Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings

Osmania University Centre for International Programmes, Hyderabad & ICSSR, New Delhi, Sponsored 
International Seminar on
Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings

17-19 December 2012

Highlights and Excerpts
Charles Johnson: Embracing the World edited by Nibir K. Ghosh and E. Ethelbert Miller was formally launched in the inaugural ceremony of the International Conference on Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings organized by Osmania University Centre for International Programmes (OUCIP), Hyderabad in collaboration with ICSSR, New Delhi from 17-19 December 2012.
Prof. S. Satyanarayana as Chief Guest said: The Editorial collaboration between two writers – Nibir K. Ghosh and Ethelbert Miller – separated in terms of geographical distance by half the world augurs well in bringing two principal democracies together. The theme of the seminar is of utmost relevance in the context of the dichotomy and ambivalence that surrounds the society and polity of the two major democracies in the globe we inhabit. Writings grounded in pain and suffering that emanate from prejudice and discrimination on lines of colour and caste have come to occupy centre-stage in modern socio-political discourse. I am optimistic that this event will generate sweetness and light in ample measure and bring closer writers, academics and scholars from different parts of the world in a spirit of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.
Prof. Jane E. Schukoske, the Keynote speaker at the conference, said that the book’s effort in putting together contributions on the life and works of Charles Johnson is a grand tribute to the African American legend.
Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh delivered the Inaugural Address as Guest of Honour. Highlighting the power of words in negotiating margins, he cited the instances of numerous writers and activists from the African American and Dalit pantheon and stated: “In Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, the Statue of Liberty is shown to be lost in the fog. With Obama’s resounding second victory the Statue of Liberty has become increasingly more visible and writers may not find it imperative anymore to append to their works titles like “Invisible Man,” “No Name in the Street” or “Nobody Knows My Name.” The presence in our midst of celebrity African American and Dalit writers and scholars, ought to convince us how the margins are being redrawn in remaking the world where the line of distinction between “our” sorrows and “theirs” as pointed out in the poem by Waharu Sonavane:

We did not go on to the stage,
Neither were we called.
We were shown our places,
told to sit.
But they, sitting on the stage,
went on telling us of our sorrows,
our sorrows remained ours,
they never became theirs.

He concluded by expressing the hope that the conference would prove to be of tremendous significance not only for people of every colour in the U.S. but for people of all castes in India.

Excerpts from messages sent by Charles Johnson and Ethelbert Miller:

“I'm delighted the festshrift book you and Ethelbert did will be formally launched at the "Negotiating Margins" conference. Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings is a long-overdue conference of tremendous historical and international importance. In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr. visited India as a guest of the Gandhi Peace Foundation and met with Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. "To other countries I may go as a tourist," said King, "but to India I come as a pilgrim." He was inspired by his trip to India, personally renewed in his spiritual practice, and saw his connection to the Dalit people when at one event he was introduced, somewhat to his surprise, as an Untouchable from America. Immediately, he understood that the various meanings for the Hindi word dalita---"driven or torn asunder," "broken," "crushed," "destroyed," "oppressed"---applied equally to black Americans after the experience of slavery and during the era of racial segregation and disenfranchisement in the United States. This conference, then, opens the door for a crucial conversation (one both political and spiritual) and seminal scholarship devoted to two groups separated by great physical distance but united in their similar experiences of being social pariahs in the West and East. And as with so many other things during its long history, it is not at all surprising that India is at the forefront for opening the door onto this specific awakening.”  - Charles Johnson.

“A successful conference consists not only of scholars exchanging ideas but also of laying the foundation for the creation of maps and blueprints. If we are indeed living inside a World House as Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned in his last book Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?  then we have a responsibility to prevent groups and individuals from being marginalized. The study of comparative literature should be seen as essential in the 21st century as taking steps to protect ourselves from global warming, religious strife and nuclear war. When people place emphasis on similarities instead of differences remarkable things can occur. This December gathering “constructs” a cultural bridge between people separated by distance as well as language.  In the world of ideas the rivers always flow, the mountains rejoice and the valleys retain their memories. The International Conference on Negotiating Margins: African American and Dalit Writings should be a reason for celebration. History today turns to touch those once defined as untouchables and the world turns. This marks the dawn of change. When dusk comes it will be dark like us. Oh, the night will be beautiful for the stars will shine and the “new spirituals” will be sung by people who have been given back their voice. I congratulate Professor Sumita Roy and Professor A. Karunaker of OUCIP and Nibir K. Ghosh for making it possible for scholars from different parts of the globe to share their views on a subject of universal relevance. I am also delighted to know that that the conference has on its agenda the launch of Charles Johnson: Embracing the World, the book that I had the pleasure of editing with Nibir K. Ghosh. Throughout the movie The Book of Eli the actor Denzel Washington portrays a man protecting a book; by the end of the movie we understand the importance of his actions as well as the significance of the text. Charles Johnson: Embracing the World is a book we should all cherish. It highlights the work of a writer whose contributions are essential for living and understanding reality. One is forever grateful that this man’s vision embraces our world. There are no borders or boundaries to beauty. Charles Johnson in this book reveals the lotus in his heart. We are all capable of becoming better human beings because of it. -- E. Ethelbert Miller.

Science, Media and the Integrity of Design

Dr. Nibir K. Ghosh addressing the audience as Keynote Speaker at the Two-day National Conference on ‘Science in Media’ organized by YMCA University of Science and Technology, Faridabad from December 3, 2012 to December 4, 2012. 

           Science, Media and the Integrity of Design
                          Excerpts from the Address:
                 “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” - Arthur Miller

In 1965, in an article in Horizon, Alvin Toffler coined the term "future shock" to describe the shattering stress and disorientation that are induced in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time. The term led to the epoch making book by Toffler titled Future Shock. The concept of future shock strongly suggests that there must be balance between the pace of environmental change and the limited pace of human response. For future shock grows out of the increasing lag between the two.
If Toffler were to view the accelerative thrust brought about by unprecedented scientific advancement and information technology in a far too shorter time span, he would simply be dumfounded with amazement and probably ask us to recall the lines of T.S. Eliot from Choruses from the Rock:
With all the technological advances and change, “Endless invention, endless experiment,” we are compelled to ask is mankind happier or wiser than he was 100 years ago? Perhaps, we haven’t traveled too far from the predicament described by Mathew Arnold: “YES: in the sea of life enisled,/ With echoing straits between us thrown./ Dotting the shoreless watery wild,/ We mortal Millions live alone.”

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

If we subject the pace of the accelerative thrust of scientific change to the domain of Media, we can easily visualize a transformation that may be called revolutionary to the core. It is true the arrival of the digital revolution – the evolution of the Internet, the emergence of new forms of media, and the rise of online social networks – has reshaped the media landscape and made the current-day Media something we couldn’t have imagined even 15 years ago. The Internet has turned what used to be a controlled, one-way message into a real-time dialogue with millions.
A realistic appraisal of the current electronic and print media scene would acquaint us with the pros and cons of the Media revolution. What comes readily to my mind is the applicability of Gresham’s Law. Gresham Law states, "When bad money and good money are both circulating side by side as a media of exchange, bad money drives good money out of circulation, other things remaining the same." Gresham’s Law, it is clear, operates in the media field as well: shallow, soap-opera-led commercial programmes drive the serious and worthwhile out of the Market. With the growing reliance on social media, we no longer search for news, or the products and services we wish to buy. Instead they are being pushed to us by friends, acquaintances and business colleagues. In the words of our former first citizen, Kalam: "Why is the Indian media so negative? Why are we in India so embarrassed to recognize our own strengths, our achievements? We are such a great nation. We have so many amazing success stories but we refuse to acknowledge them. Why? We are the first in milk production. We are number one in Remote sensing satellites. We are the second largest producer of wheat. We are the second largest producer of rice. In India we only read about death, sickness, terrorism, crime. Why are we so NEGATIVE…?"
North East sms episode
We are all aware how recently social media and other sources of technology were used to threaten people from North-East leading to amass exodus from southern states. The sms’s with inflammatory matters and doctored pictures and videos were used blatantly to create social unrest in the country. Facebook emerged as a tool to incite violence or spread hate.
If the media, with all its modern gadgets, had the time and inclination and even a small measure of social responsibility, it should have delved deep into the malaise and found out the source of the problem. Rather than counter the panic created by the sms and other social media networks, the Media found it more convenient to give hype to the exodus. Perhaps, from Media perspective what was of paramount concern is either Gopal Kanda’s tryst with beautiful females in remote farmhouses or its 24x7 preoccupation with guests at the Saif-Kareena wedding. Unfortunately, the Media is being seen less and less as a neutral observer and more and more as participants, or even collaborators.
Media is just a word that has come to mean bad journalism. Thomas A. Edison Said: “We will make Electric Light so cheap that only the wealthy can afford to burn candles.” If Thomas Edison invented electric light today, the TV channels would probably report it as, ''Edison threatens Candle making industry.'' Phone line pe bane rahiye.
Integrity of Design
In an era when there was neither radio nor television, Gandhiji’s publications like Young India, Harijan and Navajivan galvanized the whole nation to action against an empire where the Sun never set. An effective communicator, fearless and eloquent with his words, he reached out to millions of people with the outpourings of his heart and soul and convinced them of his cause. These publications were to Gandhi "a mirror of his own life." He was clear about the nature and content of his newspapers. They would not carry any advertisements nor try to make money. Mahatma Gandhi said: "The sole aim of journalism should be service. The newspaper is a great power, but just as an unchained torrent of water submerges the whole countryside and devastates crops, so an uncontrolled pen serves, but, to destroy.” Similarly, Bande Mataram, edited and published by Shri Aurobindo, between the brief period - beginning in 1907 till its abrupt winding up in 1908 -  changed the political thought of India. It is needless to make a mention of the impact Munshi Prem Chand’s Hans had in the evolution and promotion of economic and social concern of the common populace. Going by such line of reasoning, how many publications in the world today would be able to measure up? 
Watergate Scandal
Importance of Watergate in journalism history. Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein created a new milestone in American journalism when President Richard Nixon had to step down. Says Leon Jaworski in The Right and the Power: The Prosecution of Watergate: "From Watergate we learned what generations before us have known: our Constitution works…and that no one - absolutely no one - is above the law."
In 1961 Jawaharlal Nehru had reminded us: “It is science alone that can solve the problems of hunger and poverty, of insanitation and illiteracy, of superstition and deadening custom and tradition, of vast resources running to waste, of a rich country inhabited by starving people…. Who can indeed afford to ignore science today? At every turn we have to seek its aid.” But while adoring the blessings that science can provide, he also asked us to cultivate the scientific temper. This involves the application of logic and reasoning, and the avoidance of bias and preconceived notions in arriving at decisions, and becomes particularly valuable while deciding what is best for the community or the nation.
Thus, rather than indulge in propaganda, manufacture of consent, irresponsible and unethical journalism, distorting or sensationalizing news reportage, hyper-commercialization, private treaties with corporates; rogue practices like paid news, and bribe-taking for favourable coverage etc., the Media barons must cultivate the urge to shape public opinion through debates of high order and discussions that reflect the fiery touch of intellectuals and the humane concern of patriots. Refraining from setting the ‘Page 3’ approach as its topmost priority, the Media has to undertake the responsibility of deciding as well as propagating what is best for the community or the nation as envisaged by Rabindranath Tagore a century ago:

Where words come out from the depth of truth,
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way,
into the dreary desert sand of dead habit,
where the mind is led forward by thee into
ever widening thought and action,
into that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake.