The Politics of Anti-Politics: Forms of Expression and Dreams for an Alternative World

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.

Further Debates on the Medium of Instruction and the Language Question

S S Rajagopalan responded to my reflections on Medium of Instruction in the following way through email on 7th November 2010:

“In a unilingual State, there is no problem. The language to be learnt and medium of instruction are one and the same. In a multi-lingual State,the Regional Language is the First Language and it is also the medium of instruction. The National Language, if there be one, is taught as Second Language.  There may be provision for learning more than one language, including any Foreign Language. But nowhere is a foreign language the medium of instruction, except in our country. Language learning has several objectives, primarily as a means of communication and understanding and appreciation of one’s cultural and literary heritage. It should not be looked at from a purely materialistic point of view. Only a small proportion of people move out of their State and they can learn the local language sooner as they are mature and know the art of learning. Our problem is: Mother-tongue vs English, Learning English is not objectionable but should it be the medium also?  Anybody who can identify studies undertaken in this regard may come forward to quote the same. For over sixty years, we have wasted our time and energy on the language issue. While the middle class is vociferous about EM, the silent mass remains unconcerned. The great divide in educational opportunities has been widened because of twin mediums.”

This was my response to Rajagopalan:
“Let me clarify – I am a materialist – and my reflections need to be seen in that framework.
I would like to thank SSR for his response. However, I have to offer following as response to him:

You failed to get the larger argument that I am making and believe me this line of argument has been marginal in what you term as ‘sixty years’ of debate. I do not see any flaw in demanding that a child should be taught in its mother-tongue but it is not as simple as saying it. Firstly, the moment we argue for the vernacular language to be the mother-tongue, be it because of a logic of multi-ethnic, multi-cultural etc., pretext, we establish that there is a singular language of an area. What appears as a singular language area has a history (meaning a trajectory) of development of that language – through struggles which are immanent in the systems characterised by unequal social relations. A particular language becoming hegemonic also represents the balance of class forces in that period. Hence, before having a singular agenda of castigating English as a foreign language you will have to not only look at the history of this language in the country, but at the same time also look at how the ‘Indian’ languages have evolved.

You missed the point that I was making and therefore, you also fail to comprehend that there is a different language of protest and movement and a different language spoken by the Dalits and the Brahmanical forces, in the same way as art forms in Indian history have revealed their strong linkages to the balance of class forces. Sanskrit was not English but it was the dominant language at one point of time, and it was the language of the hegemonic class forces and not of the working class. There were languages of the court and the language of the masses, and the texts that have come to us have primarily been in the language of the court. Today, the tribals in different parts of the country are being asked to learn through Hindi medium and not essentially English medium. When does Hindi become the language of the ruling class will have to be understood in such circumstances? Unless one understands the logic (and the class politics) behind the language issue it will be difficult to take the fight for mother-tongue instruction further because in the ultimate analysis it is about a systemic battle. Unless one recognises that the battle of equality, democracy and opportunity is about the battle against capital from the vantage point of labour, we will remain trapped in the same viciousness that we are in today. Extracting out these concepts and categories ( equality, democracy and opportunity) out of the ambit of labour-capital conflict is nothing more than the myopia looking for a reversal to a more humane rule of capital.”