‘When you are accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression’
Nagaland today has undeniably a class divide. If someone thinks that Naga society is egalitarian, he is living in a fool’s paradise. But to my amazement, I have come across such claim in the not so distant past, unsurprisingly by someone who I will say belongs to the elite club of Nagaland. He claims that everyone in Nagaland, whether an officer or a chowkidar now drive similar cars to prove his point that we Nagas enjoy social equality unlike casteist Indian societies. Not many people will think or make such a brazen statement in a public platform. However, he reflects the thought pattern of the class/club of elites of the day.
The existence of an elite club is debatable. No such club would exist as an officially registered entity. But I would argue that elite club(s) exists and officially registered too under many nomenclatures. What led to their formation may go like this: There were people who ate with forks and spoons while their compatriots were still eating from banana leaves. With the passage of time, they started to drive their own cars while the others were the savages who scratched the cars with their nails. And the differentiation increased just as land masses separated to form the continents as we see today. The club members claim to have history, culture, and a gigantic sense of entitlement to privileges while outsiders have none of those. By virtue of membership, they have ‘access pass’ to exclusive events, benefits, and claims. Inclusion criteria for membership include lineage of modern education, possessing political or bureaucratic clout, influence of affluence, name prefixes and suffixes, refinement of foreign country experience, authority of age, etc.
The constant thread felt by the club members is the intrusion of outsiders into the club membership. The inclusion criteria are well-guarded lest the sanctity of the club is polluted by inclusion of those who don’t fit in. With the new-found wealth, there are new intruders in town who are posing as members. These wannabes can afford forks and cars. They can even emulate the swagger and the lingo of the club members. This irritates the club members. It has led to the confusion if one is a wannabe or a club member. Club members are working overtime, narrowing the criterion for inclusion so as to keep out wannabes. Threat also comes from outsiders who have no intention to join the club but have the potential of shaking the status quo and taking away club privileges.
Club membership may appear harmless and hilarious at times. But when the sense of entitlement to privileges extends to public facilities, resources, and platforms; it ceases to be harmless and funny. Take the example of road-side manners. In the honking, overtaking, and parking behaviors, see the difference between club members and outsiders and witness the sense of entitlement in the former. Club members ought to remember this that while they alone owned cars during the yesteryears, they must share the public facility with outsiders who have now bought cars, for they have equal rights to the road. I have attended a program where a politician spoke with grave concern about the need to teach manners to taxi and minibus drivers, unaware that it was he who needed lecturing more than anyone. Looting of public resources is also justified as entitlement to privileges by virtue of occupying public leadership position. To them, Corruption is not wrong. It is simply availing the perks of occupying an office chair. That position is misused to serve one’s own future generation too. We have heard of leaders propping up their sons to high positions. We then have leaders who shine in the shadow of their fathers and have nothing of their own to offer. It also kills opportunity for deserving leaders to rise. We have youth icons who inherited ‘entrepreneurship’ (as someone commented in social media), and have the government of the day as godfather. And they preach about struggle and perseverance of entrepreneurship to aspiring students. White man’s burden is alive. It is called grey men’s burden. Self-serving male officers on the day of retirement suddenly find their voice of righteousness and offer to provide unsolicited advice and solution to the problems in the society. Experience and age are to be respected no doubt. But isn’t it more effective to do something right while one is in high position? Take the example of corruption in high places, which is a major worry for the day: Is it due to the mindlessness of today’s youth or the willful doings of the now retiring people?
It set me off one day not long ago to suggest that I am a member of the club, and a late entrant at that. I neither have political nor bureaucratic clout, neither affluence nor refinement of a foreign travel. What could possibly put me in the club wrongly would be the prefix to my name or that I put my thoughts to keyboard as I am doing now. I have no intention to renounce the prefix. I am grateful for the gift and will not discredit it. But the way things are that the pursuit of such prefix has become the measuring rod of someone’s worth or respect, and therefore the craze for them, I have decided to use it minimally. And by the way, I plan to write a proper book one day. I am not trying to be a modest elite either and receive humility as a reward. I have received my recognition in full and even some unwarranted ones sometimes. I simply refuse to be identified as a club member. There is nothing spectacular about my upbringing and I don’t desire an ‘access pass’ to privileges in life.
The dynastic control of the elite club is responsible for the viscous cycle of corruption and discrimination. The stranglehold of a few to entitlements and privileges need to be broken. The present unrest which has filled the front pages is birth pangs for a new social order. Young shakers are up and out in the street making this year 2017 ‘the year of protests’. Slowly the outsiders are finding their collective voice for a fairer deal. It is time to tow the club members back in queue and let them wait for their turn to be served.