THE CONSEQUENCES OF DISSENSION — AN ENGLISH CAE I ASSIGNMENT.
Attempt a critical appreciation of Module 1 or 2. Discuss the aptness of the works included in the module selected. Also, suggest some exclusions that you think should have been included.
One of the salient features of the Indian Constitution is the inclusion of Article 19(1) which guarantees freedom of expression. But the recent events make us question whether we really have freedom of speech. Countless activists, writers, filmmakers, stand-up comics, etc. are hauled up in jail, lynched, tortured, and publicly shamed (not necessarily in that order). Why? It is because they speak out the truth; just because they are courageous enough to shout: “The Emperor is naked.” As a public who is benefitting from their words (because we don’t have the means to raise our voices), we must protect the lives of the writers.
It is easier said than done. That’s where Module Two of Issues That Matter, “The Consequences Of Dissension”, comes into the picture. Through the 2 speeches, one poem and the lone short story, this module makes us understand the consequences of dissension. It will help us raise questions against the oppressive regimes.
The history of oppression of the truthful voices is as long as the history of literature. Censorship, silencing, imprisoning, sedition charges (with acts and agencies having permutations and combinations of alphabets) are some of the common tools used by governments to rein in the dissidents. The truth is attacked by the false, misinformation fights against information and venomous content is fed into our minds. Sadly, these are not just prevalent in India. These measures are unanimously adopted by despots all around the world, regardless of the languages they speak, the directions and colours the individuals are associated with. But then, there is only one weapon to counter these oppressive forces: Pen.
A PEN IS MIGHTIER THAN A SWORD
More often than not, pens of writers wield the power to persuade the public, for or against the ruling government or emergent ideologies. Perhaps, there is no person better than Salman Rushdie to begin this module with, as there is always someone waiting to get offended by his works. “Satanic Verses” fetched him a fatwa (death sentence), after which he was exiled. The speech “On Censorship”, delivered at Arthur Miller Freedom To Write Lecture, is his message to fellow writers to not bow down to the regime. If one alters a work due to censorship or because of the fear of it, their works would be defined by fear and not talent. He further talks about the restriction of societal rights and freedom using the example of faucets of air. Toni Morrison’s “Peril” is a companion piece to the former speech. Morrison speaks of the troubles caused by dictators (whom she calls fools) to fellow writers and vice-versa. She implores the so-called comatose public — those people who continue to stay silent even in the face of injustice — to stand up for their saviours by emphasizing their importance. The speaker reminds us that a world sans art would be terrible and the help we extend to them is a generosity to ourselves.
Bertolt Brecht’s poem “The Burning Of The Books” is a tongue-in-cheek (though bitter to him) response to the Nazi book burning frenzy of the 1930s that threw books that did not conform to Aryanism into massive bonfires. In it, an exiled writer finds out that his books are excluded from the burning list. Fuming with rage, he writes a letter to authorities to burn his books (and in turn, his ideas.) This poem talks about the aftermath of censorship.
The module ends with “The Censors”, the prose by Luisa Valenzuela. During the junta rule, Juan finds himself in a precarious situation when he fears that his passionate letter to Mariana would spell trouble for both parties. Even though Juan entered the Directorate to intercept his letter, he becomes engrossed in censoring other letters as he climbs up the ranks. However, he unwittingly condemns his own letter, becoming the cause of his execution. Behind the satirical plot, the author hides the paranoia of people under censorship.
The editors are to be extolled for their inclusion of diversity (the very thing censorship aims to destroy). The problem with the module is that all but one chapter talks about how censorship affects them, the writers. The effect of the crackdown on freedom is rarely mentioned in these works (except The Censors) Had this aspect been included, it would have been one brilliant collection on Censorship.
Censorship is quite a hot topic and something that affects the lives of creative artists. It is for the same reason that there is a vast amount of literature on this topic. To choose 3 or 4 excerpts from tons of works is a herculean task. But then, there are some notable exceptions that I think should have been included in this module.
Talk about censorship (or anything that limits one’s thought), there is a name that comes to all our minds: George Orwell. His books “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm” are hard-hitting allegories on restricting citizens’ rights and creative freedom. Words like Big Brother, Thoughtcrime, 2+2=5 and The Seven Maxims entered our lexicon to denote the crackdown of regimes on society. It holds a mirror against the government policies, a running theme throughout the module.
The perils comatose public face — or will face — is highlighted in Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came…” In it, the cowards who keep silent when others are tortured (just because it doesn’t affect them) find themselves alone when the authorities come to them since there is no one left to speak for them. Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” is a book that talks about the power of words and the effects of authoritarian regimes and censorship in young lives. It takes place in the same period as “Burning Of Books”, where Nazis set fires on books that defied their ideologies. Ray Bradbury came up with “Fahrenheit 451” as an indirect reference to these book burnings.
An important thing to note is that censorship (be it imposed or self) happens when a group’s feelings are hurt and the truth shatters. Your truth may not be my truth and it is this that fosters hatred and if there is rampant censorship, the world will be full of censured works.