“Health culture is not just medical culture. It is larger, wider. Looking at health culture, it is understanding that health has always been the primary centre and concern of civilisations.” Disciplinary fields, spaces and times were transcended on December 11th, as community health practitioner and Professor Ritu Priya Mehrotra argued for ‘Health Culture as Continuity’. “This is how we moved along, growing, properly, a sense of health care. Communities evolved, developing technologies to complement the environment, in support of the basic health requirements. Then only, power structures and social stratification happened.” In this long process, phases of biological plateaus permitted further developments: “slowly, a biology-culture balance is arrived at. The community benefits from a low endemicity… till new disturbances arrive: revolutions, invasions.”
The story starts as a fairytale. Once upon a time, a country produced enough cotton to clothe its large population, and much of the rest of the world. A tale in which emperors would go to any extent to acquire those refined, light and smooth clothes. And this fairy tale, is the story of cotton cloth in India. And a fairy tale it is, sadly, because the worldwide fame of the past has ironically turned into a leftover industry in its own land, overrun by the capital and energy demanding reign of the power looms. “The handloom is a low carbon production technology for the energy-stressed future,” textile activist Uzramma said, in the introduction of the eighth PRISM lecture of this year’s series… and yet, this industry, which employs nearly fifty million people in the country, is unrecognised, almost invisible, indebted and under-promoted today.
Srinath Reddy began his lecture by stating that it is important for societies to invest in health, because it has both instrumental and intrinsic values. From a utilitarian point of view, improved health increases productivity, while it offers a sense of well-being to an individual. Health indicators of a society also indicate the amount of vulnerability and values that are shared within that society. In Sridhar Venkatapuram’s words, “a well-ordered society would ensure that all individuals have the capability to be healthy, and at a level that is commensurate with human dignity in the modern world, which is their right.” Having thus established equity in health as a fundamental criterion for a society to be called modern, Srinath tried to understand what makes such equity possible.
Harsh Mander’s LILA PRISM Lecture on “Inequality and Indifference in India” was an insightful study on the unending quest of humanity to make a just society possible. Shiv Visvanathan, who served as Chair during the lecture, set the tone of the evening by mentioning the complexity embedded in Harsh’s understanding of the world. Harsh, following Amartya Sen’s The Idea of Justice, began by placing three features as the fundamental triggers of our search for justice: empathy, dissent, and love of freedom. They make this search a universal category. Of these, he positioned empathy at the heart of his quest.
Sadanand Menon provocatively opened a puzzle box for us, while speaking of the state of arts institutions in the country. Some of us are still reflecting on the tensions he articulated. Sadanand began with a reflexive question, ‘what makes me a part of the moribund arts bodies of the State?’. A brilliantly layered lecture followed, focused on the dangers involved in the political construction of various cultural fields – forms as well as institutions – promoting a homogenized the idea of national culture. The measures to ‘protect’ the country’s unity in diversity, paradoxically result in the erasure of the voice of the conflicts integral to creative expressions, and in turn send all diversities into exile from the ‘united nation’ of the arts. This ultimately results in the establishment of a machinery that continues the customary without confronting the radical; it regulates people’s spontaneity, weakens institutions from within, and abdicates all forward-looking perspectives.
“Re-Thinking Violence Against Women” discusses how there can be no doubt that violence against women, especially sexual violence and rape, has gone well beyond being headline news. Something extraordinary happened in the wake of the Delhi gang rape of December 2012, whether at the level of the scale of the protests, or the range of institutional responses both negative and positive. Contestations through speaking and writing have also been prominent. This lecture seeks to contribute to this moment by opening up to further analysis of the following. First, the commonsense experience regarding rape as the most heinous of crimes. Second, the construction of normal and ‘aggravated’ sexual assault by the law. And third, new feminist thinking on rape culture and impunity. It will be suggested that the universal framing of violence must go beyond gender and patriarchy and take the risks of including those structures – both everyday and institutional – that divide both women and men.
There are numerous obvious reasons that a progressive Indian could cite to answer the question: Why do the Adivasis want to speak? The exploitation stories; the lack of education and resources; rights denied. Sure, these are all valid reasons for the Adivasis to start speaking for themselves today. And for their fellow citizens to stand by them, to help them empower themselves and take up their causes. But Ganesh Devy showed us the subtler, deeper reason which prompts the Adivasis to speak now, in these times. And this reason is not concerning their own welfare. It is aligned with the socio-environmental vision dear to the Adivasis: the well-being of every other being in the world is more worthy of their care than their own. People who sustain this worldview would be careful not to let even their shadows poison their medicinal plants. In other words, the concern of an Adivasi in the forest would not be what the plant might give her, but how the plant could be kept from any possible harm.
Dr. Kanika Batra’s lecture on ‘Theatre and Right to Food Staples in India’ gave our series a definitive cultural turn. It lucidly merged the question of cultural representation into the sociological, mediational and economic concerns raised by the previous PRISM lectures about the inclusivity of our growth processes. Evoking the plays of Premchand, the productions of Jana Natya Manch in the 80’s, and the works of Arjun Appadurai and Jayati Ghosh, Dr Batra asked why theatre and other cultural sites no longer consider ‘hunger’ a relevant theme of our times. Have we surpassed our hunger pangs? Where has hunger disappeared? Or has there been a systematic attempt to expel the hungry from our nation? Dr. Purabi Panwar chaired the lecture, and the Q&A hour raisedt very important questions and observations.
Prof. Jayati Ghosh delivered the fourth lecture of the LILA PRISM Lecture Series. The packed house included a lot of students from city colleges, a heartening thing to see! Ghosh’s lucid, jargon-free presentation carried passion and energy even as she systematically dealt with the tragic effects of incorporating the weaker sections of the society on unequal terms. Her analysis of the Indian economy through the prisms of education, globalisation, gender, society and castewas eye-opening in many ways. Dr. Kanika Batra chaired the session.