Illusion of freedom of speech among ways to stifle dissent: Tharoor
Kochi, December 21, 2016
The creation of an illusion of freedom of speech is among the more insidious ways to stifle dissent in society, according to former Union Minister, Shashi Tharoor who was part of a discussion at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB) here yesterday.
“There are many ways dissent can be stifled. The old fashioned school of locking people up and sending them to concentration camps but the other way is getting employers to hound them for instance.
"The more insidious and sophisticated ways are more dangerous because they preserve the illusion of freedom of speech,” the MP from Thiruvanananthapuram said.
He was part of a discussion, "Dissent and Discourse” organised by the BM Anand Foundation as a collateral of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The discussion aimed to explore the notion of dissent and its significance in public discourse, creativity and progress.
Dr Tharoor was joined on the panel by KMB co-founder Riyas Komu, BJP leader Shazia Ilmi and art curator Alka Pande The discussion was moderated by biographer and writer Aditi Anand.
Given the context of the Biennale, the conversation focused on the art and the role of BM Anand, specifically the subaltern, within society and the civic and social power of art as a voice of dissent and a tool for advancing social justice.
Speaking from an artist’s perspective, Komu said dissent could be viewed in a multilayered manner and the Kochi Muziris Biennale has succeeded in creating “a site where many discourses can happen".
“For us as a foundation the focus is to celebrate the diversity and cosmopolitanism of the historic Muziris region. I think Kochi is sort of doing a cultural acupuncture which can benefit the nation culturally in the long run,” Komu said.
Referring to an anecdotal conversation with eminent historian K. N. Pannikar and KCHR Chairman P. J. Cherian , who led the field team in Muziris excavations, Komu said, “Just like they used the metaphor that with every 1 metre of digging, they crossed the history of over 1000 years, we as a biennale get energy to present voices of multiplicity and plurality".
Tharoor referred to Gandhi’s sense of justice where he was ready to accept the punishment meted out to dissenters but “today people want to dissent without the punishment.”
“Within any framework of freedom, dissent and dialogue are an essential part of society. I think like Leonardo da Vinci says nothing strengthens authority like silence so the need to speak out is important. Freedom and dissent are two sides of the same coin,” Ilmi said.
Pande, who curated the first exhibition of BM Anand in New Delhi earlier this year, said the artist was “absolutely fearless in his language of art and never played to the market and was absolutely honest to his craft.”
The BM Foundation’s co-founders, Neeraj Gulati and Kriti Anand, who is the daughter of BM Anand, were also present at the function.
The selection of works being displayed as a collateral at the KMB features evocative, often apocalyptic pieces in diverse mediums. There are, in all, 10 scratchboards, 10 scratchboard sketches, three sets of 13 drawings, one ink and watercolour on paper and a single oil on canvas.
Curated by young researcher and writer Shruthi Issac, the exhibition is a sampling of the estimated 1,500 surviving works by BM Anand – from scratchboards, landscapes, watercolours and sketches to commercial illustrations for books, posters, newspapers and magazines.