DEMOCRACY AND DISSENTby HUMRA QURAISHI April 7 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 3 mins, 52 secs
Taking off from Vinod Pande’s latest piece from his YouTube series, ‘Off the Cuff, in which he talks about Rahul Gandhi, Humra Quraishi’s commentary today is about the silencing of dissent in India.
He gets emotional about the hurdles Rahul Gandhi faces and says that despite all of that, the man is standing tall, going strong. Pande calls Rahul a ‘Babbar Sher’ in his video. He says that until recent time Rahul was a ‘Sher’ (lion), but after the latest round of onslaughts heaped upon him by the sarkar of the day, he has become absolutely fearless. Unbothered about the consequences, he continues to raise question after question about the money that has fuelled the Adani empire into growing so big, and demands that a JPC be appointed to investigate where it has originated from.
Yes, Rahul Gandhi has the grit and power to raise his voice. After decades, we can see a political figure speak so strongly and with determination. Looks like nothing can come in the way as he moves ahead with his courage. In fact, what Vinod Pande says in his video is also what a large number of the citizens are feeling…voicing their apprehensions about the manner in which dissent is being ‘silenced’ today.
What will remain of our democracy if this goes on? Why can’t an ordinary person ask questions, express dissent and rebel, why cannot he or she criticize divisive strategies? It is distressing to see how helpless we are, while witnessing this decay – we are left mute spectators to this tragic soap opera.
Why should non-violent protestors be targeted? Are we living in a democracy or in the days of the Raj? I’m reminded of Professor Mushirul Hasan’s volume, ‘The Avadh Punch: Wit and Humour in Colonial North India’ (Niyogi Books), where he writes of the days of the Raj, when Indians could criticize the British rulers only indirectly and in discreet ways. Through cartoons and verse, the take off for the Lucknow published ‘The Avadh Punch’ was to lampoon the then rulers through ‘safe’ ways. Don’t tell me we have reached that phase when the Avadh Punch will have to be revived so that the citizens can ‘safely’ express their anger at the political rot.
Today there’s mounting anger against the political mess, but where are the forums and platforms! The space for dissent has shrunk. Social media is no substitute for public gatherings, protest meetings and interactive sessions where the painful cries of the distressed could once be heard loud and clear.
We weren’t so spineless! For centuries and decades, our forefathers had cultivated the culture of dissent. I’m quoting, here, from the volume, ‘India Dissents: 3,000 years of Difference, Doubt and Argument’. Published by Speaking Tiger, this volume dwells on the importance that ought to be given to dissent: “Throughout Indian history, various individuals and groups have questioned, ensured and debated authority - be it the State or empire, religious or political traditions, caste hierarchies, patriarchy or even the idea of god. These dissenting voices have persisted despite all attempts made to silence them. They have inspired revolutions and uprisings, helped preserve individual dignity and freedom, and promoted tolerance and a plurality in thought and lifestyle.”
Tucked in this volume are words, verse, thoughts of Buddha, Nanak, Gandhi, Tagore, Ghalib, Akka Mahadevi, Lal Ded, Manto, Mahashweta Devi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Amartya Sen and several other enlightened men and women.
Before the mess gets worse, it is essential to make sure that the right to dissent is placed high on the agenda and list of demands. With tyranny spreading, one cannot say who will be targeted, and destroyed. The disparities, double-speak and biases are getting just too harsh.
I’m ending today, with this verse of poet ANEETA SHARMA from the Amity Peace Poems (Hawakal publishers):
Peace is a fickle bird/poised on a precarious perch/It clutches with eager claws/a rickety, tottering bar/that tilts every now and again/impaled on a fulcrum of power.//She exists in every equilibrium/her tiny heart quelling/before shades of dissension/Keen eye fixed on wobbly scales/she flits away on flighty wings/the minute the balance sways.//Let us then establish equations/which are not steeped in crimson/Rise before it is too late/and rest our games of power.//Let us build a house of equality/that she may inhabit now and forever.”