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Next time, electing a sarkar from Great Nicobar

Tuesday, 29 April 2014 - 6:05am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: dna

There are many ways of being human. There's no rank order of 'civilizations', cultures, millennia. I am unsure what 'civilization' means, unless you define it by some arbitrary parameters and ascribe those parameters some kind of inherently positive value, just because you fancy them. This may be irritating to dwijas who, after their unfortunate birth in brown-land, were born-again when exposed to White people's world views.

The Indian Union parliamentary elections are an exercise that seek to present an opportunity to the citizens of its territory to determine and influence to a limited extent the nature of the power that will rule over them. Like license renewal, this also relegitimises the power apparatus. Such power, by definition, is all-pervasive in its claimed zone. The intense focus of resources by modern Nation-States on defining, maintaining and controlling territory is not accidental. The smokescreen of people's welfare is used to deploy the non-pretentious forces of a Nation-State — money and military. In uninhabited areas, 'strategic importance' comes handy.

We were born where our mother lay pregnant with us. At birth, we are as human anyone else. Gandhi, Constitution, Tricolour, Delhi are later alien intruders. Is it a pre-condition of being fully human in Indian Union's territory that these specific notions have to be built up within our heads? Bloodlines and human consciousness predates all flags and constitutions and gods willing, will outlive them too. Does one have a right to exist in the land one was born into, to mingle in the society into which one is born or welcomed, live among one's kin without being counted, exercised power upon, demanded loyalty from by institutions like the Nation-State? Institutions that place themselves as mediators of these rights, without being called upon, are inhuman and anti-social. They may be legal, depending on how many guns back up the self-imposed mediator. Justness is different — only the people can create that. No document written in their name can.

You will be counted and classified, even if you never signed up. Lack of 'consciousness' is irrelevant. Institutions that intensively survey uninhabited islands, wrap the remains of the dead in distinct flags, 'teach' loyalty through school syllabi face a problem when they encounter people who regard the State as alien. Many indigenous peoples of Nicobar view Bharat as alien. But they are 'Indian' citizens. Do they respect Gandhi and the Tricolour? Do they believe in 'unity in diversity' — given that their numbers have sharply dwindled ever since they were 'claimed' as 'Indians'. It is from the perspective of the Shompen people of the Great Nicobar island that the all pervasive State starts looking not so pervasive — a hint that there is an outside, even when high resolution maps and detailed anthropological surveys have been done. This 'outside' consciousness is extremely dangerous. Hence, when the Shompen people voted in Indian Union elections for the first time, whatever that act meant, there was a sigh of relief at the deepest heart of the State. A portal to an outside, however small, was technically sealed. To live without certain indoctrinations makes a dynamite of a people, even if you think they don't 'know' it.

I remember a four-panel cartoon. At first, a bear stood in a jungle. Trees disappeared, encroachers arrived. The bear looked on. Finally, everything is 'clean'. Someone is surprised there's a bear inside 'civilization' and asks where it came from. The bear was always there. I am sure they created a 'sanctuary' for the bear thereafter. May be it will start speaking English, stand up when Jana-Gana-Mana plays and sing 'the world will live as one'.

The author is a brain scientist at MIT @gargac




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