Day 2 at The Hindu Lit for Life 2018 event (Day 1 details are here) at Lady Andal School campus, Chennai.
Freedom to Dissent
Chandan Gowda: (TNCV: I came late, so missed a lot of his talk) We are happy to outsource the difficult task of dissent. We want others to do it. This leads to a scenario, we have now, where only celebrity led action gets attention.
Hyeonsee Lee (dissident from North Korea): I come from the (most) ridiculous country in the world. No freedom of speech or the word or even freedom of the village (where we can go). The regime feels its version of communism is the Utopia, people are asked to believe that it is perfect here, whereas everyone in outside world is suffering for everything. We are told America is colonising South Korea. In my country, we are actually kept in the biggest cage. Not given Passport – we haven’t heard the term VISA – we can’t leave the country. Have only one TV channel. Content (TV shows/Movies) gets smuggled into the country in physical formats (thumb drives), but if you are caught possessing them or watching them, you will be publicly prosecuted – imagine anyone daring after seeing with their own eyes a public execution in centre of the village.
You can’t even trust your spouse – he/she can be a government spy. You can’t say anything to anyone, not even to your friends, there can be no true friends. First hand I am aware of an event, a friend of our family had made a casual remark with his colleagues over a drink in a tavern, that he is unhappy with the Government, nothing more, nothing specific; next day his whole family just vanished – disappeared – no trace. The control the regime exerts over the populace give it the strength and they believe so.
Sadaf Saaz (Bangladeshi poet): 7 or 8 years ago, we won’t be having a session like this. In Bangladesh, we have clampdown by the government and by the Islamists. It is in this background, we function. In 1971, we fought for a secular way of life, emerging from the shadows of 1947 partition. A spontaneous movement in 2013, the Shahbag protests, started with 100 people coming together in the centre of Dhaka, to protest against the leniency to let go of war criminals. I saw how quickly this was used politically and got hijacked to become a believer/non-believer divide. Freedom of press in Bangladesh is put under pressure. The events after the 2015 protests were horrific. From 2016, the Government has been cracking hard on insurgents and Islamic fundamentalists, but the flip side are the increase in dark disappearances (of people). I have been running Dhaka Literary festival, and, I have seen the need for spaces like this (The Hindu LFL).
TM Krishnan (Singer): It is easy to say dissent to be a fight with the Government. Dissent has a negative connotation to it – indicating destruction. Which power structure decides that – is it the Government? – who decides. The divides like religion/caste have created this image and the Government uses it. Did Perumal Murugan decide to dissent, no, he just wrote a book, at what part did it turn to be a dissent? Liberal or Non-Liberal is not the issue. Puranthara dasa, when we mention him, we are not talking as it was a natural course – we are framing it as a dissent. I never felt I am a dissident.
Our constitution should be seen as a reflection of 2000 years of plurality and culture. We in India, don’t see ourselves to be a modern society. It is hypocritic to talk only about BJP. There was enough dissent being crushed, mafia rule was present for many years. I won’t have had the guts to sit on this stage 5 years and tell this. There is something that has changed in India. The Government, BJP, RSS have brought a culture it is okay to be violent. They have spoken, they have indicated that. There are people who will hit someone, take a video, post it online and will get likes. When did we start to feel it is okay to be dictated, to be controlled? The fear that’s implanted in one’s heart – it is the greatest fear. And in this country, it is actively being done. Remember, dissent is natural. Dissent has to be treated as a discourse, the problem is the violence that follows it.
Teesta Setalvad (Citizens for Justice and Peace): Has this intolerance suddenly come in (or) we have led it for for a long time? In 1988, my city where it started – will not allow Ambedkar’s one out of many volumes of his book to be published. This was during the rise of Shiv Sena. Recently, in Delhi Book Fair, we saw the full set of his books minus six volumes – done to be convenient to be the present government. We are seeing Padmavathi movie controversy. We are not realising that we are like the frog in the pot that’s slowly getting hot.
How can you call social media as social when it is anti-social?
It was in 1997, that Bal Thackery said I will piss on (court’s) judgements – no action was taken. Today our ministers openly talk of a Hindu Rashtriya, and who believe in the overthrow of principles of the constitution. Today the pressroom(s) have become ugly – it is very difficult to function there nowadays. We have to make the difference between hate speech and dissent. Muslim families now fear to carry kebabs in train journeys as tiffin due to the fear of being lynched. Though the USA has Trump, the institutions there and resistance have been mature and better. Everyone here has to realise we are on the brink of a disaster.
A River that runs through it: The Ganges and India’s Future
Suhasini Haidar: The book by Victor Mallet is an offence. Ganga (Ganges) is the world’s most worshipped and the most polluted river.
Victor Mallet (The Author): A tenth of world’s population depends on this river. I also want to tell what wrong and what’s right about India – how it is being celebrated. I love the river and I have even bathed/swim in it.
Three years ago, Mr Modi brought on hope. He said the Ganges to be his mother (mera matha) and she is crying for help, I am not here (or brought here) by BJP but here because of my mother (Ganga). Unfortunately, very little has been done on the ground (to clean Ganga), despite the amount of money being spent. To be fair, previous Government, including from the time of Rajiv Gandhi many plans been put but they all have been yup, yup & more yup …
Chambal River is a tributary of the Yamuna River in central India, is wonderful and clean before joining Yamuna (and then to Ganga), Rare gazelles can be seen on its banks. It is so because very few people lived on its banks, as it is believed to be cursed. If you are in Delhi, you should travel to see this river.
Cleaning a city is not impossible. Similarly is cleaning a river. Just look at Kumbh Mela – for 2 months, a whole city, a functioning city is created with clean water, power, telecommunications, police – all things which are not even in a city like Allahabad. 2 Million come, stay there, and even use the toilets – these are people who haven’t used a toilet back home or even seen a toilet before – yet at Kumbh Mela it is all kept clean. I am optimistic (on Ganga cleaning). Consider, another example – of Ganga Sagar Mela that happens in West Bengal. They do this same for 1 million people. I was sad that they dismantle the whole city after Kumbh Mela or Ganga Sagar – when I asked the authorities how they do it, they said, it was because of Indian Marriage Syndrome – unfortunately, you can’t replicate or do this sustainable for anything outside a Kumbh Mela or Ganga Sagar.
The Solution (for cleaning the Ganges) – In India there are many rules (there is no lack of laws) the problem is the implementation. To clean a river you don’t need to scrub it, you just need to stop polluting it any further – stop the sewage/chemicals flowing into it, the river will clean itself. There are models to be emulated from around the world. It took (nearly) 350 years to clean Thames river in London, Rhine river, or the Chicago river – which President Obama pointed out to Prime Minister Modi during his visit to that city. Many rivers in South East Asia like in Thailand are being cleaned. You can emulate those best practices.
Remember it is important to clean Ganga, over any other river in the world.
Cleaning Ganga is not an isolated issue, it is fundamental to the development of India. People were killing Ganga, now Ganga is killing them.
Eastern Sunrise: A new history of the world
Peter Frankopan: We are concerned only with the news that affects us directly – Like Gas price, Politics, Government, Movies, etc. I doubt if contemporary writers in Russia or Iran are being called to speak here (The Hindu LFL), I (West) and you (India) know more about America and Europe than other places. The same people are invited to speak or seen everywhere. We will be having a profound impact on something else – it will be due to China’s new Silk Road. That is and will be the single most important thing that’s happening.
I love living in Britain, but it is not offering any (worthy) views to rest of the world. In fact, the decisions affecting the world are not being done in Europe, not even in Washington DC, it is happening elsewhere (China, India & Asia). In the olden times, the Silk Road was a plural – there was no single road or single infrastructure. It was a metaphor created to explain the mature connections that were available, within Asia and Central Asia.
Ancient Europe or France or Italy didn’t have anything interesting to the ambitions of Alexander, or the Greeks – they were interested in going to Asia (you had spices and so on) and Europe didn’t have anything to offer. In olden times, you have Tamil poems that are there talking about the excitement the local populace had seeing the arrival of Roman ships with its wealth (money). Remember, there were Christians in Asia even before Vasco da Gama and the 1400s. There were Christian churches even in Mecca. Western writers hardly mention the presence of Saint Thomas in Chennai. When we see these happenings in pre-European arrival here, we see interconnections. We see practices/religions not competing here, but get refined with inputs from everywhere.
Russian Slave traders were bringing slaves and taking back silver from Asia which (re)builds Europe. Unfortunately modern Europe once again has nothing to offer. The east of Venice, people living were called serfs (from where the word slave came). We (Ancient Europe) didn’t build massive empires that India and China did. Europe (and the USA) teaches to their children about war and generals. If I were a teacher, I will teach about marriages that work, (functional) relationships. The connections between Europe and Asia will help.
Europe is good in killing people and inventing weapons to kill people.
Vasco Da Gama and Columbus were responsible for the downfall of Asia from its glory. A massive reconfiguration followed, with Europe becoming the centre of the world – with Asia to its east and the Americas to the West. Mining wealth from Americas was flowing to Europe, which in turn was pouring to Mughal India. The flourishing Mughal India (in the early centuries of European arrival) was awash with wealth from Europe which the rulers used to buy the best of horses. The best horses came from Central Asia.
My favourite story of India is the Ice House in Madras.
You couldn’t get any more wrong than what the USA did in the last two decades in Asia/Middle East. It was not because they didn’t try, they tried and worked really hard, but to get it right, you shouldn’t be reading Generals and War strategies, you need to read Asoka and the likes (in China & India).
[TNCV: Above points are from the notes I took, they are not verbatim nor complete and they don’t necessarily represent my views – my knowledge of the topics discussed are limited]
I left for lunch and was not able to attend rest of the day’s event. The Hindu LFL runs for one more day on Tuesday.