Report on ‘Culture and Democracy’
Democratizing the Subaltern through Culture
Often culture is isolated from its habitat and showcased in metropolis and urban spaces. A two-day seminar-cum-workshop on ‘Culture and Democracy’ was successfully concluded, at Hotel Heritage Inn, Jaisalmer on November 25-26, 2011 organized by the Dalit Resource Centre , GB Pant Social Science Institute, Jhusi, Allahabad. The idea was to establish a two-way interaction with the folk artistes and people from the urban space, to help both understand each other better.
The seminar-cum-workshop analyzed the cultural resources of marginalized communities that helped in their democratization and in the emergence of a subaltern public sphere. It also examined what creative influences these marginalized cultures had in our contemporary society. Dissent against social exclusion has always existed in society even though it seldom took the form of an organized protest. Evidence of this dissent might be found in the oral culture and traditions of many marginalized communities of the country. This culture of marginalised communities provides them a dignified space, which empowers them and helps them in the making of a subversive socio-political consciousness in their everyday life-culture. Further, this culture contributes in the evolution of their contemporary political language and defiant culture.
Alongside we investigated how the democratic consciousness of marginalized communities, visible in the contemporary period, is being used by them for strengthening their struggle against social inequality and their socio-political and cultural exclusion. This democratic consciousness also forms the basis of their political empowerment, which is also being shaped by the cultural resources generated by them. There was an in-depth discussion on the process of inclusion of this excluded group through their own oral tradition and folk culture which provides a channel for inclusion in mainstream cultural life where they can share, communicate their pain, dissent.
Jaisalmer, reminiscent of Satyajit Ray’s Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), is a cultural hub of Rajasthan. It showcases the vivid culture of the state. Performers from Langa and Mangiar tribes and local Sufi singers presented their cultural repertoire, one of the main attractions of the two-day seminar-cum-workshop.
During the discourse, the folk performers who often lead obscure lives in penury, on the margins of the society, met prominent academicians/litterateurs/ performers from other parts of the country and interacted with them . This interaction was mutually beneficial, as it empowered the folk artistes and also sensitized the literary and culturally minded people living in urban areas regarding the culture of marginalized communities. As an interventional aspect of the discourse we sensitized the mainstream about the plight of these obscure folk performers belonging to marginalized communities through meaningful interactions.
In the Inaugural session, Prof. Pradeep Bhargava, Director, GBPSSI, Allahabad welcomed all the participants. During his welcome speech, he stated that we have to define democracy and marginalised culture and explore how Dalit consciousness is emerging through this culture. Modernity imposes its views on all the concepts and makes us perceive them through its eyes. But our aim should be to unveil the truth lying behind this modernity by exploring different means of dissent.
Prof. Badri Narayan , Project Director of Dalit Resource Centre during his introductory lecture explained to the participants that under the project “Cultural Resources: forging a Democratic order” we have organized two types of discourses, LOKGYANI and LOKDHUNI. In lokdhuni, we invited scholars working on the issues related to Culture and Democracy and arranged their discourse. In Lokgyani we invited Lokgyanis related to sects like Kabirpanth. Ravidas Panth to give information to the people about their sects. Being insiders these Lokgyanis possess good knowledge about their sects, much more than the academicians. Thus we organize their discourse with the mainstream. Jaisalmer has been selected as the venue for the seminar because this place is the hub of Sufi Culture and the culture of the marginalized.
He further added Culture is a pre-modern phenomena and constantly evolving. But even after a long time pre modern phenomena are dominant in culture and it supports patriarchy. Culture always carries different forms of dissent with it. Dissent has always been with every form of Dominance. Culture is a dissenting participatory process. But problem arises when the cultural discourse goes in the hands of conformist. We should establish the elements and values of democracy in our everyday life. Democracy should not be turned into governance; it should be engrossed in everyday life. Through this project we want to explore the democratic values in literature and folk culture. It is folk culture which enables Dalits or labours to survive in this era of consumerism.
In his keynote address, Nand Kishore Acharya defined Culture as a moral consciousness. This is not imposed explicitly. Culture as an end is ethical in nature and to achieve this ethical end some institutions get affiliated with it as means during the process. But there should be homogeneity between Means and end otherwise hurdles in between would make it difficult to achieve the end. Power is always dominant in structure and it always wants to be in the centre. Power pushes whoever does not follows it to the periphery and marginalises it. Marginalisation happens due to institutional process not because of values. Marginalised dissent creates a specific kind of anxiety among the mainstream. These challenges are not political but ethical and aspire for freedom. Dissent is basically a cultural process, if dissent is not value based it becomes political. Culture is always inclusive. It provides opportunity of inclusion even to the marginalized. Democracy is vision of life; it is a political process to achieve social process. If any cultural process deprives human freedom then it is not culture in true terms. Democracy provides opportunity of dissent. If we believe in true cultural values then all our process will be democratic in real sense.
In his theme lecture’ Cultural protest: A Case of Dalits in Maharashtra’, Prof. PG Jogdand of Mumbai University stated that Cultural protest among Dalits has emerged over the years in India. They want to maintain their respectful identity through their cultural practices and symbols. Their protest is based on their desire to be free, desire to gain freedom from slavish mentality. This protest is an organized attack on established knowledge system. Dalits are expressing their collective voices, angers against their political, social and cultural deprivation. In spite of new awakening consciousness, Dalits cannot come into forefront. Mahars of Maharashtra have developed a counter culture against brahminical tradition of India. Dalit culture has given rise to new thought provoking ideals. Dalit culture has made them strong to fight with hegemonic culture. Dalit literature is not entertainment but harsh realities. Dalit narratives can’t be reduced to narratives of pain and suffering, as they deconstruct unequal social structure. Dalits rejected old cultural paradigm and set up new cultural values.
In his presidential lecture, Hetu Bhardwaj , editor Aksar said that Culture is a living reality. Culture ends differentiation. Our contemporary discourse on culture is based on western method, although west has stopped their discourse on culture and now their focus is civilization. We have to focus how materialism and needs of everyday life are dominating our culture in every realm. He stated an interesting example of a temple in Jaipur called Rojgar Mahadev. Lord Mahadev is merely a symbol here for the people. The real binding thread is the word employment associated with it. The unemployed people gather here in hope of getting employed by the blessings of Rozgar Mahadev. We have to think what will be the end of whatever is happening at our cultural level.
The theme of the post-lunch session was ‘Culture and Subalterns’. Raju Sharma , director ILD an eminent writer presided over this session. He said that Subaltern is not only people and communities but thoughts also. Though according to Gayatri Spivak, subaltern cannot speak it means subaltern cannot be heard too. But I do not agree with this view. It is problem of language, in which a social scientist expresses itself. The structure of language has its limitations. Social scientists are unable to speak the reality of subalterns. Subaltern always speaks and they speak through their dissent. Even in dominant discourse they create space to be heard.
Akhilesh, editor Tadbhav opined that in contemporary society, western values are dominating our modernity. But modernity is not a new phenomenon. Even at time of Kabir, modernity was present to rupture feudalistic society. Dissent and modernity changed the society and made labours and marginalized to gain respect and to be treated as equal. Change is always needed for a lively society. We should make ourselves technologically sound but it should not be used for exploitation of marginalized otherwise modernity will go in vain. .
Aidan Singh Bhati , eminent Rajasthani poet said that today we are living in a democratic age. Then to we are unable to express our thoughts as obviously as it was expressed in our folk. In fact, we failed to carry further the democratic consciousness of our folk. Modernity crushed our democratic aspiration of folk. Modern writings, instead of being weapon of democratic setup have become device of modernity.
Ratan Kumar Sambharia, eminent Dalit Writer, said that Caste is very dominant in our society so much so that it can provide height to your life or it can compel you to live a degraded life. Dalits were exploited by Literature, Culture and epics. Culture which was boon for everyone became a bane for Dalits. We have suffered the torture of village life. Mainstream always condemns every action of Dalits. Mayawati, a Dalit leader is criticized for making statues. But these statues are source of inspiration for Dalits.
Krishna Kalpit, Director, Doordarshan opined that Subaltern are the crushed and deprived communities. Even Rig Veda an epic for elites was written by Shilpis in opinion of Ramvilas ji. For Maxmullar, these are songs of Shephards. But dominant section used it as their knowledge base. The elite people in their discourse have conflict about Kabir’s guru, but their focus should be on the messages of Kabir for the enlightenment of subaltern.
Rajaram Bhadu, eminent social activist shared his study on Mev community. While sharing his thought about Mev , he said that they are not even subalterns. There are many communities who are shattered and don’t have their vote bank, they are out of sight of mainstream. Though they are beyond the reach of modernity but they have their own rich socio-cultural heritage. For example, community –duo Sapera(Hindu) –Madari (Muslim), Mev(Hindu) -Mirasi(Muslim) are exemplary examples of communal harmony. Perhaps, distance from modernity has saved them. We have to speak for them who are even beyond the category of subaltern.
The first session of the Second day’s programme was around the theme ‘Culture and Society: Discourse on Exclusion and Inclusion’. This session was presided over by Prof. P G Jogdand. The session began with the theme lecture of Shail Mayaram of CSDS. The title of her lecture was ‘City as Imperium: the depeasantization and depastoralization of India’. She opined that in this age of modernity, though horizontality of caste has developed but untouchability still remains a major factor. In this era of urbanization, modernization and global modernity meaning of city and village have changed. Old concepts of caste and class are obsolete. Existence of untouchability in spite of these changes is really strange. But positives like culture of marginalized is vanishing. Mewati and Gurjar are selling their lands in this era of globalization. But they should not overlook the fact that their cultural identity will vanish if they will lose their ancestral lands. The making of megapolis will swallow distinct identities of marginalized.
Anil Mishra, young poet, said in our tradition dev sanskriti has always been jealous of shramik sanskriti. Our social inequality can be dissolved only at the cultural level, because culture helps marginalized to assert and achieve dignified identity. In the folk story of Reshma-Chuharmal, Chuharmal’s character has been glorified a lot. Any community which has been neglected from a long time and did not get respect glorifies their heroes for a dignified space in society. This kind of glorification strengthens them to fight against injustice.
The second session of the day was around the theme ‘Performance and Politics’. This session was presided over by Shail Mayaram. Babulal Chawaria, an eminent Dalit writer deliberated that if we will devoid a community of its culture and history, it will become barbarous. Culture is the medium which helped Marginalised communities to survive against inequality and hardships’. But the question is that when the situation is so weird for them even for survival how they can safeguard their culture.
Jeetendra Srivastava, an eminent poet from IGNOU, New Delhi opined that we have now entered in the era of capitalist culture after parting from the folk culture. In the time of market dominance, popular art and culture have shifted in popular cinema. We have to explore that how dominant class have crushed our folk. We have to think that is there any possible relation between capitalism and culture.
Umashankar Chaudhary , a young poet from Delhi suggested that we should always suspect truth, as said by Focault. Foucalt said that there is a profound relation between knowledge and power. It is power which builds truth so we must suspect truth. When Dalits suspected truth of history, they recreated their history by their own. . But in Dalit discourse too, feminine discourse was marginalized.
Premchandra Gandhi, an established Dalit writer said that sometimes our political and cultural discourse veils the ground realities. Marginalised communities have become tools for the dominant section of the society. Even the leaders of marginalized don’t want their development because community is the only place where they exert their power.
The concluding speech was delivered by Badri Narayan and Prof Pradeep Bhargava proposed the vote of thanks.
Another important aspect of the conference was the cultural performances by cultural groups of Langa and Mangiar communities of Rajasthan. These groups, each with their unique method of performance, created a harmony to bind together all the issues concerning marginalized communities that was discussed at the conference. These cultural performances also proved a successful medium for disseminating the message of assertion of the marginalized communities, to the mainstream.
The outcome of the Lokdhuni conference proved significant. Through this discourse we tried to understand the meaning of culture for marginalized communities and their cultural politics. It helped us to understand how culture can be a medium of inclusion and how through the culture they mediate and negotiate with dominant sections for gaining respectability.