Political texts are read best in the context of the present. More so with political speeches delivered to mobilize people and to guide the course of political struggles. Earlier this month, Assam erupted in protest against the Citizenship Act which violates the principle clause (Clause 6) of the Assam Accord. The ongoing people’s struggle against the CAA is being led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) in Guwahati and other parts of the state. I have been present at several public meetings led by AASU in Guwahati. The moment has tremendous potential for rethinking what it means to be an Assamese and the road to a political future. As people in most of these meetings expressed, the old guards (AGP-BJP) have failed them and they are now looking forward to a new political leadership and a new political vocabulary. Artists and intellectuals have actively joined the protest in huge numbers bringing back the memories of the Anti-foreigner’s movement or Assam movement (1979-1985). In such times, the need for an articulation of the political aspirations of Assam becomes indispensable.
The text translated below (from Assamese) was first delivered as a political speech by Jyotiprasad Agarwala at a gathering of artists, writers and creative persons on 24 November, 1947. In his speech, Agarwala, a towering public intellectual of twentieth-century Assam, iterates the importance of responsibility of the civil society to lead from the front and that of the government as a ‘socio-cultural institution’. The speech provides a roadmap for the future of a perfected cultural condition (xamanyay xanxkriti) which will restore beauty in the lives of Assamese people. Delivered at a moment when Assamese society was faced with questions of identity, both religious and ethnic, Agarwala emphasizes syncretism as the hallmark of Assamese cultural life. The text, never translated or commented on, is tremendously relevant to the times we live in and can serve towards guiding political struggles – in Assam and elsewhere.
Government as a socio-cultural institution
All you fellow travelers, who have come together in this sacred land that stand as a testimony to a future of love and harmony and a site for a new culture of human existence!
Today, here in Pragjyotish – a major center of ancient culture; which will once again shine as the core of a new culture of humanity; standing here in this sacred land I consider myself to be immensely fortunate to share a few heartfelt words with artists gathered.
Creative practice or cultural arts is the worship of beauty. Absolute happiness of human lives lie in the complete expression of culture. Human beings are forever eager to bring culture and civilization in their lives by making them beautiful. The aspiration of a culture of humanity and the thirst for a new dawn was announced in the voice that rose in the depths of a dark past with the cries “towards a new dawn, towards a new light”.
Human beings are cultural animals. Men, who are always in search for light, have fought with opposing instincts and the anti-cultural forces that corrupt the culture lying outside their immediate selves, in what is called societies. They have sometimes moved along the path of culture and have sometimes been eroded of their cultural selves. But, they have always regained inspiration from their cultural selves thereby elevating themselves into a new and higher plane of creativity. That is how humans have move through histories and ages.
Progress is human care for moving to a higher plane after having ascended to a cultural condition and having savored the happiness brought with that beauty. We need to mobilize ourselves and our society in a proper direction because of the existence of a struggle between constructive and destructive instincts within us otherwise we cannot make cultural progress. A structure and a machinery of governance is indispensable for organizing human lives within a condition of peace, for guiding humans as a collective towards cultural creativity and for the evolution of human societies by providing individuals with conditions of all-round development and progress. The centripetal forces emerging from this structure and machinery of governance must assist humans in their struggle with forces lying within themselves and outside, in order to protect them as a collective from the incursion of anti-cultural forces, and in order to elevate them to a condition of happiness by leading them through the path of culture. The structure of governance loses all significance if this is not achieved. And, because of this reason, the structure of governance and the machinery of governance are indispensable to the development of human lives. In other words, government is a socio-cultural institution.
Revolution as the road to a condition of culture
The development of a cultural life of a society depends on the resolution of the anti-cultural dialogues that lie within it. The sores of human societies emerging from selfishness, greed, narrowness and power-mongering must be removed. The journey of human beings towards removing these sores aided by resistance and struggle is known as revolution. Revolution becomes necessary to resist the corruption of culture and to destroy the ill effects resulting from such a corruption in order to build a new culture. Revolution works its way through our minds until it reaches the struggles lying outside it. Thus, when such a feat is achieved, state revolution and social revolution is made possible.
Although revolution creates a mentality of fear within us and thereby brings together a host of disasters in the form of a grotesque monster, yet, in its foundation, it brings along a treasure trove for the creation of a new culture. And, because of this reason, the makers and believers of a new culture have always appeared in the form of revolutionaries. Just as a peasant rejoices upon seeing a stroke of lightning in the tangled, deep locks of the monsoon rains – knowing that this flash of lightning piercing through the cloud will bring in the music of creation, will cover his field with its golden hues; the artist too rejoices in a same manner; in the midst of the destruction brought in the form of a revolution they see the burning forehead of light. The artist knows that the rays of light will nourish a new culture in human life. And will rekindle the embers of a wondrous creation of art and beauty.
Power of the people as the road ahead
A centripetal force is required in order to create a cultural condition in a society and too mobilize humans, both as individuals and as a collective, so that they can remain within organized structures. And in order to exert this force or to carry out such a process you need the state, structure of governance and structure of bureaucracy. The society, from its very beginning, has been controlled by kingly and institutional forces. But, it has been observed with the passage of time, that these forces were inadequate towards bringing in a complete cultural condition or a democratic cultural condition in the world. They have thrown human societies to a condition of chaos by corrupting themselves, moving away from the ideology of culture (…) Today men are faced with a crisis. The reason behind this is the abuse of kingly/stately and institutional powers. These powers have been used for particular interests and people have been deprived of its benefits. One need not reiterate how historical accounts from across the world have demonstrated the consequences when kingly/stately and institutional power becomes blind.
Power and force are necessary to elevate human society and culture to a condition where it once was. Therefore, the failure of kingly/stately and institutional powers to usher in the desired cultural condition has prompted us to turn towards the power of the people (or people-power) with such hope. People’s revolution is the tremendous effort of the people towards bringing a structure of governance in the state in order to create a cultural condition by holding firmly to people-power when both the kingly/stately and institutional powers have failed them. The ends of a true revolution lie in restoring this cultural condition. And therefore, revolution is directly linked with culture.
Artists, Writers, Poets and Creative Thinkers must lead from the front
Culture is the application of beauty in life. The man who worships beauty tries towards bringing it to every sphere of his life by ascending each plane of cultural progress. In order to make his spiritual life beautiful he became a philosopher. In order to make society beautiful he created religion/norms/duties. In order to make his body beautiful he took recourse to exercise. In order make his food and drinks beautiful he created culinary arts. And, in order to make that part of the society beautiful which has been neglected, ignored and left without any beauty due economic inequality his newest contribution in social life is socialism. Today because of the failure of state, institutions and bureaucracy towards elevating human life to the desired cultural condition people have begun thinking about democracy or the rule of people and have sought to achieve it through struggle/revolution.
The wise thinkers of the world believe that people through their rule can achieve the flourish of their cultural lives. Today various kinds of rules of people have made themselves present in front of the state. And these various paths emerging with their distinct thoughts have convinced people of the flourish of their conditions. And along with this, several individuals with their hunger for power have begun propagating their anti-cultural ideas whereby they have corrupted the people and have made attempts at exercising lordship over them. And, because of this reason today artists, writers, poets and other practioners of cultural arts are needed more than ever before. They are needed to welcome the ideals of culture and keep its flame burning among the people and to show them the face of anti-cultural forces in order to protect them veering towards the path of error.
Therefore poets, artists and writers need to remain firm in their cultural ideology while remaining unbiased in their political and economic ideology. Unbiased does not mean that they should keep themselves away from it – but like the droplets of water on a lotus leaf – they should go amidst the people, and their circumstances, should look at the ideologies, study them carefully and understand them, should be able to discern the truth and emerge having not surrendered themselves to any one ideology (…) It should be kept in mind that artists take men towards a new dawn through the path of culture and thereby make the world beautiful.
Syncretism as a future of Assamese cultural life
The future of Assamese culture must be built by envisioning this. In the current world, in this scientific age, no culture – of nation, region, people – can remain in isolation. Now a syncretic culture should form the framework of the culture of a people, a group or a collective. This syncretism has begun in some parts of the world. In the method of syncretism, the fundamentals of yoking the cultures of a group and people must be illuminated. Why? Taking inspiration from those one should enlighten the fundamental of the process of syncretism. And this will bring out the distinctiveness of each culture. We need this distinctiveness – we have to protect this. If the logic of protecting this distinctiveness guides people, groups and collectives then we can avert fights. But I can’t say that everyone of a group or every person belonging to a collective will adopt this logic.
We should remain firm in the structural foundations of our new cultural organization and in the armory to demolish the anti-cultural forces. We need to bring our arms from the armory of non-violent civil disobedience and if required we should go to the gunpowder cellars. Of course, keeping in mind that non-violence is the ultimate condition of men. We should remember here that there is no clash between two cultural forces ever. Clashes happen between a cultural force and an anti-cultural force. There is always a syncretic cohabitation between two cultural forces. There is no clash between two kinds of goodness. But a clash between good and evil is certain.
The leadership of Civil Society is the need of the hour
All of you, artists and creative people, do not think that there is no value of your presence in society because you don’t occupy seats of power. Don’t believe that your existence is a lie because the worshippers of power don’t sing your praise at every footstep.
The primary reason behind the existence of artists and writers is to keep the people firm in the ideology of culture. I have said that the state and its structure of governance forms the central path towards elevating humans to a condition of culture. Therefore, we need all who are well versed in culture in order to fix the foundations of our rule.
Today at the cusp of a new time, when a massive change awaits our land, our country, today at a moment when the dawn of independence is about to shine on our lives, artists must come out to fight like the warrior Arjuna standing firm in their belief in the culture of humanity and with the aspiration of illuminating the path of a new life. The dreams of our new days must be given shape by the words and work of the artist. Today in this Pragjyotisha – standing on the banks of the Luit, the Assamese – in company of the young of the country – listening intently having taken in the chant of creation of the soil of Assam welcome the entire world towards a culture of a new humanism
We need to illuminate the world
Of science and knowledge
We need to bring them together
We need to win over all enemies who oppose this union
We need to bring the victory of this union
Down to this earth
We need to fill this world with happiness
Men must prosper and bloom
And we must make this world
Beautiful and fragrant
Let the dawn win
Let the ideology of a great union amongst humans win
That of eternal goodness, eternal bliss
Let this great progress win in every age
Let the eternal beautiful win.
Samyak Ghosh studies Literature and History at Columbia University in New York