Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Telangana 81: Imposed or embraced?

The key element in understanding why Telanganas proudly demolished the statues on the Tank Bund is in appreciating the difference between what is ‘embraced’ out of free will, and what is ‘imposed’ against one’s will. 

Many intellectuals in Telangana are unable to articulate why they secretly feel happy about what happened on Tank Bund on 10th March though they know that it is a dastardly act of vandalism - which they would usually never approve of in their ordinary life.  And many other Telanganas are getting squeamish and uncomfortable about this ‘violent’ act of their fellow activists.  Some of them are ready to distance themselves from these ‘vandals’.  And some others feel that this incident is a setback to our peaceful movement.

Today we have to seek the answers as to why some of us are happy and why some of us are still uncomfortable and at loss of words while facing this incident head on.

To understand what these statues mean to us, let me construct a hypothetical scenario. 

Imagine we are still under British, and we are fighting against their rule. Against our wishes, they go about installing statues of famous British scientists and writers on Rajpath in New Delhi.  They put statues of well-accomplished and renowned luminaries like Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, Alexander Fleming, James Watt, Oscar Wilde, William Shakespeare, etc.  Indians are peeved that none of the Indian scientists or writers is represented in these statues and they file a complaint to the British rulers.   However, the rulers’ sway prevails, and the statues remain on Rajpath much to the chagrin of Indians.  Each passing day, Indians look at these statues which remind them that they still are under subjugation.

One day, in one of the major protests against British, some fiery youth vandalize these statues.  They destroy them and rout them from the pedestals throwing them to the ground.  

Do we then ask the question, ‘why did you break those statues?  Don’t you realize that these luminaries contributed to the whole world, not just British, that their works are timeless and precious to mankind?  Why couldn’t you show respect to them?’

To the protestors who vandalized these statues, these luminaries are of course hero figures. The protestors indeed respect these eminent personalities.  However, these statues are NOT representing the heroes or their works.  Instead, these statues represent the arrogance and the dominance of the British rulers who have callously ignored pleas from Indians who wanted to be seen as equals, not as a slave to a master. These statues represent the oppressive regime of the British master who ‘imposed’ his diktat against the collective will of Indians.

Later on, India becomes free, and in celebrating Science and Literature, they install many statues on the same road in New Delhi that includes many Indian and foreign scientists and writers.  They also install statues of Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell, and Oscar Wilde which they had earlier demolished.   The difference is that this time around they have ‘embraced’ these British scientists and writers out of their own will, not out of subjugation.  They are now proud of these statues even though they are luminaries from foreign countries and of erstwhile masters.

If Tamil Nadu installs statues of Telugu poets in one of the prominent streets in Chennai, they have done so because they have ‘embraced’ our poets, not because we have ‘imposed’ it onto them by subjugating them.  Today, we retain the name Karachi Bakery because we have ‘embraced’ the name out of our free will, not because Pakistan has imposed this bakery onto us.  The day Pakistan ‘imposes’ its bakery or its name onto us, there is a good chance our ‘patriotic’ Indians will burn down those bakeries to ashes. 

As an avid enthusiast of science, philosophy and playwright, I admire Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Oscar Wilde, but I would not hesitate to break their statues down if British were ruling us today and if they were imposing those statues onto us against our wishes.   It is a silly argument to suggest that demolishing worthless replicas of these eminent personalities will somehow diminish their greatness, their achievements and their contributions to mankind.  Demolishing Newton’s statue because it represents British Imperialism is not the same as  repudiating his Theory of Gravitation or his Integral Calculus.   One could appreciate these works and admire his personality and still go about demolishing his statue.   The key message is in knowing whether that statue was imposed onto certain people by a colonial master or whether that statue was erected by the people of the land because they were appreciative of his work.

There is a need to understand the destruction of the statues on Tank Bund from this key element – what is ‘embraced’ versus what is ‘imposed’.  If we don’t do that, we may run into the same illogical, puerile and roguish conclusion as floated by our detractors that Telanganas are Taliban.   We may miss out on the legitimate reasons and intellectual rationale behind the demolition.  Every popular movement on the planet has always involved toppling of statues that represented the oppressive regimes, sometimes those statues are that of dictators and sometimes they indirectly represented the regime.   

Telanganas were upset when these statues were being installed on Tank Bund by NTR back in 1980s.  They protested that their heroes and luminaries were not represented.  Yet, the Seemandhra led government used police protection to ‘impose’ these statues onto Telanganas.  Whenever Telanganas looked at these statues, it reminded them of Seemandhra’s suppression of Telangana.  They told themselves that there would be a day when they would reject that suppression.  That day has come.

On the glorious day of 10th March 2011, Telanganas came out into the light from the darkness of colonial subjugation and proudly demolished the symbols of oppression.   That day they broke these statues and threw them into Hussain Sagar.  When Telanganas purged those statues from Tank Bund, those statues did not represent the actual hero figures or their works, but they represented the unequal treatment meted out to Telanganas in their own land, it represented the arrogance of Seemandhra leaders who went ahead and ‘imposed’ their hero figures onto us while sideling our own. 

It is important to realize that we cannot be ashamed of this act of breaking down the statues on Tank Bund, but be proud of what happened, and to feel that way, we have to understand the difference between the statues that are ‘imposed’ and the statues that are ‘embraced’.  We have to understand that a statue could represent many things, sometimes it represents the person himself and his contributions, and sometimes it represents imposition of an oppressive regime onto some wretched people.

Tomorrow, when Telangana is free, we may go ahead and install the very same statues that were destroyed today, but we will do so at our own terms, while giving equal importance to our Telangana luminaries and hero figures.  And when we do that, we would have installed these statues because we have ‘embraced’ them by being appreciative of their work not because they were ‘imposed’ onto us. 

[This article is intended for Telanganas who wanted to understand demolition of statues on Tank Bund.  I have disabled comments on this article].


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