Thursday, December 7, 2023

Society: Not dark yet… Symbols of power (Chapter 2)


Scientists say that it gets darkest before the first semblance of light. philosophers say that darkness is the absence of light. Sociologists say that society must reach a breaking point before it builds itself once again. Anthropologists say that civilizations die when civility dies. And Bob Dylan had said, “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there…” This 3-chapter series is an analysis of why it is necessary for us to go fully dark as a nation before we see light. The viewpoint is totally personal, and the belief is intensely strong!

A few years ago, Amnesty International created an anthology of poems titled “Words that Burn”. It has since become an integral part of the training of its members and activists across the world. It carried a poem by the American poet-activist Michael Ray Burch which I reproduce here…

First They Came For The Muslims
by Michael Ray Burch

First, they came for the Muslims
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Muslim.

Then they came for the homosexuals
and I did not speak out
because I was not a homosexual.

Then they came for the feminists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a feminist.

Now when will they come for me
because I was too busy and too apathetic
to defend my sisters and brothers?

Burch goes on to say, “I wrote my poem before Donald Trump launched his bid for the presidency of the United States, and I’m afraid that he may turn me into a prophet. Today in the US right-wing politicians are proposing and passing legislation that strips minorities of basic human rights. Some of the groups affected may seem “small” and perhaps insignificant, but together they represent tens of millions of Americans: immigrants, homosexuals, Muslims, union workers, teachers who engage in collective bargaining, et al.

We should remember that the Holocaust began when German laws and courts were subverted to deny “undesirable” people any semblance of equality. Before long, if people just “looked wrong” they could be arrested on suspicion alone and held indefinitely without charges, hearings or trials. In the opinion of someone who has studied the Holocaust and its roots, what we are seeing in the US is a very disturbing step in a terrible direction: away from the light of equality and tolerance, toward the darkness of discrimination.”

Burch’s poem was totally inspired [and he candidly admitted] by possibly the greatest piece of poetry of the Holocaust, Martin Niemöller’s “First they came for the Jews”. A Lutheran pastor, he was initially a great supporter of Hitler’s policies. When realisation dawned on him about the larger consequences of what Germany was going through, Niemöller penned those immortal lines which saw him being in concentration camps from 1938 to 1945.

First They Came for the Jews
by Martin Niemöller

First, they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me.

With this tribute to the spirit of standing up for a cause, I start Chapter 2 of my trilogy on how dark it is getting here in India right now.

I repeat that never since our freedom struggle has, we experienced a movement so large, so deep and pan India as the one we experience right now, in its ability to bring permanent change and leave its indelible mark on the annals of our history. Then it was for bringing us together and creating one identity. Seventy-five years later it is now about creating divisions to preserve identity.

On April 30 I shared my opinion on the 5 symbols of division.
This week I share a talk about the symbols of power.

For complete division, you need complete power!!
The power needs to be ubiquitous, almost like the tentacles of an octopus, coming at you from all sides, relentless and unforgiving.

There are 07 symbols of power that are working in tandem, driving fear and creating deliberate reactionism to justify the use of power. Some of these symbols are legacies of our colonial past, some carried forward from older autocratic regimes, some freshly inducted and the rest newly devised by the current powerbrokers.

All these symbols work together in creating FEAR as a larger tool of governance.


Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code has remained more or less intact since 1898. The oppressed under British rule realised their potential as soon as they came to power in 1947. The section got further teeth in 1973 under Indira Gandhi when sedition became a cognizable offence and one could be arrested without a warrant. The ridiculous application of the act was in 2013 when close to 9000 people were arrested for the Kudankulam nuclear plant protests. The list of Indians arrested under IPC 124A is like a who’s who challenging the list of Padma Awardees…from social activists to journalists, artists, authors and even climate activists!

Accountability has taken a back seat and at the most, the media conveniently issues an apology. The need for advertising revenues has seen certain media vehicles unabashedly work on social division. And it is just getting worse by the day. We have just ranked 142 out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. This is merely a symptom. The diagnosis is that most members of the media have chosen to look away. Today Mr Advani would have remarked, “You were asked only to crawl, but you lie prostrate!”

Between 2014 and 2019 a total of 326 cases have been filed that led to 141 charge sheets and finally only 6 convictions. It is for such an abysmally low rate of actual conviction that the Supreme Court finally put the law on hold citing re-examination and admitting its misuse by governments in power. We lost Stan Swamy to such official tyranny. Hope the likes of Varavara Rao and Siddique Kappan come out into the open soon. This ruling has not at all been to the liking of the current government as one symbol of power has been sent to the workshop!


In 1975 L.K. Advani had famously reproached the media by saying, “You were asked only to bend, but you crawled.” These words have held true since then, in varying levels of servitude and coverage. Since the 2010s we have seen a new practice of certain sections of media deliberately churning out fake news. Earlier they used to either tow certain lines or blank out certain portions of news. Now they go a step further and concoct news which need not be harmless but lead to stereotyping, segmenting, and dividing.


Social Media

This is the modern Frankenstein! One should do an analysis of how much time our politicians spend on social media every day. It will be a shameful statistic, I am sure. The average person’s intoxication of social media platforms and the sheer inability to fact check is used by all political parties to the hilt to further their own agendas. When the government in power resorts to the same, the situation is grave, whether at the centre or a state.

One does not need to make others crawl anymore. Powers can create their own digital platforms for disseminating falsehood, half-truths, and hate. Against truth-seekers, farmers, activists, faiths, minorities, immigrants, and ideological opponents. Branding like “libtard” and “sickular” are created to classify and isolate individuals. The “Juden” armbands and their likes are not needed anymore.

Teams of hundreds of people are maintained to create posts and memes not about pure facts in full perspective, but to amplify ‘my side of the story’. These platforms pander to fears, insecurities, and inferiority complexes. Facts lead to truth and truth creates trust, as Maria Ressa had said on winning the Nobel Prize for Peace. Facts, truth and trust are not what the powers of today want as social pillars.

Defence forces

Indian Army personnel offering prayer. Image: Twitter/PRODefSrinagar

On 21 April at 4:35 p.m. the Jammu PRO of the Indian Army tweeted: “Keeping alive the traditions of secularism, an Iftaar was organised by the Indian Army at Arnora in Doda district,” along with photographs showing General Officer Commanding of the Delta Force of Rashtriya Rifles interacting with local Muslims and a uniformed person offering namaz with civilians.

The right-wing machinery immediately swung into action. The editor of some fringe television channel took up this news and commented, “Ab ye bimari Bhartiya sena mein bhi ghuss gayi hai? Dukhad…” (Now this disease has spread even in the Indian Army? Sad…) The tweet was removed! I need not say any more.

Gone are the days when Sam Bahadur would endearingly address Mrs Gandhi as ‘Indu’. The defence forces have been infiltrated…not just by honey-trappers and moles who steal secrets, but by bigots who vitiate minds. If one can manage to divide the army into lines of faith, the task is done!

The Bulldozer

This is a new symbol of power. Pretty innovative I should say. Earlier one used to have human manifestations of detention and destruction like the SS and NKVD. This one is mechanical irrespective of the operator.

In a poor nation like ours, demolition is sheer trauma. Simply destroying a person’s home or shop is as good as killing that person. If you die, it ends the torture. When you watch your home or shop being burnt or smashed to the ground, the trauma and scars remain for life.

The innocuous ‘dozer of which we do not have enough to build infrastructure has found a new role. Earlier a Turkman Gate in 1976 was an aberration. Today they are a tool of constant threat. And the social media machinery churns out memes which are quite a hit with many!

The Cow

Before the bulldozer came the humble cow. As a child, I remember the symbol of Congress [R] being a cow and her calf. It drove the clear message of motherly protection. After 50 years, the new image of the cow drives the message of marauding provocation!

Congress R symbol of 1971-77. Typical meme of a Gau Rakshak team, 2022

A member of domestic peace and prosperity has now become a cause to intimidate and kill at will. Working on an agriculture project, I had the chance to interact with farmers in UP who irrespective of faith were against the methods being used and the menace of stray cows all over the farmlands. Only those from the minority faiths were guarded when expressing their anguish. Job done, as the powers would say! It does take special talent to transform a symbol of domesticity and gentleness into one of fear.


This symbol of power has always been a favourite of the totalitarians. Building massive parliaments, gates, expressways, temples, stadia, and statues. One chief minister recently made a telling observation that he was lucky the government of his time did not spend precious taxpayers’ money on statues or there would be no institutions like IIT Kharagpur for him to go to!

I will not hold the current government only at fault as all the previous ones have indulged in their own methods of creating legacies. Only the current lot of leaders in the centre and states are certainly creating new benchmarks by building parks for themselves, naming stadia after themselves and bestowing awards on themselves. While being wanton mis-utilisation of our resources, they are grand distractions for us masses from the issues that hurt us every day.

The unemployed can pray at the temples for a better future.
The uneducated can stare at the statue for inspiration.
The unfed can fill up a stadium to be fed some more lies.
The underdog can stand in front of the parliament and dream.
The unwanted can walk up to the gate and disappear.

These are the 07 symbols of power that have a symbiotic relationship with the 05 symbols of division that I wrote about earlier. They help create a unique social order that a country like ours needs to go through, at least once since independence to understand the implications of what we are bringing upon ourselves, slowly but surely.

In his recently released book “From Bharat to India”, celebrated sociologist T.K. Oommen says that the only constitutionally valid common denominator for a country as complex as India is ‘citizenship’. He says that ‘cultural monoism’ and secularism are insufficient for us to be considered a ‘nation’. Conceptualising India as a multicultural polity than simply being secular is more amenable, with citizenship being the common thread.

The third and last chapter of this trilogy will be about the symbols of performance.
Till then, I shall once again quote Bob Dylan, using the concluding lines of his song “Not dark yet…”

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will
I know it looks like I’m movin’ but I’m standin’ still
Every nerve in my body is so naked and numb
I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don’t even hear the murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet but it’s gettin’ there.

Jai Hind!

Also Read: Society: It’s not dark yet… (Chapter 1)

(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the author’s and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.)

Avik Chattopadhyay
Avik Chattopadhyay
Avik Chattopadhyay is the co-creator of Expereal India. Also, former marketing head, product planning and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres and Groupe PSA as well.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Share post:


More like this

Fintech revolution in India: Uncovered

Fintech companies have been revolutionising the Indian economy over...

Navigating the path to sustainable energy: Trends and challenges

With climate change and its adverse impacts on mankind,...

Unmasking Artificial Intelligence: The game changer in today’s digital revolution

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been garnering a lot of...

The growing need for security at the Edge

By Rahul S Kurkure With the growing focus on cybersecurity,...