By Samira Bose
Edited by Liz Maria Kuriakose, Associate Editor, The Indian Economist
A recent conversation on the definition of ‘democracy’ exposed me to an interesting perspective. This view claimed that democracy in itself is not necessarily a complex political philosophy; it is the mere allowance of the existence of differing opinions. Admittedly, it threw me off balance and led me to think about the factors that affect every opinion, especially in a country as intricately diverse as India. To delve into these factors is like trying to use every colour on an infinite palette. I thus began by understanding what processes go into the formation of my own opinions, and the results appear as confusing as the attempt itself.
A comment by Jitendra Singh of the BJP, newly appointed Minister of State led to an uproar across India. A few minutes after his appointment, he said that the process of abrogating Article 370 that grants special autonomous status to Jammu and Kashmir had already begun. Though he claimed to be ‘misquoted’, the harm had been done and the media especially went on a field trip the following day. I attended the debate on Article 370, hosted by NDTV’s popular show ‘We The People’. The debate in itself was a gamut of political propaganda, but what stood out for me particularly was the car journey to the studio.
In the front seat sat a Kashmiri Pandit who informed us about how he had been thrown out of Kashmir 22 years ago. At the back of the car sat a man from Assam who was discussing (and appeared to support) the idea of an independent homeland in the form of ‘Bodoland’. Next to him sat a young boy from Kashmir with brooding eyes who, when asked about his opinion, retorted, ‘This is all a big tamasha of the media, nothing is going to happen.’ To me it seemed that his suppressed anger stemmed from stories he was not telling us but that could also be my assumption based on my rather sensationalized view of the matter. The journey was stiff with tension; that space contained life histories drastically different from one another.
I had come armed and confident having read several articles and having participated in pseudo-intellectual conversations in air-conditioned living rooms. I realized then that my friend’s claim that having an opinion on Article 370 is like ‘walking on a tightrope’ was true. My opinion on the topic felt trivial during the course of the debate when I began to understand the intricate forces that come into play while discussing an issue as sensitive as this one.
The background to every opinion in that room struck me especially when a student from Kashmir stood up and said that he did not feel like an ‘Indian’ at all. Silence reigned in the studio after he spoke. Though I scoffed when the representative from the BJP claimed that ‘history is irrelevant’, his reasons for this opinion appeared fairly obvious. The debate ended with close to no conclusion as we had to restrict ourselves to an hour. We were told to send in our questions in writing instead. I found it hard to swallow when the boy from our car who had come from Kashmir asked ‘But who will answer them?’ His question was dismissed and we were asked to leave.
This debate and the car ride left me baffled and I was forced to re-examine the constructs that surround us. As a student of History, I am trying to come to terms with the idea that every opinion is loaded with biases, every person has a different historical reality and the politics of language needs to be understood for us to break down our own definitions.
Where does this leave us? The path to an ‘objective’ opinion is problematic, and trying to understand another’s opinion is sometimes analogous to being submerged by a wave one does not expect. It is easy to state, ‘Let’s agree to disagree’ but it is not easy to acknowledge that some people cannot afford to make such a statement. The dissonance I feel after coming into college is cumbersome, yet it is precisely this discomfort that has led me to believe that perhaps things are not black and white, or even grey. Opinions are actually a palette with myriad hues. There is an excitement in the discomfort and there is, further, a privilege of freedom in this excitement.
Leonardo Da Vinci stated, ‘The greatest deception men suffer from is their own opinions.’ Then perhaps we need to acknowledge this deception and try to jerk ourselves out of our comfort zones by analyzing not only our limitations but another person’s as well. We should not necessarily seek a conclusion but the dissonance itself. Before forming an opinion, therefore, we need to think. Then we need to think again.
Samira Bose is a student of History and Mystery. She questions incessantly, revels in the rain and listens to the breeze. She yearns for clarity but at the same time seeks confusion and she wants her life to be analogous to the sea. She wants to become many people and wishes to be overwhelmed by experience. Most importantly, she hopes to become a story-teller. Tell her your thoughts and stories at firstname.lastname@example.org.