FOR STUDENTS at St Anthony’s College in Shillong, it was arguably just another day — until RTI activist Nikhil Dey took the stage to ask them some pointed questions.
“Would you call yourself political?” he asked. Most of them said no. “Do you believe that there is politics in your college? In your relationships with your parents?” Most, sheepishly, said yes. “Do you vote?” he challenged? Most said yes. “Yet, you believe you aren’t political, because somehow the word has come to mean something ambiguous. But the reality is, every act is political. And in a democracy, where you have the right to elect who works in your name to run the country, your vote is the most political act of all.” From there began a fascinating conversation between Dey, who was instrumental in drafting the RTI Act, one of the country’s most important pieces of legislation in recent years, and Puneeta Roy, trustee of the Tehelka Foundation.
Earlier, kicking off the lecture, a part of the Aircel Power of Inspiration series in universities across the country, Puneeta had first invited Aircel’s Kumar Mishra to talk about the group’s Aircel College Brand Ambassador Programme in association with Harvard, before presenting a poignant, vocal AV segment on ground warriors — people who exemplify what inspiration is when they take up the most urgent causes, fighting to make a difference.
‘Interestingly, my engagement with the political came when I was your age,’ Nikhil Dey told the audience
Onstage, Dey was the perfect example of how one person can make a difference. “Interestingly, my engagement with the political came when I was your age,” he told the rapt audience. “I was studying in the US and got intrigued by the feminism movement and two vital slogans of that movement have stayed with me. The first, and arguably most compelling idea: that ‘the personal is political’; the second, that ‘my life is a revolution’.”
If Dey was met with reverent, admiring applause, the day’s second speaker had the students hooting, clapping and cheering from the word go. Taru Dalmia was perhaps born to perform in Shillong, the undisputed music capital of the country, yet a city steeped in political engagement, fighting to be part of the mainstream.
As a performer and musician who uses reggae and hip-hop to talk of the most burning issues of our time, Dalmia has taken an unusual yet compelling route to engage young people around the country.
Afterwards, he spoke of his first encounter with racism as a student in Germany, then a more intimate encounter with the dark underbelly of the American dream. When he returned to India, Dalmia felt that while the dream of 8 percent growth was being fed to citizens, the growth wasn’t in any way equitable. His love for reggae and passion for music led to the creation of an organisation that collaborates with musicians who write revolutionary songs, across the country.
A brief chat with National Campaign for People’s Right to Information convener Angela Rangad revealed how students could get involved with the RTI Act and the various campaigns to bring more accountability in public life. The stellar line-up, including Dey, Dalmia and Rangad released the Power of Inspiration book to end a stimulating, challenging afternoon.