The balance between modern and tradition is extremely tricky and problematic as is demonstrated at practically every issue that confronts the state, and indeed the Northeast. This is to a great extent because, in our opinion, the place is only recently out of the “pre-modern” era, or euphemistically referred to as the traditional, and consequently its experience of the “modern” is relatively nascent. Adding to the problem is also the fact that the rules of the game of “modernity” was fashioned much before the societies, such as in the Northeast, decided to either by fate or faith, join the league. That is to say, none of our societies were part of the social processes that forged the terms, conditions and understandings of “modernity”. But the question remains, should we welcome the modernity with all its bells and whistles, or should we stubbornly stick to the “traditional” ways. Or is there also a midway house?
The urgency of the question was exposed yet again, and in a rather bizarre way in a report some years ago of a married woman who disappeared mysteriously four years ago, suddenly resurfacing in a remote village, married to another man. There is nothing to be surprised or shocked about the fickleness of cupid’s spell, as indeed Shakespeare imagined in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, but the trouble here is not so much about the cupid’s inconsistency and unfaithfulness, but the breach of law this caused. At the time of the disappearance of the woman, the needle of suspicion of the neighbourhood and relatives of the woman was on her husband, and a case led to the man and his father being jailed for six months. Now that it is known they had been wrongly punished, the irreversible injustice done is obvious. In this particular case, the saving grace is, at least some semblance of the modern jurisprudence was invoked. There have however been so many other cases, when this was not done at all, and instant and brutal mob justice was resorted to. In recent times, nothing has been a more stark evidence of this than the much publicised Dimapur lynching of an alleged rapist. No dispute about it that rapists deserve the most severe penalties, but the nagging suspicion always left behind, as indeed in the Dimapur case also did is, what if the penalised man was innocent. The virtue of modern procedural law, though long and winding, then becomes apparent.
The issue is confronted on other fronts too. Take the instance of the notion of homeland. Some of the most gruesome bloodlettings, as well as the most vexing conflict situations have resulted out of these. Given a rigid adherence to these notions, there is little other way than to continue confronting these frictions – between varying understandings and claims of homelands by different traditional communities, as well as between these traditional notions and the modern land tenure-ship mechanisms. The case of the Manipur Land Revenue & and Land Reforms Act, MLR&LR Act, and its limited applicability because of the resistance to it from many traditionalist quarters, exemplifies this dilemma quite unambiguously. In Manipur the problem is further compounded because the degree of acceptance of this “modernity” starkly contrasts between its two distinct regions – the hills and the valley, the former showing much more reluctance to step out into the “modern”. As to which attitude proves to be more advantageous in the universal struggle for survival, we are not the ones to judge, although we do definitely have an opinion on this. Only time, we suppose will tell which way the future is inclined, whether it belongs to the traditionalists or those who embrace the modern. Our opinion, (not a judgement) is, it is the modern which will hold and hence the sooner we come to terms with it, the better it will be. In literature, acclaimed African writer, the late Chinua Achebe has dealt with the subject so convincingly and passionately in Things Fall Apart. Arguably, few or no literary works thus far has pitted the nostalgia for the traditional and the inevitability of the modern as poignantly. That Achebe too, though painfully, acknowledges the modern as the brave new world, is yet another confirmation that readiness to change is the key to the future.