Death of Dissent
What it takes to raise a dissent? What is it that you feel so strong within, that you raise a dissent? Well, knock your sleeping conscious and ask “Do I agree”? “Do I accept”? If your conscious says “NO” well then, that is your dissent. Dissent is the inner voice within you that often coerces the logical mind with an emotional and ethical farrago and implores you to put forth your contradicting opinion. In recent times, I have witnessed lot of discussions and debate mostly in the media , as how the current world is throttling free speak and dissent. How we have grown intolerant towards the expression “I do not agree with you” or “No this is not right”. A man’s life can be divided into 3 distinct phases: public life, social & personal life and work life. In all the phases of one’s life, expressing oneself is key to one’s identity. A man defines his character through the choices he makes, the action he commits and the view he expresses. Hence expressing one’s dissent is therefore integral to the exploration of one’s true self in the world. However, it is really imperative to think, how often , we express our dissent and get accepted by the society or the people in it. How many times have you faced a situation where your dissent has resulted in a fracture in relationships that you have built in this world or how many times have you been put aside, cast away or outrightly rejected for expressing your dissent. In this era of modernization, have our thoughts been really modernized? If so, then why, the space for dissent continues to shrink? ,bringing the entire ecosystem of healthy dissent and contradiction to a staggering halt.
Across the current political spectrum, it is a topic, a staging- theatrics, one blaming the other over the shrinking space for dissent. Well, mostly in the political spectrum it is quite visible, and people speaks volume of it. We hear speakers from different walks of life – artist, actors, political spokesperson, social activist, venting their anger, expressing their opinions defending their views. In the current political discourse people intent to take serious offence, if we raise dissent over certain political dispensation. In a country that guarantees freedom of speech, we often face name calling, forceful affiliation to other forces and to some extent severe resistance while exercising our fundamental right of free speech. As a matured democracy, space for dissent must not be limited rather we should accept the alternate, contradicting opinion, as only then we grow stronger as a country & society. Thriving and thumping dissent in a society is the very spirit of a strong democracy.
However, resistance to free speech and expressing dissent is not just observed in political discourse but it is well pervasive in the social framework also. However, in the pretext of society, the matter becomes much complex and mostly intertwined with other social issues. Just try to think hard once, how many of you have seen your mother’s dissent being quashed by the dominating males in the family. In the complex contours of the Indian family, expression of dissent often takes a back seat. The patriarchs of the family, the societal norm, throttle, belittle and subjugate the feeble dissent that we often raise. Do you not wonder, why, we are not so vocal about freedom of speech in this regard? Well, that is where it gets complicated. We tend to accept such subjugation as virtue, an Indian Value System. That has been the way Indian society is built and bred over the ages. We tend to accept it without much objections and retribution and hence has become a way of life.
Is it only in such broad affairs in life we bare witness to resistance to dissent? Is it not relevant anywhere else? Think again, thing hard. You’ll realize, it is something we encounter every day, everywhere. It is ubiquitous. The ground may shift, and the dimension may change, but the affect remains the same.
“Dissent “ remains one the “Biggest Challenge “ in the corporate sector as well. Maybe it is shrouded and shielded under policies, systems, but it is well prevalent in this sphere of life as well. Not so long years ago, I realized something that endorsed and firmed my opinion about the shrinking space of dissent in corporate sector for good. Every good and successful organization grows with might and competence of its human resources. The stronger its value system, the successful the organization becomes. Employee friendly policies forms the backbone and good HR practices builds the foundation of the organization.
Accepting employees as business partners, valuing their opinions in matter of policies and procedures of the organization, reduces policy paralysis and fosters an inclusive culture. But How many organizations, of course excluding the ones in the Forbes list, really appreciates such inclusive and participative culture in their organizations? Is the management tolerant and receptive to the idea of positive dissent and expression of their opinion? Do they accept the importance of dissent in the professional domain within the four walls of their establishments? Well in theory they may but, in reality, the answer is “NO”. Indian MSMEs and SMEs still believe in proprietorship organizational structure, where management has the ultimate say. Most of the family owned business houses, have exhibit such common behavior where an individual’s decision and discretion becomes the Standard operational procedure of the organization.
Such organizational are extremely intolerant and becomes apprehensive over dissent of any form. As a result of which they perceive dissent as a threat to their age-old way “of doing things”. They fear monger that the management may lose their control over their employees, if, allowed space for expressing dissent, resulting in stifling and strangulating of dissent of any form. So, in most of the cases, one who raises a dissent, finds himself back into the empty benches and barracks. Denigration, humiliation and isolation becomes a norm instead of an inclusive environment. It affects one’s appraisals, growth and worst might one’s job itself, which perhaps was the means of one’s sustenance. All lost for just speaking one’s mind on what one believes is wrong.
You know most of us live with an ostrich syndrome, where we believe “since it doesn’t bother me, it’s not my problem”. But believe me it can be a problem for all of us, if we continue to accept such restrictions on our freedom of speech. Dissent may not always be a grievance, it may be an opinion and hence must be appreciated and accepted by the management. A space for good and bad dissent exists in a matured organization. History have revealed that one that’s grows, grows with ability to accept criticism both positive and negative. You grow and become a better individual, organization with positive criticism and with negative ones you introspect and brood, over your course of actions in future. An organization dies a slow death, if it remained abstained from positive criticism and dissent. If employee do not feel comfortable, confident of raising dissent to its management then the organization loses the most important aspect of employee motivation i.e. employee participation and engagement. Research have always thrown up data proving that an engaged employee delivers more than an employee who works just to meet his ends. Had such been the norm then TATA would not have been TATAs and IBM would not have been IBM. We do not need to understand how they achieved such brand value; its rather easy; they valued their employees and their opinion, they allowed for dissent.
As a matured, and responsible society we must allow for dissent both good and bad dissent. However, the problem with bad dissent is that people often use it to fear monger, create negative narratives with spurious intent and use it selectively to suit one’s self goal. At times bad dissent takes the form of personal slander, deliberate defaming of certain section of people, process, dispensations etc, to promulgate a depraved theory, in order to serve some personal manifesto.
People often tend to forget the thin line between freedom of speech / dissent and expression malicious, motivated intent. Often, we have seen, how few motivated people use it for suiting their personal mala-fide intentions of hurting the interest of this great nation. Have you seen how fakes news, fake narratives have been built to create unrest in the society? The selective outrage over social issues, painting some social malpractices in the colours of communalism, to promulgate the theory of religious intolerance in India or to the extend of calling this great land “Lynchistan” are exemplary to how bad dissent can be used to promote and propagate a false narrative, detrimental to the social structure of our country.
Let me draw your attention towards the tragic incidents that shook us to our bones few days ago. 44 of our brave Jawans, charred to death. Their family’s dreams blew up in smoke and their children future reduced to ashes. While we all stand in solidarity while seething in anger, expressing our pain through the rights given to us by his great Nation, while few elements within the same crowd spew venom, falsehood, denigrated and disturbing vitriol, with the sole intention of propagating a narrative that would destroy the social framework on which our country stands.
In another recent incident the students of a reputed university, the ones we say “in whose hand lies our country future” were seeing raising anti India slogans, toeing the lines of enemy states, speaking against this great land, trying to cause a rift in the social fabric of India. Was such an act, a matured and responsible one? Or should we simply trivialize by saying “they exercised their freedom of speech” . Is this the kind of future we want? where freedom of speech and dissent is all about spewing venom against our motherland. Didn’t these elements as citizen of this country had the same responsibility?
So, I ask you with all humility, if the Government of the day, responsible people of the disposition, reprimands such elements, would you say freedom of speech is throttled? I, leave that for you answer…… The Indian Constitution, guarantees, freedom of expressing and free speech. But it is not absolute, it comes with certain amount of responsibilities as citizens and some amount of judicial dispositions. It is a tight rope that we must walk to ensure balance a rational thought and a destructive disclosure meant for shredding the social fabric that ties us together. As a society we have always upheld the need and importance of dissent in every walks of life; personal, social, professional, but at the same time dissent cannot be selective. It cannot suit to someone’s personal motivated interest. A dissent should be apolitical, intrepid and reasoned with the need of change for betterment. Anything other than a position criticism that hurts the interest of the society must be with- held. The right of freedom of speech and dissent is a powerful tool for forging the future of this great nation and must be hence used with responsibility.
To me, it a doubly edged sword and hence must be used with caution….since every action of our have bearing upon this great land and society.