First I should credit the Meghalaya Government for the Calm Shillong Festival which was indeed very creative, innovative and a great opportunity for the people of the state to express creatively and interact with various personalities of national eminence. But due care should be taken in the future regarding the quality of programmes and interactions. The hallmarks of public interactions should be a friendly banter even while disagreeing, and not acrimonious dissent.
Let me start with a very basic question asked in the interactive session with Mr M.J. Akbar. “What is the role of education in a society?” This was aptly answered by Mr BM Lanong the Deputy Chief Minister later, which is, “to create a civilised society…” quoting Pluto.
Agreed, to create a civilised society; but I would like to ask what was so civilised about the interactive session with M.J. Akbar, conducted by Mr Indrajeet Hazra, with more than lengthy speech by the anchor himself about his life and a demeaning joke about women. Something regarding 50 ways of having orgasm by women! Is that the way he looks at women’s magazines and Indian women? Perhaps he was trying to shock the audience into a humour which was not really required. Anyway there was not much interaction to talk about.
Most of the interaction was done by the anchor himself asking his own questions initially. The audience got only about 6 to 7 questions. And one person who asked a rather intelligent question which perhaps Mr Akbar had no answer to, was rubbished by him. Is this the way a journalist should behave in a public platform? Should he be disparaging about any question in an interactive session? If he did not have any answer or he did not agree he had all the right to disagree but not admonish a person for asking a question. I thing he behaved in a most undemocratic fashion. Are we in a Taliban state, where if you do not agree you either shout or shoot? I had not expected an eminent journalist like him to behave in such a manner. And wasn’t it supposed to an interactive session with the people?
I feel that most of the time people misunderstand the meaning of Education and Literacy. An educated person can be anyone, either educated in the system of schooling or not, but worldly and spiritually wise. But a literary person is one who has amassed degrees but need not necessary be educated. Mr Akbar was behaving like a literary person who had forgotten his basic manners of cordiality and amiability. He forgot the basic essentials of democracy which are to accommodate and encourage dissenting views he may agree or disagree with. And not judge a question without even replying to or even considering the question on merit.
Let me put the question again for the benefit of the people. Observation put forward was the dominant role of lawyers in the build-up to the pre-partition time which finally led to the partition of the country. And the question put was “whether India is a melting pot or a salad bowl, of cultures?” I would like to ask, what was rubbish about this question that invoked such an undemocratic and uncivilised reaction from Mr Akbar? Nobody has got the right to judge and rubbish a question especially during an arm chair intellectual exercise, without even considering the question itself.
Now I put forward my point of view. Wasn’t our country’s basic foundation made on the decisions of lawyers who decided that they could only decide? Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, Jinnah, Liaquat Ali Khan, Nehru aren’t they all lawyers? Tell me how many representatives of the people were involved and where was the voice of the civil society? Yes, common people made sacrifices. They died and got injured on the streets and under the heavy artillery and lathis of the British, but that was all. They were not made to be a part and parcel of the decision making bodies.
Now to the question put forward by another person- “If you wipe out the whole British rule what would have happened to India?” Mr Akbar’s point of view was highly debatable, that (not in the exact word) “Then Gandhi would have fought the princely autocracy and created a democracy”.
The very fact that India came under one umbrella was because of the British, because then, the people of the sub-continent had one enemy to fight against and to drive out. The people found a common foe and cause to unite. Otherwise how could have Gandhi united the people with so much of passion and fervour if it was to fight our own countrymen? It was all because it was directed against one single force the ‘British’ who were alien to us. We were nothing but a conglomeration of many princely states with common and sometimes diverse cultural roots. There was no India. Now we certainly have to thank the British in one way or the other for uniting us and giving us one common goal to fight for.
Mr M.J. Akbar had an absolutely lopsided sense of history. Let me remind him a few things about the British Raj, before he can just rubbish away the whole rule of the British in India. The very language he was interacting in was English; this is the one of the main residues of the British Raj in our country. It is a language because of which our country has integrated so fast. Otherwise we would have been a country with thousands of languages or more, individually beautiful and culturally rich languages, but we would have failed to communicate with each other. English provided us with a common medium for interaction. Two, the British have given us different systems on which our country is functioning even today, the legal system, the governance systems, the education system, railways, roadways and integrated the whole nation through infra-structure. Rightly or wrongly we have elaborated or expanded on the basic foundation that was built by them. I am not saying here that whatever they did was right and righteous. They had economically drained us and inflicted many atrocities, but now, after more than 60 years of independence we should have a more balanced view and approach to things. Mr Akbar was taking us down memory lane with a completely one sided view of history which would do nothing but breed antagonism.
In this age of globalisation we do not need to go back to history but rather look forward, for more integration rather than disintegration of societies, politically, socially, nationally and even internationally.
Today we are living in the internet age where even the geographical boundaries have blurred, and exchange of human knowledge and information has facilitated extensive human growth and advancement. Today knowledge and information ..has become the power of the people, and going back to history should only be for the purpose of making sense of our present so that we do not sow the seeds of anger and antagonism for the future. It was all a part of growing up and maturing into the society we are in today. We have imbibed much from different cultures and also enriched culturally different civilisations of the world. In the interactions that took place across the centuries, we bled, we gained, but we grew and in the end we integrated beautifully… let us leave it to that and forget lopsided point of view of history for good and look forward to more integration rather than dissension.
Celebrity speakers should forget their ego while addressing an intelligent public. Shillong is not in an intellectual vacuum!