Featured image courtesy the Wall Street Journal
The modern political discourse on conflict resolution becomes a banality when it invariably tends to get stuck with a buzz word or phrase. Then, the intellectual circus begins. The experts coin them or rush to appropriate or even misappropriate this word or that phrase, resulting in a plethora of analyses, expositions, theorising, discourses and counter-discourses and speculations; information sessions, seminar series and costly production of reports and monographs.
The expert and the specialist are soon convinced that they have got the bull by the horns. Thus, it opens up spaces for mini arenas where they could enact their savage intellectual pugilism. The battle is then to extricate these words and phrases from the monopoly of the intellectual cohort.
At a cursory glance, though, it appears that all this intellectual fermentation is taking place well within the consensual or deliberative democratic framework. Taking place in the public sphere, solidly grounded on the Habermasian communicative rationality and ideal speech divorced from domination or coercion. Reason prevailing like one single dazzling sun to guide and lead them to consensus. The underlying assumption, however, being that everyone gets equal floor-space to enunciate and deliberate on issues that touch their lives radically, in the medium they are most comfortable with.
On the contrary, this implied everyone is not the every single member constituting the “masses.” But a minority of us who are convinced that the majority needs our explication as their eyes and minds are glazed with the mist of ideology. Therefore, we should be the intellectual agents doing the thinking on behalf of them. So this agential catalyst has to be provided to kick-start the majority who are incapable of discourse. They are visible, but their speech makes only a garbled noise. So this solemn duty falls upon the shoulders of the intellectual and the expert to take the masses from ignorance to full knowledge incrementally; from darkness to light.
My fear is whether the phrase “transitional justice” is stuck in our throat like a tiny fish bone that annoyingly prevents us from the ordinary ways of speaking, thinking and questioning. Transitional-justice-stuck-in-the-throat phenomenon transports the expert into an asphyxiating world of theory and concepts. Once we are blissfully hooked up to the world of politico-theoretical mini heaven, it takes a while to sober down and descend.
An analogy could be drawn from the transfiguration story of Jesus on the mountain. When Peter the disciple found Jesus in glorious splendor in the company of greats like Moses and Elijah, he wished to remain in that blissful high. Similarly, when the intellectual has reached the peak he would be tempted to implore like Peter saying, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up some shelters—one for you, one for Foucault, one for Derrida and one for X, Y and Z.” Because it is so good up there!
Noam Chomsky, a man who has firsthand experience in wading knee-deep in theory, warns that addiction to heavy doses of theoretical substance can veer us from popular struggles, producing grave consequences. Although we claim that we conduct our theoretical forays in the name of popular struggles and for the sake of the masses, there is a great likelihood for them to metamorphose into an individualistic theoretical phantasm.
For instance, “transitional justice” is slap bang in the centre of a campaign to right abominable wrongs committed by one section of the population against another and vice versa. Yet, we should not ignore Chomsky’s presentiment, but pay heed in good faith because our theoreticism and professionalism can atrophy into preposterous levels. Reason enthroned in its glorious splendor can delegitimise every other form of communicative tool and alternative ways of thinking and contemplating. This poem was written in the spirit of exploring alternative power-tools to discuss our experience of horrible crimes committed in the name of ideology.
Bury them right now!
Bury them right now
Right now I say!
Before corpses sprout in your paddy fields and backyards;
And your fleshy gourds crawl with maggots
Before your waterways clog up with languishing souls
Lost in a no-man’s land
Before your valleys and reservoirs
Crackle with the silence of a child
Shredded by a blind shell
Or corpse-sludge pour down your sink taps
And your goats and cattle make uncanny noises –
Shrilly screams of babies puking shrapnel
Or before your fowls wear dead men’s teeth
And tell stories you would hate to hear
And your shrines and temples
Wear the menacing stillness of an unexploded ordinance
Just do it, go ahead and bury them properly –
Myrrh and frankincense, candles and prayers and holy water
Wrapped and laid in marked graves
Or burnt on sandalwood pyres
With wreaths and headstones
Etched with name, age and the CAUSE of death –
Or. Soon, splinters of bones will rattle in your soup bowls
And your coffee and tea will turn into formaldehyde
Yes, before your sleep is trampled upon and crushed
By bloated cadaver-feet
Before your perfumes give off the scent of stale death
And your mirrors reflect not you
But dissolving flesh of youth –
Carrions stuck in ditches behind the razor-concertina fence
Or before babies drop one by one
Like burnt cherubs through holes in the cloud
And join the swarm of fattened winged-maggots
To rouse you out of the rigor mortis of your indolence
And quicken your lead-footed transition mired in patriotic slime
For heaven’s sake, bury them right now!
Or a trail of compost memories will fertilize
The barren patches of death-lands
Where hidden red-buds of ideology await a cue
From the next insurgent monsoonal rain!