Sandeep Sahu

When was the last time one saw our intelligentsia out on the street on an issue – any issue? Or, at the very least, issue a statement or sign a petition on an issue – any issue? As one watched students, academics, writers, artists (even of the cinema variety) civil society members and others across the country protest against the twin measures of CAA/NRC, this was the question that kept coming back to the mind.

It is as if our intelligentsia couldn’t care less. They would rather stay away (or is it above?) all that is happening around them and stay scrupulously within the confines of their self-demarcated world of glorious isolation, blissfully oblivious of the outrage on the streets. And one is not talking about the CAA/NRC alone, but any issue that has serious social or political implications for the citizenry. The miserable plight of farmers, tribals and Dalits don’t move them to come out in the open. The pathetic state of heath care services in the hinterland doesn’t stir them to take up cudgels on the people’s behalf. Nor do the rising incidents of rape, including gang rape and rape of minors, or the worst abuse of human rights or threats to the media bother them enough to speak out. And if the issue has to do even remotely with politics, they would just turn their nostrils upwards and turn away.

They would, of course, discuss these issues in their small groups – sometimes even animatedly so. If you happen to eavesdrop on such conversation, you would know that they do have a view on such issues. But when it comes to taking a public stand or registering their protest, even if only in a perfunctory way, they would rather stay away. Even what our present day writers and poets write seldom reflect the angst of the common man. They often complain about the fact Odia books don’t sell; that there are not enough Odia readers. But they would get the answer if they ask themselves why there are still enough readers who read the likes of Fakirmohan, Godavaris and Sachi Routray. As for our cine stars, they would take an occasional dip in the big, bad world of politics during elections either as candidates or campaigners, have some fun and then happily go back to their ‘reel’ world. Some stars would, of course, take a proper plunge – usually when they are past their prime – into electoral politics and become MPs and MLAs. But their utterances would almost always be a partisan affair.

This writer has never really been able to figure out what exactly is behind their reluctance to take active part in a public cause. Is it plain indifference or snobbery? Fear of the powers that be or a sense of discomfort about being seen/heard to be talking ‘politics’? Or is it a feeling that they are beyond such mundane issues, busy as they are in their world of intellectual pursuit? [A young, budding writer’s Facebook post may offer a clue on this. “Those who have never bought a book in their life are advising me not to write anything on politics. If I do, they say, my books won’t sell.”]

Whatever it is, it doesn’t speak very highly of us Odias as a society. This is a real tragedy in a state that has a glorious tradition of the best minds not just taking part but actually leading socio-political-cultural movements. Had the stalwarts of our intellectual world not been at the forefront of the movement for a separate state, we wouldn’t have had the distinction of being the first state in the country to be formed on a linguistic basis, 11 years before independence. But alas! All that is now in the distant past. Our modern day intellectuals have clearly decided, for reasons that only they know, not to follow in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors. This is a real shame.

No one expects them to take to the streets on every issue. But surely, there must be some issue that they would consider worthy enough to voice their opinion publicly, loud and clear. Society is looking up to them to provide intellectual leadership, not to remain firmly anchored to their ivory towers.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)