Democracy for Teens – Dissent and Debate is essential

Cover image: Siddhartha Sarma journalist-author of his latest Young Adult novel Year of Weeds


The Telegraph Calcutta

26 January 2019

Boishakhi Dutt


Dissent and debates are two key elements of a healthy and vibrant society, particularly in a vast democratic country like India which has varied cultures, religions, languages and customs. However, the purpose of dissent and debate is not to ensure the difference among people in the name of religion and cultures but to unify them to focus on the Common Good. Yes Common Good is the lifeblood of a wholesome society.  Socrates spoke for the Common Good and so did Jesus much more emphatically than any world leader – yesterday or today.  To encourage a thirst for knowledge, Socrates exhorted his students to dissent and debate.  He repeatedly said tha to gain knowledge one must always ASK QUESTIONS (of society, of authority),  Jesus too born centuries after Socrates (470-399 BC), said to his followers: " Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened" (Matthew 7:7-8).  However, dissent many a time comes at a price, as we know from history on Socrates and Jesus.  Both paid with their lives for questioning convention many of which were anti-people and certainly not for Common Good.

Can we look forward to the days when citizens can express their dissent and debate without the fear of their lives being at stake? The Aam Aadmi has always got to knock on the doors of the administration; otherwise they will be dumped in one corner like rotten potatoes. It is in this context the article in today's The Telegraph Calcutta is very relevant where Siddhartha Sarma, the winner of the Sahitya Akademy award for children's literature, asks us to cross our hearts: "We need to ask ourselves whether we are participating enough in our democracy" or are just laid back in our own comfort zones?  Isaac Gomes, Asso. Editor, Church Citizens' Voice.


Victoria Memorial Kolkata:   "Did anyone ask us before building Victoria Memorial? That was when the British were here. But even in independent India, nobody really asks for permission and our homes are taken away", said Siddhartha Sarma at the Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet 2019 in association with the Victoria Memorial Hall and The Telegraph on Friday.

Connecting themes to his new novel Year of the Weeds , the winner of the Sahitya Akademy award for children's literature, discussed aspects of democracy with an audience of teenagers.  The books is about Odisha's  Dongria Konds  fight for the Niyamgiri Hills when a multi-national mining company wanted to dig up the bauxite-rich hill.

The Dongria Konds protested and about six years ago, the Supreme Court allowed India's first environmental referendum, where the tribe got to decide whether they wanted the mine or not. This also is a kind of democracy," Sarma said.  The Dongria Konds have lived on the Niyamgiri Hills for roughly 6,000 years. 

"We need to ask ourselves whether we are participating enough in our democracy because that is the key to understanding what happened in Niyamgiri", Sarma said.  "Democracy begins with voting and continues with debate and dissent."

That everybody today has the right to disagree and be heard is the result of a lot of hard work. "These rights are gifts made by people like B.R. Ambedkar," Sarma said.

"We have a choice, we can either try and understand the ideas that Ambedkar stood for or we can say it does not affect me," Sarma said.  But the only for us is to live together , Sarma said, including the Dongria Konds.


Note: Readers might like to read an interview with the novelist at:



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