The shrinking space of peace movements

Right opposite St Stephen’s College cafeteria is, what students and teachers here call, a ‘dhaba tree’. With a stone mounting around it, the ‘dhaba tree’ has stood witness to many a historic event, and often generates nostalgia among those who stop to ponder about a time when places like these, and many others, were a common site for anti-war activism.

Among such people is Susmit Bose, a singer of prominence in Kolkata and beyond. Bose, who is now 64, eventually decided to move out from Delhi in 2013 due to what
he believes the diminishing space of ‘cultural activism and peace movement’.

“I moved to Delhi in the 1960s as a student. During the Vietnam War, the world witnessed a different kind of movement which was aimed to tell people the true value of peace. Delhi too was not immune to this beautiful idea and me, along with a lot of my friends, would sit at different places in the university and sing anti-war songs. People would stop by and listen,”

Bose told Metrolife over a telephonic interview. “The ever increasing corporatisation has only left few places in South Asia where crony-capitalism is yet to take over completely – places like Kerala, Bangalore and my native Kolkata. That’s why I decided to move back,” Bose said. “I wish to see Delhi back to its glory days,” he added.
While Bose likes to think of the 60s and 70s as a utopian period, the principal of St Stephen’s College, a former student of the same institution, has an entirely different memory of what Bose terms ‘peace activism’.

Principal Valson Thampu, of the class of 1974, took up the job in 2008, after spending five years in what he calls ‘spreading communal harmony’ in areas like Delhi, Haryana, Gujarat following the Godhra riots and wrote a book titled Harvest of Hate. He has taught at the college since 1974.

Dr Thampu told Metrolife that while in the West the anti-war movement was a result of ‘student unrest’, what the Capital faced in the backdrop of the continuing wars across the world was not an ‘anti-war movement’ but a “resurgence of Naxalism”. “There were individuals who sympathised with the Naxal movement but by and large I don’t remember anything significant which can be termed as an anti war movement,”
he said.

A student of the same college while in conversation with this paper said that though there are still student gatherings around the
‘dhaba tree’, she has never seen anyone singing songs against violence or wars. “Things are chilled out here,” she remarked.

“Most of the people who were involved in the movement later went abroad and joined mainstream administration as officers. They belonged to affluent families and the movement was their hobby,” the principal concluded. A disagreeing Bose responded, “We sang for social justice and will continue to do so.”

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