Excluding the people

Cultural practice does not recognise borders. Militarising it reduces it to a dangerous monolith

Written by Githa Hariharan | Updated: October 17, 2016 12:31 pm
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The masks came off soon after condoling writer Mahasweta Devi’s death. Unmasked, the right-wing pseudo-nationalists were on the prowl for their daily target. They found it in a play staged in the University of Haryana; the play was based on Mahasweta’s story, Draupadi. The ABVP attack was to convince us that a story, a story that exposes violence against a woman activist, a story by a writer you have just praised, can turn anti-national.

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Is this hypocrisy? Ignorance? Habitual hate-mongering? Or all this and something more, a choice between culture that includes people and culture that excludes people? The other day, inaugurating a conference organised by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) in Indore, filmmaker M.S. Sathyu criticised the shrill calls to keep Pakistani artistes out of India. What has now become the standard of “debate” followed: The IPTA conference was disrupted. This attack, by the right-wing Bharat Swabhiman Manch, was to convince us that IPTA is anti-national. Either the Manch “nationalists” don’t know of IPTA’s role in the independence movement, or its attempts to strengthen people’s culture; or of the conspicuous absence of the RSS in the freedom struggle. Or the pseudo-nationalists want militarised culture, so that the practice of people’s culture — inclusive, with no borders within India or across the world — becomes “anti-national”.

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Consider the project of shrinking culture by drawing borders within India. There’s a fear lurking in the strident accusation of “anti-national” that so much of our cultural work, and so many of our cultural events, is now charged with. It’s the fear of what happened last year. The powerful chorus of voices raised by writers, artists, performers, academics and scientists across caste, gender, community, language and region, insisted that Indian culture is a living system of multiple voices, multiple narratives and counter-narratives.

It’s the fear of what continues to happen: The re-energised Dalit movements, the revulsion caused by atrocities against tribals, the murder of rationalists and Muslims such as Akhlaq, the suppressing of youth in campuses, and, of course, the insistence that educational and cultural institutions are spaces for discussion and debate. The pseudo-nationalist opponents of culture are afraid of the insistence on democratic rights, freedom of speech, dissent, reason, a scientific temper. They are afraid of all those who speak for an inclusive culture, rather than a militarised culture that excludes more and more people.

A militarised culture finds new ways to exclude people every day; whether it is actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui kept out of the Ramlila or Muslims out of garba events, or whether it is asking Urdu writers to sign an undertaking that they will not write anything “anti-national”. This is the context for the call to ban actors with Pakistani citizenship in Indian cultural projects. The target here is not Pakistani “artistes”. It’s our own citizens, whether writers, filmmakers or artists, and their commitment to practising culture that does not follow an officially sanctioned script. With all the jingoism in the air (and on air), the time is ripe to extend militarising the nation to militarising cultural practice. The right-wing dreams of India in uniform, preferably khaki.

If we let this happen, there will be no Indian culture left. Indeed, we will lose any kind of culture, because cultural practice does not recognise borders within or outside India. We can condemn the terror, or the wars states and state-backed groups inflict on people, ours and theirs, wounding people, jawans and civilians, killing them, taking them away from the real business of life. But do we condemn people? Men, women and children who have nothing to do with the power games states play, people who are not hate-mongers, who only want peace so they can farm their fields, earn for their families, study, pray, and make their music and film and poetry?

People’s culture shows us the way out of the jingoist, militarised nightmare of borders within India, and borders between Indians and other nationalities. People have practised their own borderless culture in the past, during times more tumultuous than ours. Only a decade after Partition, there was an example of collaboration between Indian and Pakistani artists; the kind of inclusion that can and must happen in people’s culture. A 1958 Urdu film, Jago Hua Savera, was not about rulers, borders or patriotism. It was about the hard lives of common people — the fishing community in a village near Dhaka, suffering in the clutch of moneylenders. The script, lyrics and dialogue was by Faiz Ahmad Faiz. Faiz’s script was inspired by a Bengali story by Manik Bandopadhyay. The music was by Timir Baran of Calcutta.

Closer in time, in 1997, six of us Indian writers were invited to talk to six Pakistani writers on the fiftieth anniversary of independence. The grand old man of letters, Intizar Husain, spoke for the cultural community on both sides of the border. He said, “So much that is important to me as a writer is on the other side of the border. The Jataka Tales, Meerabai’s bhajans, the Delhi I knew. How do I remain a writer if I pretend all these are no longer mine?”

So what kind of culture should we strengthen? History has examples of the choice we have, both as a nation and as people. In 1935, one of the best known propaganda films was made. Leni Riefenstahl’s film Triumph of the Will was commissioned by Hitler. The theme Hitler had in mind was Germany’s glory under his leadership. But even as the film glorifies the official narrative of the Nazis, we can see how the nation’s “glory” involves excluding people, whether Jewish, Communist, or Germans with a more inclusive, humane view of the world. In stark contrast, Mahmoud Darwish, often referred to as the Palestinian national poet, wrote the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988 and many poems of resistance that are an integral part of every Arab’s consciousness. But he also wrote, just after the 1967 war, a tender poem about an Israeli soldier, A Soldier Who Dreams of White Lilies. Darwish responded to criticism with what could be the motto of every practitioner of an inclusive people’s culture: He would, he said, “continue to humanise even the enemy”.

Who do we want to emulate, we who own culture, we who make culture to express our strongest hopes, dreams and fears? Riefenstahl or Darwish? ABVP or Mahasweta Devi? Bharat Swabhiman Manch or IPTA? Only a culture in touch with people’s lives, open to dissenting voices, this side of the border or that, can keep culture, its myriad voices, from being reduced to a single dangerous voice.

The writer is a founder member of the Indian Writers’ Forum

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  1. H
    Hemant
    Oct 11, 2016 at 4:09 am
    The old woman (writer), in stan they murder people like you and in India you try to destroy movers and shakers of our culture without which no one would read you. You are traitors because you make a in the same plate you eat from.
    Reply
    1. M
      MyTake
      Oct 11, 2016 at 12:30 am
      Lots of stink tank live in their own hyperbole, disconnected from the people!
      Reply
      1. R
        Rajat
        Oct 11, 2016 at 12:21 pm
        Those criticizing should go through this website.lt;br/gt;Then they'll understand what islam is about. So much hatred and contempt for non-muslims. Sadly no liberal is able to see through this.lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt;
        Reply
        1. R
          Rajat
          Oct 11, 2016 at 12:22 pm
          islamqa(dot)org
          Reply
          1. V
            Vivek
            Oct 11, 2016 at 6:55 am
            Band karo this natak when stan is openly supplying guns and bullets to kill Indian people when every attack has Pak fingerprints right from ammunitions to persons.
            Reply
            1. V
              Vivek
              Oct 11, 2016 at 6:52 am
              Keep on showing that everything is normal keep on Amman ki asha like programs at the cost of lives of our jawans who are fighting for us on borders.
              Reply
              1. K
                K SHESHU
                Oct 11, 2016 at 1:49 pm
                Cultural fascism is on the prowl destroying the socialist fabric of the society which is pathetic.
                Reply
                1. D
                  Dhruv
                  Oct 14, 2016 at 8:50 pm
                  The author could have put across her point without being pompous and condescending. All she does is abuse the imaginary hindutva demons and promoting cultural and artistic solidarity across borders. While one could agree with the need for the latter, what is the point in indulging in hindutva bashing? It alienates people, as most would call marxism/socialism a bigger enemy of Insia's culture than the monolith that hindutva allegedly tries to promote.
                  Reply
                  1. S
                    Surya
                    Oct 11, 2016 at 7:44 am
                    Denying access to art, cinema and sports from stan law like denying link to our past, culture and heritage. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt; Indian culture and Hinduism is spread upto Afghanistan and Russian Borders.
                    Reply
                    1. S
                      Surya
                      Oct 11, 2016 at 7:49 am
                      Every one in disagreement with the author is a Hindu Jihadi and paid by UK and US to destroy the nation. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt; They are back stabbers as usual. Country can survive such parasites.
                      Reply
                      1. A
                        Ajay G
                        Oct 11, 2016 at 4:47 am
                        stan is a creation of only 70 years. Hindus (by definition of people living on This side of Indus River) have been living on This sub - continent since milleniums. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Art, culture do not alter in just 70 years. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt;lt;br/gt; Borders can not exist for art and culture. True.
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          Ajay
                          Oct 11, 2016 at 3:18 am
                          "Nawazuddin Siddiqui kept out of the Ramlila or Muslims out of garba events." I don't understand the logic behind excluding N. Siddiqui. Githa did not explain the reason either. I don't believe it is because of his religion. As for the garba events, Muslims are kept out to avoid love jihad. Once again, Githa did not outline the issues ociated with Love Jihad. How many Muslim respect Hindu deities or even care to respect Hinduism. I think this article is one sided. Writers must be transparent in looking at the issue, and include a through analysis to prove their thesis.
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                          1. A
                            Amar
                            Oct 11, 2016 at 1:59 pm
                            Matter will be over within 2 and a half years.
                            Reply
                            1. T
                              Think
                              Oct 11, 2016 at 12:29 am
                              "The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first atude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war." - Sydney Harris
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                Anna
                                Oct 11, 2016 at 8:15 am
                                Amit Shah is Hafiz Sa of RSS.
                                Reply
                                1. A
                                  Anna
                                  Oct 11, 2016 at 7:57 am
                                  These MNS, SS, VHP and Bajrangis are self centered bigots. They have no idea what art is and what culture is. lt;br/gt; lt;br/gt; They are nara-e-taqbeer kind of Hindu elements. If left to them, our nation is sure to go to way.
                                  Reply
                                  1. A
                                    A
                                    Oct 11, 2016 at 5:47 pm
                                    These pseudo secularists do not condemn the ethnic cleansing of the Kashmiri pundits and the rogue behaviour of the neibhour. Instead they celebrate the terrorists aided by our rogue neibhour. Only when there is peace,art and sports can be enjo by the common public.When the rogue neighbour beheads our soldiers tje author expexts all the peace loving citizens to welcome the artists fron the rogue nationIf you do not like this country ,go to the country of your liking and enjoy their hospitality.Our pressudes also support such nonsense by giving them free hand to write when our soldiers are being macred in the border.
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                                      arati
                                      Oct 11, 2016 at 12:28 pm
                                      the way you you rise to criticize your own country people - is a sort of culture. How come this culture does not exist in stan - why stanis do not have such a culture of denouncing the rabid islamism in stan, the way they torture their minorities - why you and artists do not have the culture of doing something about the minorities being killed in pak and bangladesh - you see this is the culture you artists - both indian (mostly - not all of them) and stanis (all of them) are lacking. This is the culture present in indian hindus (mostly) which you are not having and this makes you nothing but HYPOCRITICAL - FAKE - FRAUD - WASTE. You people have wasted our country by supporting empty theories on practicing secularism towards ungrateful abusive minorities who only abuse the secularism instead of learning and practising it when they are in a majority.
                                      Reply
                                      1. A
                                        Arshad Ajmal
                                        Oct 11, 2016 at 2:22 am
                                        “continue to humanise even the enemy”.lt;br/gt;Mahmoud Darwish, often referred to as the Palestinian national poet, wrote the Palestinian declaration of independence in 1988 and many poems of resistance that are an integral part of every Arab’s consciousness. But he also wrote, just after the 1967 war, a tender poem about an Israeli soldier, A Soldier Who Dreams of White Lilies. Darwish responded to criticism with what could be the motto of every pracioner of an inclusive people’s culture: He would, he said, “continue to humanise even the enemy”.
                                        Reply
                                        1. N
                                          Naresh
                                          Oct 11, 2016 at 5:24 pm
                                          Well pla. Precisely the kind of response I was hoping for. This is the problem with you guys. You dont condemn the wrongs perpetuated by religion. Rather you choose the easy path. Disown them. As far as Sati being perpetuated as an answer to invaders, why were they being forced into Sati even during British rule. Now dont act smart and deny that completely. What about child marriage , Oh wait that was never practiced by Hindus too. In fact the invaders were forcing us to do it. A religion is not defined by the religious texts alone. If we are to define Hinduism by religious texts alone, then we are justifying Mr Zakir Naik's claims. As I said before Hinduism is not sacrosanct. It is precisely because of the criticisms from inside, it has stood the test of time. Unlike the other religions who formed their own sub divisions, Hinduism now a days tries to undo the wrongs it had committed earlier(caste system). It is people like you who stifle every criticism under the garb of protecting Hinduism, lead Hinduism towards moral corruption.
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                                          1. C
                                            Casteless
                                            Oct 11, 2016 at 2:49 pm
                                            There must be something sweet about the backside pf stanis, otherwise why secular. liberal. leftists Hindus want to leak them?
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