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

A+| A| A-

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?

This is a slightly expanded version of the text of the Third Nikhil Chakravarti Memorial lecture delivered on 26 October 2014, and organised by the Book Review Literary Trust. I would like to thank Amit Bhaduri, Deepak Nayyar and Neeladri Bhattacharya for their comments on the first draft of this lecture, comments that helped me sort out my ideas.The text of this lecture was earlier published in the December 2014 edition of The Book Review.

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.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here


To gain instant access to this article (download).

INR 59

(Readers in India)

$ 6

(Readers outside India)

Support Us

Your Support will ensure EPW’s financial viability and sustainability.

The EPW produces independent and public-spirited scholarship and analyses of contemporary affairs every week. EPW is one of the few publications that keep alive the spirit of intellectual inquiry in the Indian media.

Often described as a publication with a “social conscience,” EPW has never shied away from taking strong editorial positions. Our publication is free from political pressure, or commercial interests. Our editorial independence is our pride.

We rely on your support to continue the endeavour of highlighting the challenges faced by the disadvantaged, writings from the margins, and scholarship on the most pertinent issues that concern contemporary Indian society.

Every contribution is valuable for our future.