Recently, Carnatic Singer TM Krishna, whose performance was “postponed” by the AAI(Airports Authority of India) – SPIC-MACAY festival, finally entertained his fans in Delhi. The event “Awaam ki Awaaz” was held at Garden of Five Senses, organised by the Delhi government and attended by thousands of folks, who also came especially to register their support for the artist.
Following an attack by vicious trolls on social media, who called him, among other things, “Anti-India” and an “Urban Naxal”, AAI announced that his concert had been called off for the moment. The attack on him being an attack on freedom of speech and dissent has reopened the debate on celebrating dissent in a democracy.
Human beings have always lived in societies. We all have our views, opinions and concerns. Dissent is one of the most fundamental things that we cherish in our democracy. There is not a single individual who does not disagree with something/one or other all the time. Liberal democracies give their citizens not only the right to express their views but also the right to protest and express dissent against prevailing establishment and laws. The open channels of communication are vital in democracy and governance, and everyone must ensure that abuse should never replace arguments.
Dissent seeks to articulate difference, celebrate plurality and attain a sense of diversity. The dissenter is a trustee of viewpoints which are being lost in mainstream or majoritarian debates. A dissenter is thus a representative of differences of marginal truths. A dissenter protects or argues for ideas which belong to the margins, the minority, the unheard and the left out.
We dissent at home, with our friends, with our colleagues in our workplaces and even with ‘ourselves’ by challenging our own beliefs. It is through these ways of dissenting that we establish a relationship with others. Our relationship with our friends, family and society are based, as much on how we learn to live with our disagreements and different opinions from each other. In fact, the first bedrock for any relationship is about learning to respect and acknowledge the difference of opinions, viewpoints and perspectives in life.
Science, to a large extent, is not possible without dissent, since it is about discoveries, research and finding new facts every day. Science works on the principle of debunking old myths, beliefs, finding loopholes and flaws within the earlier existing theories and discoveries. The scientific community does not imprison or threaten scientists for dissenting with the earlier established theories and beliefs. Rather, we respectfully acknowledge the changes and new findings/discoveries by our scientists. No society has survived without making changes to what was present earlier. Updation and unique perspectives of understanding the world have always been part of every society.
Another misconception prevalent these days is confusing ‘dissent’ with ‘anti-nationalism’ if you are dissenting with the government, then you are an ‘anti-nationalist’. We need to keep this in mind that ‘government’ and ‘nation’ are two separate things. Questioning the government doesn’t mean questioning the ‘state’ or going against the nation. In a healthy democracy, you ask questions to all institutions including the military, the courts and the government – and that doesn’t make you ‘anti-national’.
A mature society is one that can respect dissent and accommodate different voices and viewpoints. In a democracy, we agree to disagree. Hence, there is a need to confront ‘ideas’ not ‘people’. The essence of democracy is to deal with dissent through a meaningful and channelised discussion and debate, giving space to all voices and respecting the diversity and plurality of our nation.