New times, new battles, in India and other countries

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New times, new battles, in India and other countries

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara


Women in Kanchipuram protest in the rain for women's rights, March 2008. (MacKay Savage under a Creative Commons Licence)

I grew up in the 1970s, in Calcutta – now Kolkata. There were always many strange, new ideas around.

I went from a conservative, religious school, and an almost Victorian society and ideas, to a world where I listened to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, Pink Floyd, protest music and Karl Marx. Maybe not in that order. But it was all very strange and new. Communist schoolteachers told us that the UN was immoral because they did not fight against apartheid. And they said that the young Bengali middle-class university students (who the police killed, saying they were Communists) were heroes fighting for justice for the poor. They were fighting an old, corrupt system, our communist teachers taught us. It was confusing. But it forced us to think about what was happening and the opposition.

I understood the anger. But I did not understand how it could get justice for the poor, or for anyone, if someone murders a poor policeman, leaving his poor family with no money. We were shocked when our kind teacher sadly told us how her neighbour, a Bengali grandmother, gave out sweets when a police officer was killed in the next road. The old lady’s grandson had been killed by the police, Mrs Sengupta told us. Everyone, even in an average, lower-middle-class area, was full of hatred and anger.

Many of us thought of not finishing university in the 1970s. The whole education system seemed useless to us and the world. It was a time of great confusion. There were political problems. The first Communist government won the elections in West Bengal when I was in school. I remember how many Christians were shocked, saying it was a government with no god. But the educated Catholics, the Jesuit priests who sometimes taught us, said that there was no disagreement between Communism and Christianity. Karl Marx got his ideas from the bible, some priests said. Christ was really the first Communist!

I don’t know if that’s true. But it was an exciting time to grow up. There was always a lot of discussion. We discussed politics, religion, why we exist, the social order. The sexual revolution was a direct result of the Victorian society of the 1940s and 1950s. We discussed hypocrisy (saying one thing, but doing something different) and morality all the time.

There are many similar things in society today. Often, when I hear young people talking, I think I’ve seen it all before. My generation were proud of not being so consumerist. That’s a bit more difficult now when we have expensive smartphones and new computers every year to buy and then throw away. I think there are not so many middle-class young people who care about injustice to adivasis or dalits (groups at the bottom of Hindu society). But sometimes, they go on a gay rights march. Or a transgender protest. Or they ‘like’ the Save the Tiger campaign online. I was very pleased to see that many young people joined the movement against corruption in big Indian cities. They gave time and tweeted about it. They protested in the Delhi heat. So there is hope. Protests are done in different ways and every generation does different things about the crises and problems of their time.

My first grandchild will be born soon, so I started to think. What kind of a world do we live in? And should we bring kids into a world like this? This is an eternal question. Philosophers asked it thousands of years ago. It’s good to think and worry. But Bob Dylan didn’t invent The times they are a changin’. He only wrote the words. Life will continue. And there is always hope.

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