But Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others…
For the past 110 days, a man called Seeman, leader of the Naam Tamizhar Iyakkam, is languishing in a prison in Tamil Nadu, arrested under the NSA. His crime was grave indeed: he voiced his opinions on the plight of the Eelam Tamils in pretty strong words, supporting their right to self-determination. And he was booked under a variety of charges, including for talking against ‘national integrity’. And not a single ‘radical intellectual’ (read as Delhi based intellectuals who make statements on a variety of prominent issues) condemned it.
And then happens the meeting on Kashmir in New Delhi on 22nd October. And then the circus in the pigsty, the right wing elements baying for the blood of Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Arundhati Roy, the media trials. And then the reaction from the civil society. And of course, our radical intellectuals. ‘Freedom of speech and expression’, ‘sedition is colonial’, ‘draconian laws’ and other such terms were used to counter the absurd logic of the loony fringe. The chaps in Tamil Nadu, those who condemned the arrest of Seeman, also used the same terms. Sadly, it neither made to the ‘national’ dailies nor to the ears of our defenders of democratic rights. (I need to note here that many of the activists who condemned Seeman’s arrest do not agree with his line of politics. Neither do I. But I assume he has the same right to express his democratic opinion on political issues as does Roy.)
Maybe its got something to do with the issue Seeman was talking about. The genocide of Tamils in Sri Lanka happens to be the worst case of systematic state violence against a people in South Asia. And the least talked about in India’s intellectual circles. Apart from Tamil activists and some party intellectuals affiliated to the CPI(Maoist), no one else did an honest appraisal of the struggle of the Eelam Tamils or gave a condemnation worthy of the horrors that the Lankan government perpetrated. Intellectuals who talked about repression on Mars, Jupiter and Pluto were conspicuous by their silence on the repression in a country not far from home. Even Arundhati Roy, who has written brilliant essays on Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq etc had but a 200 word article on Sri Lanka (and a consecutive interview to Sri Lanka Guardian). But even Ms Roy, with all her positions on grave issues, stopped short of recognising the political demands of the Tamils.
This is not an attempt to undermine the issues taken up by these intellectuals. Rather, it is an attempt to understand why some issues get perennially neglected, issues which are as important, where oppression is similar or worse. For instance, how many times have we seen conventions in the capital on the rights of the people of the North-East? But on Palestine, whoa! The oppressed in South Asian countries, like others in the Third World, are treated worse than animals. But if one were to observe the patterns in the ‘internationalist concerns’ of the Indian intellectuals, in an Orwellian sense, some animals appear to be more equal than others.
Condemning the attempted assault on the freedom of expression of popular intellectuals and leaders is necessary, but at the same time let us also recognize that silencing of ordinary activists happens on a day-to-day basis, of those who work on the ground among the masses in Kashmir, in Chattisgarh, in Tamil Nadu, in Manipur and so. Recently, Anthony Shimray, a NSCN(IM) leader, was arrested by the Indian authorities. And the Indian state is supposed to be on a Ceasefire Arrangement (CFA) with the NSCN(IM). How do you arrest someone with whom you have a CFA with? What of his ‘freedom of speech and expression’? Who will take up his case the way the intellectuals and civil society took up cudgels for the democratic rights of Ms Roy? Or the case of the Dalit Human Rights Mission activists who are hounded by the Kerala state government?
These are questions one can ask the intellectuals. For one is indeed tempted to believe that these intellectuals are in someway, maybe unconsciously, subscribing to the logic of the media market – maximum coverage to that which gets maximum attention. Should this be the case, then the intellectuals are doing a great injustice to the radical politics that they claim to represent. For radicalism is not making the loudest statement about the flashiest issue. On the contrary, it lies primarily in highlighting those issues which have been avoided, even should it make one ‘unpopular’ in intellectual circles.
For the lack of recognition of these issues is, from a Fanonist perspective, as good as opposition.