In “Why there should be no place for a ‘Brahmin conference’ at Indian universities”, Apoorvanand argues for a more inclusive conference rather than one that reeks of superiority over other castes. His arguments have merit but I will state some other counterpoints to show how cancelling a conference or any peaceful assembly especially in an educational space sets the stage for a point of no return.

  1. Much has been said and written in the past about “cancel culture” that has swept across the globe. There are obvious negatives to it. Speech within the limits of Aritlcle 19 of the Consitution should not be hindered. Constitutional morality should lead the way and not any “particular” idea of morality. There is growing intolerance towards another’s opinion and what that is leading to is a shutting up of the opponent with sheer might. Whether in a campus, organisation or government, dissent is a healthy sign.

  2. Cancelling or censoring gives more importance to the event, movie or book in questions. It is an old trope to call for the censoring of a movie or a book to make it a runaway success. By doing so, one is furthering the ideological cause of the opponent. That clearly would not be the intention of those who are opposed to a Brahmin Conference. It got unnecessary publicity that has possibly led to more followers than dissenters. Left to itself, it would have been a blink and miss event like the movie PM Narendra Modi or The Kerala Story ought to have been.

    The way to counter any viewpoint is to state your own. If one does not like a book, critique it in a review of the book or write a book challenging it. If one does not like a point of view, use social media to express their own or hold a conference where one can state their opinion. Nowadays, unruly elements can be seen disrupting a conference, a play performance or a speech because they did not like what was being said or conveyed. Otherwise, they censor it from the start. Engaging in debate or discussion with the opponent is critical for a democracy.

  3. Suppression of a group, opinion or publication feeds into the victimisation theory that is peddled to gain sympathy for an otherwise lost cause. Those on the fringes of social acceptance, for instance, a Brahmin boys’ club in an educational space, are likely to suffer from a feeling that they are being discriminated against. They feel victimised for their identity that they proudly display in spaces of their comfort like their homes, social media or neighbourhood. It is much like the victimised Hindu living in India who presses the lotus to secure their future. One cannot judge the legitimacy of the feeling of victimisation because one cannot argue with feelings. But suppressing their viewpoints or conference feeds into the sense of victimisation or persecution based on identity.

  4. Victimisation, multiplied several times over, sees an unprecedented wave of the unwanted, which gets embedded for years together.

Listening is critical to dissent. We, as a nation, have ceased to listen to the other. We won’t let the other speak. Or if we are gracious enough to do so, we are not listening to them. We are mulling over our own points in our head as we nod, pretending to listen.

The Indian tradition of debate is long forgotten. Debate meant patiently listening to the opponent, then clarifying with the opponent their point of view by presenting a quick summary of the arguments they made. The last step would be, in relation to the summary – if approved by the opponent – to present counter arguments.

These steps would be repeated till a neutral arbitrator decided whose argument carried more weight. It took time and hence was not efficient as compared to today’s standards of coming to blows and sorting things out in a minute. But not everything that is time saving makes for a good strategy.

Debjanee Ganguly is Assistant Professor, University of Calcutta.