Silence Is Consent

Silence begets Silence

Bhaskar Majumder

Intolerable silence! Since the days of Sanskrit quote 'Mounam Sammatilakshanam' (silence is consent) to the days of highest order of civilisation that requires, it is really suffocating is for multiple reasons and no single individual is responsible for that. Today's silence may also be technology-determined (like silencer fixed on the vehicle) apart from silence because of civility (like chewing with no sound) or silence because of indifference (accepted normalcy when everything is not normal). Suffocation is mostly because a reciprocal relation or an interdependent system that one develops or that evolves requires either consent and hence some communication (rather than maintaining mounam) or differences/dissent that also requires breaking the ice.

Eevery person is questionable and the wise is questionable more for it is the wise that is self-capacitated to disperse knowledge. This is not for self-glorification but for self-testing also if the contemporary society thinks alike as the wise thinks. The problem is, once a person is acknowledged as wise, a kind of personal charisma develops or a psyche develops among people to abstain from asking him any question. Some kind of 'Gururbrahmo Gvrurvishnu' culture develops or is inserted in the brain of the budding students at the institutional level that the found mostly at the level of higher education in the Heartland that probably obstruct them coming out from the structure of faith-belief. The victim is scientific outlook.

A tacit consent seems to exist in silence—both the privileged and the followers do not question. However, at some point somebody accuses the system without understanding the fact that the system is what we developed. In specified relations like teacher-taught or doctor-patient hardly there is space of questioning, apart from some vibrant institutions/universities in India.

The idea that scholars are distanced from science is not acceptable—they are very much into physics-chemistry-mathematics and all that. The question is on scientific outlook that is different from performing in examinations. Let there be no stretch of imagination that scientific outlook is only post-Newtonian or post-British or post-European. What people often call primitive might have concealed knowledge and unless unearthed these remain condemned as primitive. Some knowledge was not recorded in the past does not imply absence of that knowledge base.

One may think about silence maintained by an individual—either voluntary or forced. Of late this teacher discovered one such type in the teacher-taught interactive classroom in a premier social science research institute in Uttar Pradesh—the discovery itself was a difficult task. After asking repetitively the teacher discovered that the student's father was now engaged in cultivation who even a few years back used to be a rickshaw puller. In reality it was not to be the reason why he used to maintain silence in the class room that was meant to be interactive. The reason of silence was not because of language. Silence in this case was socially conditioned.

Silence is some cases was inherited or followed conformism. This is being experienced institutions in the Heartland for the past two decades where only one person (adhikaari) as the determinant talks that was to be obeyed by others; however, meetings had to be convened to camouflage. This means, 'silence breeds silence'.

Does silence violate freedom? Before this is answered, the primary question is, 'Do common people understand freedom (with or without reading Sen)? Most of the manual workers, irrespective of caste-religion-gender, understand 'roti-roji" as freedom. This means they understand biological survival as freedom. The question of dignified living is a non-question. If this is so, some silence is latent in the mode of survival of people. In case of some non-manual workers, silence is 'silently planned' to stay safe and in a transferable job not-to-be-transferred. Elite silence is different from these—they naturally maintain silence in the mode of civility-privilege and status quo. Since freedom takes different character depending on the socio-cultural-economic conditions of the sections of population, it is not wise to bracket silence in a single shell.

Is sound good? This is also a critical question for it depends on who, where and when. Obviously, sound in sleep is unwelcome but silence in keeping eyes shut is more unwelcome. Sound that reflects domestic violence is not welcome at least for the reason of negative externality. Sound that children, often adults also, enjoy like in a Mela like Kumbho in the city of Allahabad/Prayagraj (public assembly) with blowing toys fixed with balloons is probably not unwelcome! However, these are all innocuous sounds.

What seems intimidating is not sound that is revealed and hence understood why; what is intimidating is silence that is concealed and hence not understood. Why intimidating? Because it does not allow questions. Which is to question? It is the way people remain indifferent. Why indifference is to be questioned, if people live happily? Here we need to juxtapose happiness and indifference: I heard people at the bottom saying secretly, 'Hain me hain milano hai', 'satta ke saath rahana hain' and all that hardly qualify for happiness; these reflect compulsions or fear. If socio-cultural behaviour is compulsion-fear derived, I hardly believe that reflects happiness.

By locations silence vary like travellers in 1st class in Rajdhani Express do not talk generally and travellers in unreserved coach talk loud. This writer is used also to take travel on road alone with a professional driver who does not talk unless provoked in the Heartland while the taxi drivers in Kolkata/Howrah talk much. The point is not necessarily if all those talks make sense, but to the extent that it breaks silence it breaks the social gaps also.

In rigid social hierarchy, however, there may exist a tacit desire to keep the initial gap intact; while economic gap cannot be eliminated in a post-private property scenario, social gap can be and warranted also for it keeps the society in balance. Day may come even for those who are against eliminating social gap realise what was delayed in human history. After all, whatever we got in economy-polity are social derivations; the womb has to function well if the derivatives are to function well. Silence does not keep social balance; somewhere one needs to break silence for gold.

[Professor of Economics, G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad]

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Vol. 52, No. 20, Nov 17 - 23, 2019