THE SHRINKING SPACE FOR DIALOGUE
Last week, Gauri Lankesh, journalist, publisher and activist was brutally gunned down by unknown assailants at her home in Bengaluru.
On the same day, coincidentally, Rakesh Ranjan Yadav, son of Manorama Devi, suspended Janata Dal (United) MLA in the Bihar assembly, was convicted by a lower court for shooting dead a teenager Aditya Sachdeva in a road rage incident in Gaya.
One is cause for despair and the other for hope that our legal system delivers justice and, in this instance, on time.
More importantly though, both tragedies point to a growing malaise of Indian democracy: the shrinking space for dialogue.
Indians, as a nation, stopped listening to each other some time ago; now we have launched further down the path of slippery destruction of democracy, killing those who disagree with us or as they say enforce the maxim of ‘my way or the highway.
And ironically this is happening in the 70th year of the country’s independence—the milestone is no mean achievement, given that other countries have failed where India has succeeded.
Whether it be national spaces like Parliament (where pique and less of national interest drives political decisions), highways and city roads (increasing incidents of road rage) or educational institutions (where the ecosystem for dialogue, a basic criterion for academic excellence, has been replaced by a mindless cycle of binary exchanges), the divide is most apparent (and of course it is nowhere most manifest than with the belligerent talking heads on news programmes).
A regime change in New Delhi, especially with a new government determined to pursue structural change, has only exacerbated an already existing problem. In our personal space, especially social media (as I often see on my timeline on Facebook), the spewing of hate, by both liberals and conservatives, is depressing and a tragical reaffirmation of the new binary contours of
It is time for us as a nation to start listening to each other to regain our democratic space
This column has, on several occasions, flagged the perils of a binary discourse (bit.ly/2vy5bcd). The rash of recent incidents—some which have not even got play in the national media—suggest that India may have reached a tipping point. This is indeed a moment of reckoning and clearly it is not just politicians, but other institutions including media, judiciary and so on, and the people at large too have to step up to the plate. As the cliche goes, it is better late than never.
But where could we possibly begin? The clue lies in the simple message from David Bohm, a physicist (a message previously repeated by this column). About five decades ago he presciently pointed out, at a time when television was emerging as the primary entertainment medium, that people had stopped listening to each other. Fact is that if