Friday, July 23, 2010

Writing on the walls: The signs of time

No piece of art or column in the recent history of Shillong ever had the kind of reaction that the stencil graffiti with potent messages achieved; with a single stroke. It has been a week since the graffiti was painted yet condemnation and debate about the graffiti continues unabated. The initial reaction of the people and particularly the religious organizations was that of condemnation, because the graffiti artist used religious images, but gradually there are those who had mature reaction of trying to look at what the graffitist is trying say? Certainly the graffiti were stenciled not just for the heck of it, but were splashed on the selected walls to stir some kind of consciousness in the society.

The objective of every art form is to convey certain message to the society and rightly so the graffiti was called by someone as ‘the voice of the voiceless’, the voice of neglected people and the expression of a community whose time has finally arrived. It is now for the society and power that be to take serious note of it. The graffitist achieved what many writers, poets, painters, journalist, cartoonist and social activist has been trying to do for so long, to grab the headlines of city’s major dailies both vernacular and English and more importantly to be able to prick the conscience of the readers. The Maitshaphrang Movement did not even manage to grab the second lead of the newspaper when it announced the CI sheets scam, and did it spark any debate on the issue? Did anyone condemn the corruption involving people in high place? Sorry to say the answer to all the questions is an emphatic no. Reams of newsprint has been wasted by columnist, concern citizens and social workers to protest against rampant corruption in the state, but the issue died the moment the new issue of the daily hits the stand. The life span of the issue is extremely short and it remains in the public domain for a period of no more than few hours.

The graffiti has achieved another feat and that is making people question. What is it that the graffitist trying to say? Why did one use religious figure? The public already has answer, at least to the message; that it has to do with corruption which is plaguing the state. There is no second opinion about that. But why the cross is used? No prize for guessing, the cross symbolizes Christianity in its various forms and sizes. So, can the message be ‘why in spite of the fact that majority of the people are Christian still corruption is rampant in the state?’

In a way the graffiti is also like a mirror shoved on our face to make us take a good look at ourselves. We have all the brand of Christianity worth its salt in the state and some has been here for almost two hundred years, why do we still have rampant corruption? What about morality in the society? The graph in the crime chart always head north and we have high number of reported rape case and crime against women is; at its all time high. Our greed has overtaken our concern for the environment. The rich and the powerful in the society dictate terms not only in the political arena but in the society and even in the church. Majority of our leaders are Christians and they also constitutes the largest part of the state work force. Why development and wealth is concentrates in certain pockets only? Why is it that there is so much inequality? If this is not a religious question, then what is a religious question? And in spite of more that eighty percent of the schools in the state are run by churches, why are we still in the present dilemma? Where have we gone wrong with regard to teaching our young ones?

William Cantwell Smith the famous scholar of comparative religion mentioned of an incident during one of his vacation; when he happened to passed through a holiday home which has the words ‘for Christians only’ inscribed on its signpost. His immediate remark was ‘it was so unchristian.’ Are we becoming ‘exclusive Christians’ with an enormous ‘holier than thou’ attitude that Christians are predestined for heaven and others are doomed to hell? Do we still have this attitude that even among Christians; my Christianity is true and the other is not. If the graffiti has achieved anything is to make us question ourselves ‘what does it really means to be a Christians and how good a Christian am I? Does my Christianity confined to the four corners of my church and my fellow church members only? Do we reach out to the people outside the fold just because we hope to convert them to our fold some day? Or for that matter how do we consider when the church has achieved its goal? Is it when the church has the largest numbers of followers and the maximum number of church building? Or by how much change the church is able to affect?

One may argue that the Holy Father was unnecessary dragged to the controversy, what does the Pope has to do with the corruption in the state of Meghalaya? We cannot define the numerous graffiti with a single brush, anybody who follows the international news know that the church was and still is in a big problem due to the worldwide sex scandal which involved the priests. The allegation was even the Pope was involved in the cover up of a case in Germany when he was the Bishop in that country. The Pope has apologized to those hurt by the sex scandal many times and the last one even from a place no less than the Holy See. There is nothing for the church to hide everything is in the public domain.

The head of the Catholic Church in the state in one of his immediate interaction with the press in the aftermath of the graffiti affair, after clarifying what the church has done against corruption and social evils; requested that the person(s) involved in the act (graffitist) to come up openly and state what they want to say clearly. But that is not how the graffitist wishes to communicates and obviously the medium they use is very effective considering the impact that it has been able to create. The lesson that the people of the state should learn is that another medium of expression or protest has emerged and how tolerable are we to new changes? Are we willing to listen?

Recently; the press also carried report of business firm using religious figures as part of their brand designs, the media tried to provoke the people to react against such depiction of holy figure. NGOs and religious institution took the bait and instantly react which only indicate the society’s growing intolerance. Others have Shiva, Ganesha, Durga and etc on any brand one can think of and they don’t seem to mind. What have we become? Have we become like bunches of fanatics who tried to shut down anything from tweeter to facebook and ransack and abuse painters just because they have opinion different from what we believe? We live in a multi religious and multi race society; hence intolerance has no room in our world. To be able to live in peace with one another; we need to be more open minded and allow room for those having opinion different from ours. In the word of the famous Unitarian King John Sigismund “you don’t have to think alike to love alike.”

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