2018 has been marred by scars, anguish and fear — all of it either originating from a renaissance or creating one. From my time on this planet — since the Eighties — rare have been the occasions that have seen pain being fought on the streets, month after month, across the country, through the year. Never before seen visuals creating a churn and asking everyone to think deeply about the marginalised, but most importantly to rethink if they have been marginalised themselves.
If the #MeToo movement woke us up, challenging hierarchies of power in a deeply patriarchal society, farmers with worn feet holding red flags have made us inquire once again into the right and wrong side of markets. If the media, both vernacular and national, were openly lured or threatened with money and power, it has, amidst murders, death threats, house arrests and litigation, opposed force and silence.
While the gig economy has brought cool, free, do-it-myself approaches to the work space, it has simultaneously pushed us to question what safety and freedom of choice really means. The internet, social media, artificial intelligence, racy human innovations in technology while providing liberty, are threatening the autonomy they supposedly guarantee.
Educational establishments are at war, asking for freedom on the path of knowledge and cursing those who remain mute spectators. It is a rare sight to see the film fraternity across the country staging a walkout during the most prominent awards’ ceremony for their right to dignity, or artists returning awards in the blink of an eye that they have spent their entire lives trying to earn.
Cultural and not-for-profit institutions that are normally mute spectators — a way of showing regard for their patrons — have questioned in different ways the dire need for their independence. Time and again this year, the decay of the eminence of the RBI, Election Commission, CBI and the judiciary, has been underscored.
Central to all of the above are four underlying truths: First, the power of the collective is non-tradeable. In times of poor attention spans and information overload, it brings issues and their relevance to the forefront, while providing strength to individuals associated with it. Second, these movements are not merely a war of words. Individuals, and hence the society, are recognising that the ills of unchecked institutional power can no longer be condoned as individual traits and failures.
Third, when a society and its institutions fail its people, the latter don’t want to be just heard but are actively seeking resolutions that create a system which moves towards equality. Fourth, 2018 has illustrated that #TimesUp but it is not doomsday as deep-rooted transformation can take place even in institutions which we assume to be non-malleable. Richard Pithouse, a political theorist says “it is time to recognise that the family, the church, the university, the arts, politics offer no guarantee of sanctuary. That always has to mean, without exception, conscious and sovereign persons dwell in public life and private intimacies.”
However vain our entire political class or organisations are, in the name of cynicism we cannot bend towards authoritarian populism. Instead, the need of the hour is to find genuinely democratic alternatives in our institutions and political choices. Irrespective of who we choose in the 2019 elections and thereafter, it’s time that each individual in this country internalises the undercurrents of these small and big movements and makes them their own irrespective of their caste, class and gender. Because tolerating inequality is providing others an unacceptable degree of control over our lives.
Writer Isabel Allende once said: “I completely agree that from the point of view of private life, he abandoned his daughter, he raped a woman, many of the poems are very macho, but the rest of Neruda’s work has its immense value.”
As we open our eyes to 2019, we are all burdened with the responsibility of defining what “immense value” means to us? How do we, in the truest sense, set the foundations of a just and equal society, an idea enshrined in the Indian Constitution? How do we prevent the anguish that Indian society has seen in 2018? Or when we see pain caused by marginalisation, we are not wondering whether to ignore or acknowledge it but have the resilience to respond, support and resolve.
Our lives are better when we make the right choices through a heightened awareness of the world around us. But it is not possible for this awareness to emerge naturally. Rather, it often arises from collective projects that mobilise through persuasion the necessary economic, cultural and socio-political resources. It is, therefore, imperative in this era of an ethical emergency that we all come together as a society, cutting through our differences and working together for a healthier, kinder planet.
As poet Dushyant Kumar writes: Sirf hangama khada karna hamara maksad nahi/sari koshish hai ki ye soorat badalni chahiye. (Our goal is not merely to create a spectacle/ The entire attempt is to change the face of things.)