The sounds of silence

The culture of silence is one that we have been unconsciously, unknowingly, cultivating since the times of independence

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Arth Gupta | July 22, 2015



 

This article has been written to address some issues that have existed long in our lives, but for some reason are always subverted by what goes on around us. It is in the context of a situation like this, where words dominate, either on the side of citizens or politicians. When a scam like the Vyapam happens, words are as commonly found in the mouth of an erring politician as much as meat to a vegetarian.

To those who are unaware, the following happened. Vyapam is the Hindi acronym for Vyavsayik Pariksha Mandal, a self-financed autonomous body in Madhya Pradesh responsible for conducting several entrance tests in the state. The results of the tests are used for the placement of candidates at government jobs and educational institutions. Very simply, a few members of the authority have been accused and found guilty of receiving bribes from undeserving students, who paid to get higher ranks. The scam also involves cheating, copying, manipulation of answer schemes and records and leaking the answer schemes. Till now, more than 2,000 members have been found guilty and arrested for the scam.

When an individual in a position of power is accused of such a dealing, the media finds itself asking questions that need answers. However, these are not the questions that bother the accused, for they have a more pressing question to answer first: to speak or not to speak. An event like this leads to the emergence of a situation where silence has the power to speak volumes more than words ever could. And when the efficacy of silence is in review, one can be sure that one is presented with a moral or ethical dilemma.

Very recently, Narendra Modi chose to stay quiet, when asked about the issue. Silence, in such a case seems to be extremely ineffective, and at times even counterproductive when used as a tool to establish moral superiority in order to present an image that is not coherent with reality.

The real question that comes to my mind, though, is not one that questions the credibility of ministers, but that of fellow citizens. 

Very often, we believe that the road to success, progress and inclusive citizenship is a goal independent of the recipient, something that should solely be the responsibility of the state. Forgetting that fundamental rights come along with duties, we take for granted that we as citizens too, have an active role to play in the functioning of the government. The Vyapam scam has its oldest root back in 2009, when the first PIL was filed regarding the case. Since then, there have been many who have suffered, many who have failed, and all because it was truly not their fault. Six years is what it took to rip the band-aid off, and expose the nature of reality. If the citizens of the nation turn a blind eye to a crime they are witnesses to, then they don’t deserve to be pointing fingers at those who are silent.

Mahatma Gandhi used silence as a tool to fight. Non-violence was used as a weapon, not as a means to celebrate indifference. It was a situation that demanded its citizens to be active rather than passive, to be engaged rather than indifferent, to be citizens rather than individuals. The last best time to do that was then. The next best time is now.

I believe it is rightly said by Dante in Inferno that the “darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality during times of moral crises.” The culture of silence is one that we have been unconsciously, unknowingly, cultivating since the times of independence. This culture has been ingrained in our minds so deeply that most of us nurture it unknowingly and involuntarily. With roots deep seated in the history of the nation, it continues to affect society even today. Since a child is born, he is taught not to question, not to disobey and not to respond. We are told to choose silence over debate, and passivity over activity. Progress in humanity has only been made when some indignant man has raised his hands and asked a ‘why not’ to every explanation and a ‘why?’ to every assumption.
 
To conclude, I would quote Thomas Jefferson who said: “All tyranny needs to gain foothold is of people of strong conscience to remain silent.” The most important symbol in the English language perhaps is the question mark, without which I presume we would still believe death by reason that the man went too far. I urge you to use this symbol today, tomorrow and whenever you see something that should not happen. Society cannot progress, if bound by the shackles of a culture that is self-imposed, self-created and self-sufficient. We must, at first, break free.

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