Catachresis of Culture – Power and Governance
“Culture can be a worse bomb than a nuclear bomb. While the latter acts as a deterrent, the idea of culture ignites emotions and divisions in civil society. Culture can be anything from language, ethnic identity, religion, lifestyles choices and much more…” says Dr. Kapila Vatsyayan well-known authority on Culture and my teacher for over 3 decades, to me in an informal talk at the time of Godhra riots. Since time immemorial, culture has been used by the power elite as a useful tool to enhance their own monopoly of power. Just remember what Hitler did when he used the idea of the Aryan identity. While watching the television reports on the ongoing Indian elections for the past several weeks, there is a constant reference to the division of votes based on cultural identities. Hindu, Muslim, Jats, Dalits and so on and so forth. Where is the non-partisan attitude to the idea of power and governance? But here I want to address the sector of culture in the schema of power and governance.
It also is rather ironical, that the very idea of culture which is used to gain power is relegated and dismissed in the framework of governance. Least amount of funds are allocated for this sector, and the lack of proper understanding or should I say the negligence and absence of sensitivity and comprehension of this sector has resulted in addressing the subject of culture through more than 9 central government ministries – department of culture, tribal welfare, education, textiles, tourism, child and women, minority and many more. Let us also not forget the marginalization of the skills associated with creative and cultural industries. After agriculture, the creative and cultural industries form the second largest sector of occupations in this country, and remains the sector of traditional knowledge that has sustained India. But, by adopting the Western perspectives on governance and development we have marginalized this sector. Unfortunately, several skilled people also belong to the backward castes, keeping this mind, it is important to analyze the manner in which the cultural sector has been governed. When formulating the constitution of this country the approach adopted was completely wrong. Rather than re-positioning the occupations/skills associated with this sector of people, the position taken was to address the people and their social status, which meant reservations for these large number of skilled people of this sector to facilitate them to migrate into other sectors of employment abandoning their expertise that formed a part of their essential identities. So instead of providing directions for the skills and repositioning those to compete in the emerging markets these people became displaced in the new economy. The policy makers forgot to celebrate their skills and recognize that it was these very skills that has sustained our civilization for centuries. Whether it is the carpet weaver who knows complicated mathematical combinations through a mathematical branch called beading, or the block printers who have been using organic dyes and who can compete with any chemistry specialist, or the stone workers who has made monumental edifices such as step-wells, Mughal tombs and gardens that illustrate hydraulic and civil engineering or the dancer and the percussionist who play with calculus in mental space, or the indigenous tribal communities who can educate us on the essential qualities of herbs and forest resources and all other skills that we who live in other economic spaces conveniently dismiss and use these skills and people who practice them to celebrate as the visual image and the idea of India.
In this manner the entire governance has been about de-skilling and marginalization of a large number of our skilled people who have little space in contemporary economic scenario. Our cultural and development policy has been to deskill these very people, and thrust them towards poverty. In many areas the agriculturalist may also be a cultural skilled professional, but when the displacement of farmers takes place there is no attention given to the skill which he may have other than his engagement with agriculture. All development programs focus on skilling these so called de-skilled people. On the one hand, culture remains the most powerful tool for power hungry people, and the most misused tool for dividing civil society, on the other hand the sector of culture which can rise to be one of the foremost sunrise industry remains completely fragmented and discarded in the framework of governance and development. Will the new energies that are emerging as part of the political environment also address this important sector which is made use as a major platform for addressing vote banks, will these new energies be courageous to revamp and address culture through governance in a holistic manner? Will we as a civilization finally analyze ourselves on what we were on our terms and have the openness and wisdom to balance the global with the local?
Vote for Civil Behavior and Rational Minds: A Perspective of a Heritage Walk
In India We hardly remain a democracy. Our cynicism with elections arises when our votes are needed once in five years. In recent years, as most of us realize it is only with this new energy symbolized by Anna Hazare followed by AAP but most of all the game changer represented by the forceful nature of youth that rose to protest against the Gangrape in Delhi – that we as a defeated civil society saw a hope for change, an alternative to the jaded political and bureaucratic system which felt threatened and challenged. Interacting with several auto rickshaws, a young student told me that the slapping of Arvind Kejriwal yesterday was instigated by BJP MLA Anil Jha. You may not agree with a person or his ideology but there is no justification for violence. While using Heritage walks as a tool for peace I have presented Gandhi Smriti(birla House), by questioning -why most VIP’s do not go there or should I say taken there; the visitors are formally taken to Rajghat? My answer comes from the book titled Battle for Peace by Krishna Kumar who argues in the essay titled from, ‘Rajghat to Birla House’, that when a visitor goes to Birla house he questions Godse’s action. Was assassination the answer in view that Godse did not agree with Gandhi on certain actions or issues? The visit disturbs the visitor ,here, the visitor confronts Gandhi the living man who was assassinated by a person who did not agree with Gandhi’s actions or ideology. On the other hand, a visit to Rajghat, is where Gandhi is already a Saint and therefore does not disturb a visitor. Recently, I came across a bizarre criminal behaviour where an innocent Sufi was put behind bar when he refused to sell his property to a rich person in the construction lobby and who had close association with the dynasty. Please read http://www.tehelka.com/property-dealer-hounds-nizamuddin-dargahs-caretakers/ . Most of us know that in this election there will be no majority government, this is a transitional phase in our country. The propaganda of the personality cult of Modi is an utopia, it will still not get the majority needed for a stable government. Keeping that in mind, why can not we as civil society vote for individuals who at least have ethics and decorum that frames civil behaviour? It is important that the new energy does not die, Kejriwal may fail, but civil society and civil behaviour must not, can we prevent a parallel of Arab Spring in India die? Can we afford the energy asserted by civilians to be quashed? We must vote for individuals and not a party, can we then force our legislative assembly members to rethink the frame work of our political processes? Let us hope for the best.