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Can a Thread Tie Modernisation and Tradition Together?

As more and more communities become ‘modern’, a civilisation as old as India runs the risk of losing its age-old cultures. Is there a way for societies to progress without getting stuck in the past?

Modernity may be a vague term that can at best be described through long-winded sentences loaded with adjectives. Most of us who have access to a smartphone, Youtube, and the digital world, in general, surely have an idea, an image of what ‘modernity’ looks like. For some modernity may equal to globalisation, to others omnipresent wifi, and to yet more it may simply mean high-rise glass buildings. According to the ‘modernisation theory’, modernisation is the change from traditional to (post) modern societies. Though somewhat a controversial theory, it assumed that “traditional societies” could eventually mimic societies in the Western, so-called, developed world.

Much of the walk towards modernisation, though, has led to abandonment - where people drop their culture to adopt a homogenous Western identity. However, this can be detrimental for many in countries such as India, which is more of a civilisation with cultures and traditions rooted so deep in its earth. Since development and modernisation have somewhat become a shadow of each other, metropolitan cities like New Delhi, Gurgaon, Mumbai, Bengaluru have tried to imitate Western cities in their urban infrastructure models, which, many a time, have proved to be disastrous attempts. Having said that, most parts of the country, especially rural parts, are still rooted in traditional cultural practices. At the same time though, some may say they are “stuck” in a traditional society.

Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Dina Ganvir made a video documenting some cultural practices of her Adivasi Baiga community in Chhattisgarh’s Cheerpani Village in Kawardha District. According to her, the culture and heritage of India’s tribes and indigenous communities are vulnerable to erosion because of modernisation. Even then, in this permeable chaos, the Baiga community is in preservation mode.

“Development is the willful obliteration of history and culture,” says Bulu Imam, an environmental activist working for the protection of tribal culture and heritage in Jharkhand, and according to him there is no middle path between development and tradition - it has to be an either, or situation. He says that modernisation cut the chord of evolution, a “slow process of organisms coming together and changing”. Modernisation as the way forward spread worldwide like an earthquake and left no scope for change “in the Darwinian sense” as it all happened overnight. As in advertising, development was “sold as a bad idea in a nice package”.

A counter point-of-view might be that perhaps this village is able to preserve because it has not yet become a full-time beneficiary of the by-products of development that may also be as simple as 100 percent access to water and electricity, education, medical facilities, and in this day and age, internet access. To make a simple phone call, Dina often has to resort to climbing a tree in order to catch network. From this perspective, it could be argued whether this village is “rooted” or “stuck” in tradition.

There has to be a middle path though because it would be wrong to say that modernisation hasn’t come with benefits - the internet has made it possible for people to become autodidacts and expand themselves beyond what school and university curricula have to offer. Maybe we need to look at the Amish community in the USA, who still maintain a primitive way of life by choosing what they want from the modernisation basket - they may not have imbibed cars, but they have skateboards for movement, for example.

Modernisation certainly has both pros and cons - while critics will argue that we are too far gone and in too deep to reverse this trend, advocates will say that this is part of progress. While there is no doubt that large swathes of the country do need to be welcomed into the room of progress by getting access to at least basic necessities such as water and electricity, it is also important to nurture the traditional ways of living, which may actually lead to a more sustainable and harmonious lifestyle.

Video by Community Correspondent Dina Ganvir

Article by Shreya Kalra, a member of the VV Editorial Team


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