The personal is indeed political: Sharing stories, connecting the dots

 

India Elections 2014 is under the watch of everyone. There would rarely be a soul in this country today which would be unaware of ongoing elections in the country – and most of them also have strong opinions, preferences, choices and biases in this process. The towns and cities have the television, the newspapers, the huge hoardings and the ads from every form of transmitting medium. The villages have the flags, the middlemen and the saheb’s agents (of the people who own and control the land, as they called un-fondly) who influence voters. It is the election season, after all. After a few more weeks all of this will die down and people will resume their lives, having realised that not everything and all of the ‘change’ they were expecting to actually happen, eventually transpired.

They will then start finding out things, one at a time, of what will be wrong with the government of the time; a new scandal will somewhere spring up, the era of breaking news will resume to its old habit of exaggerated sensationalisation, the prime time media trials will entertain the politically committed janta who wants to keep in touch with what is happening in the country after returning from their offices. The others not fortunate enough to have offices will continue to struggle to make ends meet. The onion, or the oil or the salt or the potato will once a year make headlines. A few killings and rapes will get the attention of the media, the police, the politicians, the NGOs, and the concerned drawing rooms of the country. Many of them in other parts of the country will never be reported, and never be acted or reacted upon. Young boys and girls will continue to be killed and raped and in the meantime; some of them will be branded as maoists and some as terrorists because identifying their real killers would put many of our esteemed leaders (of the bureaucracy, administration, judiciary, sacred democratic law-making institutions, political goons, mining giants, industrialists – and all those who run the country) under the scanner. The real culprits of inciting violence against innocent people will continue to roam free, and continue to treat justice with contempt and manipulation.

Some people will care, while most will not. All of this will not change. Not unless a few things are done.

This is not a hopeless and cynical account/rant. I say this situation will not change because we have still not started asking the right questions. We have traded too many things off; respect and dignity is one of them.

Society is a reflection of the politics and vice versa. Irrespective of the electoral results, we have all already lost. We have grown impatient and intolerant, we have lost our claimed ‘common culture’ of respect of various cultures, religion, diversity of opinion, and of democracy. Expressing opinions has never before faced the scathing attacks that it faces today. Chai stalls a few decades back could see the best of friends arguing voraciously with their difference of opinions over politics of the country – today it is all occupied with stern supporters who do not stand with their leaders, rather they follow/worship them. We no longer shake hands at the end of a heated debate, we throw eggs and stones at people who disagree with us. We stoop to the levels of bringing out the most intimate details of personal lives to prove a point – of being the better because the other is worst. Is that really a justification?

Where have we reached in society? Towards progress and growth! But we have resorted to name calling rather than agreeing to the fact that there can be diversity of opinion – and although we might not necessarily agree to people, it is always human to lend an ear – see what it is that makes them believe so. We have sadly compromised on that core principle and value, and we have forced others, both young and old, to believe what we believe. We will no longer have parents and children in the family belonging to the opposite spectrum of political beliefs – we might like to believe that the choice is still there, but is it really?

I will share something to make you feel closer to what I am attempting to do. I was encouraged to truly choose; and I made choices to stand up for values that I believe in. I can today sense the feeling of pride I see in people who have seen me transform from someone who could not differentiate right from wrong, or could not take a stand. All I have done is attempted to say out loud what a lot of us have been thinking. It has taken innumerable emotions – courage, anger, rage, hatred and love to name a few to do it. It was never easy. And it came with the realisation that once you have felt all this, there is really no going back.

I grew up witnessing all forms of violence against women. I could not act then for I was too young to interpret its meaning when I first witnessed it. Gradually it became an accepted part of the psyche – it became normal, if not acceptable. It grew on, influencing many more people in the family, both men and women who built justifications around it, and deemed it normal. It was something everyone saw, but nobody did anything to really see it. Somehow it was always the woman who was to be blamed – when they forgot to add salt in the food, when the children made too much noise, when families went through financial instability, when they were not available to fulfill sexual devouring, every single time. And it was of course wrong when they wanted to get out of failed marriages, or try raising a voice, or harm the dignity and reputation of the family in any way. Such dignified behaviour indeed!

It is spine-chilling to think and write of it today. It is uncomfortable, but it needs to be said. All of us have grown up seeing this somewhere or the other, it is merely about recognising the various forms of it.  Today I will take a stand against violence of all forms and push all women as well as men in my family to recognise violence the way I can see it now. I do not care if I am called names or it brings me in any of kind of conflict with anyone – because I know it is right thing to do. I cannot wait for the world to change its attitudes towards wrong, so that it is becomes easier to fight.

It is the same emotion which makes me stand up against the practice of caste, and not dismiss it as non-existent. I will continue to protest if you compare dirt and filth with caste names, or refuse to marry, dine, or respect people from other castes. I will point out casteist behaviour if you claim higher intellectual status because you were born in a particular caste, or if you refuse to see what facts and figures have shown. It is the same position of power which allows you to blame the poor for being poor as it reflects in blaming the woman for not speaking up. This blaming is happening because the ones who can much more easily speak up and do something about it have long back given away their ability and the will to speak up – and act.

We are running away from the responsibilities of making better societies, of living in fear-less families, and of having the comfort to think, discuss and make better choices for the world we live in, politics and governments being one of them.

It is time we realise that we indeed have taken away the space to disagree with mutual respect, both online and offline. It is time to give ourselves better choices, and not choose to do the wrong because there is no right. True, we shall continue to enjoy our freedom to elect governments and people in power, as we deem fit. But it is equally important to take stands and fight battles which are worth fighting for. Let us make better societies, and not expect solutions unless we are ready to fight when will essentially have to – friends, family, society and the world.

At the end of the day, we choose our own battles. It is just important to know which side are you really on.

 


 

And to my dear friends who feel it is a lot to do, here is some faith.

 

As the legend John Lennon famously says during Imagine

“You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one

I hope someday you will join us. And the world will live us one”

 

 

The last thing due – A guide for future aspirants of TISS

I just got done with my no dues certificate today. It means I am done with all the dues and I don’t have any more debts with the institute. Although, in the literal sense it means I will get back a few thousand rupees I had initially paid as fees, it actually means a lot more to me. And I feel I have one more debt to pay to my alma mater. And I cannot leave this place without it. No, this is not a sentimental and nostalgic account of how I would miss people and the institute. It certainly is not! So I am trying to write something which would help people, aspirants and otherwise to know exactly what they ought to know when they seek admissions to this prestigious institution and/or visit it for a conference or a paper presentation or a seminar and what not.

Let me clarify one thing very clear. For the people who read this and take it literally, I am using the typical method of sarcasm and satire – a boon to writers who don’t wish to write things as they are, but what as they are not. So, ponder over it, debate it, criticise me on my face or on any medium, and do all that you want to- but do not take my words literally, and do not follow it as its written. Ah well, better do that too!! And it would only make this piece a bit worthwhile to read.

So enough of these cautions and precautions. Lets just jump to the dirty business. So, you are now a graduate and want to do something for the poor and hungry people of India. Welcome to TISS. This institute boasts of such legacy in changing lives of the poor and the marginalised that it has actually succumbed to its own created benchmarks.

 What to do first then?? Keep your radical approach to look at things outside the gate when you get here for the interview. They don’t have a place here. But yes, do not forget to lie about how you felt that volunteering for an NGO for 2 months changed your life during your hard earned prestigious schools and college education. Do not say that you want to get a job at the end of this course, but that you want to devote your life to a professional career for the dying poor. Do not forget to attach certificates of all the social and cultural activities you have ever received an acknowledgement of, especially if it says that you did excellent work in assisting some big shot social figure in organising a public meeting, a conference or a social audit, even if you had no clue about what exactly was it for. All that really makes a difference, and that can certainly melt hearts of the interviewer about how sensitive and devoted you have been.

But wait!! Never try to continue doing the big inspiring words you said in that interview. Those are just for the interview, just to expertly fool someone who has been an expert in doing (or writing papers twice a year to keep getting promoted and earning huge salaries) on those same issues. If you try to do all the big words you said to get in here, you are doomed. (Those were lies, remember! Oh of course you remember – you made them up yourself or with ‘helpful’ seniors, who told you what all to do at every stage to tap the minds of the interviewer in your favour)

I am sorry I am not dwelling too much on the intricacies of what do they ask in the interview; you surely must know someone who maybe did an MBA coaching with you and then decided to join this place, or who now represents a state or India in some high end forum and of course in high paying jobs. They must know it better to teach you the tricks of the trade. For others not fortunate enough to have such resourceful peers, you are not really required here. They need better people to come here– who can talk well, and write well and present well. You might still get through, although you are not meritorious enough on these grounds and are merely honestly committed to your words and causes- miracles do happen right! So never stop believing and keep trying. You might succeed one day.

And so now you have realised that when you are inside this place, and you have to now put up a face. A face so strong that the super-bright students continue to hold you in high regards. That you are so great that you fought internal and external battles to reach here and you shall keep your commitments intact forever. But again you must always keep in mind that this is all a farce. You must keep in mind that your intention behind all those words and talks is something much greater. That intention must always keep focussing on how to score the biggest job. Isn’t that what you have always wanted? To get a nice job and a good salary package, irrespective of what the work is. You don’t really need to bother about idiots who assemble at every chance they get to gain petty popularity. They came here through a miracle, and those miracle dependant people are much lower in intellect and conviction than you. They have lost their way and think all that they do is right, that they are trying to make this a better place – and they believe that they would make their worlds a better place through all that. But there is not much to worry about such people, they cry hue over every small detail and think they are bringing democracy and justice. I say that there is not to worry about them because they are bound to fail, because you will find great alliances in people who will help you with dismantling those erroneous efforts.

 Before you get too romanticised with the idea, let me tell you one thing. Merely doing well in an interview and securing admissions will not make you a true TISSian. You need to have some extraordinary qualities and you will need to demonstrate them in whatever way possible. I shall now list those qualities so that Mr. Pagalguy.com is freed with the burden of guiding you before the interviews.

  1. You will need to get your head tested in the most scientific laboratory in the world and obtain an NOC from it. If cursing discrimination and shouting your heart out on anybody and everybody has been your way of life, or if you intend to do so in your life, you need to take heavy doses of corporate media house reports and epilogues mentioned in traditional cultures to remind you that you live in a world where all this dissent has no place. You would be given crash courses in inspirational patriotism if you think people protesting against the state, be it your fellow students, dalits & adivasis, kashmiris, Maoists (or terrorists or hurdles in development) or any such people are justified in any way so that you do not lose track of how the world runs.
  2. A special qualification is cynicism and hopelessness. You have not completed your education if you have not mastered these skills. You need to keep practising such skills on e-mail threads, social networking sites and if you feel like (and only if YOU feel like) in conversations. You indeed have the liberty to not really mess with the lesser beings, those who do not have any other purpose in life than to disrupt the state of affairs. You should also choose to hold values and ethics in life very high– the ones which run the world- globalisation, caste and gender structures; among many others. But you will only have to share these with the lost souls, for they are also your fellow beings and the least you can do is to guide them to the proper path. (C’mon, you are good people, remember!! You are not like the rest of the cruel world).
  3. The last and most important thing is to stay as far as away from the word ‘politics’. That does not mean you should not support electoral politics.  You should, so that a true democratic establishment must run the place. And you must keep asking them questions which nobody else asks- about why the DJ at the last cultural festival was not happening enough and why can’t they ban couples sitting in shady corners and disturbing the pure atmosphere of the campus.
    But never try to align with all the words like ideologies and keep your focus on getting jobs for yourself, the ones that you think will be good for you. I should not be patronising here. But if you ever feel that anything anywhere in the institution is going on which you are forcefully made to feel is undemocratic and unreasonable (forcefully because always remember that there actually cannot possibly be anything wrong with anything here), take a deep breath and relax. Give a call to your richest friend, hang out at the coolest pub and upload pictures and dedicate status messages of the awesomness on Facebook. Note down all the likes you get on these and keep a database ready. Quote this in research studies and take pride in what you have done. Keep hard copies of all such things- Who knows! The next thing you know is that maybe the institute will give out scholarships or a direct Ph D offer to pursue it further.

A mathematical and cynical point of view of being democratic!!

Disclaimer : This post, howsoever humorous, nonsense, complicated or cynical, makes sense if you can replace yourself with any of the variables. My knowledge of mathematics is quite basic; but my understanding of people, is not! And if you insist to take offence, do that, I do not really mind.

 

Lets assume there are X number of people in a fixed (pun intended) situation. Y people have grievances against an institutional setting and processes. The assumption here is that the remaining no. (X-Y) also have some or the other grievances which they do not wish to raise out of several reasons (citing individual choice, respect for the people responsible for the issues, indifference, ever-lasting hope that the world will change [‘gandhigiri’ if I may be allowed to use the term], special ability to realise there is nothing wrong etc etc – This list will go on increasing with the writer’s anger, directly proportional to time.)

Now, suppose there is a mathematically insignificant number of people who can look into everyone else in the eyes and say they genuinely have no issue with the processes keeping in mind all the above factors. There is a sociological problem of considering them as a separate population as it would be against the very principles of the presence of feelings in humans. Thus they are a mathematically insignificant number and hence negligible.

Now, X as a group of people is only powerful when it makes sense as a collective. Y people shouting and crying hue does not actually make any sense as (X-Y) is always greater than Y and hence usually looked down upon as well.

It is when the problems of X reach such escalating heights that the issues need to be addressed. Now X is the most powerful body if it does not fragment itself. (The usual case being otherwise – again out of several ‘super-structural’ issues!)

Given this, we need to find solutions so that all such super-structures can be decomposed and demolished so that X assumes all the power again. If we assume ‘C’ to be in favour to this given state and ‘D’ to be those against it, then the equation assumes much more complications. For now, lets just assume that D is more powerful in the practical terms than C.

To solve all problems of X, D also needs to understand that they cannot superimpose, specially with (X+C) combined.

But its still a hoax show, all parties involved have to put up a brilliant performance for the whole world to see, coz there is still someone out there who always watches over (no pun intended here, literally speaking). Then what to do remains a ‘solution to be sought for’. This solution, has to come from X, (although only those solutions which are acceptable to maintain D’s position of absolute power will in practice be entertained) so that the blame of the entire process, as and when they fail [owing to the super-structure, remember!!]  lies with X and no one can utter a word in the future!! (Oh really, does D really think X is a fool?! ….Ummm…yes it does!)

 

So let X come together, put up a brilliant show, try to stress all the authority which remains only on paper and then end up being blamed for what D has already planned out! But there is also no other option….thats the way it has to go on. But D has to keep in mind that X is no longer just a bunch of people, they are thinking humans, more efficient than D can ever dream of being. So D….cmon….pull up your sleeves, roll up your wrists and be ready for a real show in the real sense; coz X is ready (too hopefully, again!).

A memoir in response to the argument of the absence of injustice

I really do not know if I should divert all this energy and time with which I am trying to write this piece. Maybe I should, maybe not. But as I have chosen not to stay silent on something which bothers, I will indeed try and give it a thought.

I just read something which brought real disturbance to my mind. Not only because I disagree with what is written in it but also because I disagree with the intention with which it is written. And I will also write in a plain simple language so that there is no ambiguity in the message I want to present here.

I will share with the reader my own experience. I came from a middle class, upper caste and small town background with specific pre-conditioned notions in mind, all of us do.(I learnt here its called socialisation) I was told on the very first day that the aim of the course and the institute is to develop critical thinking, to engage with oneself and to deconstruct one’s own notions. I did not know what all that meant but still clapped as it appealed to me a lot. I made several friends who were from different caste-class backgrounds, never intending to think or bother what their identity was. I did everything what normal friends do- hang out, dine and share food from the same plate.

Of course, I am a human being right…and I am in TISS, the place where everyone is equal and all that…so obviously I did not even sub-consciously did anything discriminatory with anyone!!

Then came a time, soon enough to make me realise that I am wrong. My inability to recognise discrimination and considering this place as sacrosanct does not mean that everything is jolly good. When the same friends were shocked to know that I am from an upper caste, they thought I was an exception, way too nice for what I was supposed to be, and I thought they were all cynics and idiots. That they had unnecessarily created barriers among themselves and were isolating themselves on purpose. Such levels of my humanistic and naïve approach made me think it was their problem that they were doing such a thing, that they cant simply understand that oppression and injustice was a thing of the past and everything was just simply good around, especially in this esteemed institution.

But then I was also brave enough to put forward these confusions in my mind, to say out loud that dalits are not as oppressed as they feel, that women are so empowered in this campus, that capitalism is the dominant way of life and you should take up CSR jobs and go change the system by being a part of the system. I was ready to say out loud that this has been my socialisation and my belief systems.

But thankfully this was a thing of the past, it did not last for more than 2 months of my campus life I guess. By then I had been able to engage, to discuss and to actually understand that what I was saying was because I was somebody, I had an identity and that identity made me believe certain things; and all that had to be questioned. I could no longer claim that what I understand about people who have gone through the oppression were wrong in what they believed in. I could no longer say that reservation policy is discriminating on the upper castes, that the women were so free that they could exercise choice and agency without any problem, and I could no longer say that my beloved campus is non-discriminatory. That was the moment I realised that I am a person who needs to be more than humane and liberal in understanding the issues that I deal with on a regular basis. That was the time when I realised that I have developed my own politics, before that I was just a fool.

So to read and hear a lot of times that caste and gender do not operate here, that we are all a big happy family and that we are so great that we allow everyone to hold their views with respect brings me back to the same memories I had a long time back. But then at least I tried my best to be open about understanding issues which I do not find in many of the people who hold similar opinions which I once had. As a result, they have developed a very antagonistic and surprisingly hostile atmosphere in which they justify their injustice in the name of humanism. It somehow irks me to see people crying hue over issues then do not try to engage with, to critically examine themselves, to understand what the word ‘politics’ even mean. Here I am not claiming to say that I am an enlightened person and everyone else is a fool.

You can continue to disagree with what stands I take as long as your arguments take into account the existing reality. If you conveniently close your eyes to injustice, if you fail to recognise what the injustice is then I really think you have not made the effort to deconstruct your own self (which was asked to be done on the very first day on this campus!). And then you have not only reinforced your oppressive ideals in your everyday life, but also started attacking people who tried to do it. You spread nothing but oppression in the process. And then you believe that you are so human, so moralistic, so good that you never practice any form of injustice on anyone. If you can identify with what I am saying here, then at least start discussing with people who do not share the same belief systems that you have, you will understand what injustice means and hopefully at least be able to critique it, and not be cynical and defensive about other opinions. It is not an easy process – I can guarantee that. But then with the humanistic skills which you claim to have – now is the time to put it to good use.

The politics of being apolitical

 

People say there is nothing as being apolitical, everyone has their own politics. Then one day when you realise that being political takes away so much comfort from your own self that even being a human being starts getting difficult. When the ideological positions you take is in itself so problematic that the middle class dream of the ‘rocking arm-chair in the garden’ … just shatters away.

When you start taking positions in life you had hitherto not taken makes you a deviant, makes you a non-believer, and for most of the people, even a hypocrite. I ask one and all who accuse me when I do something like that, “Why the hell did you not accuse me when I had no standpoint, when I could just listen and not act, when I made no effort to change myself or my environment?” You did that because it was all too comforting, comforting for you and comforting for me.

Dreams are universal, but aren’t homogenous. Isnt it my natural right to dream for myself? When that dream involves changing your own hypocritical attitude towards me and my positions, isnt it right for me to scream from the top of my voice that you need to change that cynical attitude. When I believe in something, I made a conscious and informed decision for my own self. I need no preaching and moral guidelines on the same lines against which my basic and firm standpoint is. When you choose to stay silent and pretend to be so moral, I do not call you ‘apolitical’ and make a ruckus about it, but why do I need to face opposition from all the hypocrites in the world for something I believe in for my own personal self, for when I start turning from a so-called ‘apolitical arena’ to a ‘political’ one, in which my actions speak for my own individual politics.

I have been hearing from several years that when people start talking about you, it means you have done something great. I do not want to be great. I just want to hold on to belief-systems which I find most suitable for myself. There is a lot of individual complexities in it already, which nurtures and nourishes such belief-systems, to make me a better human in my own eyes. I do not owe an explanation to anyone ‘political or apolitical’ to be political about it, to police it or give their humane and liberal ideas on survival of the material world over the ideal world. Survival for me is not merely based on material but to attain a state where things have their own positions – material only being one of them.

So, this goes to anyone and everyone who think they can be apolitical in the traditional sense and escape from the chasm of your own complexities in life – this doesnt work anymore! So, before you start making others silent observers in the larger scheme of things, look within and then speak, can you keep your mouth shut when your individuality is being challenged by your individual self – day in and day out. If you still can, then you need not open your mouth and dare speak again- for you have lost all you ever had earned in life, the basic thing you so preach – humanity!!

 

I am personally apologetic to anyone who might have felt offended from my views, I didnt write to offend you per se- but then, by the virtue of you feeling offended, you just made my point stronger.