ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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To Question or Not to Question? That Is the Question

To Question or Not to Question? That Is the Question

Public intellectuals are not absent in Indian society, nor are they alien imports. But where there should be voices, there is now often silence. Are we all being co-opted too easily by the comforts of conforming? Are we fearful of the retribution that questioning may and often does bring?

Nikhil Chakravarti, the founder-editor of Mainstream, respected intellectual and academic opinion about public matters. He provided space to those who questioned the nature of the interdependence of society and politics. Today that space has shrunk and the intellectual parameters have narrowed. It seems that those in authority and those influencing public opinion have less respect for the public intellectual now than was so before. I would like to ask whether or why this is so, a subject that I suspect would have interested Nikhil Chakravarti. It becomes pertinent where there is a concern with the kind of society we want and why we want it.

I shall refer briefly here to what I think is implied by the presence of public intellectuals. As a historian I cannot help but instinctively go back in time. So I will begin with mentioning a few persons from the European past associated with the kind of thinking that in modern times gave rise to the public intellectual. And then I will mention some from the Indian tradition who played a similar role. There is no connection between the two but I think they are parallel in many ways. And finally I shall suggest what could be the role of public intellectuals and why there should be a greater visibility of such persons in our society today.

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