Sunday, May 6, 2018

Institutionalised wounds- the unforgiven myths in contemporary India

I was appointed as a presiding officer in Nandigram, Purba Medinipur - one of the most violent prone areas of West Bengal since 2007 when people opened fire and killed 14 villagers belonging to "Bhoomi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee" - a committee which fought against forced acquisition of land for a proposed chemical hub in Nandigram. While reaching the place I witnessed a a permanent structure built in the memories of those killed in 2007 carrying their names. While my booth was a bit far from that construction, there were several replicas made of bamboo structure pasted with flexes. What purpose does it serve I asked myself. Even before thinking about the possibilities one of my polling colleague said

"see sir, these are made to remind people of what was done by CPIM, Do you really think they will ever comeback?"
Sahid Minar in Nandigram

"No! not soon, that for sure!" I replied.

I think people do remember during the violent times of 2007 onwards in each of the elections, there were flexes depicting shattered bodies of people, burned body of Tapasi Malik- who was raped and killed in Singur. All these to remind what happened in West Bengal, and also to make people aware what can happen if CPIM led Left Front continues rule.

We tend to refer to history to legitimise our present in a variety of diffferent ways - as Romila Thapar in her Past as Present (2014) says. History seems to be extremely dangerous as Paul Varley in History and Politics (1931) argues 

"History is the most dangerous product evolved from the chemistry of the intellect. Its properties are well known. It causes dreams, it intoxicates whole people, gives them false memories, quickens their reflexes, keep their old wounds open, torments them in their responses, leads in to delusion,... and makes nation bitter, arrogent, insufferable and vein.

The usage of such historical referencing seems to be fine till the days there is a public memory alive. However, memory games surrounding such institutional symbols like the one I encountered  in Nandigram begin to take a distinctive shape with fading of public memory. Older the weaker and hence, prone to a variety of invented traditions.

Such inventions continue to be used by people with particular forms of interests in India most prominently that of the political interests. Such interests create new myths, especially the unforgiven ones.

I can remember left inclined people saying in informal discourses 'those who have seen Naxal period and experiences brutal measures of siddhartha shankar ray led congress will continue to support the Left, no matter what.

Meanwhile, public memories were fading away and there were new incidents of atrocities putting the left towards the backfoot. All of these were happening at a point when the left had one of the highest numbers of parliamentary sits in the history of rhe country. When new issues are publicised even parties at their best moments can fall.

Such memories  will continue to play role if one can manage the resources and consolidate the 'unforgivenness' within the memory itself. Trinamool congress in my sense is on its way of making it at best rhetorically throug events like Nandigram diwas. Such rhetorics are far short lived than similar other mechanisms.

One of such examples is brilliant usage of temple issuse (and not the masjid demolition issue).  While initial reaction from within the BJP was that of sadness as many amongst them thought with the demolition of the masjid this issue is gone out of their hand, the subsequent mass strategy of projecting 'oppressed hindu' image in some distant pasatins important have created the 'unforgivenness' within the memory.

Not only the old wounds   but also the imagined wounds. Of course, primordial identities have more appeal than anything else.

One must address the disturbing fact that India is using too much of past and often imagined wounds for political gains every now and then. 

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