Post Mortem

Nagaland’s felicitation culture

By Nagaland Post | Publish Date: 5/29/2019 11:37:07 AM IST

 Felicitation is an essential component of social life, and every morning, as I read our local dailies, I am reminded of how essential “Felicitation” is. As I sit down, each day, to read our newspapers, the pages are filled with felicitations. They actually remind me of our society’s most “unique” idiosyncrasies: excessiveness and vanity. Most people in Nagaland do go overboard. We like to do things in excess. It seems quite improbable for us to do things (in anything) within some sort of limits or bounds. We usually like to go to the extremes, without any limits (mostly in frivolous things): extreme felicitations, extreme vanities, extreme demand for quota system, extreme mismanagement of funds, extreme feminism, extreme party defections, extreme alcoholism, extreme dysfunctional government, and extreme numbers of NGOs, political parties, colleges, schools, coaching centers, entrepreneurs, and so on. We usually like to take things too far.

Felicitations should be done, but not to the extent that it is happening in Nagaland. We shower felicitations in newspapers because we think that it is new. But as it is written in our Holy Scripture: Is there a thing of which it is said,/ “See, this is new”?/ It has been already/ in the ages before us (Ecclesiastes 1: 10). Likewise, we think it is new or is happening for the first time, but remember, as we are reminded by the Scripture, everything has happened before. This passage reminds us to be humble and not immerse ourselves in vanities.

Sometimes I wonder what outsiders on their visit to our “unique” state, who are miles ahead of us in every possible aspect, think of us when they pick one of our local dailies only to find its pages filled with felicitations for passing tenth standards, twelfth standards, getting higher degrees, getting promotions, winning state and parliamentary elections, being selected/elected as a chairperson/president of various village councils, student bodies, Naga political groups, political parties, as well as for winning awards (ones which can be bought if one is well connected and financially viable). Upon stumbling onto such innumerable felicitations and the levels of such reasons of felicitations (passing exams as though no one had ever done it before, or as though being elected/selected into a parliament, legislative assemblies, students’ bodies or village councils, etc. is happening for the first time in human history) which hardly are a cause for celebrations, one is left wondering about how backward Nagaland is or must be to laud achievements of minor magnitudes.

This reminds me of a passage from a book by one of India’s most erudite and original thinkers (even more so than Gandhi), Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. The passage reads thusly: “The year I passed the English Fourth Standard Examination, my community people wanted to celebrate the occasion by holding a public meeting to congratulate me. Compared to the state of education in other communities, this was hardly an occasion for celebration. But it was felt by the organizers that I was the first boy in my community to reach this stage; they thought that I had reached a great height. They went to my father to ask for his permission. My father flatly refused, saying that such a thing would only inflate the boy’s head; after all, he has only passed an examination and done nothing more.”

I quote the above passage at lengths to implicitly illustrate to the readers of our overdone culture and tradition (and might as well add ‘customary’ to complete the circle, as the saying goes) of felicitation. We should indeed applaud those who deserve such laudations; yet, it is not necessary that it should be done for something that is one’s duties or responsibilities. In other words, I should, for example, not be commended for doing my job when, to borrow Ambedkar’s words, I had “done nothing more” than what is expected of me. It is as though, because I am a teacher/student, I should be felicitated in the local dailies about how well I taught the class/pass my final examinations, etc. Indeed, this example may seem rather far-fetched, but the logic is the same. Certainly, the class of achievements for which felicitation are hurled in almost every page of our local dailies is just inappropriate. Felicitate, but not to the extent of taking valuable spaces from the newspaper, which are meant for more serious concerns than a laudation for passing an exam, getting a higher degree, getting promoted, etc. (which are neither new nor unique). Win a Noble Prize or achieve something that changes the world like technologies that make modern life possible, life-saving medicine, etc. Those are proper causes for felicitation.

To felicitate and write, “…for bringing Laurels to our community,” for trifling matters only display our “mini” mindset and vindicate that we truly are a backward society. In addition, all such adulations, by and large, have a tendency to inflate the egos of those who are felicitated by making them think that they have achieved all that there is to achieve in life (of course, not all of them, but the majority of them); thus, making them complacent. We are small people, even our achievements are “mini,” small, and pitiful. Even the culture of felicitation has become a sort of unhealthy competition between tribes, clans, villages, range, families, etc.

I suppose even our newspapers ought to take responsibilities for inadvertently fueling our felicitation culture. I do understand that newspapers need revenue to run their papers. However, as the fourth pillar in a democratic society with one of the most important responsibilities of informing citizens about the conditions of one’s society and holding those in power to be accountable and responsible, our local news dailies ought to, at the very least, limit printing of such uncontrolled and overdone inconsequential felicitations. Additionally, our local newspapers are one of the centerpieces of our society, and when such centerpieces are filled with felicitations about minor, everyday accomplishments, it gives a bad and low image not only of the society but also of the standards and quality of our newspapers as well. These innumerable felicitations further ignoble their image. When we read the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Hindu, the Indian Express, etc., we will seldom come across felicitations (even noble prize winners do not get felicitated in the newspaper).

More importantly, such felicitations take up valuable space meant for public discussions. They rob readers as well as the society of valuable space for intense deliberations and considerations about important public matters, which the papers provide. Not to mention, we do pay newspaper bills. This is evident when we look at the majority of our local dailies. We find that in most of our newspapers very minimal amount of space is allocated for public discourse, sometimes some articles are published in two halves due to lack of space. We find ourselves in such conditions precisely because we tend to not know how to use whatever we have prudently and wisely. We tend to exploit and abuse whatever we are given, no exceptions. Let’s just look at some lists: abuse the space in the newspapers given to public by filling them with mundane felicitations, abuse the governmental departments as our personal piggy bank, abuse the land-ownership system, abuse the bank loan system which explains the innumerable new vehicles I see every day as I make my way to work, abuse the inchoate legal system by utilizing and invalidate them according to our convenience, abuse the voting system, and so on.

It is extremely saddening to see the citizens abuse the space and liberty given by our local dailies. It is saddening in particular because, for me, our newspapers are the only refuge for rational discussions and considerations in a society where most of its societal institutions are impaired and thus are oblivious to the needs and wishes of its people. It is neither with immense pride nor joy that I write this article, about the issue of “Felicitation.” I had hoped for a long time that such adulations of everyday accomplishments will be minimized as rational and sensible people of Nagaland will come to a realization about how silly the whole enterprise is. But, to my astonishment, it seems as though either people really don’t care or they haven’t realized the silliness of felicitating mundane achievements. Or, because we are Nagas, it just could well be simply a bandwagon effect, fearing not to be left out or outdone by other communities, clans, families, villages, etc., we follow the trend; we go where the crowd goes. We are good at this. I am confident that the majority of the readers are not too keen to see the pages of their newspapers being filled with felicitations. Hence, it is of immense importance that such felicitations be minimized in the interest of the general public.

I take great pain to clarify that I have no intentions of upsetting or offending anyone, and if I have, then I do apologize. Yet, at the same time, it is sometimes indispensable that in order to honestly discuss issues of vital importance, one must risk offending others. This is the only manner in which we can sincerely address societal maladies that chew away its very foundations.

Dr. Salikyu Sangtam, 

St. Joseph University

Launched on December 3,1990. Nagaland Post is the first and highest circulated newspaper of Nagaland state. Nagaland Post is also the first newspaper in Nagaland to be published in multi-colour.

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