All we can do is ask annoying questions
This morning, I realized that I have lost my voice. I had some symptoms of the common cold the day before and noticed little cracks in my voice at night, but the morning was when I realized that I couldn’t even make a sound. All I could do is whisper at a high volume. But because there is so much noise around me, it’s impossible for people to listen to what I whisper.
So, in exasperation, I often yell out words and phrases that cannot be written in the pages of a national newspaper. Whenever I use those words, everybody stops and looks at me for a minute with an expression of disgust and annoyance, but then they go on to do their everyday chores, as if I never made a sound, as if my voice never mattered. At times I get so desperate to be heard, I even resort to those words and those whispers to get my message across.
But no matter what I feel, my voice is somewhat heard. In the last two decades, I have positioned myself in such a way that when I speak, people (no matter how narrow the definition of the word I have to make) often listen. I get to write a weekly column for an English newspaper that is read internationally and I get to write Bangla columns that face the common people through social shares.
I have a voice even if I have throat irregularities. Every word of this very unorthodox column is proof that I have a voice even when I lose it. Maybe that is because of my class background, my upbringing, my education, or many of my other privileges, but I have a voice even if I don’t talk.
So it’s hard for me to feel voiceless, but I still do because I am now (temporarily) disabled to pursue my preferred mode of communication (vocal).
This makes me wonder, how do the real voiceless people feel?
How does it feel to be silenced by noise from all directions? How does it feel to be marginalized so much that you lose every mode of communication and must resort to rumors and fake news in order to be heard?
How does it feel when you are not trained (maybe because of structural designs) in the languages such that your thoughts are trapped in your head and you cannot make meaning out of them? What would we call that feeling?
If you would excuse my brutal butchering of the very complex term, I would like to call that “the subaltern feeling,” which is an emotion that one can experience in part by some compromise of their communicatory faculties, even if it’s as marginal as losing one’s voice to the common cold.
By dint of the self-conscious mistake made in the previous paragraph, I will now try to speculate how some voiceless people feel through three simple questions. If you think that’s an outright wrong method, avoid reading what is below, but I must write this as a self-healing technique.
I, an avid reader of fake news and a listener of rumours, will now pose some questions, without pretending to have the answers to them, and leave them for the readers’ judgment.
A girl was recently raped in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as per the police. A rumour was instantly spread that this was the doing of Bengalis. Someone commented that the amount of brutality that the child went through makes sure that this was not just a “separate incident” but an action of systematic repression.
This comment was never validated by the police or the authorities. But still, has politics been played with the Bengalis and indigenous populations to the extent that they spontaneously blame the other group when someone from their group is attacked? If so, how is this any different than “divide and rule”?
A movement was recently repressed in the streets of Dhaka. During the confrontation between the student protesters and the ruling party goons, a rumour was spread that two girls were abducted and raped. This was later confirmed as false news by many news outlets.
However, does the ruling party have any blame in building up that image? Or was this also a “separate incident and, therefore, should not be used for broad theorizations?”
A stateless people have recently found themselves in an anniversary of their entry to a foreign land. Since then, they have tried their best to integrate into the majoritarian trend of the country, against that country’s will.
Many of them have also been caught trying to learn Bangla, the majority’s language, so that they could pass as Bangalis and find jobs outside of the concentrated humanitarian camps that they are currently living in.
Should they be prosecuted if they successfully escape those camps and infiltrate the general Bangladeshi population? Should they be disallowed from learning a new language?
I will not give answer to these questions because I do not know them. But I, at this semi-voiceless state, am wondering if anyone is asking them, and even more, if anyone is even listening.
All I feel is that these questions are worth asking, and possible answers to them are worth exploring. These are only three questions that I could surmise into globalspeak, but I wonder how many more questions are born and lost every day because the voiceless are systematically deprived of the training in languages.
I cannot but feel that the world is losing out on much critical thinking because the voiceless are not allowed to speak. We could all have a better world if there was more voice and less noise.
But that is not the set of cards we have. All we can do in this noisy world, then, is just to ask annoying questions that may take us towards a more inclusive world. That is all that I have tried to do in this piece. And now, it’s your turn.
Anupam Debashis Roy is the Editor-at-large of Muktiforum. He can be reached at [email protected]