No More Revolutions?

The age of social revolution that brought us into the 21st century – the struggles that human endeavor overcame since Industrial Revolution- seems to have passed us. We seem to live in a state of ‘no-more-sorrow’ today where luxury for all has become the drive of governments in the western world. This condition of society , however, makes one wonder of the possibility of social revolutions in modern world of the kind that uplifted a huge population into political consciousness.

The comparison that comes to mind when one sees a peaceful society are the opium wars in China. While the populace is blissfully unaware of their own sufferings, the institutions in power carryout a dirty war for control over trade. In such a setting of mist and sedation, it is difficult for a people led revolution to gain strength. The local population is usually awakened by an outsider as was in case of Indian Freedom Struggle- where most of Indian leaders were educated in western ways of life and were hence able to demand the same for their Indian kin. Another factor that is important in any social movement against the establishment is the feeling of actual repression by the people. A people that actually feel threatened by the state in their basic rights will find ways of countering any power no matter how insurmountable it may appear. The state itself is aware of it and therefore it provides institutions to channel and address the grievances of its people. Democratic societies of modern age have been successful in providing important institutions to address these concerns to a large extent and that has seen a large number of people that feel integrated into the ideas of nationhood. In a successful state administration, the feeling of alienation should be minimal and the faith in institutions must largely be strong throughout people of all strata.

The recent emergence of technology however, has given a different flavor to our established notions of power distribution socially and representation of political aspirations through elections. On the one hand- technology has in many ways allowed inter communication and facilitated organized voicing of common concerns by people that were before this unheard. It has given a vent to their everyday frustrations and debates between strangers often end up clarifying rather than usurping each other’s stand and meeting a common ground. On the other hand, the ownership of technology makes it difficult to trust it in times of actual social/ human crisis. Since the media and internet are in almost total control of governments and large corporate houses that have a stake in stability of the existing socio-economy, the ideas that are allowed to reach the common citizen and, certainly more dangerously, her own ideas that are disallowed to be spread through censorship may put reasonable doubt against technology .

The recent so-called revolution of Arab Spring are a case in hand. The lack of social institutions in the Arab world gave rise to popular discontent that brought people together through technology that actively supported voicing of concerns. But the way the events unfolded hereafter put major question mark on the people driven nature of the movement. There was little that the people gathered in Tahrir square did. While the camps and crowds did protest for months, the actual game of power struggle and, thereafter, power transfer was played by world powers. In the end, the “social movement” didn’t perhaps deliver what the people actually wanted. It mostly established puppet governments as a temporary solution to satisfy the people and powers that be.


Development of democratic institutions will define the stability of societies in times to come. How successfully a government is able to address the aspirations of its people is dependent on how inclusive the people feel inside the boundaries. Technology in that way could be seen as an institution as well- though not controlled by the government. It is a kind of rebel institution where ideologies are introduced to people. It also allows people to voice their opinions and maintain calmness when they lose sense of belonging and associate with like minded groups. Going forward, the control of internet will define its status as a mere communication and knowledge platform versus a potential tool for social revolutions. The odds today are greatly with status-quo.

A forced laugh

What we set out to contribute to the world depends a lot on what the society in our day and age allows us to do. A realist interpretation of the world forces rationalism to our romantic ideas of change and give the pathway to achieving those dreams – halfway or to completion, depending on the variables of a world in flux.

The individual and society are in a dynamic relationship of mutual learning. Each depends on the other for survival, well-being, growth,  and fulfillment. This dynamism often allows little scope for much divergence from status quo. Any anomaly is quickly addressed and normalcy restored in a hush. Individual heroism and grand changes of ideas are possible only during times of revolution- times which entail the cost of great human sufferings that allow for a rapid change in social norms.

That is not to say that our place in the universe is of mere spectator of this grand show. As rational beings, we play our part given the limitations that each carries. To expect mill worker in today’s India to protest for her rights as in the days of the British rule without paying due considerations to her economic and family conditions would be romaticization of ideas that are away from reality. Great sacrifices need worse times.

Life is like a magic show and you are called upon stage by the magician. She tells you that she will pullout eggs from your mouth and you have agreed. Its not deception and cheating. The audience know what is on stage is not real. You agree to play the part the people wanted you to play.  But when the eggs do come out, you give out a forced laugh, a sense of surprise and astonishment- for the shared happiness.

Eulogy to the fallen martyrs of free speech

The recent disappearance of liberal bloggers in Pakistan has brought concerns of freedom of speech and expression back in the news bureaus of the subcontinent. This follows the spate of attacks on bloggers in Bangladesh in past 2 years and the growing right-wing rhetoric in India. While all this can be blamed on the global upsurge of the right, the new medium of online expression of thoughts has also played its part, especially given the relative inexperience that the South-Asian society has with the digital media and the idea of free speech in general.

The outburst of social media in 21st century has introduced a vast population around the world to the western liberal ideals of post-renaissance Europe which has collided with the firm and deeply held cultural beliefs. The Indian subcontinent, while having a rich, diverse and accommodating synthesis of culture has not been immune to this clash of self-identity. This dilemma of the people of our region has much recent roots that took place during the British rule. The strong sentimental currents running through the population throughout the region thus give a very saddening canvass on which the rights-activists and liberals of our region draw their ideas. The recent disappearance has to be seen in this context.

The reaction of the civil society of all three countries in question has been mixed. While the general trend in Pakistan and Bangladesh has been to evaluate the actions of individuals on the alter of Islam, the Indian way has been to test expressions on the anvil of hyper-nationalism. The participants in debates have their arguments reduced to who qualifies as a true Muslim(or not), or as in the Indian case- who has been an anti-national by expressing his opinion. Even the rationalists are afraid to move the discussion away from this narrow interpretation. the Indian scenario, however, is more of a tide-of-time issue such that the deep history and strong foundation values of the freedoms struggle allow a cushion to writers and critique to prove their current ideas in relation to the founding principles of the nation. Pakistan and Bangladesh, on the other hand, have made the mistake of basing their existence on religion. This setting becomes a very strong barrier to any meaningful interpretation of modern world by the young generation.

While there is a need to be cautious for the liberals in the region, the changing world order give more hope than fears. History, for those who have read it, has shown that killing and suppression have only led to liberation and fearless resistance. The sacrifices of those who spoke their minds will be remembered and cherished by the future generations and the dawn of a free society will be glowing with the ideas of those who died to make it happen.

An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self sustained.

-M.K Gandhi