Criss Jami writes in his book ‘Healology’, “History fancies itself linear — but yields to a cyclical temptation”. This resonates with humanity’s theme of progressing and, at the same time, regressing. By developing restrictive set of rules, commonly known as taboos, governing different spheres of our lives ranging from marriage, race, gender, faith etc we have ended up shunning countless into oblivion. The following piece of writing both begs answers to questions and addresses questions like What? Why? How? When?
Since the first human appeared hundreds of thousands of years ago, particularly the last century, rapid advancements in philosophy, science and technology has lent humans a self-proclaimed title of ‘the most intelligent of all’ specie. The culture, tradition, beliefs and faith we witness today are a part and parcel of our evolutionary story.
Criss Jami writes in his book ‘Healology’, “History fancies itself linear — but yields to a cyclical temptation”. This resonates with humanity’s theme of progressing and, at the same time, regressing. By developing restrictive set of rules, commonly known as taboos, governing different spheres of our lives ranging from marriage, race, gender, faith etc we have ended up shunning countless into oblivion.
But why at all do such taboos exist? Did our ancestors put forth any concrete logic for believing in acute ideas and passing them down through generations? These taboos have sustained generations without being questioned thoroughly. Moreover, although we search for the logic behind these unjust bounds, we find none. Ironically, during the process of revoking taboos, new ones are born in place of them, perhaps due to our misguided intent to ensure smooth running of the society.
Some 20–30 years ago, legal professions were deemed fit only for men. Today, though women participate enthusiastically in this field, they are often blamed for either being too aggressive and unpleasant or weak and unfit. Incessant comparisons, blatant disregard for the biological differences and social prejudices against men and women still infests the contemporary mindset despite the dynamic nature of changes in views regarding gender. And so, generally speaking, taboos have changed forms with generations but they have always been there in one form or the other.
But do such restrictions hold any relevance in today’s world? Should we really abide by rules that are a conception of baseless arguments? Persistence of such conservative thoughts cost us greatly in terms of exceptional talents, intelligent minds, hard working humans who were vehemently suppressed. Must we continue to remain ignorant to these practices and devoid millions of their righteous actions?
Taboos exist not only in the form of strict rules of the yesteryears but also as modern day issues which are not considered true problems. Depression, often considered a first world problem, has become a taboo in the third world nations to the extent that victims are forced to fight it alone. India, specifically, has seen a plunge in the number of suicides committed by farmers and students owing to societal pressure, economic setbacks and educational backwardness. Homosexuality is not accepted by the masses in India despite the reading down of the Section 377 of the IPC which even came with a famous remark by ‘History owes LGBTQ an apology’ by Justice Indu Malhotra. The handicapped are often considered incapable for a variety of tasks while nothing substantial is being done to provide them with the equal opportunities.
Such obstacles are not without complementary efforts issued in the right direction. Much is being done to discuss and bring out issues that have been tabooed from being discussed. A recently debuted movie ‘Padman’ was an initiative to make people aware about female menstruation and the importance of using sanitary pads, discussing which is highly unacceptable in India. People from the remote backgrounds, such as Sentinelese, a rather unknown tribe from Andaman, have started displaying and explaining the significance of their traditions, cultures, dressing habits which were earlier misunderstood by the rural and urban populace. This acceptance has led to a notable rise in tourism in the Andamans and a better integration of tribe in our society.
Varied small efforts by individual groups of people have proved to be quite fruitful for our culture is definitely undertaking changes in the positive direction and the community is becoming more and more considerate towards various taboos. The sooner we own our baseless arguments the sooner we can bring them under an inquisitive eye and lead it to its imminent end.
William Makepeace Thackeray famously wrote in ‘Vanity Fair’, “The moral world, has, perhaps, no particular objection to vice, but an insuperable repugnance to hearing vice called by its proper name.” Our pursuit must forever remain to prove the mighty writer wrong.
PS: TEDxIITGuwahati 2019, in its endeavor to contribute to the next big revolution in the society, will revolve around the theme — ‘The Changing Faces of Taboo’. Join us on the 10th of February 2019 at IIT Guwahati and become emissaries of change that is much required.
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