Limits of Delhi Dissent

Featured image by Tanushree Bhasin

The recent set of highlighted events have completely blown-away one myth that Delhi-based media wants to propagate – the myth that there it is something called the “national media” and represents concerns and realities beyond the NCR. Delhi media spent most of its time and resources informing us about student unrest in Delhi and more recently, water shortage in Delhi due to protests on roads surrounding Delhi. Thats just about everything the billion plus souls of the Indian Union needed to know for the last couple of weeks. Even an empire that is divorced from people’s realities and imposes its narrative on its far-flung subjects ought to have some sense of proportion and shame.

While guns, boots and steel represent hard-dominance, the control of what is purportedly the “national narrative” or ”national priority” or “national concern” is a well-oiled tool of soft-dominance. Which is why the chemical-attack on activist Soni Sori of Chhattisgarh, who has earlier been raped and sexually tortured in Khaki custody, makes a feeble blip, that too largely because of the oddity value of her chemical-charred face. The crucial difference between hard and soft dominance is that the latter is sophisticated enough to create poles within their narrative, so as to suck in all kinds of energies along pre-determined lines. It is a different system of crowd-management that gives more options to the victim than a Khaki bullet or a Khaki phallus does. This narrative of soft-dominance pays tribute to the idea of dissent. Segments of the soft-dominance factions of the deep-state also determines the nature and of content of dissent and hence its limits. Whenever there is dissent whose content is beyond their “allowable” limits, there is debate on everything except the actual content of dissent – in this case, alleged human rights violations and the case for or against the self-determination of Kashmir. Everything except the content becomes the message. Mini-cottage industries of dissent aesthetics spring up over-night, with social media playing the role of bill-boards. All this is just fine except for the fact that the message was lost. And this has become a pattern – not only in the subcontinent but all over the world. The most recent example was the Wikileaks expose, where the actual shocking contents of the leaks and the cables was drowned in a sea of representations and mis-representations of Wikileaks as an organization and Julian Assange as a person. The control of the narrative thus is not by suppression but by crowding. It is quite tragic that that defenders of free speech are also useful pawns in such crowding, creating the sea of foam and ‘debate’ in which the message, the content drowns.

Let there be no doubt about certain things. A system or a state that fears human words is very aware of its own lies. Its own false god is its excuse to claim legitimacy. This is where its militant adherents come handy for the size of that crowd is thought to be proportional to the numbers of those who are in silent agreement. The Indian Union fears words. That is pathetic. It has created a system where dissent is only meaningful when it has the Midas touch of Delhi and has gained the attention of Delhi-based gate-keepers of dissent and radicalism. That is equally pathetic. The browns are an unfortunate people.

Within all this fiasco of the last 2 weeks was the 25th anniversary of the gang-rapes of Kunan-Poshpora. The gang-rapists of Kunan Poshpora are doing just fine, some living “normal” lives, some striving hard to bring greater laurels for Bharatmata, some contemplating a career in public service, some taking early retirement to join a private security agency, some of their protectors venturing into “art and culture” promotion, some will go on to write books on Kashmiriyat. Kunan Poshpora is still alive. Not because Delhi cares but inspite of Delhi’s silence and may be because Kunan Poshpora did not outsource its conscience and struggle to Delhi. It is increasingly clear in this subcontinent that when “solidarity gains the upper-hand over the actual struggle, when DSLRs nudge out sweat, likes replace mikes and most slogans and debates about a brown people’s issue happen in English, the death of the issue is near or has already happened.

The recent agitations in Delhi are as always agitations by Delhi. I do rarely naively hope that an expansion in the rights of people beyond the pale of Hindi-Hindi-Hindustan and its capital Delhi would come through struggles by Delhi. But it wont happen. It has never happened. We know it. Delhi knows it. We know who will benefit from this – socially, politically, romantically, psychologically. Delhi may not admit but also ultimately knows it. I still wish Delhi well. But we have to look elsewhere and nearby and around us for inspiration and perspiration. Delhi, for all its self-righteousness over us “regionals” and with its moody earnestness, wont fight our battles. The fact that solidarity in and from Delhi matters in the “national narrative” is part of the problem and not part of the solution. Delhi and its ideologies represent, what we in Bangla call, the ghost in the mustard.


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Garga Chatterjee Written by:

Brain scientist. Columnist. Bengali. He received his PhD from Harvard and is a faculty at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

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