The politics of silence is not new in India. Governments after governments have silenced voices that dare to show us the mirror, change the status quo and dissent. We have fostered the shameful culture of silencing everything that does not conform to majoritarian ideas. Our society has grown intolerant and impatient; we are quick in giving names, quicker in drawing conclusions and even quicker in demolishing space meant for differing voices to co-exist. Debate and diversity is being stifled, opposition is being muzzled as anti-national and civil society groups, like Greenpeace and PUCL, are the latest victims of this culture and politics of silence. The leaked Intelligence Bureau reports on NGOs are nothing but an attempt to silence voices that do not toe the line of vested interests who want to hijack the development narrative of India.
How is asking the government to save the forests and demanding clean air anti-national? How is demanding that companies create products that are toxic-free anti-development? How is making nuclear companies liable for a nuclear accident anti-development? How does ensuring that another Bhopal gas tragedy does not strike our country make Greenpeace or anti-nuclear activist SP Udayakumar anti-national?
We all have in our small worlds, taken small, or big steps, to improve our own lives and of those around us. We all have sometime, somewhere raised our voice against injustice. Then why is one voice considered legitimate and the other maligned?
Rabindranath Tagore’s grandfather Dwarkanath Tagore had built the family’s fortunes from coal mining. Yet, Rabindranath Tagore disowned this part of his past from all his writings, possibly stemming out of his belief that “corruptions and cruelties always come with coal.” Caring about people, about nature, about justice, and speaking up against greed, cruelty, poverty and deprivation can never be wrong. Asking for our humanity to stay alive in the chase for development can never be wrong.
My performances have been my means of activism, my soul their driver. Everything I have done has been about fighting for my right to say what was right, to raise my voice against gender inequality, against environmental degradation in the hope of creating a better world. And NGOs like Greenpeace or PUCL are fighting for nothing different.
Dissenting voices can be anyone’s, individuals or non-governmental organisations, and whichever corners of society they arise from, they have to be judged for their intent. They can never be and must never be silenced, because diversity is what makes every democracy vibrant. If forgetting humanity is nationalism and being humane branded anti-national, then I sincerely fear for the future of this country.
Mallika Sarabhai is an artiste and an activist
The views expressed by the author are personal