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Jitish Kallat’s ‘Publice Notice 2’ is the perfect backdrop to this year’s Gandhi Jayanti celebrations
A cartoon of Gandhi has been recently doing the rounds on Facebook. It shows an alarmed and profusely perspiring Bapu perched in his heavenly abode while reading a newspaper and exclaiming “What has happened to my country!”
The backdrop for this cartoon is an India where a man is lynched by a mob for his eating choices – in this case the consumption of beef. An India where dalits are still denied entry into temples; where women are not safe at night; where lovers are hunted by goons and khap panchayats, and yet another group of lovers are criminalised.
In the larger scheme of things, the events of the world serve as a dreary backdrop, where the most developed country harbours Islamophobia of irrational proportions, leading to the arrest of a school kid who had only tried to impress his teacher through his engineering prowess. A world where Islamic State is steadily wiping out the Kurds and selling young girls as slaves; where people are still driven away from their land and rendered refugees by causes that are man-made; and where humanity may just as well be reduced to a mere idea.
In the times we find ourselves in, revisiting Gandhi’s thoughts and practices might show us some light and restore our faith in humanity.
To mark his birth anniversary, Gandhi Jayanti, the Art Gallery of NSW, together with the University of New South Wales and the University of Sydney, set out to do just that.
They wanted to celebrate Gandhi’s relevance in our times amidst the telling and fitting backdrop of Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 2, an art work which brings to life the Salt Satyagraha speech through letters appearing to be carved out of bones.
The crises of his times and those of his country men were enough for Gandhi to conclude that “no culture can live if it attempts to be exclusive”. This was also the topic of discussion presented to the panel of four representatives from the two universities, moderated by the Gallery’s deputy director Suhanya Raffel.
Dr Elizabeth Hill, a lecturer in political economy at the University of Sydney, whose research interests relate to the experiences of gender, work and care in both developed and developing country economies, spent several months in Gujarat at the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), an all-women’s trade union with more than half a million members, collecting fieldwork for her PhD on women’s labour market experience in the Indian informal economy. She highlighted SEWA’s Gandhian work ethics and the practice of swadeshi (home-made) goods and sarva-dharma in this symbiotic association between the union and workers, for whom Gandhigiri is a way of life.
John Zubrzycki, an award-winning journalist who has had a long association with India as a Hindi student, diplomat, consultant and foreign correspondent, said that Gandhi, although a man of contradictions, was also a multicultural man with a life which was all-inclusive. Zubrzycki also remarked that Gandhi would not be have been very happy with the union culture minister Mahesh Sharma’s new agenda. “We will cleanse every area of public discourse that has been westernised and where Indian culture and civilisation need to be restored – be it the history we read or our cultural heritage or our institutes that have been polluted over years,” the Minister has said. Zubrzycki called for an immediate restoration of Gandhian ideals of tolerance instead.
Roanna Gonsalves, writer and researcher at the School of the Arts and Media UNSW, asked for greater representation of diversity in Australian society and a more accepting Australian society. She also ruminated on the sense of narrowing of single, isolated identities (in her case, her Indian identity) as societies merge into composite collectiveness.
Sai Sowmya Bysani, a student at the University of Sydney who is currently researching the role of civil society in promoting food security in Hyderabad, India, considered the country’s social and cultural fabric and how secularism has always been a natural and innate feature of Indian society.
The evening also offered a soulful rendition of hymns such as Lead Kindly Light and Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram by Heather Cunio, a sarod recital by Adrian McNeil accompanied by Bobby Singh on the tabla.
Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals.
On the role of the press
One of the objects of a newspaper is to understand popular feeling and to give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; and the third is fearlessly to expose popular defects.
You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.
The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
The seven social sins: politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, and worship without sacrifice.
An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.