Dr. Salikyu Sangtam
St. Joseph University
‘Development,’ is a highly misunderstood concept in Nagaland. We, both educated and uneducated, tend to habitually associate ‘development’ with the accumulation of material commodities such as money, wealth, property, land, vehicle, house, etc. No wonder, when people in Nagaland talk about ‘development,’ they usually have in mind the above-mentioned aspects. Or to be blatantly honest, when we say development, we mean material advancement exclusively for “My Group.” More often than not, we also tend to simply reduce development to one single aspect: “good roads.” The reason for such a reductionist assumption is that people in our society simply assume that with good roads alone, all the elements we usually associate with development or decent standards of living will follow—education, health care, business, and other wherewithal for modern living. The issue is that most of us have a misconception of the term “development.” In other words, we do not know what the term ‘development’ implies.
Our society usually associates ‘development’ with an upsurge in material conditions. This is why people in Nagaland do not just listen to anybody. Rather, we listen only to wealthy individuals (and those employed in the government sector) with money, buildings, and SUVs, even though these individuals lack the intelligence and have no knowledge on issues they are tasked to adjudicate. We listen to them because we usually assume they, by virtue of their material wealth, are ‘developed/advanced’ and competent to lead our society; and that, they alone can enrich the group’s material conditions.
However, it is rather strange to assume or even equate development with proliferation in material commodities or just good roads alone. The increases in such material conditions have very little whatsoever to do with development. We ought to realize that just because we see the growth of towns into cities, villages into towns, or the expansion of cities into even larger cities, these do not qualify as ‘development.’ Similarly, the expansion of Kohima and Dimapur—in terms of their spatial area, population, buildings, wealth—along with a surge in vehicles does not imply development. In other words, it is quite naïve to consider wealth, vehicles, buildings, increase in population and size of cities as criteria for “development.” To imply these aforementioned as criteria for development is a folly of the highest degree.
So, what is development? Development means a “Qualitative” change; an improvement in the quality of life. Development takes place when there are increments to the existing conditions. For example, if the area size or population of a society increases from 5 square kilometers to 10 square kilometers or from one lakh to three lakhs, respectively, over a period of, say, one year, we say that a given society has ‘grown’, not ‘developed.’ The point here is, if facilities essential for descent living—such as housing, sanitation, health care, electricity, education, and other provisions of basic services—remain the same with no additional increment, then development has not accompanied such a growth. Without development, such kinds of “Quantitative” growth in any society do not bring significant changes in the lives of most people, i.e. no improvement in the quality of life. The quality of life implies that people are given enough opportunities not only to improve their lives (facilitating upward social mobility) but also to lead a meaningful life. This does not simply mean a long life. Rather, it denotes a life with some purpose. Development should afford people to lead a meaningful life with some purpose that enables individuals to develop their innate talents and potentials, gain knowledge, have the freedom to achieve their goals, participate in their society, and have enough means to lead a decent life.
Usually, people in our society have neither the capacity nor resource to make basic choices due to poverty, social discrimination, institutional inefficiencies, lack of knowledge, and many other reasons. These prevent persons from getting access to essential public resources which could have otherwise enabled them to lead a decent life. For instance, very often, the poor in our society cannot afford medical care for their illness or education for their children because they lack resources. So, development enables the poor to get essential access to education, healthcare, and other resources that afford them to improve and lead a decent life. Trees, for instance, grow but they are able to bear fruits because of inner progressions that continue to transform a seedling into a tree; and the growth is not possible without the inner qualitative processes—such as transpiration, getting access to water, absorbing essential nutrients from the soil and having access to the sun for photosynthesis, etc.—enabling the seedling to develop into roots, branches, leaves, and fruits. In other words, development ought to bring Qualitative change in the lives of the destitute in our society; that is development.
It is essential, at this juncture, to distinguish between “Growth” and “Development.” It is essential to remind ourselves that Growth does not mean Development. Growth is a Quantitative change such as an expansion in the spatial size of towns, cities; or an increase in population, vehicles, buildings, technology, businesses, entrepreneurs, wealth, property, schools, colleges. Growth simply means a Quantitative increase in existing material conditions. Such growth does not necessarily mean a positive change, just as an increase in population is accompanied by numerous social problems, an improvement on road conditions leads to an increase in road fatalities, an increase in vehicles causes protracted traffic jams, an increase in establishments of schools and colleges competing for monetary gains leads to an inflation in degree holders, an increase in entrepreneurs—who by virtue do not produce any commodities—brings lots of sellers and no buyers since everybody is an entrepreneur, or an increase in buildings overwhelms the sewage system and hence leads to booming of business for cesspool cleaners. While, development, on the other hand, means an improvement in access to housing, health care, education, sanitation, welfare programs for the poor, etc. It enables the needy in a society to have access to resources and opportunities to improve and lead a decent life.
For instance, look at the big mega cities in India. These cities are expanding yearly. However, a majority of people dwelling there live either in the slums or, if one is lucky, in a destitute condition, while only very few privileged minority afford a good quality of lives. But the sad reality is that, for us, we take these ‘Growth’ as ‘Development’ and we try to emulate these kinds of feat in our own society. We think that all the new constructions and expansion of our towns are development, and we desire the same thing for ourselves.
The point here is that we have had enough growth. It is time for us to turn our attention to development, where we improve the quality and standards of living for a majority of our people. If our society only grows with no development, then ours will be a society of slums. Indeed, if one is honest, one must admit our state’s biggest cities do not even qualify to be called a city or town. Rather the most appropriate term is ‘Slum.’ Kohima, the state capital, and Dimapur, the state’s commercial hub, are glorified elongated slums. They are slum cities. One only needs to observe the road conditions, which are not roads but sewers; fresh water streams filled with human waste; open sewages that fill the ambiance with their filthy, hypnotizing aroma; highly overcrowded houses that seem more like a temporary refugee camps with no room for breathing; cities built with no planning for roads, sewers, sanitation, electricity, water; and no concerns for health and safety.
Lastly, development is qualitative, not quantitative, change precisely because it requires some fundamental inner transformation. A child may grow, but such a quantitative growth means very little if there is no qualitative progression in the child’s aptitudes: verbal and vocabulary skills, comprehension, reasoning, logical power, interpretative ability, ability to perform and complete tasks, etc. What transforms a child to maturity require an inner transformation in his idiosyncrasies—temperance, self-understanding, self-knowledge, patient, perseverance, kindness, generosity, etc. Likewise, development not only entails progression in the quality of life but also a major inner transformation within the individuals’ personalities inhabiting a society. That is a change in peoples’ mindset: broad mindedness, ability to realize and accept one’s faults and ameliorate those faults, etc. No doubt, people in Nagaland have nagging tendencies to dismiss such calls for change in mentality by asserting, “However, it (inner transformation) will neither fill our stomach nor repair the roads.” Regardless, development requires a change in the inner person. Without such inner transformation, our society will continue to remain backward, just as when people from Nagaland travel abroad and return home with the same narrow-minded mentality.
The Mentality is what differentiates the developed from backward societies. Our mentality has not matured; we are still mentally primitive, wild, and raw. Even if we drive big foreign cars, live in big houses, or are up to date with the latest fashion trends, we will continue to be a backward state as long as our mentality does not change. Indeed, wealth, land, property, fashion do not automatically mean you are developed or advanced. You can have all the material wealth and still be primitive. That is why all the tribes in Nagaland are backward and we do not have the right to degrade each other by classifying some as advanced and others as backward when in reality we are all equally Backward.
To end on a positive note, I hope the readers will begin to see things in a newer light on how our society has deteriorated, right in front of our eyes, because we’ve remained docile and lacked the courage and will to concern ourselves with the well-being of our society. Our inaction, our docility has brought us to where we are today. Nagaland continues to linger as a backward state precisely because we’ve never really understood the term “development” and what it entails.