Wither Civilization? A Bengali Perspective

Pranab Ghosh
A personal journalistic essay by Pranab Ghosh

Civilization. This is perhaps the most intriguing word in the history of culture and progress of human beings, more so if you happen to stay in this part of the world. If you are an Indian, whatever part of the world you may be living in right now and think about Indianness, whatever that can mean to you or others as long as the spirit of being an Indian excites you, and India, you will surely admit that the ‘governance’ prevailing in the country is increasingly getting guided by one word and that is ‘controversy’ and not ‘discussion’ or ‘debate’, the cornerstones of a true democratic civilization.
The rulers of the Union of India are often accused by the Opposition of indulging in ‘divisive’ politics, based on things pertaining to ‘religion’, more so when elections come calling and they who deny the charge by flaunting the ‘governance’ card however, must admit that stuff like wearing scarf inside a classroom or studying or not studying about the Mughals while reading Indian history are and must be needless, unnecessary topics of discussion in the natural course of imparting education. Isn’t it?
But these things have become topics of national debate. People, both common man as also those who are known as intellectuals are a divided lot. For and against what is happening in the educational sector in this country. That should not have happened. Do you not think that these are needless controversies whipped up in the education sector just to keep people busy pondering over ‘nonsense’ than real issues that shall be arousing the ‘interests’ of students and their parents – issues such as increasing unemployment and job loses that have direct bearing on a student’s future, especially if one is in Class XII or is doing her/his undergraduate studies?
Perhaps to keep their attention focused on ‘unnecessary necessities’ than ‘necessary necessities’ is the idea behind generating such unwanted debate that more often than not leads to ‘controversies’ that subvert ‘governance’ leading to clash of ideas and thus we are forced to confront ‘civilizational crisis’ that is mostly unwarranted.
Thus far to give you, the readers, an idea about the prevailing state of affairs in this part of the world that has a bearing on civilization.
Now, if we go to the roots of ‘civilization’ we will see that in most cases a river has nurtured ‘civilization’ on both its banks and has helped it spread beyond the banks. Many well-known metropolitan cities of the world are situated on the banks of some major rivers. The city I live in, Kolkata, is no exception and neither is its twin sister Howrah. On the banks of Hooghly River (The Ganges, while flowing into the Bay of Bengal, is so called in West Bengal) are nestled the twin cities, the better known Kolkata, once the capital of British India (Kolkata was Calcutta then) and now the capital of West Bengal and one of the four metro cities in India, the names of which are taken in the same breath – Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, the financial capital of India and Delhi/NCR, the capital city of India and Howrah, its lesser known sister once called the Sheffield of India for her home-grown industry that has eroded over the period of time. Industry that had once sprung up on the banks of River Hooghly, including the jute mills that can be found on both the sides of the river, is not going through its most glorious phase, one may arguably conclude without even trying to dish out facts and figures. And you the readers can see for yourself:  (click the link) https://t.co/bwqtmvJ4MQ
Needless to say that industry comes up as the progress of civilization evolves and enters a matured state. And when the same industry begins to erode, individual factories down their shutters, workers become jobless, families of workers begin to perish, what do we conclude of the civilization and its accompanying significance?
We begin to try and resurrect the lost glory or we begin to play a blame game, trying to find fault with policies, ideally implemented during the time of the previous government? But where does the blame game take us to? Especially in the post-pandemic scenario? The answers are obvious, as the economic indicators of global ramification will speak in unison, as we stare at unprecedented unemployment figures and bleak growth forecast. It’s ‘slowdown’ syndrome the pundits will say. We all know. But then?
Well planning could be the key. Increased government expenditure in infrastructural development process could be the key as many economists often point out. There are many other keys and all the keys when put to work are expected to open many doors – doors that will lead you to a more civilized world, especially to a world that has more jobs in store for the employable, to say the least; a world that will give you better opportunities to lead a decent life. Isn’t it? But, that in reality is not happening. Flip through the pages of CMIE and the figures you will stumble upon are by no means encouraging. According to a Business Standard story quoting CMIE data India’s unemployment rate rose to 3-months high of 7.8% in March 2023.
What are the governments, both at the Centre and the state, doing? Well, among other things, trying to divert your attention from the glaring problems and getting you glued to a narrative, which at best can be termed ‘questionable’, as ‘conflict’ seems to be the cornerstone of that narrative, as it is when you attempt to write a short story, a piece of fiction, mind you. What is that ‘conflict’? Well in most cases it is the ‘opium of the masses’ – religion. Look up the media outlets of the country and you will surely stumble upon news related to cow-protection and manhandling or even killing of someone, mob-lynching or thrashing of minorities, Dalits or downtrodden people, tension getting generated in connection with some ‘procession’ or ‘gathering’ to celebrate a religious festival or something related to religion in frequent intervals.
In these troubled times, people tend to take refuge in religion and we may find such ‘shelters’ on both sides of the river. [See for yourself the Kali Temple of Dakshineswar, an abode of the mother goddess that is related to the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda cult… (https://twitter.com/gpranab2012/status/1643214128608350211?t=cEa8hIUHaQ0Td8Yr0SA4Mw&s=03)] There are railroads, highways and waterways that take you to some or most of these refuges. [See for yourself… https://t.co/gykidHXVxj
(https://twitter.com/gpranab2012/status/1619505026736754688?t=1cydThdoxmMdYWj4q-H6Pg&s=03]. And these are major sources of revenue for the local authorities as well. [https://www.setumag.com/2023/01/a-poem-by-pranab-ghosh.html].
But the activists that back the government have different things in mind. They are hellbent on using religion as a political plank that polarizes voters. The outcome often becomes serious as the ideals of civilisation take a backseat in the process. To win an election is the most important issue, it seems and not sustaining the rich civilisation that India represents!
All we need is change in the way we think. The mindset, especially of the ruling class, needs to undergo a sea change to ensure that with progress of time we get a more civilised world to live in.

Author’s short bio:
[Pranab Ghosh is an award-winning Indian journalist and writer, who has worked for major news outlets of the country, including HT Media Ltd., Eenadu Digital, TNIE, Business India group etc.. His books of poems have been published by English and Canadian publishers.]

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