One has often wondered what does it mean for an act to be ‘organic’. Is it about invoking the Gramscian notion of the organic or the redefinition of it? Many a times it becomes misplaced. It is shorn of its content. Creating a space of resistance (and ‘resistance’ does not always lead to ‘revolution’) has to be something emanating out of the organic efforts of the the oppressed. Cultural expressions – ranging from the distinctions that one witnessed in the content and form of the Madhubani paintings across caste to the emergence of the form of ‘street theatre’ and its different forms over space and time – have always been deeply rooted in their contexts. These contexts have always emerged out of certain social relations and have always imagined an alternative within them. This alternative could have been to transcend the immediate, without any concrete model for the future, or could have been to substitute the existing system/order of things with a new one that denounces different forms of exploitation.
The fight for an alternative society has often found a resonance in universities because of the spaces of dissent that they have traditionally provided. Ever since collapse of welfare capitalism university as a liberal space has been under constant threat – from the ruling class that seek to disband all forms of art (and expression) that challenges its existence and expansion. Creating a space within the university for dissent is one of the tasks of various cultural expressions that are collective in nature. Individual expressions while becoming sources of inspiration are not always potent enough to create a space because they would be banished due to lack of a collective support base. Secondly, certain forms of expression, by their very nature, are subversive. Hence, one finds experiments happening in street theatre in particular and theatre in general. Extending the argument it would be foolish to equate the expensive stage based productions with the street theatre format in terms of their potential to be subversive. This needs a mention because of the shift towards stage based performances that one has witnessed across universities. Both of the forms, generally, fulfill different functions, cater to different socio-economic constituencies and play different political roles. Similarly, both forms of theatre cannot be performed in all the places and all kinds of audiences. The kind of alternative ideological visions (needed to fight oppressive university environments under neoliberal capitalism) that street theatre present get reified when they go to stage (wherein the constituency of audience changes). Shift from street form also involves reliance on the university institutional support, and then the process of institutionalizing the whole process of art as a form of liberating experience begins. To keep them outside the institutional framework is an important aspect of maintaining the autonomy of these art forms as spaces of dissent. In the end, it would also amount to absence of organic linkages between the form and the content.
Given this situation then, dissent becomes a political position which will have the potential to be subversive only if it tries to draw into its ideological fold a collective. Within an university, the effort to use expressions such as street theatre, music, or any other cultural space with the aim of generating steam of subversion has to be prodded. However, it loses that potential when it becomes part of the institutional political ideology. It has to be emerge organically out of the larger political struggle that the students, teachers or other workers envision within the university space. It would also become meaningless if it is seen as an isolated space of ‘performance’, disconnected with the reality outside that determine the character of the university all the time.
Growing out of this understanding it is important that one recognizes the need to connect the politics of these cultural expressions. What do they do through their content? If they talk about the celebration of the individual they are definitely there to rupture the collective. And by doing so they are weakening the possibilities of imagining an alternative to the ongoing oppressions. This alternative can be progressive insofar as they seek to destroy the basis of the context that gives rise to oppression or can become limiting insofar as it becomes a celebration of individuality. They are to nurture a dream – a dream that does not stop at being an act of an individual aspiration. The dream has to be shared. The dream would be about imaging that there can be a world beyond the one where one lives. Avatar Singh Pash wrote:
‘Mehnat ki loot sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Police ki maar sabse khatarnak nahi hoti,
Gaddari, lobh ki mutthi sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Baithe bithaye pakde jana bura to hai,
Sahmi si chhup me jakde jana bura to hai,
Par sabse khatarnak nahi hoti.
Sabse khatarnak hota hai murda shanti se bhar jana,
Na hona tadap ka, sab kuch sahan kar jana,
Ghar se nikalna kaam par, aur kaam se loutkar ghar aana,
Sabse khatarnak hota hai,
Hamare sapno ka mar jana’.
He was positing the individual within a collective context where people are either being trained not to dream or the the dreams are being manufactured. To dream is important but to dream beyond the given – challenging the given, to transcend the system of exploitation by destroying it – is further more important. Dream is about the ability to say that there are alternatives to oppression available. It is about putting posters on a wall where you are not allowed to; it is about contesting what is taught in the classrooms; it is about saying that life is more than following the routine set by those in power; it is about dissenting and saying that the system that YOU put in place is not what the people want; people want something else; the collective needs are beyond the imagination of those in power. Dream is not about fragmenting the collective through practicing an anti-politics agenda which any anti-collective theoretical strand and politics emanating out of it has been doing. A fight has to be waged that spits at the face of anti politics by saying that there politics is the most dangerous one, which betrays the power of collective for radical transformation.