Wrestling With Truth
Women and men who dared
A tangled web of lies cast on the internet and multiplied manifold by an army of anonymous trolls, with fangs bared, brings to mind the opening line of the seventeenth century British polymath Francis Bacon’s essay, “Of Truth”. It was probably read by most Eng.Lit. students of my vintage in college (obviously some info sticks to our otherwise teflon-coated minds).
“What is truth?” said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer.” ‘Quid est veritas’ ?(what is truth?). This potent Latin query to which Bacon refers is from the New Testament book, Gospel of John. Pilate chose to nix the truth that Jesus Christ was the Messiah to his followers. He was seen as a threat to the Roman Empire, hence the crucifixion and thereby hangs a tale.
Protests whether political, social, environmental or of any other stripes reach a critical mass when a large number of people refuse to be beguiled by the lie wrapped up in festive colours as the truth. Farmers’ protest at Delhi borders against unfair farm laws in 20-21 is one such.
The storied Shaheen Bagh sit-in led by Muslim women against the CAA, though dispersed eventually, was a fist clenched powerfully against the powers that be. Women wrestlers banded together recently to wrestle for truth. An amazing gallery of women and men over millennia have gone against received diktats and refused to be stomped under a jackboot.
They were jeered at, incarcerated and some paid with their lives. But the truth they espoused set in motion seismic changes in society.
Rewind to Greece, circa 411 B.C. Aristophanes in his play, ‘Lysistrata’, ( it has given us the eponymous phrase) writes of a woman’s amazing mission to end the Peloponnesian War by denying the men any sex. Shades of early feminism even though in a play. If you admire the #Me too movement in the 21st century for knocking patriarchy off its pedestal then Lysistrata was definitely an early feminist.
Closer home, Mahatma Gandhi, a global icon for ‘Satyagraha’ (persuasion by truth) and our very own protestor-in-chief brought the mighty British empire to its knees by weaponising truth through non-violence. Martin Luther King Jr. was an admirer of Gandhi’s views and used the same strategy of peaceful civil disobedience to advance the rights of coloured people in America.
Rosa Parks, another international icon of resistance to racial segregation (the famous Montgomery bus boycott), worked with Martin Luther King Jr. Who can forget the unsung women in Iran and Afghanistan recently who threw caution, along with the hijab, to the winds and courted their own truth in the face of brutal oppression and death.
One sees an arc of ‘truth-fighters’ across the globe. India has its own cavalcade of men and women who clung to their truth. To cite a few known names: Lal Ded the mystic poet of 14th Century Kashmir, the legendary Rani Laxmi Bai , Savitribai Phule, the 19th Century anti-caste social reformer and promoter of women’s education, Capt. Laxmi Sehgal of Azad Hind Fauj, Mother Teresa, Baba Amte who did exemplary work in rehabilitation of leprosy patients, Sunderlal Bahuguna of the Chipko movement and Medha Patkar, the environmental warrior.
Many more anonymous people put their shoulders to the wheel. With Manipur burning, the searing gaze of Irom Sharmila (the Iron Lady of Manipur), who undertook the longest fast ever (fourteen years) to protest against AFSPA, bores a hole in our national conscience.
Be sure that any departures from ‘normal’ paths will put you in the crosshairs of ridicule, suspicion, and a macabre trolling feast online these days. Expect a whiplash from the conservatives and if you happen to live in benighted spaces, then expect real lashes from Talibanised minds.
Truth can not be straight jacketed. It has to be wrapped in a commodious gown. A bigoted perspective on a given situation would leave truth half clad and thus would be half true.
Falsehood mutates and multiplies with the speed and chicanery of SARS-CoV-2. No truth vaccines or truth serum seem to control its viral spread. What’sApp University graduates without caps and gowns gleefully spread fake news , with serious consequences .
What can one do when we have A.I, the new wonder tool, its proliferating avatars of Bard, Llama and ChatGPT also ‘hallucinating’ and distorting facts at times now! Machines , mimicking their human creators perhaps, are losing their rhythm despite the algorithms fed into them.
Be warned! Look truth in the eye or else be blinded by falsehood.