats. When you drink a 300 ml of carbonated drink like coca cola or pepsi, you have taken 2 days quota of your sugar requirement. Any sugar you take beyond this (tea, sweets, even fruits) is not healthy for you anymore. The high salt content in junk food is not only for the taste or preservation of the food item. Salt produces a craving similar to that of an addiction. So, it is said that junk food alters the brain activity like what cocaine or heroin does to an addict. Now that Maggi is off the shelves, there are alternatives which are making their way to the market. Although high lead content was the reason for banning Maggi, salt content would have done so much more damage to the health of children. Each packet contains 3 grams of salt while the daily recommended salt intake for adults is 5 grams. There are about 25 adverse health conditions which are caused by excess salt intake. It is time we pay attention to the labels on the junk food packets.

About 30 % of the world’s population is overweight and this is increasing rapidly. The major modifiable risk factors for obesity are lack of physical activity and unhealthy diet. The financial burden of this obesity is an estimated £1.3 trillion a year or 2.8 percent of global economic activity. The reversal of this trend lies in teaching and training healthy lifestyle for our children, because once obesity sets in, the recent research study shows that it is extremely difficult to go back to normal shape. WHO recommends that children between 5 to 17 years of age should accumulate at least 60 minutes of -moderate to vigorous- intensity physical activity daily. Physical activity includes play, games, sports, transportation, recreation, physical education or planned exercise, in the context of family, school, and community activities. Vigorous intensity activities (by which muscles and bones are strengthened) should be included at least 3 times a week. Balanced diet consists of greater portion of rice, bread, pasta; followed by fruits and vegetables; and less of meat and milk products; with fats, oils and sweets to be consumed the least.

Land of Contradictions



Morung Express Editorial

During the days of State Road Shows, Chief Minister Neipiu Rio would give titles to the districts as he saw them. To Phek he gave the title ‘Land of Tradition’; to Mokokchung ‘Land of Music’ and so on. Nagaland is showcased as ‘Land of Festivals’ while we see some car stickers saying ‘Land of Mission’. While they carry positive messages, there are undesirable titles which are also applicable: ‘Land of Taxation,’ ‘Land of Unions and Associations’, ‘Land of Potholes’, etc. Let me also propose, although there is nothing new about it, that Nagaland is a ‘Land of Contradictions’. 

Padma Seth said in a health research report, ‘There are still people in our country some of whom are in the 2nd century India, 9th century and some others are knocking at the emerging 21st century India’. Professor Dipankar Gupta calls our modernity ‘mistaken’ because although we equate being modern with having the latest electronic gadgets and wearing branded clothes, we still carry a primitive mindset. So, although lifestyle has advanced, our minds have not modernized. 

A friend clicked a picture of Ghaziabad which shows in a single frame, a five star hotel, a slum, and a multi-storey building complex under construction. This reminded me of a photo I clicked in Mon town which shows thatched houses, tin-roofed houses and RCC buildings existing side by side. I have written before of the ‘other’ Nagaland which we hardly see. When we, the urban-educated-salaried people, think that Nagas are all marching along on the road of progress, there are these other invisible Nagas in our midst who have stood still or are progressing too slowly. A few days back, I traveled to a remote district and what I witnessed re-enforced this notion that we live in a land of contradictions. 

In one village which is very near the district headquarter; I talked to women who give birth, assisted only by their husbands. Taken by surprise, I asked, ‘not assisted even by traditional birth attendant, your mother, sister, or any women by your side?’ They replied that they don’t inform anyone while giving birth. How does your husband help? I inquired further. The husband helps in warming water, cleaning up, and taking care of the house. Does he touch the baby while delivering? No, he doesn’t do that. So, it is all done by the mother: delivering the baby, cutting the umbilical cord with a piece of bamboo, tying it up with a sewing thread, and removing the placenta! How many days, weeks, or months of rest do you take before and after delivery, I asked. There is no rest before birth, and one month after birth, they are back to their fields.

Certain women are choosing caesarian section as a normal method of delivery to avoid labor pain. But we have women who still deliver babies at home on their own. The greater irony is that in this village, there is a primary health centre with nurses who are present and willing to assist deliveries. The ASHAs who are community health workers go to these women educating them on the importance of safe delivery in the health centre and announcing that they will be given financial incentives. These women I talked to are aware of such provisions. But that awareness has not translated into action. There is still a big traditional belief and cultural practices barrier (and other factors too like female literacy, income, etc) which is obstructing that knowledge to be translated to behavior change. 

The interview with the women was for a report which will come alongside the State Human Development Report. And it compels one to question, what type of development are we talking about? Are we counting the number of cars which have been increasing? Are we looking at the high-rise buildings in Kohima, Dimapur and some district headquarters? The progress we have made so far has not touched a huge section of our rural and some urban population, and we have marched ahead without them. The result is that some of us are knocking at the doors of the emerging 21st century while some are left behind. This blend of glaring contradictions and tragic-comedy situation can entitle Nagaland to be also called ‘Land of Contradictions’.

Dr. Sao Tunyi works as an Epidemiologist at Directorate of Health and Family Welfare, Kohima. Feedback can be sent to saotunni@yahoo.co.in, or visit his blog www.thatchhouse.blogspot.in