‘Bol ke lab azad hain tere, bol zaban ab tak teri hai, tera sutvan jism hai tera, bol ki jaan ab tak teri hai …’ These lines by revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz set the tone and ground for ‘Nationalism and Culture, a Dialogue’, a two-day national seminar that began Saturday at the Punjab Kala Bhawan. Organised by the Progressive Writers’ Association, Punjab, with the Punjab Arts Council, more than 200 delegates from across India took part in the seminar.
The larger premise and thought of the seminar is to get writers, poets, thinkers, teachers, journalists, artists and people on a common platform, to discuss, debate, share and think about what really is ‘National Identity’. The changing and challenging social and political conditions around us, where the entire concept of unity in diversity is being threatened, where liberal and intelligent voices are being stifled, and replaced by narrow-minded and so-called custodians of Indian culture, where writers like Gauri Lankesh, Narendera Dabholkar, Govind Pansare, MM Kalburgi are killed for expressing the truth and their beliefs, where people are being divided in the name of religion, caste and region, where what we eat, wear, speak and write is being monitored and where minority communities have no space, right or voice.What is the road ahead, how can we, the people, be the catalysts for change, what can the younger generation of writers do to alter the course.are some of the questions that the seminar strives to address.
Rajendra Rajan, National General Secretary, Progressive Writers’ Association, while giving the outlines of the seminar talked about how brave writers are those who believe in human-co-existence, for they are sensitive human beings. Even after 70 years of Independence, reflected Rajan, we haven’t been able to include the minorities into the mainstream.”We make the pen our sword, inspiring others to think with our writings,” said Rajan.
The inaugural address of the seminar was by former vice-president Hamid Ansari, who said that theme of the seminar is very relevant for citizens and those who study the finer aspects of literature. “Writing requires sensitivity to understand human life and good literature creates a stream of consciousness, writers transcend boundaries of time, space and their work should reflect contemporary issues,” Ansari said. Addressing the question of what really is national identity, he talked about India’s diversity, its more than 4,635 communities and a diversity that is simply amazing. “The identity of India is plural, why replace diversity with assumed uniformity, we need to go beyond tolerance and start understanding differences and what is needed is a cross-cultural dialogue. We have a tradition of dissent and many of our writers have written anthems of resistance. In these tough times, the need is to create a path for the future,” he summed up.
A panel of speakers, writers and members of writer associations, discussed at length the concept of a nation or rashtra, pointing out how Nationalism is a work in progress, and we, the people have to decide in which context we take Nationalism. Chaman Lal, author, translator, teacher, part of the panel talked about the power of writers, referring to the 12 writers in Punjab, who had returned their literary awards, condemning the killing of Kalburgi. “It became a movement and I believe that revolution has to be all-encompassing. Insaaniyat is one and humanity is the greatest virtue, our inspiration is work and that is humanity. As writers we have to protect our freedom, raise a voice against those who curb our identity.”
Poet and writer Ashok Vajpayee, in his imitable style and lyrical language, took the audience through many aspects of the subject. “Bharat is not singular, but plural, with so much diversity in every element. A large percentage of people do not agree with the Government’s values of the new Hindutva, which is the new terrorist. The RSS is a threat to Hindu religion, for it does not understand its core. The Government is against all those who raise their voice,” said Vajpayee. He went on to draw the attention of the audience towards demonetization, Institution heads being headed by people with no caliber and experience, Universities being left to fend for themselves and the character assassination of artists, writers thinkers. “We need to create a new language and a voice of protest. We need to wage a war with intelligence, imagination, and knowledge and not be subjugated because we are Dalits, Muslims, women.No one can tell us what to wear, eat, and write. Let us come together for a long fight, which will continue long after we are gone,” said Vajpayee.