Individuality & the 21st century Northeast youth
“It’s my life” seems to be the credo of the millennials and post-millennials. We keep talking about changes in philosophical outlook and historical epochs which transcend us and ruffle our wings in its wake. The modern period and its further development into the post-modern era and, according to some, the post-post-modern times have led to many changes. The French philosopher Lyotard has famously said that post-modernity is “incredulity towards metanarratives”. Meta-narratives and grand narratives and grand theory are thrown out of the window. Instead of a single whole representing us, we are now confronted with a multiplicity of reality and choices --either our own or forced upon us.
Youths nowadays seem to be heading more and more towards individuality in modern society. I don’t mean here that individuality is a new thing. It has been a force for a long time. More so in the west than here in Northeast India, but it is catching up too, and fast. Individuality does not necessarily mean that a person leads an individual aloof life, far from everyone. Rather, it has more to do with the primacy of the self over the crowd, the group or in our case, to society, at large.
Why this sudden insight and thoughts about individuality? You, the reader, may say that in this modern world, we are all individual, we live our lives as we wish, and we search for a job and do many things by our own self. Why is this relevant? What is the need, you may ask? This is right to a large degree. But, one thing stands out, and that, my friend, is what makes all the differences.
We are living in a part of the country where help is rendered to those who need it. It is a region here the society loomed largely and the welfare of the community and harmonious living is one of the prime factors in life. From the Brahmaputra plains to the foothills of the Himalayas, from the soaring majestic peak of the Kanchenjunga to the Saramati Hills, from the highlands of Arunachal to the jungles of Mizoram, it is a place where camaraderie and joie de vivre (joy of living) is the hallmark of the people and the region. Companionship and the sacrifice of the self for the other is the main.
However, this does not mean that we do not have our problems. We have our misfits, our corrupt politicians and bureaucrats who care for their belly more than others. We have many since time long ago who are the antithesis of what a Northeasterner’s code of conduct should be. But these people are usually in the minority.
But to get back to our main thesis, individuality has come up in a big way in recent times. “I” and “me” is more important than “You” and “them”. In a fast-paced world with hardly any time for a short sojourn and in these days era of 24/7 social media interaction, that may be the case. In the past social relationship and our standing in society is based on our personal station and our contribution to society in various ways. The French Sociologist Durkheim based social relation in more primitive society on the basis of occupation or division of labour and on clan and kinship ties and modern or more advanced society with more diverse division of labour and social relationship based more on individuality. Where do we lie in such a typology?
Many used to say that Northeast is at a crossroad between tradition and modernity, both of which pull us in opposite directions with equal force and tenacity. Well, the same can be said about most of India too. Still another Naga friend once told me that the Nagas took a great leap forward, from traditional society to one that is modernist and Western-centric in view. Same is the case with most other Northeast states.
This indicated that we are in limbo, in a liminal phase, neither here nor there. Tradition is pulling at our legs and yet, our head and hands are reaching out to modern culture not only the Euro and western centric but also of east Asian influence which is gathering grounds. Our thoughts are not only our own now but also constrained and influenced by an overarching philosophical and cultural ethos which are completely alien to us, yet coming to be part of our thought process and mesmerising us with completely different values which many denounced. It is still hard to judge and gauge the impact of such culture on us.
The growing urban centres and the widening rift between the village and the city are also creating new forms of social organisation and functions. Urbanscape and its many new avatars showed marked differences from the traditional village and ethnic organisations. These new development points towards a more Western-centric liberal economy wherein the spatial distribution of space and time are entrenched in market economy and production and usefulness as a key.
Amid all these organised chaos, it is the individual and his personal space and his relationship to himself and the society at large that is in a state of flux. We all want to maintain our individuality, be an original, without a feeling of attached to any particular credo, at the same time; we want to maintain connection with the main, our roots. Many want connection without reciprocity, benefits without responsibility. We want to be true to our roots, but we don’t want the needed action to make it work. We want to stand alone, but we don’t want to be too far from the crowd.
In such a situation, many say “it’s my life” while looking back at the society. Our individuality is still half-hearted. Can we really afford to be individual in a culture like Northeast society? Can we really be outside the frame? The postmodern condition of multiple narratives and decentering of the main and a world of multiverse are in the wind. Yet, the tenacity of traditional ethos is still intact.
Whither Northeastern youth?
(Zara Bawitlung is a civil servant turned academician. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal)