Would you act?

By Yuvraj Sinha

(08/09/2020 15:30IST)

In 2009, during a live interactive session with the students of the National University of Singapore (NUS), the founding father and the first Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, expressed his apprehension towards the new generation of the country. Mr. Yew was responding to a question asked by a girl that “What are the most important values and attitudes our youth should have to ensure that our country (Singapore) continues to thrive and prosper?” Mr. Yew said in the very first line, “I am not sure that if I go back in 1959 and start building this country with today’s generation, grown up in comfort, I would be able to build Singapore like this (prosperous) or not.” He also talked about his experience of addressing a forum in Sydney which, for some reason, made him to think, in his own words, “What will happen to Singapore? I don’t know. Can we get our successive generations understand that [how] we have built this edifice? This tall building stands on an extremely narrow foundation (related to the history of the society of Singapore).” He also said that our current generation cannot understand what does discomfort mean, but they can intellectually understand that if they want to keep Singapore up, they will have to keep on working as hard as theirforefathers, who used to live in a cubical in 1950s with 8 others and even sharing their cloths, from there the country has grown to executive HDB flats.

Let’s replace the word ‘Singapore’ from ‘world’ or ‘my country’ and let’s not see this Q & A session in the context of Singapore or material welfare rather in more philosophical terms, more in relation to the future of the ideas like freedom, justice, secularism, absolute democracy etc. Let’s ask ourselves a question, “What will happen to these ideals after 100 years?” You may answer as it is like Mr. Lee, “I don’t know.” Or “Nothing will change.” Today, in contemporary times, seeing the rise of authoritarianism all across the globe, it would be very natural to be “not so sure” about the future of the above stated ideas. Whether it’s the US, India, Turkey, Brazil, Israel etc. etc. authoritarianism is on its peak and the modern authoritarianism is abstract, it’s not directly visible. It targets your subconscious mind. Modern technology has strengthened states to manipulatethe minds of their citizens and eventually turn them into subjects. Using technology and exploiting varies “sentimental” and more “emotional” issues, they are managing to thrive on their positions and to distort ideals related to democracy. So a million dollar question that comes is “How long we shall be able to uphold these philosophical ideas like freedom, justice, democracy and secularism etc. in their real terms given that large number of countries uphold these principles at least technically, and some in more abstract terms as well as these are soft targets for states?” Would our current successive generations be able to guard them, given that they have not experiencedthe real authoritarian regime, so can’t have an idea about what they are supposed to fight against as well as being more vulnerable to state led mind manipulation? Have people grown in comfort taken these ideas and rights for granted? Looking back to Mr. Lee’s answer, we can say yes, as our upcoming generations would hardly be able to understand the value of these principles in real terms and would not be able to relate to the struggles related to the same. Edward Snowden puts my point more precisely in one of his statements, “We have moved into a time where people more deeply care about their feelings, than they do about facts and this is a dangerous moment for democracies because people believe that once we have achieved and established a free and open society that it will remain that way and will always be there but the reality is, things can backslide very quickly.”

But here is a thing, a possibility, hidden in Mr. Lee’s statement only. He stated that our successive generations, youth, can understand the hardships of their forefather’s by their intellect. I too think that as our forefathers fought for the values they never even experienced, we shall also fight for those values which we have experienced. And we have begun to see the signs too that our youth of our time, though many of them grown in comfort, would not sit silently when the above stated principles would be violated or curtailed by states all across the globe. Here are some examples of the global level: Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong based activist, organized his first mass protest against the authoritarian extradition law introduced by Beijing only at the age of 15. Greta Thunburg, a school going girl shook the whole world with her ‘How dare you?’ speech as well as with organizing mass protests to put pressure on the government all across the globe to reduce Carbon emission.In 2020, we saw mass Black Lives Matter movement all across the globe, even in the time of pandemic.In India, in 2011, India Against Corruption movement became a milestone in the Indian politics. In 2012, when a girl was raped in Delhi, thousands of young people literally captured Raj Path for a day.In 2019, JNU students didn’t bow down to the government in exchange of imposingfees hikes. Similarly, in 2019-20, when the Indian Government introduced CAA and pushed for NRC, mass protests broke out all across India. So, in a nutshell, we can be optimistic about the future of ideas of freedom, justice, secularism etc. and struggle for the same as above examples are self-evident that our successive generation is not sleeping. They will stand for their rights when needed and would not let democracy die so easily. Yes, there are people who don’t want to give up their comfort for protecting their own rights and freedom. They do believe in the idea of freedom, justice, secularism etc. but believing is not enough, you have to be ready to stand for something if you want it to change. We have to understand that change will never come or our rights will never be secure if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change we seek. And we have to defeat this demon of abstract authoritarianism.

About Authors.

Yuvraj Sinha

Managing Editor


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