Knowledge Alone Is Not Enough: Contextualisation is significant


By Amar Yumnam
I invariably maintain a short hair. While I was growing up, my father, my elders, my teachers and the entire older generation advised me and our generation of boys to keep the hair short. Since then I have always enjoyed keeping the hair short except for a short period of crazy filmy imitations while I was in the twenties. Whenever I feel my hair longer than the usual length I enjoy, I feel disturbed and my own alertness compromised. So whenever I feel such feelings, I see to it that I sheared my hair wherever I am. The place could be from Imphal to anywhere in the globe where I happen to be at the moment. But I am amazed by the differences in the outcome between Imphal and Delhi. While the barbers in Imphal and Paris are very heterogeneous by race, outlook, culture and what not, those in Imphal and Delhi are marked by mainly homogeneous factors. Further, the knowledge and method of the barbers in Imphal and Delhi are marked by many common features. In fact, even the language of interaction is almost the same. Whenever I go for the service in Delhi, I never get my hair cut in the way I want and used to. I always end up with a hair-cut a typical Delhiite would usually go for if desired for short hair. Despite my repeated suggestions I would never get the one I am used to. The experience in Imphal is quite the contrary. I just utter my preference, and I always invariably get the one I desire. This happens even if I change the barbers.

Now the question is why and how do the differential results emerge? Both the set of barbers in Delhi and Imphal are adept in their profession. The Delhi set never yields the result I like while the Imphal group invariably does. This is because the Delhi group has contextualised their knowledge and mastery over the skill in tune with the general attitude and preferences of the people there. So they are not tuned to appreciate the differential preference of an individual arriving in Delhi from another place. Similar is the case in Imphal. The barbers in Imphal have contextualised their knowledge and skill to the prevailing preferences of the people here. So when I ask for giving me a short hair, the Imphal barber can immediately visualise the contextualised preference of the person from Manipur.

So the similar knowledge and skills cannot give equalised outcomes, and have to adjust to the context of application to yield desired results alive to the preferences therein. This is exactly the case in the case of the science and the art of policy making as well. We need to be particularly alive to this reality in the contemporary context of Manipur.

Manipur is currently at a tipping point. From this it can emerge stronger and become a very vibrant society. It can as well sink into absolute chaos and become an absolutely failed state. It is exactly in this context that the hair cutting experience becomes relevant. If we can have policies alive to the contextual realities of Manipur, she can emerge stronger. But if we fail on this score, the outcome of chaos would become a reality.

But how can we ensure the evolution of policies that would make Manipur stronger and brighter?  This would be possible only when the policies are founded on multifaceted knowledge and understanding. This knowledge and understanding should also be located in the contextual realities of Manipur. It is incumbent on my part to explain what I mean by multifaceted knowledge. One very relevant contextual understanding of Manipur demands that our knowledge should not be founded on politics alone. It is true that politics and articulations based on politics are now highly visible in Manipur today. But knowledge and understanding of Manipur based only on the basis of politics alone would be farthest from reality and completeness of knowledge. There are aspects of livelihood, culture, and so many issues impinging on the subjects of Economics, Sociology and other social sciences and in a much more significant way than politics.

Now the question arises as to who would be the group of people who could articulate and evolve a policy alive to the contextual realities of Manipur best. Remember here that the skilful barber in Delhi could not give a satisfactory hair-cut to a Manipuri while the same based in Imphal could easily do so. By the same token, the long experience of Manipur with policies evolved and imposed by the knowledgeable and skilful experts from Delhi has never been up to the mark; the results yielded have in most cases been contrary to expectations. Instead of reviewing the incompetence of the approaches so far, there are signs of deepening and widening them. Further, increasingly the approach is founded on politics instead of on a multifaceted one. In other words, the approach to policy evolution for the region is moving fast towards greater incompetence. Despite knowledge and skill, the policy-makers based in Delhi would be as successful and skilful like the barbers shearing the hair of a Manipuri in Delhi. Fundamentally what requires is the contextualisation of policies from Delhi and founding them on multifaceted strengths. This function can best be performed by regional authorities and not by Delhi mandarins alone.


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