What Is Striking In India Is The Indifference Of The Privileged

Interview with Noam Chomsky, published on kracktivist, by Priyanka Borpujari, June 2013.

You have been protesting wars, from Vietnam to Iraq. And then, there has been the Occupy Wall Street movement. What have been the similarities and differences in protest movements over the years?

  • People do not know this, but it was very tough to oppose the Vietnam war. In the early ’60s, if I was giving a talk, it would be in somebody’s living room or a church with very few people. Right here in Boston, a liberal city, we could not have an outdoor demonstration in the Boston Common until about 1967. Any demonstration would be broken up by force. In March 1966, when we tried to have an indoor demonstration at a church downtown — since we could not have a public one — the church was attacked. The Boston Globe, which was supposed to be a liberal newspaper, denounced the demonstrators. The Harvard University faculty would not even hear about it; nobody would sign a petition. It was a few years of hard slogging. Finally by 1967-68, there were two or three years of intense activism, before it declined. The ’60s were very significant but it was very condensed. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was a very conservative campus until about 1968 and then it became very radical, perhaps the most radical in the country. Since the late ’60s, activism has expanded but with less visibility, and it is a part of a general consciousness about all kinds of things. In the 1980s, there was a huge anti-nuclear movement. But the most significant phenomenon in the ’80s — although it did not leave much of an impact in history because it did not involve the elites very much — were the solidarity movements with central America. This solidarity was coming mostly from rural United States, like rural Kansas, and the Evangelicals, with tens of thousands of people going down to central America just to be with the victims, to help and defend them. This had never happened before, that people from the imperial state went there not just to protest, but to live with the people and participate with them. And a lot of these people stayed on. So it had a great effect over rural United States.
  • Towards the end of the last millennium, solidarity was visible on a new kind of global justice movement, on particular issues, like Israel-Palestine. There has been a massive shift in that. I used to have police protection on this (MIT) campus, right until the 1990s, when I talked about it. But now it is the most lively issue on the campus. I am asked to give talks about it all the time. So it’s not militant activism, but there’s a culture of independence and opposition, which I think is pretty bright.

So, who is listening to dissidents like you?

  • Well, anybody who is willing to talk has people listening. There aren’t too many people who are willing to go around and give talks all the time. The few of us who are willing, are deluged. Every night, I turn down a dozen invitations. When I do give talks, there is a real hunger for something different, but there is very little supply. You can almost count on the fingers of your hands the number of people who are willing to spend their lives going around and giving talks.
  • But on the other hand, you are in Cambridge, so you get to hear a little about India. In the United States almost nobody knows anything about the outside world — people don’t know where France is. India would be some word that they might have heard in school in passing. It is a very insular society.

What about India baffles you the most?

  • I have followed India carefully, and have been there a number of times. It is an exciting country in many ways with its rich culture. But what is really striking to me about India, much more than most other countries I have been to, is the indifference of privileged sectors to the misery of others. You walk through Delhi and cannot miss it, but people just don’t seem to see it. Everyone is talking about ‘Shining India’ and yet people are starving. I had an interesting experience with this once. I was in a car in Delhi and with me was (activist) Aruna Roy, and we were driving towards a demonstration. And I noticed that she wasn’t looking outside the window of the car. I asked her why. She said, “If you live in India, you just can’t look outside the window. Because if you do, you’d rather commit suicide. It’s too horrible. So you just don’t look.” So people don’t look, they put themselves in a bubble and then don’t see it. And those words are from somebody who has devoted her life to the lives of the poor, and you can see why she said that — the misery and the oppression are so striking, much worse than in any country I have ever seen. And it is so dramatic. There is a lot of talk about how India is slated to be a major power, and I can’t believe it, with all its internal problems; China too for that matter, but less so.
  • When my wife and I went to India a couple of years ago, my friend Iqbal Ahmed had told me that I would discover that the press in Pakistan is much more open and free than the press in India. I did not believe him first but when I looked into it, he explained, “The English language press in Pakistan is for you and your friends, and the government just lets them say whatever they want, because there are so few of them to cater to, just a couple of hundred thousand people.”

You have hailed the Mexican newspaper La Jornada as “maybe the only real independent newspaper in the hemisphere”. Do you think something similar can be founded in India?

  • It could. The interesting thing about La Jornada is that the business world hates it. They don’t give it any ads. It is the second largest newspaper in the country with a very high level of journalistic acumen and very smart people, and they are all over the country. You see people reading this newspaper on the streets. Actually, I noticed that in Kerala, the only part of India where you can see people reading on the streets.

In the recent past, India witnessed a scam that exposed the deep nexus between journalists and businessmen, but nothing happened … //

… (full interview text).

Links:

No stopping more Snowden revelations – Assange, on Russia Today RT, July 01, 2013;

EU demands ‘full clarification’ over NSA spying on European diplomats, warns of severe impact on relations, on Russia Today RT, Juny 30, 2013;

Spying ‘Out of Control’: EU Official Questions Trade Negotiations, on Spiegel Online International, by Claus Hecking and Stefan Schultz, June 30, 2013:
Senior European Union officials are outraged by revelations that the US spied on EU representations in Washington and New York. Some have called for a suspension of talks on the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement …;

FAQ: What You Need to Know About the NSA’s Surveillance Programs, on ZNet, by Jonathan Stray, June 30, 2013.

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