Category Archives: Social Issues

India at 70 – Into that heaven of freedom…

“The 70th anniversary of Independence, Madam Speaker, call for soul-searching introspection rather than chest-thumping celebration,” said Sugata Bose, Trinamool MP from Jadavpur in Lok Sabha during a discussion to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Quit India Movement. His words resonate in my ears as I sit down to pen my thoughts on the meaning of freedom, 70 years after the British left India.

“The social habit of mind”, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his essays on nationalism, “which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life.”

FREEDOM FROM MOB VIOLENCE

The visionary that he was, Tagore’s words sound like a prophetic warning for the times we are living in. Not many weeks ago, a teenage boy, Junaid, was lynched in Ballabhgarh on the suspicion of carrying beef. Like Pehlu Khan in Gujarat, Akhlaq in Dadri, or Asgar Ansari in Jharkhand, Junaid’s fault was his religion.

2017 witnessed one of the most grievous riots in the State of Uttar Pradesh where the upper-caste Thakur communities razed and burnt Dalit villages in Saharanpur, bringing back memories of Dalit attacks in Una last year, and the suicide of Rohith Vemula before that.

A spike in mob lynchings, specially by the state-sanctioned vigilantes who call themselves ‘gau-rakshaks’, and attacks on Dalits and minorities, has bruised India like never before. These incidents lead me to think, are we truly free?

FREEDOM FOR WOMEN

Chandigarh was in the news recently after a Facebook post by a girl went viral. Varnika Kundu, the girl in question was chased through the streets of the city, in the wee hours of the night, for seven kilometers by the son of the State BJP President, and his friends. While the stalking case shocked us to the core, it also brought back memories of 2012 Delhi gangrape case. While Varnika waged a war against the system, too eager to shield the neta’s son, the ruling party at Centre, and its cyber army, was out in full force to tarnish her character.

FREEDOM FOR CHILDREN

Incidents like Varnika’s are a reflection of how morally degraded the society at large has become. More so, when one hears of politicians being involved in child trafficking rackets, charging anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh as commission. While children are not safe from the clutches of self-serving politicians, even new born babies are sacrificed at the altar of inept governance. The 70 odd babies who were suffocated to death in Gorakhpur might be wondering what freedom means.

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT

চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির, জ্ঞান যেথা মুক্ত…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free…

Rabindranath Tagore had dreamt of an India that thinks freely, fearlessly. Sadly, in the ‘New India’ that is being trumpeted around the world, freedom of thought is just a euphemism. Debate and discourse are disbarred on campuses; a student who chooses to speak her mind on social media is insulted and threatened by none-other-than a Union Minister.

While funds for research are denied to scholars, the government engages itself in mindless exercises like installing the national flag on campuses and Vice-Chancellors suggest placing tanks inside campuses to instill a patriotic fervour in students (sic). Is this the free-flowing knowledge that Tagore imagined in India?

FREEDOM FROM FAKE NEWS

We live in a post-truth world. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, every user has virtually become a broadcaster of news. But as Peter Parker’s uncle told him, with great power comes great responsibility. With complete lack of accountability, the digital space has become a breeding ground for the virus called ‘fake news’. Morphed images, fake photos, false videos and articles filled with bigotry and bile spread like wildfire, often resulting in communal clashes and violence. Freedom from fake news is pre-requisite for building a strong and resurgent India.

FREEDOM TO LOVE

India is a land laden with ironies. The country that produced the Kamasutra squirms at the very mention of the word sex. There have been petitions from right wing outfits to ban ‘obscene’ statues at Khajuraho temple. A girl and a boy in love need social sanction to be in a relationship; often they meet a tragic fate based on what caste or religion they are born with.

And hapless, unfortunate hacks like me, who were ordained by nature to fall for species of their own gender, have to live like a criminal in this country. Freaks, psycho, mental, impotent – definitions are many, compassion none. Gay means happy as per the English dictionary, but more often than not, our lives are devoid of happiness, because of the constant struggle with the society, for our right to love.

Whether it is a boy who loves a boy, a girl who loves a lower caste boy, a Hindu boy who loves a Muslim girl or a girl who desires another girl – any freedom is incomplete unless one has the right to live with the partner of their choice, without being judged or ostracised.

INTO THAT HEAVEN OF FREEDOM

A country is nothing without her citizens. Seventy years ago, India had her tryst with destiny at midnight. It is for us to bring to fruition the dream that our founding fathers envisaged. Freedom will present herself to us if only we make ourselves worthy enough. If that requires standing up to the State, we should not dither.

Bandh bhenge daao….

Advertisements

Bring Back Sense8

I have been with this show since the beginning.

I was home alone one night, and saw it pop up on the top of my Netflix screen. I googled it first, and read that the general consensus was that the show was a bit odd and not particularly good. I flicked past it on Netflix, couldn’t find anything else to watch, had dinner, and decided to sit down and try the first episode.

I watched the first season within three days.

Sense8 is perhaps the most beautiful show I have ever watched, alongside shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Six Feet Under.

 

Sense8

 

In the current climate of popular television, popular shows are usually one of two things (or a combination of both): they are extremely negative and cynical, and they are more about shock or twist than substance. Think about it: shows like Game of Thrones, as an example, are almost entirely about the dark side of humanity, psychopaths, manipulators, violence, sexual violence, death, destruction. The television landscape is often bleak, emotionally cheap, lacking in artfulness.

Sense8 is the antithesis of that. Sense8 is a television show that is explicitly and unapologetically about how diversity is our strength, love and compassion are our superpowers, and fear is our enemy. It is not a show that wants to suggest to us that we, as human beings, are inherently evil. It is not a show that wants to reel you in through shallow twists or gore or suicidal ideation. It is a show that says to each viewer: ‘Can you feel your own humanity? It’s right there, come with us into this story, and feel your humanity again’.

It is a show about Kala, an Indian woman who is equally dedicated to science and religion. It is a show about Nomi, a trans woman who is capable, happy, dedicated, loyal, clever. It is a show about Capheus, a man from Nairobi who is endlessly positive in the face of adversity. It is a show about Lito, a Mexican man who wants to entertain you, who is brave, gay, and dramatic. It is a show about Sun, a Korean woman who will sacrifice even for those who don’t deserve it. It is a show about Wolfgang, a German man who is living with trauma and trying to find himself underneath it. It is a show about Will, a cop from Chicago who will protect us at all costs. It is a show about Riley, a woman with endless empathy and strength, who can lose a husband and child and still have a heart full of love.

It is a show about us. The best of us, us being individuals and humankind. It is a show that, I think more so than any other show that is currently on television or has been on television perhaps in my lifetime and maybe yours, that demonstrates the true power of art. Art can heal us, art can move us, art can tell us stories and educate us about people and experiences we don’t personally know or understand, art can bridge gaps, art can challenge preconceptions, art can make us brave, art can challenge fear, art can repair.

Sense8, for me, has been an important show, and a very necessary show. In a time when the political conversation across the world seems to turn on whether or not we should start separating from each other, whether or not we should fear each other, Sense8 has been there to show us why fear and separation are antithetical to love and joy.

Sense8 is also a show that has the most wholehearted and kind and careful representation of queer people and queer culture that I have seen on television. The show contains four openly queer characters, all of whom are happy, successful, fulfilled and loved. It is a show that has had no interest in playing into the stereotype, as is often found in television and film, that queer people are inherently unhappy.

I had never had any particularly strong feelings about Netflix before I watched the first season of Sense8. But Sense8 to me, was the embodiment of what I, at least thought, Netflix was about. Bringing programs to an audience, programs that were fearless and new and boundary pushing and actually interested in artistic integrity over profit or perceived return; that was what Netflix was to me.

I feel that in cancelling Sense8, Netflix has betrayed it’s own philosophical vision and what I think is it’s artistic integrity, and responsibility.

But mostly I feel that today, an opportunity and a light has left the world. Art, in our darkest times, is often one of our strongest allies, one of our strongest antidotes. Sense8 was not only a television show that people loved to watch, it was a television show that people needed to watch. It radiated joy, friendship, respect, global community, hope, empathy and decency. It was a television show that did not simply encourage our base, unrefined, animalistic tendencies towards competition and violence, but one that tried to remind us of the conscious choice we can make to be kind.

Sense8 wanted you to feel that the world, every individual within the world, was a part of your cluster; if only you could broaden your mind ever so slightly to the idea. Sense8 wanted you to know you were not alone in feeling hunted, in feeling tired, in feeling overwhelmed. Sense8 wanted you to know that together, if we try, and we use each other’s knowledge and skill and perspectives, we can be better.

I want to thank the entire cast, crew, and creatives of Sense8 for trying to give us that light. I want to say I am disappointed in Netflix for not realising it’s potential as not simply a company, but as a patron and distributor of 21st century art. I would also like to note that as a queer person, I no longer consider Netflix a ‘network’ that actually values the stories of people like myself – especially since there seems to be no indication of finishing this show with the respect the audience deserves.

I hope we can all remember what this show gave us. Be critical and clever like Nomi, strong but forgiving like Sun, positive and courageous like Capheus, protective and loyal like Will, open and joyful like Lito, dedicated to your mind and your heart like Kala, strong in yourself and unapologetic like Wolfgang, kind, empathetic and resilient like Riley.

Remember, that you can be a sensate, if you just try.

 

This post has been penned by Dr Anindya Kar

%d bloggers like this: