26 Aug - 1 Sep 2016 #823

Sanctity of silence

This ‘culture’ of silence manifests both as a result of direct intimidation and the utilisation of a politics of fear
Bidushi Dhungel

“There is an elephant in the room which everyone feels and sees, but no one dares touch.”

- Khagendra Sangroula

Of all the forms of action, silence is the most dangerous — it is the most political act of all. Those who take their beliefs to the street or make themselves heard through the press or other forms of physical and intellectual activism collectively push our society to think hard about the challenges we face.

Whether we stand up for or against a cause, person, institution or idea, it is an expression of the openness of our society. The very ability to have debate and public rebuttals is how our democracy is realised in everyday life. It is one thing to disagree or even dislike opinions and thought processes, but the very fact that we are able to do so openly is what keeps society from becoming closed.

The minute opinion stops being produced, and debate and discussion die — that is when the real threat to open society surfaces. The life of an idea, whether political or otherwise, is determined by the strength of the voices both in support and against it. That is what is meant when we say ‘all publicity is good publicity’. So long as there is a dialogue around a particular topic, for and against, the spirit of the cause is kept alive. When there is silence, the spirit of the cause is killed and we move towards a closed and less democratic space.  

This ‘culture’ of silence manifests both as a result of direct intimidation and the utilisation of a politics of fear, such that individuals are silenced even in the absence of an immediately real threat. Instead, individuals are silenced out of trepidation of what is to come, a ghost-like terror of social ostracisation, political persecution or character assassination. A collective and consuming fear of persecution is normalised and as such, silence breeds further silence.

When the pillars of open society — among the media, parliament, civil society and public intellectuals, and sometimes even the judiciary — fall prey to silence, a real crisis is born.

Over coffee recently, writer Khagendra Sangroula mused: “Listen, there is an elephant in the room which everyone feels and sees but no one dares touch, except those one-off pagals (crazies). But the truth is that in every society and throughout history, change has always been led by the pagals.”

We had spent an hour mulling over how to galvanise the parliament and party honchos, vis-à-vis the media, civil society and public intellectuals, to stand up and challenge the high-handedness and anti-democratic character of a parallel government being run by the CIAA chief. But what does one do when the most effective medium to pressurise parliament (opinion makers, media and civil society) engage in self-censorship?

Political leaders colluded to appoint him, in exchange for being absolved of their own past corruption. In every instance when a political leader has spoken against the crusade led by Dr Govinda KC to rein in this parallel power centre, there is the stench of corruption, blackmail and protection. The ongoing freak shows at the Reporters’ Club expose the real character of our so-called leaders; it proves to the public where their loyalties lie and, importantly, why. The people will deal with them sooner or later.  

But, what do we do with those we cannot vote in or out? The silence maintained by the so-called harbingers of democracy and open society is most disappointing and worrying. It is unacceptable that those who have made a career out of democracy, built businesses and empires and gained public recognition, should choose silence at a time when the very foundation of their success is being challenged. These are the forces we rely on to nudge the political class into action to save their parties and leadership. Public intellectuals, therefore, must come out of their cocoons and pay their dues to open and free society.

We are at a point in the political development of Nepal where there are no more systemic revolutions to be had. Now, there is no choice but to consolidate and strengthen the system of democracy. We must force the political class to become accountable to parliamentary politics and immediately jolt them into shaking the emerging despot off from their backs, the weight of which could bury the foundations of our hard-earned democracy and take us back to the dark ages. 

Read also:

Truth be told, Bidushi Dhugel

A culture of silence, Om Astha Rai

A parallel government, Govinda KC

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