In a two-day long seminar organized by the Department of Political Science, titled “Human Rights & Social Inclusion: Contemporary Concerns,” notable journalist and the managing editor of the weekly news magazine Tehelka, Shoma Chaudhary, delivered a lecture titled “Blowing Bubbles, and Living in them” on Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2011 at the Dayar-e-Mir Taqi Mir building. She talked about human rights, the theme that is of concern to and inherent in everyone, and the array of ever growing contemporary concerns in that theme.
Shoma Chaudhary is the recipient of the Ramnath Goenka Award as well as the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist. Her areas of focus include conflicts of state and people, Maoists, land grab and issues relating to capitalist development among others.
Shoma Chaudhary started her lecture with an idea of creating a global framework from which all actions and legislatives flow. “The idea of a framework is the one through which all sorts of social contract flow. Today I want to talk about the fact of blowing bubbles and living inside of them.”
She moved on to introduce the dilemma she faces today. “I have a strange dilemma today which is that barely a year and a half ago when one wrote about human rights, or engaged with issues of social inclusion, people thought that one was talking to people living in a bubble. There was a kind of opacity and a complete lack of engagement, and ignorance,” she said.
“Today I have the opposite dilemma, which is that the middle class and mainstream media do engage with these issues.” She described the new and peculiar predicament that is of completely black and white responses to those issues. “Starting with the Jan Lok Pal movement, I find myself on the opposite end of the fence where I fear the engagement that we are today confronted with,” Ms. Chaudhary stated, and later on talked the audience through that dilemma and why there was opacity earlier and why there is an engagement now.
“When we talk about human rights and social inclusion,” she said, “it really means different things in different corners of the country.” In the last few years, Ms. Chaudhary’s engagement as a journalist had been completely with issues of conflict between state and people and every aspect of it including dalit issues, Muslim and tribal question and issues of human rights violation, and that is where she noticed an important factor:
“As an English speaking journalist, there is a sort of curtain that divides the well-heeled and the privileged of India from those that live outside that curtain. When we live within this bubble of privilege, it is very difficult to understand how dark this country can be. We live with the sense of living in a democratic and free society. We are very proud of the largest democracy in the world but we do not understand that there is a trap door through which you can fall through if you begin to question the state,” she alleged.
Ms. Chaudhary added that the Indian society is almost living in two different continents. “We do live in two continents. There is the continent of the privilege and there is the continent of those who fall foul of the state. The state that they experience is something completely different.” She further denoted that the reason why there is more violent resistance now, a lot of blowback and lot of deterrence on the ground is that the people on the other continent feel that they do not have any access to the state, which is free, benign, and democratic. “It is when you lose your stake in the system, you start to get violent,” she stated.
Talking about Tehelka’s attention in Chhattisgarh, she said, “In Chhattisgarh, the real violence is not the deaths, not the rapes, and not even the resources that have been captured. The real violence is absence of understanding.” She further said that when anybody questioned why the people were picking up arms and killing the police officers, or when anybody talked about the root causes of the maoists, they were branded as anti-nationals. “In television studios, you would repeatedly hear the middle class and the proponents of media urging a Sri Lanka solution. They would say, ‘Bring on the army and the helicopter, bring the paramilitary forces and eliminate these people who are impediments to the national growth’,” she said.
It is only when one goes to the ground that one understands what the war is about, she urged. “It’s over resources, cattle and the fact that huts are being burned. The fact that tribals are pushed out of the forests, into camps or out of their villages and into the forests,” she stated.
Ms. Chaudhary gave the examples of Himanshu Kumar, Soni Sodi, Binayak Sen, and the likes, and said that either the people are not aware of these stories or they know them as alleged maoist operators. This is where Ms. Chaudhary talked about the essence of the nation we live in and its foundational ideas. “We have to clarify for ourselves that the country that we live in is premised on the idea of freedom over security. There is a social contract, a glowing constitution on which this country was built,” she said.
She further stated that after almost sixty-two years, we begin to forget how difficult it was to create this nation on the principles on which it was created. “Most nation-states are created on the idea of majoritarian community, or majoritarian language or religion, but our founding fathers and the women who built this country fought over this idea of India,” she pronounced.
Ms. Chaudhary clamied that the Indian Constitution is the most glorious experiment across the world, across civilization and across history. “We believed we would create a social, secular, liberal state and to create those principles, to create a multifarious country on an act of faith, there is absolutely no reason why this nation should exist, going by the conventional logic of why nation-states exist,” she said.
Ms. Chaudhary called for the need to re-understand the premises on which the country was built and to resubmit ourselves to the glorious idea. “We have to constantly defend its principles and constantly understand that there are some foundational ideas that we just can’t tamper with,” she expressed. “Today when security has become more of a preoccupation than freedom, there is a need to understand that a successful democratic society is built on freedom and that must be protected because everything grows from that.”
In the discussion about “bubbles,” Ms. Chaudhary talked about four aspects: state, media, middle class, and the activists. “All of us are on a dangerous turning point and if we do not know what it is that we are dealing with, I feel we will turn a corner. In manipur, the fact that there is no coverage of the issues, the primarily guilty are the universities and media more than anyone else is; because Northeast, in our national framework, does not exist. Many media houses refused to carry the story because they felt that there was an absence of interest in stories like that,” she said. These absences of framework are what are troubling the country the most, she claimed.
Ms. Chaudhary talked about the narrative of “Shining India”, and the sense of privilege of living inside that bubble and its seduction. “As activists when we go against the fact that post liberalized India has become so consumerist, we forget to mention what an entrepreneurial energy has been unleashed. There are great satisfactions. When we fight this, we must acknowledge the seductions, the positives, and the fact that a large part of the society has benefitted,” she said.
She also emphasized on the fact that in post modern world, ‘isms’ do not matter and the writings from media and universities need to change in order to change the mindset of the larger community that usually thinks in black and white. Ms. Chaudhary further stated that there is the need to invite the power engines of government and the corporate in order to work together, and the need to speak with empathy and to understand the problems they face in decision making.
Ms. Chaudhary claimed that the English language is an important tool, which is more powerful than gender rights or any other rights. “Speaking of English completely separates the two Indias. It is not to secede from India but to speak about the real India,” she said.
“We want efficiency and we want it overnight because unlike our forefathers we are not interested in the muddy and slow process of institutions that are independent of the individual sitting on the chair. However, it is politics that keeps us safe. We must protect the idea of it,” she declared.
Concluding with the aspect of activism, Ms. Chaudhary said that people on the ground are not anti-corporate, anti-state and not even anti-progress. They are talking consensus, and the language of justice that is very easy to understand, she said.
“Include corporate and state in the work of change rather than declaring them as an enemy that will never change,” she stated.