Monday, November 28, 2022

Rethinking Naga society in contemporary times

As part of the Tokhu Emong celebration 2022, the Lotha Welfare forum Delhi oragnized a symposium on ‘Embracing Change’. The objective was to help the young generation rethink on some of the challenges the Naga society faces in contemporary times, such as gender equality and mental health where stigmas are attached due to deep cultural upbringings. Hence, the conversation was welcomed as a progressive way of embracing change in our society and also rethinking Naga festivals going beyond celebrating through songs, dances, and feastings.
The programme started with a welcome address by Prof.Benrithung Murry, Chairman, Lotha Welfare Forum Delhi. The chairperson of the symposium was Prof.Zuchamo Yanthan. He introduced the theme by stating how important is to live in the present and be conscious of the things around us. Living in the present is the way to move forward as only by living in the present do we become conscious of the things around us and consciousness helps us to think critically which helps in finding ways in taking society forward for the better. Furthermore, embracing change is the key to our growth as an individual and taking the Naga society forward. Hence, engaging ourselves in a conversation like ‘embracing change can help us rethink how best we can move forward. It is change that allows us to meet new people, enjoy new experiences, develop new skills and ideas, learn new knowledge and information, achieve great feats, and also lead our society for the better. Change helps us transform and have breakthroughs. However, the question is, why do people resist change? Why does it feel so hard to adjust to it?
The first speaker was Nzanmongi Jasmine Patton, associate professor of English at Gargi Collge, University of Delhi. She presented on ‘Rethinking Lotha Naga women’s roles in contemporary times’. She started by appreciating the forum for pioneering this progressive idea by mediating tradition and modernity, especially, during celebrations like the Tokhu Emong festival. She added that celebrating culture is important but allowing room for new ideas and revisiting and redefining old ideas is the need of the hour in the 21st century. She stated that being able to celebrate Tokhu in this manner and in the city shows that we are living amid change, embracing change, a self-explanatory title that graces the title of the symposium. She quoted Dr. BR Ambedkar who said “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress women have achieved” and Barrack Obama who said, “You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be based on how it treats its women and it’s girls”. Nzanmongi emphasised the need of empowering women and changing the way the Lotha Naga society has been treating the women folk even in contemporary times. She went on to talk about how women are important for community and Nation building, and that furthermore, women are the first teacher of every child making it, even more, a necessity for women to be informed and educated right. She went on to speak about the stereotyped roles assigned to men and women differently and how somewhere these engendered limits not just the latter but the former as well. She used examples from folktales about the images of ideal women and men, and how through these narratives the gender constructs are reiterated and defined, and therefore even stories need to be interrogated and studied.
She also spoke about how in the changing world, and the nuclear family system there is an urgent call for attention to the home and family as a site of change. She mentioned how household chores are a shared responsibility and that these are survival skills that empower both men and women. She stated that the traditional patriarchal way of the Naga society needs rethinking as women today are professionally sharing equal spaces with men and also doing better. She highlighted the importance of education and its importance in bringing changes to society. Ending her talk by quoting Brickham Young who said “You educate a man, you educate a man and if you educate a woman, you educate a generation”. She ended her presentation by emphasising and stressing on the duties we have as members of civil society to make conscious efforts in creating and enabling conditions, and creating a community of support where women can reach their potential and thrive, thereby leading to a more holistically progressive society.
The second speaker was Khyothunglo Humtsoe, Assistant Professor at Cluster Innovation Centre, University of Delhi and also Deputy Dean of student welfare, university of Delhi. She presented on ‘Working Towards Positive Mental Health’. She stated that there is 3 major important factors regarding mental health i.e. emotional, psychological, and social. She stressed her concern about the lack of studies available on mental health in Nagaland. In her presentation, he referred to a study which was conducted by the Ao Naga community with a total of 500 participants. She said the thematic analysis of this study revealed that personal factors such as frustration, lack of self-esteem, laziness, tension, and worrying too much were attributed as major causes of mental illness in the state. The second factor, she said is parental negligence or lack of parental guidance, and thirdly societal stigmas associated with curses, malfunctioning of the brain, poison, etc as the main factor. All these were submissions made by the participants in the study connected, which are not supported by any scientific literature on mental illness. This shows the lack of awareness we have as a community on this subject. Other studies conducted post-2013 also revealed psycho-social factors rather than physiological reasons. Many of the participants in the study are all educated having possessed degrees not lower than the Graduation level. However, she said that the findings indicate the lack of awareness people have of mental illness.
She also emphasised her concern about the stigmas associated with mental health in the Naga society, which is in fact the main reason why most mental illnesses go untreated. For instance, in the Naga society, if a person is found to be mentally ill, people tend to look at the person as though a curse has befallen him or her and even considered the atonement of sins of the family. As a result, people hide their illnesses which further creates a hindrance in accepting and coming forward for finding a solution. Moreover, there is also a lack of infrastructure and resources required for looking after the well-being of persons with mental illness. On the positive side, she adds since Naga society has a helping culture, it is enabling our society to tackle many challenges. We help each other out and we are there for each other. This is important going forward as according to her such community-based interventions really work in handling such challenges. She adds that the same method has been tested successfully in the states of Arunachal Pradesh and Karnataka and but it works best for Nagaland. Talking about emotional intelligence and its importance for positive mental health, she adds that people may not be expressive but the ability to help out each other reflects that our status in this area is not low. She emphasises the importance of being culturally sensitive in treating mental illness is very vital. Culture-specific methods such as taking the community and the family in when we are going for treatment are very important in mental illness. Finally, she ended her presentation by emphasising the importance of letting go of our beliefs on mental illness and rather tackle the challenges using proper scientific methodology.
At the end of the session, the chairperson of the symposium Prof.Zuchamo Yanthan gave his concluding remark and the way forward of the symposium for rethinking the way Naga celebrate festivals by creating space where festivals can be an opportunity for creating space for academic discourses on some of the challenges the Naga society is faced with in contemporary times such as gender equality, mental illness, fine-tuning social practices, broadening our worldviews, inclusiveness, broadening our idea of neighborhood, social awareness of our environment, and wildlife and preserving our cultural heritages. Finally, the takeaway from the symposium is to celebrate festivals not only for remembering our cultural heritages but most importantly to critically think about fine-tuning our culture, strengthening our cultural values, and embracing progressive values to move forward.
The programme ended with a vote of thanks by Dr.Rembomo Odyuo, Assistant Professor, IGNCA and the rapporteur was Dr.Irwin Lalmuanpuii Odyuo, Assistant Professor, University of Delhi
Prof. Benrithung Murry, Chairman
Echungbemo Humtsoe, Secretary
Lotha Welfare Forum Delhi

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