The Thoothukudi Fables: The Hindu Editorial

The Thoothukudi Fables: The Hindu Editorial

The Thoothukudi Fables: The Hindu Editorial

The Thoothukudi firings of May 22 have been read as linear narratives, as specific reports without possessing the power of storytelling. The Thoothukudi violence needs a storyteller to capture the eloquence, the poignancy of anecdotes. One has to see the fables not as remote fragments, morsels of a marginal India, but as a microcosm of what is happening everywhere. Thoothukudi has to be treated as an early warning system for the emerging threats to Indian democracy.

Three tales

One cannot even begin with a “once there was” because Thoothukudi is a collection of three tales. Time determines the depth and level of story. It is, first, a tale that began over 20 years ago when the Sterlite plant shifted from Maharastra to Tamil Nadu. It is also a tale that began 100 days before the firing, when housewives, children and villagers created a community of protest which found its one-lakh-strong epicentre at Thoothukudi. Yet the tale from Thoothukudi is just over a fortnight old when we focus around the scandal of the firings.
The euphemism of media reports is intriguing. They are generally dubbed as shootings or firings, they are not called killings, blatant acts of murder. The symbolism of a sniper and the needlessness of his violence no longer belongs to the Gaza strip. Terror is at home in Thoothukudi and elsewhere as state terror extends its tentacles world-wide.
Thoothukudi is global and local in a different sense. It reflects the new conversation between a decade of oral history, the complaints, the everyday gossip of people dying, of children fainting in school, the moment when the eventless history of environmentalism clashes with the trauma of the Internet. That the Internet was suspended in the area after the killings makes one realise that it is not in Kashmir alone that such events take place. Time becomes critical because suddenly the silence of waiting, the epidemic of little prayers, the little protests around every village combine to show that Sterlite is not just one company town but a state of mind. It introduces us to the company towns of the mind, the new panopticons which are spreading like dictatorships across the world. The ease with which environmental tribunals and scientific laboratories are subverted needs to be chronicled. Words such as sustainability or corporate social responsibility become acts of hypocrisy, the new oxymorons of ethics created by a corporate world indifferent to everyday suffering. As an ecologist friend of mine observes, there are more protests outside the Vedanta office in London than in India. It is almost as if patriotism and security are concepts designed to protect corporate greed.

About Section 144

As a fable, the events at Thoothukudi threaten the very fabric of democracy. It is a strange democracy where people are suspect and hunted down. As a DIG investigating Thoothukudi told me, “I have never seen a more cynical use of Section 144.” What the police confronted was a community of women and children carrying food, school bags. Instead of facing a community in a democratic sense, the government created the myth of outsiders as anti-socials. It is almost as if ordinary people are not citizens but subjects to be continuously disempowered. It is evident now that police went far beyond the area under Section 144 of the CrPC and killed people. Yet our bureaucrats hide truth behind the norms of procedure, as if table manners are more important than the truths of governance. The police reportedly beating disabled people makes one wonder if barbarity is a part of the new training, where every citizen is to be treated as a Naxal by definition. The psychology of fear that they have created is the new model of Section 144 where an old law and order project now becomes an effort to create an ecology of fear, where every citizen is suspect by definition.
In fact, it is around areas like Thoothukudi that one has to write the new history of violence around the body. The state of the body is symptomatic of the vulnerability of the body politic. Ironically, it is the people who look for democracy, while the state and Sterlite seek to subvert it. Words like ‘public and citizens’, once anchors of the democratic imagination, now have become suspect words in the new games of corporate life. Doctors who meet patients from Thoothukudi villages complaining of cancer, skin diseases call these symptoms ‘Sterlite symptoms’. In a similar way, we can talk of the symptoms of a ‘Sterlite democracy’, a disease as debilitating as majoritarian authoritarianism. Yet the answer to the death of democracy is a more intense democracy, stemming from the inventiveness of the community. We have to understand it is communities rather than movements which are resisting the regime, a fact that the regime finds difficult to respect.
Thoothukudi demonstrated this through the resilience of the bar and traders’ associations which worked day and night to get arrested people released. It reminded one of what the sociologist Ăˆmile Durkheim said in his classic Professional Ethics and Civic Morals, that only the ethics of professions like law and medicine can counter the rapacity of corporations and the emptiness of the state. Thoothukudi proved this in ample measure. It also demonstrated that civil society has to be an embedded part of the new knowledge society. The reports of civil society have to become testaments and testimonies for the emerging issues of democracy. For example, the government inquiry commission, State Human Rights Commission or National Human Rights Commission reports are unlikely to go beyond legal and procedural issues. Civil society reports carry a wider burden and responsibility, playing sociologist, ethicist, environmentalist and storyteller. A civil society report on an act of violence has to relate law and order to law and justice, and also to law and democracy, reflecting on knowledge and truth in new ways. For example, experts should not be allowed to get away behind esoteric language. A people’s sensorium of touch, taste, smell has to be translated into science to create new warning signals. Thoothukudi showed the importance of a people’s idea of knowledge to counter expert knowledge. In fact, it suggests the importance of a people’s ombudsman to accompany so-called expert committees.

Proactive citizenship

Yet such civil society reports cover not just past and present. They are warning bells for the future. If one juxtaposesthe reports on Thoothukudi with the nuclear site at Koodankulam, one senses the deep suspicion about proactive citizenship. Government attempts to create the bogey of the outsider as antisocial, alien, intruder, missionary, Christian are dangerous steps and need to be challenged. The citizen as a person of knowledge must be seen as central to democracy. Only a proactive citizenship and an experimentally open civil society can challenge, question and domesticate the emerging “Sterlite democracies” as the new diseases of our age. This then is the emerging fable of Thoothukudi.


1) Firings
Meaning: The discharging of a gun or other weapon.
Example: “The prolonged firing caused heavy losses”
2) Eloquence
Meaning: Fluent or persuasive speaking or writing.
Example: “A preacher of great power and eloquence”
Synonyms: Oratory, Rhetoric  
3) Poignancy
Meaning: The quality of evoking a keen sense of sadness or regret; pathos.
Example: “The pregnancy has a special poignancy for her family”
Synonyms: Pathos, Distress
4) Anecdotes
Meaning: A short amusing or interesting story about a real incident or person.
Example: “He told anecdotes about his job”
Synonyms: Story, Tale  
5) Fables
Meaning: A short story, typically with animals as characters, conveying a moral.
Example: “The fable of the sick lion and the wary fox”
Synonyms: Parable, Apologue  
6) Morsels
Meaning: A small piece or amount of food; a mouthful.
Example: “Juliet pushed a morsel of toast into her mouth”
Synonyms: Mouthful, Bite
7) Microcosm
Meaning: A community, place, or situation regarded as encapsulating in miniature the characteristics of something much larger.
Example: “The city is a microcosm of modern Malaysia”
8) Epicentre
Meaning: The central point of something, typically a difficult or unpleasant situation.
Example: “The epicentre of labour militancy was the capital itself”
9) Fortnight
Meaning: A period of two weeks.
10) Scandal
Meaning: An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.
Example: “A bribery scandal involving one of his key supporters”
Synonyms: Impropriety, Wrongdoing  
11) Euphemism
Meaning: A mild or indirect word or expression substituted for one considered to be too harsh or blunt when referring to something unpleasant or embarrassing.
Example: “The jargon has given us ‘downsizing’ as a euphemism for cuts”
Synonyms: Substitute, Understatement  
Antonyms: Dysphemism
12) Intriguing
Meaning: Arouse the curiosity or interest of; fascinate.
Example: “I was intrigued by your question”
Synonyms: Interest, Fascinate  
Antonyms: Bore
13) Blatant
Meaning: (Of bad behaviour) done openly and unashamedly.
Example: “Blatant lies”
Synonyms: Flagrant, Glaring  
Antonyms: Inconspicuous, Subtle
14) Sniper
Meaning: A person who shoots from a hiding place, especially accurately and at long range.
Example: “He was killed by a sniper’s bullet in the Great War”
15) Tentacles
Meaning: An insidious spread of influence and control.
Example: “The Party’s tentacles reached into every nook and cranny of people’s lives”
16) Gossip
Meaning: Casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details which are not confirmed as true.
Example: “He became the subject of much local gossip”
Synonyms: Tittle-tattle, Whispers
Antonyms: Facts, The truth
17) Fainting
Meaning: Lose consciousness for a short time because of a temporarily insufficient supply of oxygen to the brain.
Example: “I fainted from loss of blood”
18) Trauma
Meaning: Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis.
Example: “The event is relived with all the accompanying trauma”
Synonyms: Shock, Upheaval
19) Panopticons
Meaning: A circular prison with cells arranged around a central well, from which prisoners could at all times be observed.
20) Dictatorships
Meaning: Government by a dictator.
Example: “The effects of forty years of dictatorship”
Synonyms: Despotism, Autocracy  
Antonyms: Democracy
21) Tribunals
Meaning: A court of justice.
Example: “An international war crimes tribunal”
Synonyms: Board, Panel
22) Subverted
Meaning: Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution).
Example: “An attempt to subvert democratic government”
Synonyms: Destabilize, Unsettle
23) Chronicled
Meaning: Record (a series of events) in a factual and detailed way.
Example: “His work chronicles 20th-century migration”
24) Hypocrisy
Meaning: The practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.
Example: “His target was the hypocrisy of suburban life”
Synonyms: Pietism, Humbug
Antonyms: Honesty, Sincerity
25) Oxymorons
Meaning: A figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).
26) Greed
Meaning: Intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.
Example: “Mercenaries who had allowed greed to overtake their principles”
Synonyms: Avarice, Rapacity
Antonyms: Generosity, Temperance
27) Cynical
Meaning: Doubtful as to whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile.
Example: “Most residents are cynical about efforts to clean mobsters out of their city”
Synonyms: Sceptical, Doubtful  
Antonyms: Optimistic, Credulous
28) Myth
Meaning: An exaggerated or idealized conception of a person or thing.
Example: “The book is a scholarly study of the Churchill myth”
Synonyms: Misconception, Fallacy  
29) Bureaucrats
Meaning: An official in a government department, in particular one perceived as being concerned with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs.
Example: “The unemployed will be dealt with not by faceless bureaucrats but by individuals”  
Synonyms: Official, Administrator
30) Barbarity
Meaning: Extreme cruelty or brutality.
Example: “The barbarity displayed by the terrorists”
Synonyms: Brutality, Savagery
Antonyms: Benevolence
31) Subvert
Meaning: Undermine the power and authority of (an established system or institution).
Example: “An attempt to subvert democratic government”
Synonyms: Destabilize, Unsettle  
32) Debilitating
Meaning: (Of a disease or condition) making someone very weak and infirm.
Example: “Debilitating back pain”
33) Stemming
Meaning: Originate in or be caused by.
Example: “Many of the universities’ problems stem from rapid expansion”
Synonyms: Issue from, Originate from
Antonyms: Cause, Give rise to
34) Inventiveness
Meaning: The quality of being inventive; creativity.
Example: “The inventiveness of the staging”
Synonyms: Creativity, Originality
35) Rapacity
Meaning: Aggressive greed.
Example: “The rapacity of landowners seeking greater profit from their property”
Synonyms: Greed, Avarice  
Antonyms: Unselfishness
36) Ample
Meaning: Enough or more than enough; plentiful.
Example: “There is ample time for discussion”
Synonyms: Enough, Sufficient
Antonyms: Meagre, Insufficient
37) Esoteric
Meaning: Intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.
Example: “Esoteric philosophical debates”
Synonyms: Abstruse, Obscure  
Antonyms: Simple, Familiar
38) Juxtaposes
Meaning: Place or deal with close together for contrasting effect.
Example: “Black-and-white photos of slums were starkly juxtaposed with colour images”
39) Bogey
Meaning: An evil or mischievous spirit.
Example: “Bogeys and other unpleasant denizens of the night”
Synonyms: Bogle, Ghost
40) Intruder
Meaning: A person who intrudes, especially into a building with criminal intent.
Example: “The intruder had pulled out drawers and dumped their contents on the floor”
Synonyms: Trespasser, Interloper

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