The Outreach Programme and the Academy of International Studies, JMI, in collaboration with Asia Society India Centre and Open Magazine, organized a talk by Aruna Roy, a political and social activist, on the topic of “Democracy, Dissent and Movements for Change,” on Friday, Jan. 13, 2012 at the Dayar-I Mir Taqi Mir building.
About the Speaker
Ms. Roy is credited for initiating and carrying through a movement for the Right to Information (RTI) in India, which culminated in the Right to Information Act of 2005.
She is the president of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), and also the founding member of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) an organization that helps workers and peasants attain their rights. In 2000, she was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership.
Dissent in India
In a society where discrimination is prevalent, said Ms. Roy, not a day passes by where she doesn’t think of dissent. Therefore, suggesting dissent to be a natural part of the Indian democracy.
However, speaking in context of “recent events,” (presumably referring to the Lok Pal debate) dissent, she said, has been portrayed by the media in a polarized fashion. “There has been a black and white situation,” she said. So there are only two positions one can take; in a kind of Bushism where you are either with us, or against us. But dissent, she believes, is much more nuanced. One could take several other positions on an issue. And in a democracy as plural as India, dissent will be equally plural, she stated.
However, “one of the worst things that has happened in the last 10 months in terms of public education is that dissent is being seen as negative,” she lamented.
She cited the Indian national movement for independence as a good example for the kind of dissent we should have. She said the movement for Independence is a “fantastic” example where people differed from each other on the issue, but did not doubt each other’s intent for wanting independence.
However, “here, (again presumably referring to the Lok Pal debate) we have an inverse situation where your intent itself is questioned. So I think that kind of dissent is very bad for democracy.”
Further into her speech, she spoke for the need of creating a “formal platform” for dissent. Therefore, in relation to policy-making she said: “We feel that one of the things that we must take up for registering dissent in national policy and legislation, is the transparency of the pre-legislative process.”
Movements for Change
Speaking of movements for change she said:
“Movements for change must be tethered, I think, in stated principles and in some kind of stated ideology. … Our RTI movement was tethered into three very important concepts: one was that it would be not only corruption but the arbitrary use of power. So you see the flip side, so you can’t accept a person who is monetarily corruption-free but who in his or her ideology is discriminatory, is violent in the repression of voices, of expression, we would think that is also corruption.”
Later in her speech, speaking critically of activists for change she said, “One of the problems with us, is our self-righteousness. … To be principled and honest is one thing, and to be self-righteous is quite another.”
Ms. Roy’s speech was followed by a formal conversation with Manu Joseph, the editor of Open magazine and a columnist for the International Herald Tribune.
For More on This Event:
Download and listen to Aruna Roy’s 17-minute long speech here: Aruna Roy on Dissent in a Democracy – JMI – Jan. 13, 2012 [16 MB]