A Democratic Manifesto: Understanding Governance, Society and Creativity in the Early 21st Century

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More than flawed governance
More than political parties juggling responsibilities 
In the aftermath of a disaster, in proximity of the election 
More than the lack of infrastructure
What scares me 
Really takes the guts out of me is 
People becoming numbers 
And numbers getting manipulated 
Between reality and official
Faces becoming selfies 
And losing the judgement of difference 
Between entertainment and life
People considering themselves safe 
(Because they are spared for now) 
And switching between news and ‘soap’ 

In a DEMOCRACY …

[2016, The Hague] 

This free verse was written in the aftermath of an overbridge collapse in Kolkata, West Bengal, that ended up claiming many lives due to infrastructural flaws, lack of maintenance, and possible corruption on the part of the authority responsible for building the said overbridge; by using cheap and adulterant materials and inefficient design, by appointing engineers who might not be qualified to handle the job efficiently. It was also a time of transition for the understanding of politics at the personal, National and International levels. I had moved to the Netherlands for a semester to pursue my practice at the atelier of the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, where for the very first time I was given the opportunity to pursue a research-based practice, and for certain reasons, I engaged myself with the understanding of Society and Politics and the dynamics of power relations and the status quo. 

At the National level in India, it was just after the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a result of his institutional persecution and state-sponsored discrimination against Dalits, which stirred up memories of the assassination of M.M. Kalburgi and Narendra Dabholkar as social activists speaking truth to power; thereby igniting a state-wide student movement, including hunger strikes and peaceful protests in Indian Universities, notably JNU and HCU among many others. In the International political context, it was approaching the proximity of a Presidential Election in the United States of America, as the presidential terms of Barack Obama were coming to an end, giving emergence to new candidacy between Hilary Clinton from the Democratic side, highly endorsed by President Obama and First Lady Michel Obama themselves, against the Republican nominee Donald Trump, in the oldest and arguably most influential Democracy.

Little did I know, years later, a casual verse that was written by my 20-year-old, mostly politically-ignorant self for a social media post, would find its way to an end-term paper for my Masters’ Degree submission; the unawareness, and unassuming lack of foresight of what would become dilapidated conditions and conversations about Democracy, in both National and Global context, as we find ourselves today. 

Going back to my high-school Political Science elective classes, the most rudimentary definition one can come across for Democracy is that it is “a government of the people, for the people, by the people”. Notably, the most pertinent question in this context is the nature and what constitutes the “Demos” or the “people”. Going back in history to ancient Greece, also known as the cradle of Democracy, one can see some exciting discourse around the topic under the discipline of one of the other significant achievements of ancient Greeks Philosophy.

Thinkers like Socrates have discussed and criticised this form of governance to a deep intensity as we can learn from the Republic of Plato, where Socrates discussed the merits and demerits of Democracy in the context of Intellectual Democracy as opposed voting rights by birth; essential to keep in mind, hereby the term “Intellectual Democracy” doesn’t mean to convey elitism, but more likely the education and ability of thinking by  voters to make informed decisions when it comes to voting and engaging in the procedures of governance and policy-making. 

Although Athenian Democracy had flaws in terms of significant exclusionary policies towards women and enslaved people, one good thing about it was the involvement of the free and poor working class, which considering its time and influences, was an achievement. Although today’s liberal democracy is far from the Ancient Greeks and draws its origin to the Magna Carta (Medieval Latin for “Great Charter of Freedoms”), it is good to have a retrospective to contextualize it in history. As history is more than a path left by the past, it influences the present and can shape the future. 

As Alex Tan, the self-exiled Singaporean political dissident and Social activist, iterated, Democracy is a messy process; as the popular criticisms continue, possibly from the ancient times of Plato and Aristotle, arguments like elected people as Charismatic Manipulators instead of effective leaders, masses are not educated enough to understand the complex issues of ruling; to later complaints like less immediate and falling behind Autocracy due to its need for consultation; Tan argued, citizens of Democracy enjoy more human rights. Although he acknowledged the flaws, like politicians detached from everyday life and public policy failures, often creating the gridlocks of democracy causing Political Alienation, that can further deteriorate and give rise to populism and extremism, further leading to Pessimism. But he still finds Democracy more resilient than any other system of governance. He further articulates that, as a society changes, values change, and voters’ preference change. There is also the possibility that the median voter can be influenced. 

Radical changes in median voter position depend on two things, the vote and the voter. The median position of a small turnout election is very different from that of a large-turnout election. Furthermore, institutions and structures of government: we constitutionally engineer and create these institutions to come as close to the values we hold dear and associate with Democracy, values like Responsiveness, Representation, Accountability, and Equality, to name a few.  

In the contemporary context, we can observe Democracy not as a singular form but as an approach to governance marked by its multiplicity. The V-Dem Institute (Varieties of Democracy), an independent research initiative dedicated to conceptualising and measuring Democracy founded in 2014, distinguishes the system among five levels depending on the data, looking at it as a spectrum, starting from the very basic and increasing to the higher level depending on its democratic  principles. The five-level measurement starting from the very basic and rising to their higher levels, respectively, are 1) Electoral, 2) Liberal, 3) Participatory, 4) Deliberative, and 5) Egalitarian, following  the order. 

Conceptually, an Egalitarian Democracy is highest in its order in terms of its freedom and  functionality. Although it can appear to be an almost utopian imagination, we can try and define what its intel is and the ideals it pursues. To me, it seems like a shared idealism, marking the unity of ambition and passion for freedom; looking at the works of some of the esteemed Cultural workers like the President and First Lady (Obamas), I would try to structuralise a draft of the essential natures that inspires my imagination.  

The core of this system would be based on the essential universal values of Dignity, Determination, and Distinction. It would strive to protect the health of those without wealth and seek that precious balance between security, which is too often threatened, and human rights, which are too often denied. Abraham Lincoln had once made an observation that nearly all men (people) can stand adversity, but if one wants to test a man’s character, give him power! Considering that in an ideal and egalitarian democracy, power is bestowed on its people, it will be required from all the people to have a character that can withstand and officiate the power without corruption. In the globalised world, Democracy has its shared history and heritage; it has been a work in progress, and the path has never been perfect; whether its women and ethnic minority or persecuted religions, the longing for freedom and human dignity- is universal and it beats in every heart. 

There are some profound challenges: In a world where the prosperity of all nations is now inextricably linked, a new era of cooperation is required, to confront climate change and combat social inequalities. The responsibilities of global leadership are indispensable for a more peaceful, prosperous and just country that can be the catalyst for global action, tolerance and self-determination, progressing through building new partnerships, adapting to new circumstances and remaking ourselves to meet the demands of a new era.

Adam Smith’s central insight is that there is no greater generator of wealth and innovation than a system of free enterprise that unleashes the full potential of individual men and women. To succeed, we must cast aside the impulse to look at impoverished parts of the globe as a place for charity; instead, we should empower the same forces that have allowed our people to thrive; solidarity is sustainable and goes a long way to set people free of their limitations. We should advance the truth that the nation prospers when they allow women and girls to reach their full potential. Albeit Power rarely gives up without a fight, challenging the dysfunctional status quo is pertinent. It requires backing up our words with deeds and embracing a broader responsibility and circumstances that cut through our caution. 

As a Democracy, our patchwork heritage is an enormous strength; in a world which will only grow smaller and more interconnected, it is possible for people to be united by their ideas instead of divided by their differences. Change only happens when ordinary people get engaged. Democracy requires a balance of speaking and listening, having a dialogue with disadvantaged communities, breaking taboos and being confrontational in doing that, learning from the communities themselves and their creativity, engaging in relevant and appropriate interpretation of civic participation, finding new ways to engage and new ways to build trust. It requires everybody to have a fair shot and live a productive life; the inequalities must be addressed and rectified. Under-resourced communities need to be supported and elevated and exposed to different cultures. Exposure is a crucial solution to resolving violence; if we show somebody better, they will do better; that’s how hope works. 

In comparison to reality, young people in India grow up in a culture of silence, where they are often told not to question the norms or not to break the stereotype or work on issues that they are passionate about. Citizen voices have long been left out of the mainstream media discourse, with no possibility of marginalised people finding a voice. But the hope is that if we all come together and speak up, something really can change and will change. Hundreds of millions of people in the world do not have an equal shot at speaking up. Through speaking up, our generation handles some of the most challenging issues we are facing, be it menstrual taboos or violence against women, or discrimination based on caste, class and sexual orientation, and all these are the idealisation and hope that our generation represents; through reshaping narratives that have for far too long marginalised them. 

To uphold Democratic ideas like Empathy, Equality and Justice, we all have our contributions to be made. From advocating for climate change and inequality, fighting against the forces of discrimination, lifting up and identifying stories that are often unheard, educating and empowering men and women, taking action against sexual abuse, pushing to destigmatise mental health issues through the power of storytelling, wading through flaws, doubts, problems. Still, despite all their imperfections, it is crucial to press down anyway. It is essential to recognise that efforts matter and make part of the upward trajectory in our human story. Through parity and equality, we have to model the kind of world we want. 

For learning, it is crucial to listen to people who disagree with you. Change is a painfully slow process, and it can be demotivating at times. The perception of differences is broken down when people start recognising their own experiences in others; they see their common humanity. This is one of the reasons why Art is often a powerful tool in social change. Because what often it does is through art, suddenly people see for the first time their own reflection in other people, the impact of which can be profound and powerful. The idea of change is an incremental process; that’s how change works in nature, that’s how change works in Geology, and that’s how change works in human society. The ability to focus long-term is a great luxury; it also allows one to reflect and study. One has to imagine what the world might be and then push and work towards that future. 

There are many pertinent issues that seek our attention and active engagement: Around the world, there is a tradition of repressing women, treating them differently, and not giving them the same opportunities; treating women as second-class citizens is a bad tradition; it holds societies back, and there is no excuse for sexual assault or domestic violence. Climate change is not an abstraction; it’s not something we can put off for the future; it is happening now! 

Action needs to be taken in multiple and complex areas like counter-terrorism, clean energy, the matter of global food security, and Universal human rights, to name a few. In each of these instances, our Democracy needs to be functional in holding our governments accountable. As citizens and people, the nucleus of a Democratic system, we have to push for excellence in every single thing and put every bit of effort into education; our circumstances do not define us; if we believe in ourselves, if we can make the most of every opportunity, we can build our own destinies and accomplish anything we put our minds to. Also, we need to be committed to something bigger than ourselves and intent on giving back to our community; our willingness to serve is critical for all that lies ahead; it is never too late or too early to start changing the world for the better. 

As the famous saying goes, it is hard to preach to an empty stomach. Still, words also fail where there is poverty of ambition and the absence of an indomitable spirit and the empathy to see ourselves in other people. Change requires pushing against obsolete conventions with a level of conviction and turning commitments into concrete actions. 

Taking an example of India, where thinkers and philosophers have long seen the world as one family and represent the ideas in its vast diversity, India is defined by countless languages and dialects, every colour and caste and creed, gender and orientation. But India will succeed, as President Obama observed, so long as it is not splintered along the lines of religious faith and unified as one nation. The ability to equip the young generation with education in a Democracy is not an economic and social issue; it is a National  Security issue.

For those of us who got a chance at a quality education, once we understand the privileged position that we are in, we will feel obliged to spend the rest of our lives earning the privilege; because, inherently, we don’t inherit our civilisation from our ancestors, instead we borrow it from our progenies. And passing it on with abundance and sustenance needs meaningful  Civic engagement. Change only happens when people engage with one another as individuals and bring them together as collective action.  

The former United Nations Under-Secretary-General, Indian Member of Parliament and public intellectual Shashi Tharoor made an observation about Democracy in one of his much-coveted speeches in the context of India’s Parliamentary Democracy that the system can be fine and functional if only we can overcome differences of cast and creed and colour, culture, of cuisine, of conviction, costume and custom, and still rally around the consensus; I would also like to add the question of conscience in acknowledgement of the heterogeneous population it represents; to the otherwise astute articulation of the Democratic principles.  

Throughout history, it has been exemplary how courage can catalyse victimhood into heroism. Speaking for somebody who identifies as a woman in 21st-century India, I am comfortable in my skin as my own person, but I am really not inclined to confirm very well with other people’s ideas of who and what I should be. Looking at historically the status of women in the Indian subcontinent, one can understand it was with great difficulty that a group of reform-minded Indians and the provincial British Colonial government and Princely states in India abolished and criminalised “Sati,” arguably the Indian equivalent of Middle-age witch-hunting, in a series of judgements between 1829 and 1861. In independent India, the Indian Sati Prevention Act (1988) further criminalised any type of aiding, abetting and glorifying of Sati, following the incident of Sati of Roop Kanwar in 1987 again from Rajasthan. 

In Democracy, as people, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, in enduring power, power of ideals, in heartache and unyielding hope, in struggles and progress. Everything we are today an amalgamation of people we have come across and engaged with, whether in person or in accounts, of stories and folklore, of mortal and fictional. The borders disintegrate when it comes to Art and Humanity, we belong from distinctly identified nations, but we are so much more than our ethnicities. The sense of purpose belongs in bringing light and attention to the stories that might not have it, in the shared value that people may not adhere to what we say as individuals, but they will at least hear and allow us the freedom of speech. 

Nevertheless, as I understand and made observations at Model International Criminal Court, as part  of the council for Rwanda genocide tribunal, in the capacity of a Moot Court Prosecutor, that, Freedom is a Power; anybody will testify to it who has not given access to it by default and had to fight for it and earn it for what its worth; and like any power it needs to be executed with a sense of responsibility; where we can navigate the subtle line between free-speech and hate-speech. Anyone can be successful – in their efforts, but what makes somebody Great, or Legendary, or have a legacy, is humility. 

There are so many questions and concerns we need to ask and address, but one has to be obsessive to achieve something more defining and concrete! Concerns like: How businesses have a role in fighting climate change; Accommodating young entrepreneurs coming up with leap-frog technology; The farmers need to be educated in order to improve agricultural productivity; Investing in improving Digital infrastructure, to name a few. 

As people from various areas of Global Leadership in relevance to their particular expertise have predicted, in the coming decades, Education would dramatically improve in developing countries, the online learning tools making it easier to connect students and teachers around the world, giving access to teachers who can set the right pace for the individual student and see where they are confused, interactive problem set will help them in understanding the nature of confusion, although it won’t replace face-to-face social contacts and the relationship with teachers. Some concerns that still remain pertinent are, the systemic inequality in education, particularly about girls; in primary school, optimistically, the ratio is ok, but up to the PhD level there is a negotiable gender imbalance; and it will require different tactics to change the parents’ mindsets. 

Democratic Manifesto

We, as a Democracy, are required to push for excellence in every single thing we pursue, and be grateful for everything we have, not just for academics and extracurricular activities and achievements, but what can be done to give back to our communities and our planet. Even within a time of great progress, there are great imperfections, injustice and oppression, the grinding punishment of poverty, and the scourge of violent extremism and war.

Sometimes the challenges may be incredibly hard, and in the face of darkness we may get discouraged, but we can always draw on the light of those who came before us and the examples they set, to reaffirm peace and justice, fairness and tolerance. What needs to be understood and normalised is that one can be a strong observer of their faith without putting somebody else down or visiting violence on others. We all have to fundamentally reject the notion that violence can even remotely be the way to mediate our differences. To give an example, the history between India and Pakistan is born of much tragedy and violence; it is about time to reiterate and repair the relationship.  

In our economy, growth cannot just be measured by aggregate; growth has to make peoples’ lives better in real, tangible and lasting ways. A negligible number of self-serving billionaires and enterprises climbing up the wealth index cannot be the denominator of progress while the per capita income rate is nominal, the workforce does not accommodate a significant number of people, and the nation is plummeting in Global Poverty Index. The idea of the trickle-down economy has long since proved itself to be a farce. 

On the contrary, there is good business sense in being sustainable, supportive and environmentally sound; by remaining vigilant and serious about our responsibilities,  reaffirming our commitment towards women and girls around the world and helping themselves to build up their careers and forging paths to climb themselves up the executive leadership position, encouraging the diversity and inclusive principles; having the judgement that what unites us is far  greater than what divides us: values like hard work, honesty, self-reliance, respect for other people, a sense of empathy, kindness, faith, gratitude and humility, intellectual and moral strength, individual responsibility and mutual responsibility, a sense of purpose; values that make us human and civilized, and pursue an economy that honours the dignity of work. 

Also, too often charity is the redemption of the giver, not the liberation of the receiver; this is something that needs to be changed about our welfare policies; in order to steer them towards a narrative of solidarity and empowerment, towards a self-sustaining strategy. There is a need for more inclusion in growth, making sure that people are not left behind in a globalised economy. 

Yanis Varoufakis, a Greek economist and politician who also served as a Minister of Finance and a member of the Hellenic Parliament, cast insight into the contemporary dynamics between governance and economy. He argued what he called the economic case of an authentic democracy through the idea of two mountains: one, is a mountain of debts, the other, a mountain of idle cash belonging to rich savers and corporations terrified to invest it in productive activities; the combined effect of which creates an economic paralysis in Global scale as its inability to effectively cancel out  one another and contributes to further economic crisis like inflation, increase in inequality, and stagnation in cash flow. He also attributes the ineffectiveness of governance to the stripping of power for the government and the migration of power from the political sphere to the economic sphere, which he only sees the hope to reconcile through reconfiguration or reunion of the political and economic sphere by democratising the institutional and structural discourse.  

Egalitarian Democracy is fundamentally the reimagination of a meritocratic system that puts the interests of ordinary working people first. A system where the advantage is based on merit, not a privilege, while keeping the understanding that in our contemporary times’ disadvantages are much  more complex, often hidden and less easy to identify; and there is no more important place to start than education. It requires a radical increase in the capacity and qualitative improvements of  the school system, using it to promote greater integration in our society in general. Resolving the divide between the rich and the rest is not easy, and cannot be done by abolishing and demolishing them, as many feared and raised caution and demonstrated against the Citizenship Amendment Bill, which later turned into the Act, along with the National Register of Citizens. 

As Dr Tharoor pointed out in his well-researched speeches, the tendencies we have been witnessing in India for the last couple of years have been dangerous. He insists that India has an enormous contribution to make to the world of the 21st century and it should. It has the skills, the resources, the technology, and the human capacity, to make a difference in everything, from Cyberspace to Outer-Space. Unfortunately, a significant proportion of Indians were, more often than not, complicit in their own oppression, whether under colonial rule, or post-independence.  

Some of the harrowing concerns include the Environment and Education, among others. The environment is something very personal to each of us, but also collectively important for our  emotional and spiritual well-being. In order to confront climate change, we need additional loyalties and commitments to a level beyond nations. In education, most of what we teach students in school or college is going to be completely irrelevant to the job market; not to mention the lack of innovation and stagnancy in generating new epistemic advancement in a significant number of our academic institutions, in comparison to other parts of the world, have been extremely disturbing. With the information era, countries that tell a better story will prevail. One of the great strengths of any nation is the breadth and depth of its scientific and academic community, with a culture of learning and supporting cutting-edge research and innovation. 

What characterises sentient beings from robots or stones is that we can suffer. But the question remains how do we move from pain to purpose? Because, it is not the absence of failure that makes us succeed, it’s our response to failure that actually helps to buffer the reverses that we experience. There is no isolation of emotion in real life. As Cultural practitioners and artists, I believe that we need to be politically educated; that’s what inspires me to let my activism bleed into my work, whether pictorial or narrative. The limit of our Representational Democracy lets us choose who goes into the room where decisions are being made, but we don’t get to say what they do in there!

Peter Emerson, a Political Activist from Northern Ireland, unpacked the method and multitude of voting as a process of Democratic decision-making by drawing a comparison between Majority voting and Preferential voting. To cite examples of majority voting, some pertinent instances will be the election of Hitler in Germany – in1934 as the Chancellor with 88% majority, and in 1936 as Fuhrer with 98% majority, and in 1938 for “Anschluss” or German for “Union”, denoting political union of Austria with Germany achieved through annexation, with an astronomical 99% majority marking the victory. Referring to its diabolic historical consequences, Emerson argued the risks of majority voting as decisive and majority rule as a potential cause of conflict. To suggest the remedy, he made the case for Preferential voting; building on the arguments that Democracy would be good if it were inclusive: in the ideal scenario, the parliament should represent all the people, and the  government should represent the entire parliament, and this condition could be facilitated through Preferential voting, a non-majoritarian method that identifies the options with a highest average preference, creating the possibility for Pluralist Democracy, where Collective will is expressed through Individual will, mediated by the method of Analysis of preferences.  

When we continuously see the careless display of incompetence by leaders, and the absence of empathy and conscience for the citizens, it is easy to feel helpless. In both our governance and Civil Society, between different Political Parties and between people and the administration, the most popular discourse as per my experience is an exchange of blame game, an urgency to pass accountability, an unwillingness to take responsibility, a tendency to trivialize reality and life, sensationalise the make-belief spectacular, patronization of sombre, exotification of gore, the commodification of emotion, objectification of entity; the list can go on. 

But we cannot change the world while staying at a distance from the problems that we face; there is power in proximity, it is the perspective to see potential instead of the problems. In Democracy, our politics and governments are as good, as fair, as competent, and as effective as our people; the citizens who elect and appoint, engage and disperse, create and constitute, debate and deliver, and decide our pertinent values and how it can be manifested in our cultural discourse. Taking that into consideration, political decay is not an excuse to flee, but a reason to dive in. 

The digital revolution is leading to a redistribution of power that is not matched with a redistribution of accountability; we must urgently avoid and stay cautious that the digitisation of everything creates risks of the privatisation of everything and the weaponization of everything. But it also opens up opportunities for a parallel public discourse, of virtual public forums and networks, People’s media initiated and distributed through citizen journalism, and access to people and information of the entire world any-place-any-time, around-the-clock, in accordance with the comfort of our own convenience, at the click of buttons and swipe of fingers, in a device of my choice. 

We should really seize this opportunity and push the threshold of our Physical and Geographical limits. In the context of these new frontiers, the role of media and communication is getting revised and reimagined. In this changing environment, journalists, creatives and communicators should be like bees, cross pollinating disciplines and highlighting innovations, so that other people can take advantage of it; tasking ourselves with pertinent questions in the spectrum, from “How to be as poetic as possible” to “How to be as pragmatic as possible,” and anything and everything that comes in-between and ventures yonder.  

A vision is nothing without the determination to see it through. As in our creative pursuit and so in life, ideas don’t come out fully formed, they only become clear as we work on them; the crucial part is to get started and keep at it, and incrementally as things get better, never getting complacent. Idealism without realism does no good for anyone; Change, irrespective of our ambition, starts local, even global change starts small and modest. Social change doesn’t occur like the change of weather, it happens because of determined work over generations. Our success depends on our ability to coordinate and to be able to leverage our relations. One core idea that continues to keep hold of my imagination as a method of Psychological mobiliser for individuals, Social mobiliser for communities as a collective entity, and ideological paradigm shifter for Cultural hegemony, is Art that is engaged  with Society at large. 

As British Artist Antony Gormley eloquently put it, “Art as an act of shared communication is a small way of saying, I make the world; I don’t simply inherit it!” Art can change the way we think; it can crack open cemented opinions and challenge the status quo. It looks at the world with a critical eye, it opens up horizons beyond those which are familiar to us. It challenges standardised or problematic views of the world; it expresses that which is often hidden. It reaches further than the accepted and the known and beyond the inevitabilities that we are told we cannot escape. 

Art functions as the conscience of society; Art testifies to the power of human imagination. In a world driven by popular consensus, including, for example, the homogenisation of globalisation, and the general dominance of conservative values, Art advocates difference and gives voice to the Other. It highlights important ideas, problems and issues that are side-lined or silenced due to political or economic interests. Art doesn’t change the world at a macro level, it changes the world at a micro level; it is a form of Soft power. Art can foster dialogue, reconciliation, engagement, solidarity, connectivity and understanding of those with opposing views. Art is the last frontier of unregulated free expression, which is particularly important at a time when comments, public spaces and expressions are increasingly being privatised and regulated by the Neo-liberal order.  

I treat artworks, not as isolated objects in the sterile 21st-century white-cube gallery settings,  waiting to be commodified décor items, intended to hang from the wall matching the sofa set, in some private mansion of some random investor, who built his (usually it’s a he) wealth through big corporation driven by Capitalist principles; but with a view towards their purpose and meaning in the society that produced them at the context, they were produced, in accordance with the ambition, vision and attitude to contribute to the society. Similarly, my understanding of Design is a discipline that allows us to understand how Science and Arts can join together, intersect with each other and share information which is a really rich direction to push the world towards; while the role of the designer as a facilitator and an agent in Global Change.  

Judgements and understanding are crucial, from school, for putting Arts at the very centre of the curriculum, where creativity counts. From the very beginning, children should be encouraged and allowed to feel like themselves in the art class. Art education is central to rethinking how students can engage in the creative process. Arts education is critical to developing the lens that gives kids a language to talk about crucial things, such as Socioeconomic differences, Gender, Race  and so on. In times of dictatorship, artists are the first to be censored and silenced. It’s a pertinent observation to make, and understand what it implies. 

Art education facilitates some very fundamental life skills: Communication as a medium, participation, processing the complexities between the ways of thinking and working, and others. The purpose is to build 21st-century classrooms, libraries and labs that equip the students to face and resolve 21st-century problems. What needs to be understood multilaterally is that Development is not charity; it is an investment in our future prosperity.

To reconcile economic disparity, education is fundamental. It is not consequential having a strong point of view and not being able to articulate it. Real change comes through persuasion and openness to others. The specific is observed to be Universal. It is worth the effort to understand how art and culture have a very unique and particular role in making our civic space more liveable, and more beautiful, as well as our civic discourse more interesting and multifarious.

Nothing can prepare us for this profession called Life! One can read about it, one can study it, but until they are on that task, they don’t know how to manage it. And in the midst of crisis, keeping cool and treating everybody with respect; no matter how daunting the odds are, no matter how many situations try to knock it down, she never ever quits. While we need to fight for our principles, but also fight to find common ground, no matter how illusive that might sometimes seem.  

Violence against women, in any form, in any place, including at home, especially at the home – that is not just a women’s rights violation, that is a human rights violation. Women in India is a fascinating story! We have very strong women goddesses, even one of the early female Prime Ministers, but yet, there is an enormous amount of physical and psychological abuse of women perpetuated on a  daily basis, adding to their disadvantages. 

It is crucial to point out that it is problematic not just for what happened, it is also because it was allowed to happen, it was condoned by those who were in power to prevent it from happening. In this context and also speaking about exercising Democratic principles of independent decision-making, it is important to make a distinction between education and empowerment: Education is a precondition of empowerment, but it is not sufficient; education informs and shows us how to reach for the stars, empowerment gives us permission to do so. Seeking influence can sometimes feel uncomfortable, but it is an essential part of building change. 

We are all bound together in ways that are invisible to the eyes. There is a oneness to humanity that Democracy aims to uphold in its values and ideals, through processes and procedures of changing laws and changing hearts; in doing so, changing lives, while progressing on changing the world for the better, one step at a time. To keep on its track, we need to include and nurture the human elements in education; the purpose of Design is about delivering change, not just imagining change. Leadership is inherently about responsibility; one believes in some idea, but people don’t believe it, but if one thinks it is critical, one should be ready to pay any price to reach it. 

For catalysing and accelerating Global prosperity, we, as people, the elementary building blocks of the Democratic system, have to change our attitude before we can change our behaviour. It is crucial to understand and recognize that, it’s not our circumstances that define our future, it is our attitude and our commitments; we decide how high we set our goals, we decide how hard we are going to work for these goals, we decide how we are going to respond when something does not go our way. If we want to tackle the diverse problem, we also need a diverse network of people who will inspire, advise and contribute from the reserve of their diverse talent pool of skills and experiences, to our problems.  

There is enormous power in the plurality of our voices. Continuing with Alex Tan’s iteration, Democracy is a continuous experiment, it is not the destination, but the journey we take together, as a people, as a nation, and as a country; realistically the best possible achievable form could be imagined as a Multi-Party Proportional Parliamentary System, but according to practical-logistical possibility, Democracy is not perfect. But as Tan astutely put it, we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. In similar ways, we, constituting the people in Democracy, might never attain perfection either. As Nelson Mandela, the distinguished flag-bearer of Democratic values articulated in his famed words, “I am not a saint. Unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.” To my humble understanding, Democracy is the philosophy of Persistent Trying. 

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Reflective Note – Democratic Manifesto 

To write my version of a Democratic Manifesto, the referential text for rationale and  conceptualisation for the production of a new manifesto, I had chosen A Cyborg Manifesto, the seminal work by Donna Haraway that inspired the emergence of new frontiers, research approach, methodologies and discourses, in the area of Social Science and Cultural Studies. For me, the pertinent factors that inspired my imagination are, notably, the context of Social-Feminism, the methodologies of Tentacular thinking, the fluidity of the multidisciplinary approach, the elements of  Networked Knowledge; the complexity and brilliance of simultaneous coexistence between a very methodical linear logic of connecting the particular and diverse points of reference, while equally retaining the undercurrent of the almost bizarre dynamism that flows across the text in its natural eclectic glory. 

The masterful handling and fluency in a range of Philosophical and Theoretical discourses and the ability to analyse and trace through the interconnection of contact zones, which are otherwise not particularly apparent to identify, have spoken clear and loud for Dr Haraway’s Intellectual and Critical excellence, Academic brilliance, Cognitive and Introspective capacity, Cultural awareness, Literary cohesiveness in linguistic articulation and Conceptual abilities; the combination and coming together of all those aspects facilitated this alchemic condition of an experience like Cyborg Manifesto, that is a harrowing Cerebral Stimulation and intoxicating Intellectual Pleasure at the same instance.  

My Democratic Manifesto locates itself in our contemporary time, shaped by the events and  incidents, most notably of the last decade, observing and processing my engagement, interest and inclinations, as influenced by the access to available information and analytical insights related to current affairs dealing with the pertinent questions and concerns, in relation with our immediate proximity to Politics, Society, Culture, People and other elements of relevant Public discourse, at Local, National and Global scales. 

The observations that are articulated and arguments that have been discussed in the Manifesto are the results of deliberation to facilitate exposure to Societal and Political discourses and dialogues, exercised through varied capacities across multitudes of social domains and epistemological resources, as well as pedagogical engagement in both casual and  intentional scenarios, in conversation with a varied and diverse spectrum of people coming from very different backgrounds, experiences and understandings, in formal settings of lectures and audiences, as well as informal conversations with family, peers and acquaintances.  

In the last few years, the emergence and rapid adoption and economisation of access to the internet have been crucial factors in the revolutionisation of our lifestyle, communication and content consumption. The access to Intellectual and cultural capital has been decentralised, desegregated to a considerable extent, and dispersed across social domains, especially the various forms and functionalist approach of social media. The access to epistemological resources is also in the process of observing a shift with the help of digital technology as a tool of documentation and preservation and also devising new methods of distribution through formal institutional websites, as well as using social media as a means of building like-minded communities and using it as a tool and platform for executing effective Public Relation in a more customised, immediate and personalised manner. 

A majority of the material that has facilitated my perceptions and understanding of socio political philosophies, and provided me with information, analysis and insights about particular specificities, is derived directly from a popular video-hosting social media platform known for its eclectic range of contents, and a simple, user-friendly interface, with robust, versatile and efficient User experience.

Building case for what became this iteration of the Democratic Manifesto, the internet and Social Media platforms allowed me access to the works, ideas, observations and insights of many notable thinkers, scholars, leaders and cultural workers who are engaged in the task to decode, decipher and disentangle the complex elements of our contemporary Socio-political situation, in order to make sense of our time, culture, tendencies, values, shortcomings, progress, fault lines and possible remedies. In doing so, they have made significant contributions to our societies, according to their distinguished area of expertise, as per their imaginations, interests and sense of service. 

Some of the names that frequented this research and helped form the judgement, the structures of reasoning and also the articulation of the ideas in their thoughtful mediation of language are to be acknowledged as follows:  

Donna Haraway – Esteemed Academician and Author of the “Cyborg Manifesto”, President Barack Obama – Former POTUS (President of The United States of America), First Lady Michelle Obama – Former FLOTUS (First Lady of The United States of America), Bill Gates – Microsoft co-founder,  

Melinda French Gates – Philanthropist,  

Theresa May – Former British Prime Minister,  

Shashi Tharoor – Former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Diplomat and Author, Maria Popova – Writer and Blogger at Marginalian (Formerly Brain Pickings), Amanda Palmer – Musician, Artist and Author of “The Art of Asking”, 

Yanis Varoufakis – Former Minister of Finance (Greece), Economist and Politician, Alex Tan – Social Activist (Singaporean Self-Exiled Political Dissident; sought Australian asylum), Peter Emerson – Political Activist, 

[** And many others who enriched my understanding through dialogues and debates.]  

We stand in a time of troubled water; whether it is my State Constituency of West Bengal or the Parliamentary Assembly at the heart of our National Capital, the majority ruling party in the government has effectively dismantled the possibility and existence of any worthy opponent. In the  contemporary context of Bengal, Politics has become a game of Musical Chair, with no rules, not that anybody cares, with Politicians Freestyling in and out of Political Parties, according to their material convenience and with no regards about the ideological and philosophical aspects of politics, to avoid facing the consequences for the engagement in corruption and the stealthy accumulation of illegitimate wealth, that they so readily agreed upon. 

The Central government is another complication, so much so that it gets overwhelming to decide where one should start; the perpetuation of ongoing narratives of intolerance and segregation along the line of religious  identities, silencing of Socially-aware intellectuals and activists, the vulgar wealth gap between the rich and the poor, with an inconsequential middle class that is as good as none. The destiny of an  average wage-winner who can afford their Dal-Rice, let their promises rest and decay in exchange for the security of mediocre complacency of weekdays – regimented routine rat race – and weekend’s half-baked gym regime and ‘Netflix and Chill’. The indifference is terrifying.

With all the different aspects of worrisome concerns, I will pick one anecdotal detail to make my case for the current relevance of a Democratic Manifesto as a mode of articulation: According to V Dem’s Democracy Report 2022, India ranked 93rd out of 179 countries, while specifically classifying it as an “Electoral Autocracy,” instead of any form of Democracy at all. The report further suggests that India, as part of a broader global trend of an anti-plural political party driving its Autocratisation, also has slipped further down in the Electoral Democracy Index to 100, and even lower in the Deliberative Component Index at 102; in South Asia, India ranked below Sri Lanka (88), Nepal (71), and Bhutan (65); countries that are much smaller and less wealthy and significantly less influential.  

I believe I can put my case to rest.


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Sampurna Pal

Sampurna is an artist based in India, with brief experience working in The Netherlands. She works in both analogue and digital mediums, with the key concepts of expression and sustainability at the core of her practice. She draws inspiration from her day-to-day life, operating at personal, interpersonal, and global levels.

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