On the other side of fear …

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Telling truth to power ~ or to anyone ~ without mincing words is God-given gift and an art. Clearly Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has been abundantly blessed with the talent and has honed it into a fine art. So on September 17, when she told the US Senate Climate Change Task Force: “Please save your praise. We don’t want it,” and “Don’t invite us here to tell us how inspiring we are without doing anything about it because it doesn’t lead to anything”, a lot of people may perceive it as impertinence and disrespect to such powerful people. The same may be thought of Anaiah Thomas, a 17-year-old climate activist and member of US-based youth movement Zero Hour, who told the Senators: “What’s most important is to decide to take action today. Not in five years. Not gradually. Not tomorrow”. And in their company stands India’s Ayush Chaturvedi, the Class XI student whose opening lines of the speech he delivered at his school on Mahatma Gandhi, on September 9, said: “Ye kisne kahaa aapse aandhi ke saath hun, Main Godse ke daur me Gandhi ke saath hun. (Who told you that I am swept up in the storm, I stand by Gandhi in the time of Godse)” then continues: “I want to say that there was no bigger Hindu than Gandhi. But the people of other religions didn’t fear his ‘Hey Ram’ because Gandhi was a symbol of secularism in India.” These teenagers are abundantly aware of issues around them and don’t see silence and fear as a recourse to solution. They instinctively know that they must speak up and speak out to save their future. They are fighting back the tides and trends of catastrophe looming outside the door. They have realized that there is a time for impertinence and disrespect ~ at whatever cost. They know they must do or die and they have consciously opted to do. They refuse to “see” the Emperor’s New Clothes. How very different from adults, who fawn over the powerful and even break when asked to bend. This has led our world turning topsy-turvy politically, economically, environmentally, socially and culturally. The other side of this problem is the refusal of the powerful to look at and listen to truth. If any teenager in India, including Nagaland, were to tell our legislators and other powerful people, even a low level Government employee, what Greta, Anaiah and Ayush have said, the child would have to pay for the rest of her life, as also her family. Everyone has a pretty good idea about how the powerful become powerful hence there is all the more reason to mince no words while telling it like it is to the powerful. And, if the powerful do not and cannot take truth-telling, they have no business to manage the affairs of the people and nation on the people’s behalf. But anywhere across the globe today, the powerful have cocooned themselves in a world of lies, broken promises, post-truths, fake news, etc. and this has become the normal and we are expected not only to internalize this “normal” but also be guided by and submerge into this normalization of everything aberrant, abhorrent and abominable to the sacred in human life and living. Telling the powerful to back off and shoulder their responsibilities is not merely a talent and an art, it is also an act of courage and bravery ~ and act of swimming up-stream against the current, which very few people are capable of. These are the people who have the stuff that leadership is made of ~ not those who have the gift of the gab, not those hiding behind guns, not those with the purchasing capacities to buy votes, not those who indulge in intrigues, hype, hyperbole and rhetoric ~ and certainly not those without character, who change their minds according to the directions of seasonal trend winds. Knowledge is power and these teenagers have used their power to upend the powerful ~ we will see the results in time. Pity we have allowed ignorance and fear to commandeer the power of knowledge. Ayush knew he was speaking against the tide. ”Dekh lenge jo hoga,” he said, asked whether he did not fear a backlash. “If you have to speak about Gandhi, you have to do so in a manner that leaves an impact.” It is said that on the other side of fear lies freedom.