Off the beaten path

Issue 41 - 02 February 2021 (6-min read)

Growing up in Pakistan means you have a strange relationship with India next door. There were, of course, those who believed it was the enemy, no ifs and buts. And there were those (perhaps mostly those whose ancestors lived there) who understood it to be a place as conflicted as Pakistan but one which seemed to have chosen an admirable path - a secular constitution, a military put in its rightful place and a strong focus on education. 

I don’t know if my Pakistani nationalism has finally caught up to me but India seems to be treading on a completely different path lately. This week in The Global Tiller, we take a look at some recent troubling developments in India and what lessons we can take to make sure the next superpowers are more humane. 

Perhaps the latest event to catch international attention is the non-violent protest led by farmers for the last two months. The Indian state tried to suppress this movement through violence and internet shutdowns; they even managed to get Twitter to shutdown the accounts of farmers and journalists covering the protests. 

But then, Rihanna got wind and now the movement has gained international attention. With Hollywood giving its hot takes on farmer protests and state violence, Bollywood has remained conspicuously silent, or chosen to stay on the good side of the Modi government, which has been rounding up major celebrities on drug-use investigations.

Not long before, the Modi government had also come down hard on Kashmiris protesting changes to the citizenship act. The internet blackout in the state of Kashmir lasted seven long months, and even today, internet speed has been throttled to discourage social media use. 

Another group to face the axe in this shrinking space for dissent has been comedians in India. Most recently, an Indian-Muslim, standup comedian has been jailed for jokes he didn’t even crack

For a country that seems to be well on its way towards becoming one of the five superpowers ruling the world in 2050, these events paint a very grim picture. Will the world’s largest democracy become the second-largest authoritarian regime? Will Modi change the course of India’s development, or will he just become an unfortunate footnote in India’s inevitable rise to a superpower?

Despite what the colour of my passport may lead you to assume, I don’t have an axe to grind with India. It’s just that it represents what seems to be the problem in most, if not all, the economies slated to become the top five of the world in 2050: China, India, United States, Indonesia and Brazil. You won’t find either of them listed under countries modelling good governance, human dignity and equality.

If we want a world where these values hold, where farmers have a say in how agriculture policies are framed, where comedian can crack a joke without landing behind bars, where entire ethnic groups are not forcibly "reeducated" at internment camps, then we will need to rethink how to reshape our society.

I recently read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and he summarises more profoundly what kind of a world we can aim for:

…what matters now is not a question of profitability, not a question of increased productivity, not a question of production rates. But no, it’s not a question of back to nature. It’s the very basic question of not dragging man in directions which mutilate him, of not imposing on his brain tempos that rapidly obliterate and unhinge it. The notion of catching up must not be used as a pretext to brutalize man, to tear him from himself and his inner consciousness, to break him, to kill him.
No, we do not want to catch up with anyone. But what we want is to walk in the company of man, every man, night and day, for all times. It is not a question of stringing the caravan out where groups are spaced so far apart they cannot see the one in front, and man who no longer recognise each other, meet less and less and talk to each other less and less.

We’d love to continue this conversation so do share your thoughts.

Until next week, stay safe!

Hira - Editor - The Global Tiller

…and now what?

The past few days, I’ve been having “raging” conversations with people on social media about the pandemic and I’ve realised that, here in Tahiti and consequently in France under which we administratively fall, the pandemic has become a political issue and people analyse the issue only through the 'national' spectrum.

It doesn’t take much to look beyond your own country to realise there are shared challenges, shared problems and different solutions. It wouldn’t take much, to bounce from Franz Fanon’s quote that Hira mentioned, to see how going beyond vertical and enclaved approaches would be super helpful for everyone. 

It actually reminds me of another conversation that I had with a friend (more peaceful, this time) where we agreed that, in every place in the world - even on the two sides of the Wagah border between India and Pakistan, or Russia, or the US - people are generally good, and they just want to get on with their lives.

You probably feel the same way and yet we find ourselves using war metaphors and battle jargon. In the recent Center for Humane Technology podcast with thinker Yuval Harari, the host talks about "adversaries". I was taken aback because I don’t believe people have adversaries, unless they met those people face-to-face and had a fight. I don’t consider those people I "rage-conversed" with on social media as my adversaries. 

Governments have adversaries and they are the ones who teach their citizens about them. Ideologies have adversaries because, most of them - and especially those used by the governments Hira mentioned, are built in opposition to them.

My ability to have these reflections are the result of diverse conversations with you and many others like you who share perspectives, insights and ideas and help build better views of the world. 

In an age where everyone has a voice (thanks to the internet), it’s becoming more and more important to make sure that we’re having real conversations and not just shouting on a (Facebook) wall or tweeting at the top of our lungs. It requires practice and education which will bring the flexibility we need and that, unfortunately, a lot of our governments today are no longer able to provide.

So if you’re reading this before a meeting, an event, or just before seeing someone else, think about how you can make sure you’re creating an intentional conversation. No need for deep questions, just a greeting and the ability to listen without borders, without passports, without biases.

It all starts by a very basic human skill, but it could change the world.

A message for our readers:

Speaking of conversations, how about talking to your colleagues, friends and families about The Global Tiller? We would be very grateful if you can help us share more of our ideas, build new ones and add a different voice to this global conversation.

If you think The Global Tiller helps you every week, make sure you help someone else understand the world of today by having them subscribe!

Thank you, Māuruuru!

Philippe - Founder - Pacific Ventury

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