Cancelling and its risks

Two incidents are cited here because they are good illustrations of the Cancel Culture trend that seem to be overtaking the west, something that sometimes veers too close to home shores as well.

The first one happened some years before Cancel Culture became a reality. In a little town in Denmark, the municipality were stopped from putting up a Christmas tree in order that they not offend some new members of the town who belonged to a different faith. The new people said it was offensive to their faith to set up a Christmas tree in the municipality they had made their home. Ignoring the wishes of the local people, the tree tradition was cancelled. The locals argued it was nothing to do with faith. A tree at Christmas began as a part of the old tradition of yuletide. They were right. The Christmas tree is actually a central part of the old pre-Christian tradition of setting up a pine tree to celebrate the winter solstice by letting children dance around it.

Jul or Jol as it is also called is the original name of an old Germanic, heathen midwinter festival. All German-speaking groups of people celebrated it. It was only in later years that Christmas came to be celebrated around the time of the pagan midwinter festival. Some activities of the festival that are no longer practised include the horse race to a place of open water so that the winning horse could drink the pure, life-giving water, which the first to drink would receive. This water would ensure that the owner would get the largest crop in the agricultural year. Another tradition pertaining to Christmas Eve, was to hide all the articles in the house that were valuable so that witches and evil spirits returning to earth would not find them. There are many traditions of this kind around Jul, many of whom are no longer followed. The Christmas tree tradition was simply one of these many customs. Well, the minority group had their way, and it has been a number of years since the town has put up a Christmas tree.

Just two weeks ago, there was a furore because the council of traders of a town ruled that a Christian group would not be allowed to participate in the Christmas tree lighting event. The Christian group in question was a charitable organisation that took care of immigrants and drug addicts and the homeless in the town. Every Thursday they gave out food parcels to the poor. Their office regularly distributed used clothing, shoes, gloves and woollen items of clothing to those who were struggling. Ironically, about a hundred years ago, it was the same Christian group that had initiated the tradition of setting up the Christmas tree in the town. Now they were being excluded from the tradition they had started!

The reason given for not allowing the Christian group was on the grounds of their uncompromising stand to uphold the biblical view of marriage in their congregation. This situation led to an uproar in the town with one half of the citizens defending the Christian group pleading that theyalso look after the weakest sections of society, whilst a small section used the opportunity to castigate the group as being intractable and old fashioned. It was a classic case of Cancel Culture carried to its extremes. Remember how actors from Harry Potter started cancelling the writer of the HP books? How much more ridiculous can you get?

For us in the Naga Hills, the tentacles of Cancel Culture have also made themselves visible in various arenas. It might not have been immediately recognisable as Cancel culture. It might have presented itself as protection of the sensibilities of a minority group, or some form of rights protection. But it is always a decision where another group suffers. I still find it surprising that the banning of beef was extended to Muslims whose religion does not prohibit them to eat beef. Why prohibit them from cow slaughter when their faith does not prohibit them? Why ban dog meat in Nagaland by an edict from Delhi? I am no dog-eater but the way some groups try to control how other groups think, act and eat should alarm all of us. Not every trend is wise or commendable. Not every decision is relevant or applicable to us. 

Was it not so long ago that the government tried to cancel Christmas day and declare it a working day for universities and offices to hold seminars on good governance? It is an inverted version of the cancel culture in operation where the majority tries to dictate to the minority. Memorising our fundamental rights again is not a bad idea. We did it for our tenth at school. Perhaps Tenth students nowadays have an app for the fundamental rights of citizens that we can borrow.