Thursday, December 1, 2016

Demonetisation as Greek Tragedy

Awaiting Burial
 Sophocles,  was a Greek general, who wrote the play Antigone, around 440 B.C.  Creon is Antigone’s mother’s brother and his son Haemon, is engaged to marry his cousin. Their marriage is doomed, because Antigone’s brother, Polynices, returning from exile is killed in battle with his own brother,  Etiocles, who dies too. With the death of Etiocles, Creon, as their nearest relative, ascends the throne. Antigone, her sister Ismene, Etiocles and Polynieces are all children of Oedipus, who through ignorance slept with his mother, and then put out his eyes, when he came to know of the terrible sin he had unwittingly committed.
The chorus has the most important part to play, and through its sepulchral lines it intervenes at all levels to counsel. We, too benefit on hearing it’s voice, for they say, ironically speaking of fate,  “The future is ordered by those who should order it.”  Destiny lulls us into accepting our fate, and free will liberates us.
The real focus of  the play is the arrogance of Creon, who dispenses justice by the measure of his egoism, and it counterposes Antigone’s  love for the divine, and for the ordinances of the Gods, which she will not disobey. There is some  cultural motive, some social habit, or instinct here,  of separating the human from the animal, some space of tremendous courage, where the love for the brother, amounts to a duty, which involves honouring the body, in death.
We often carry out commands because we have no alternative, much like the population of Thebes which was given to mutter. We are under the rule of a variety of despots, national and international, who make no bones about their ability to rule over the destiny of humans. We are pushed and buffeted by oligarchies. We know that  school children are blinded by pellets, in Kashmir, that people are shot in Manipur and not given a burial, but unlike Antigone, we do not press for enquiries and justice. Curiously,  though, human beings everywhere, resist despotism. They protest, they flee, they resist.
Demonetisation came upon the Indian public without warning, since hoarders and black money funds had  ostensibly to be pounced upon, by submitting all to the same punishment. No one  has asked about hawala and Swiss bank accounts, or the role of the Income Tax department in revealing where exactly the black money lies.
People have stood in queues, and have got used to it. They are adjusting to the new dispensation much as if it were a war zone, where rations will soon be distributed through just such queues.  As those vulnerable, and accepting of government claims to legitimation of these political drives,  they must accept their fate.
Ismene pleaded with Creon to release Antigone, and then pleaded with Antigone in turn to accept her, “But amidst your troubles I am not ashamed to make myself your companion in misfortune.”  Ismene has many lines in the play, trying desperately to mediate, speaking as a woman, who understands that laws when passed are totalising, and subjects have no voice. She tries so hard to  translate between her  sister and Creon, bringing  in Antigone’s faithful lover Haemon into her conversation with Creon, using marriage as a plea for her sister’s life. Antigone will not accept Ismene’s delayed overture, for her brother lay without ritual burial, and Ismene had  initially refused to help her.
 The Indian population seems Ismene like, believing that the Finance Minister and the RBI had together really, really wanted to prove the loyalty of the people to their Prime Minister. Meanwhile, the five hundred and the thousand rupee notes lie, waiting to be ritually incinerated. The freedom of speech allows many to ask, “Is digitalisation, electricity dependent and hacker vulnerable, really the answer to an economy such as ours?” Do we really want to do away with the friendly grocer who provides the busy housewife with credit when needed and conversation between routine tasks. Do we all want to stand in malls to have Reliance company vegetables sent in by phone and card? Do we want to support  rapid industrialisation which will pull out iron from holy mountains and render local communities destitute so that urban roads can be further clogged, or outer space rendered dissolute with war heads and missiles piling up? We have a right to our opinions, and the Greens movement worldwide has supported tourism and local communities, with their horticultural and organic food farms. These are political movements as much as ideological ones. If the hostile terrains had people friendly policies, such as access to food, medicine, shelter and education the death rates on all sides would immediately decrease. We could extend this to international politics, which have created a dead land of continuous bombing in the Middle East. Terrorism terrifies, but so does totalitarianism. Creons appear everywhere.