CHALLENGES FOR CULTURAL LIBERTY IN SOUTH ASIA

– AJEET COUR

As Asghar Ali Engineer once commented and I add to it, there is growing violence against the exploited and oppressed poor, against working classes, ordinary consumers, footpath and slum dwellers, against adivasis, against the landless people, against women and children, against minorities, against harijans and backward classes and dalits, against bonded labourers and against denotified and nomadic tribals, against minorities, whose exploitation and oppression has increased over the years, and who are left far behind in the race of limited development that is taking place unevenly in the country.

For all these vast oppressed multitudes, conditions are still colonial or worse.

These mass starvations and mass rapes, mass uprootings and mass fears, mass killings and senseless terror that stalks every street and peeps into every home, particularly those streets which are unlighted, and those homes which have low walls made of mud and provide easy access to intruders, and which have roofs made of dry straw which can be easily ignited.

Those who rule our destinies have cheated us of all our values, visions and dreams, creating a strange void and hollowness in our social fabric, stealing away the dreams that we dreamt long time back. Oh, so long time ago, that their corpses have turned into dust, and their bones into fossils.

They know words have a dangerous, naked power. They are sharp – edged weapons which chisell your thought and sharpen your sensitivity. No ruling power wants you to think. Their culture policy, if any, has been aimed at rusting your minds, making your sensitivities so blunt that they can use you to kill your neighbour whenever they want to engineer communal riots or tensions or wars.

That is why the whole of their so-called ‘culture policy’ has been aimed at butchering the books. They are not afraid of any other form of art. They encourage dance, music, folk arts, because these can at best be their glittering show-pieces. But the written word is a dangerous thing, a sharp-edged weapon which chisels your thought and sharpens your sensitivity. And the ruling powers do not want you to think and to ask questions. They deliver you ready-made answers, like a juggler taking out pigeons from empty hats.

The invisible rule is : don’t think, and don’t speak. There is no need to. Why should you, when they are doing all the talking on your behalf !

It is a matter of vital importance, because what we are manufacturing today in our schools, colleges and universities are mere robots, some technically more intricate and expensive to fit in our industry and business, in medical and engineering, and in our top bureaucratic systems, and some with less complicated inbuilt techniques, the less costly ones who fill in the blanks in the system by becoming clerks, lesser bureaucratic, teachers, factory hands, transport employees, et al.

Our educational system is basically producing prototypes and conformists with emphasis either on competition or cooperation. Its over-emphasis on logical approach is dampening their quest for the finer aesthetics of life which include literature and fine arts, besides other things like love of nature and ecology. Have we ever cared to make our children aware of the changing colours of the sky ? Are we concerned that computer games of wild races and gun battles have occupied those spaces where fairies used to live.

A writer has the freedom to choose on whose side he is. Spain’s Lorca, Turkey’s Nazin Hikmat, Hungary’s Patofi were killed for their convictions. Poet Zattalli and the poet Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Ninth Guru of the Sikhs, were executed by Aurangzeb. Swami Dayanand was killed in Udaipur because he questioned idol – worship and the whole Brahminical ideology. Ashfakulla and Bhagat Singh were executed not only because they were fighting British Imperialism but also because Ashfaqullah wrote that fire – spitting poem ‘Sar Faroshi ki tammanna ab hamaare dil mein hai, Dekh lenge zor kitna bazoo-e-katil mein hai’.

As a writer I am a witness to the horrors of daily life and I cannot look the other way because I am no coward. And I believe that those who remain silent inadvertently become a part of the dark conspiracy. Words are my only tools of protest, words which have the resonance of metal striking against metal.

By writing I feel myself on trial every single minute of my life, and it is by writing alone that I feel liberated.

Borrowing from Andri Peer’s poem, let me say that we need courage to speak up while words are burning, to call a stone a stone, and blood blood, and fear fear.

Why do I write ? I wonder ! And then I look in those secret spaces within me, into these my serious depths where innumerable galaxies dance in the eternal darkness, where innumerable deaths coexist with innumerable lives, where all the bygone centuries and all the experiences human life has passed through sleep in an ever-awakening awareness, where I find an enormous kaleidoscope in which my own experiences and the vision through which I have lived and seen this world,

I write because, whether I am capable of exploring and using its vitality or not, I know the power of the word, and I love its resonance, its tinkle, its various shades of meaning, its eternal and inherent truth, its texture, its sound, its rhythm. Words which glow with the colours of dawns and dusks, words which fall like the first rain-drop on parched earth, words which roar like cyclones and have the thunder of black clouds, words which flash across mind’s horizon like lightening, words which are soft and pulsating, words which have the resonance of metal striking against metal, words which purr and words which roar ! I am in love with words. That is perhaps why I write. To explore their hidden p