Space means a thousand different things, to a thousand different people, through a thousand different viewpoints. Sharing a space is also, thus, perceived in diverse ways. Whether it is two communities in conflict sharing a space like a slum in riot-struck Ahmedabad; or it is aesthetic value and accountability, which are sharing some space within the congruence of art and politics…‘Space’ becomes an engaging point for dialogue and negotiation. While it can be used to share laughter and co-operative play, it can also be misused to reinforce hierarchies through sensation and sympathy. Tools such as words and art might encourage or restrict sharing of spaces. It is healthy, and rather enriching, to ponder over the sharing of spaces or the lack of it, in a pluralistic, democratic and artistic society like ours.
Here are 6 short pick-it-ups from various issues of Infochange Agenda, which I came across while browsing, and which together draw a picture of representation and mis-representation, dialogue and interpretation within spaces…
“Art has to represent the times that we live in; this does not mean that we have to become activists. In fact, art has always been surrounded by strife -- one cannot escape from that. The pursuit of art has always been a struggle, but we took a decision 30 years ago that we wanted to work as a professional theatre company, and I’m proud to say that we have achieved it. We might not be rich, and like I keep saying there might be no jam and butter but we have managed to provide the bread.”” – Ratan Thiyam, (renowned theatre exponent from Manipur, a state torn by strife) started the Chorus Repertory Theatre which has used theatre as a tool for the exchange of ideas and discourse for over 30 years.
“…All right, you can’t make a work of art in a vacuum. You’re drawing material from the world that surrounds you, people, places, ideas. However, when politics enters the picture, you have immediately indicated that you’re willing to take sides on an issue, which is the death of art. Or rather, the agenda is the death of art. Because if an artist makes a play or novel or song for the purpose of improving the condition of coal miners or office workers, then someone else can come along and just as easily make a play or novel or song in defence of the status quo... Art with a social purpose: where does it get us? …Because no matter what political agenda you pursue you will always be oppressing someone, running over somebody’s idea of rights.“ - Ramu Ramanathan, playwright and creator of Cotton 56 Polyester 84, a play on the displaced mill workers of Mumbai.
“Play For Peace" went to Ahmedabad, three months after the worst state-sponsored communal riots targeted at Muslims pushed more than 100,000 people into relief camps. For three days, they went from one relief camp to another absorbing the pain and the horror. The group did not know what it could offer people at the relief camps. Everyone said: “They have suffered the worst experiences in their lives, don’t try and play games with them.”
…PFP finally decided to follow its convictions. At a camp in Jamalpur, they gathered 15-20 children and started playing. When they finished, every single child in the camp had joined in, and there was a second circle of mothers around them. Many jumped and danced with joy.
Later they told us: “After three months we are seeing our children laugh like this. Thank you so much.” The laughter and fun they had in those 45 minutes was the most serious work PFP has done so far! At the end of their seven days in Ahmedabad, children’s laughter could be heard at many relief camps all over the city.“ - -- Agyatmitra : “Laughing and Learning." Play For Peace (PFP), a global organisation now in its 10th year, brings together children from communities in conflict which suffer from a history of cross-cultural tension, using cooperative play to bring about laughter, peace and compassion.
“After four major Hindu-Muslim riots, Ahmedabad is a divided city… the magnificent dargah of Shah Alam, a 15th century mystic whose soul may draw some solace from the fact that though most Hindus and Muslims in the city are now sworn enemies, no one entering his shrine forgets to light a lamp in memory of his friend, the Hindu saint Narsinh Bhagat. Residents of the historic city believe that Narsinh Bhagat once wondered how their friendship could be made an example of communal harmony, and Shah Alam said every person visiting his dargah would have to light a lamp in his Hindu friend’s memory.
After the 1969 riots, two men called Ghazi Bhai and Kashi Maharaj, security guards at a textile mill, came together to form a welfare society called Ram-Rahim Nagar. In their slum, a Hanuman temple and a dargah of a nameless pir stand next to each other, and mutual respect and communal harmony helps them withstand every communal riot that hit Ahmedabad ever since.” – Anosh Malekar : ‘Ram-Rahim Nagar: Oasis of peace’.
“Dalits are crushed between two kinds of journalism: Sympathy-driven journalism, bereft of a deeper political and social understanding of caste dynamics, which wins awards for reporting the unreported world, the invisible India; and Sensation-seeking journalism, driven by commodification of the spectacle, which brings in advertisements, revenue.
They can figure in contemporary media under two conditions: when they are pushed to do something dramatic and spectacular (burning a bogey of the Deccan Queen), or when a section of the media that passes for the conscientious (the odd bleeding-heart liberal newspaper/channel) seeks to shower ‘sympathy’ on dalits who are ‘suffering’ (like when a BBC television reporter tells us, “because of their extreme poverty, rat is often the only form of protein the Musahars get to eat”, as he munches on a burnt rat leg, something an Indian reporter is unlikely to do).” – ‘Sensation and sympathy’ by S. Anand who runs Navayana, a publishing house that exclusively focuses on the issue of caste from an anti-caste perspective.
Do’s and don’ts for the peace journalist
“…10. Avoid "victimising" language such as "destitute", "devastated", "defenseless", "pathetic" and "tragedy", this disempowers them and limits the options for change
11. Avoid imprecise use of emotive words ("Genocide" "Decimated "Tragedy" "Assassination" "Massacre "Systematic”) to describe what has happened to people. Do not minimize suffering but reserve the strongest language for the gravest situations or you will beggar the language and help to justify disproportionate responses that escalate the violence.
12. Avoid demonizing adjectives like "vicious", "cruel", "brutal" and "barbaric". These always describe one party's view of what another party has done. To use them puts the journalist on that side and helps to justify an escalation of violence.
13. Avoid demonizing labels like "terrorist," "extremist", "fanatic" and "fundamentalist". These are always given by "us" to "them". No one ever uses them to describe himself or herself, and so, for a journalist to use them is always to take sides…” - from Peace Journalism — How To Do It, by Jake Lynch and Annabel McGoldrick.
-- Rajashree Gandhi is a student at Fergusson College, Pune and a volunteer at Open Space.