To Be A Rebel Or Not To Be

Dev N Pathak

As a student of Sociology and Social Anthropology in contemporary South Asia it is impossible not to be a rebel. For, an engagement with the disciplinary content enables, as C Wrights Mills said, to see beyond the façade. How could one be content, with merely personal benefits, or loss, if one is able to see the simmering reality beneath the veneer of haloed wishful thinking? The promises of South Asian solidarity, ‘Achche Din’ (good days), and other such propagandist notions, are the crust of the façade. While one values them, one knows that they are yet not true; they are merely populist notions motivated by parochialism of politics. As a student one begins to see the nakedness of the democratically elected ‘emperors’, the self-aggrandizing power elites, of the third world. How could, thus, one shy away from calling a spade, a spade? How could one not clamor against the brute Neroes destroying the veritable Romes of civilizations? The instances of brutal ethnic clashes across the world, not enamoring for entertainment seeking minds, are however as truthful as the sublime smile of Gautam Budhdha. Yes, it is very legitimate for us to revolt and aim at uprooting the power to be, through armed struggles as well as intellectually equipped critical articulations. No matter what the consequences we do take turns in turning Socrates once in a while- facing the penalty of being truthful.

But then, this is not so simple. One cannot so easily be a plain martyr. One cannot say, like Bhagat Singh, a revolutionary in the colonial India—to make the deaf hear, lets blow up! Or, one would find it implausible to practice the nihilism expressed in a Sahir Ludhiyanvi’s song- Jala do mita do ye duniya (burn down and obliterate the world)! For, as one of the postcolonial writers Homi Bhabha said- the ‘other’ is no longer apart from the self. The tyrant is as much within as it is without. The victim and victimizer perhaps share locations and dispositions. The days of simplistic melodrama is over when the villain, the evil personified, was out there to be vanquished by the do-gooder protagonist.

We have natural dispositions toward preservation and survival too. We wish and persevere to achieve success, biting bullets of failures here and there. One does not abandon the enterprise of learning and doing, and leading a life of an ordinary human, taking things for granted in the current of life-streams. Yes, we are the protagonists of the phenomenological scheme in which we lead our lives with taken for granted stock of knowledge, as Alfred Schutz helped us understand. We learn the rules of the prevalent games and then play our parts as efficiently as possible. We come across as stooges of the system, compliant and apolitical. Yes we exhibit our inclination to the official transcripts, of behavior and performance. But then, we also maintain a private diary wherein we perhaps vent our grudges. Furthermore, we gossip about our insensitive teachers, university administration, state and government. We use, as Scott called, the weapon of the weak, to subvert the system no matter we succeed in our goal or not. We write pamphlets, blog posts, essays and poetry; we create theatrical performance, make cartoons, and posters. In sum, we exude out creative energy to say it aloud—we know the truth and we disagree with the status quo!

The urge to revolt is genuine. Truth compels to act, doesn’t it? Truth, however, is never monochromatic, as Immanuel Kant nicely established in his magnum opus ‘Critique of Pure Reason’. While we wish to revolt and subvert the system, we also intend to preserve and construct new edifices. We learn the rules of the game, not only to play the game passively; we also learn them thoroughly, as Wittgenstein suggested, with a motif to invent new rules as well as new games. Hence, it is very likely that we experience ambivalent vacillation, and we utter, in our soliloquy like the protagonist in a Shakespeare drama- to be a rebel or not to be!

This is the intellectual mode that orients, as I perceive, the endeavors of the Rickshaw. The youthful scholars exhibit their potential authorship in the space of Rickshaw, not merely for a narcissistic display of creativity. It is rather for a more potent objective- we are not simply a lot of docile learners! We are politically and socially active and that our lessons provide us the reasons to relentlessly articulate critical concerns in the public domain. The issues under discussions in this space are personal and yet public. And as Simone De Beauvoir taught us- personal is political!

Dr. Dev N. Pathak teaches Social Theory at South Asian University




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