In the current political climate where the threat of your voice getting curbed begins to loom as soon as you pose questions, it’s heartening to see dissent grow. Today, our country is going through tumultuous times, every person is taking a political stand even if they don’t voice it. To discuss the importance of voicing disagreement with people in power and making it mainstream, eminent journalists Sunetra Chaudhary, Rohini Singh, Dastangoi artist Fouzia, publisher Arpita Das and columnist Natasha Badhwar engage in a panel discussion moderated by satirist and ex-journalist Akash Banerjee. This panel is a part of SheThePeople’s Women Writers’ Fest Delhi edition.

So how does one dissent, moreover, is it okay to dissent at all? Badhwar says, “We make a differentiation between when it is okay to not obey and when it’s okay to obey. Then we are all expecting now the teenagers to be dissenters and somewhere we have confused being a good person with being a compliant person and it’s all gone downhill from there. We really need to mainstream dissent all over again.”

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She further adds that it is a surprise to most of us that we are having to say things that we thought were obvious. “Protesting is part of democracy and the constitution wants us to protest. It is an exercise in being an Indian to actually show discord against the law if that law makes you uncomfortable with where your country is going. So let’s make dissent fashionable again,” says she.

“Protesting is part of democracy and the constitution wants us to protest.”

Das agrees with Badhwar on people becoming complacent and says, “These have become the words that define a certain kind of middle-class entity and as an independent publisher, publishers are always trying to do the different thing, at Yoda Press, we always try to give space to dissenting voices from the beginning. But in 2014, we decided we were going to say that we are developing a list of political dissent. So speaking from the publishing industry, I wish more comrades from the publishing community set that out openly and didn’t just slip in a book giving voice to dissent while also giving space to someone who wants to kill dissent and then say ‘oh, we are being fair’. I think we need to take things much more on the chin, have the guts to say it upfront. Otherwise, if we are going to call ourselves a knowledge production industry and then kill dissent, then we’d be hypocrites.”

Art has always been a weapon of dissent for those challenging oppression and discrimination. However, in recent times, even art hasn’t been immune to otherisation. One of the pioneering Dastangoi, Fouzia elaborates on this and says, “The voices of dissent and multiculturalism is what I grew up with when I grew up in Old Delhi. Nobody taught us that we are different and that our festivals are different from Hindu festivals. I feel that my art is my weapon. I do Dastaan-e-Mohabbat in Urdu and I praise characters like Yudhishthira, Karan, Arjun etc. Nobody taught me to praise them but I do it because I believe in those characters and these mythologies. So today when people express surprise over it I find it weird. But I find that we need to make our dissent visible through our art, especially in front of the younger people.”

I feel that my art is my weapon. I do Dastaan-e-Mohabbat in Urdu and I praise characters like Yudhishthira, Karan, Arjun etc. Nobody taught me to praise them but I do it because I believe in those characters and these mythologies.

Journalist Sunetra Chaudhary spoke on the importance of telling your story. Chaudhary says, “everybody’s way of dissent is different. I work for a very mainstream newspaper and my way of doing it is through my work, articles and the books I write. I let it speak for itself and keep asking and one of the things that I learnt very early on is to not let a mass majority dominate what I am writing and the issues I pick up on. I am fascinated by a good story. I just write about what fascinates me and what I am curious about and I don’t care if 10 people follow me or 100 million people. I just want to tell the story and the number of people who read it doesn’t matter.”

Further, she says, “My job as a journalist is just, to tell the truth and to tell the story. One of the things of our times in our career has been the hanging of Afzal Guru and what role he played. Now that’s the story that has never been told fully and it just seems to me as a story that needs telling with all that has been recorded about it. This is not called dissenting, I am just telling the truth that people would take it as dissent because why would I invest in a narrative of the other side and that becomes dissent. So we can all choose what path we take of telling the truth but whichever path we take is seen as dissent.”

I just write about what fascinates me and what I am curious about and I don’t care if 10 people follow me or 100 million people. I just want to tell the story and the number of people who read it doesn’t matter.

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Rohini Singh spoke about the trolling journalists have to face today. Singh says, “It is really sad that dissent in journalism means doing our job. Questioning the govt., Holding them accountable, asking why the media is focussing so much on the Congress anyway when it had routed itself out of this election? But even asking these questions is being seen as resistance and I find this very amusing because we’ve been doing this even before 2014 and I know many more people who are doing this. Talking about compliance being considered good and even in the media now there are compliant media publications who are pro-establishment. Despite all this, even if we question government narrative, forget doing a story on powerful people, but just questioning calls for such abuse that asks how dare you speak or question? There is so much anger in it and the kind of slanderous campaigns are running, character-assassination that we have to go through – it happens a lot more with women.”

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