Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A true democracy demands constant revitalisation of the spirit of openness, generosity and liberality of opinion

It appears that the champions of a resurgent Hindu identity are acutely embarrassed by the presence of the erotic at the centre of Hindu sacred art. As they may well be, for the roots of Hindutva do not lie in Hinduism. Rather, they lie in a crude mixture of German romanticism, Victorian puritanism and Nazi methodology.
What happens next, we wonder? Will the champions of Hindutva go around the country chipping away at temple murals, breaking down monuments, whitewashing wall paintings, and burning manuscripts and folios? Perhaps they will not stop until they have forced the unpredictable richness of Hindu culture to conform to their own tunnel vision of life, art, image and narrative. The first move in the establishment of a fascist system is thought-policing, the curtailment of the liberal imagination. We see this in the breaching of the sanctity of academia, with goons ransacking the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Pune, in January 2004, or police entering the M S University campus last week. And physical attack or arrest has become the first response to any criticism or departure from convention. If anyone had a problem with Chandramohan’s images, for instance, surely they could have resorted to the old-fashioned option of talking to the artist? But conversation has long ago vanished from the menu of problem-solving devices, as India turns into an illiberal democracy.
Periodic elections do not, by themselves guarantee a liberal democracy; they only guarantee periodic changes of government. A true democracy demands constant revitalisation of the spirit of openness, generosity and liberality of opinion. Democracy is not an achieved set of laws or a manual of instructions; it is a work in progress. It is a space that allows diverse imaginations to interact, it is a community of conversations. Given the direction in which we are heading, can we recover democracy as a community of conversations, rather than as a space segmented and partitioned by communitarian claims? Can we allow for the interplay of diverse imaginations, with none exerting a monopolistic claim on experience? Can we productively reconstitute the same objects in different discourses, without inviting assault on our civic and cultural freedoms? Can we preserve nuance, detail and polychromy in our accounts of ourselves – as complex selves in a complex society – without being coerced into subscription towards one group identity or another by colour-blind demagogues? Can we protect the right to artistic truth and the right to critique?

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