In my school days, one of the segments of the weekly Boys’ Meet was the debates. Students would read from written speeches about pre-allotted topics and vie for the top slot and the prizes. There used to be quite a few topics debated upon repeatedly in the boys’ meets. One such debate, I remember, was titled, “who is mightier: the pen or the sword?” The virtues of violence against non-violent means, and vice-versa.
A boy who spoke in favor of the sword made a forceful speech and won the applause of the audience many a times. He was the only one who had favored the sword over the pen in the debate and did quite a remarkable job. No other participant could match his prowess and audacity. However he did not win any prize much to the surprise of our small minds. Many of us complained about the injustice but the teachers’ verdict was final.
The next day one of our favorite teachers told us that the boy had been deliberately made to lose. The teachers were more worried about our impressionable minds than a mere school competition. They did not want us to believe that that the sword could ever win against the pen. An elaborate lecture on the virtues of intellect and shortcomings of force and violence was the next thing we patiently listened to in the next morning assembly.
We, as a nation, were always like that. Peaceful and intellectually gifted. We were lampooned over this by our friends as well as foes. But our faith in the peaceful means of assertion was unshakeable. So much so that, only a couple of years after that school debate, Kashmiris overwhelmingly took the ballot route to bring out their nation from the morass of political uncertainty.
This happened even though elections were never seen by Kashmiris as clean and impartial. Rigging, booth capturing and managing voters had remained hallmark of all previous elections in the state. Even then people came out in largest ever numbers to vote. And by sweet coincidence, overwhelmingly in favor of a conglomerate whose election symbol was Pen and Ink-pot. Opting for such a symbol by the conglomerate could not have been just a coincidence. It was symbolic of the belief of its leaders in peaceful means of resistance. Voting for it was symbolic of the peoples’ faith in democratic means.
The pen, however, lost that time. It was, in fact, made to lose in a brazen display of colonial might masquerading as a republic. The belief of the people was shaken. Both in the pen and in the republic! A nation had been betrayed and made to feel ashamed of its beliefs.
The rage within the youth could not be contained this time as it had been in that boys’ meet. The teachers lost their moral courage to tame their taught. The vortex of violence took everyone in.
Twenty years down the line, not much seems to have changed. Except that the nursery of beliefs nurtured earlier in the schools has begun to wriggle and bloom. The pen has started to take centre stage in the discourse and beautifully so. The crop of budding writers has once again established the writ of the pen. The effulgence is refreshingly overwhelming and the powers that be have started to feel nervous. The knee-jerk response to resurgence of intellectual assertion can not be a jack-boot induced asphyxiation. That needs to be understood. Once again!