This is the third in a series of three recaps of SAI’s Symposium, which took place on May 5 and 6, 2016.
By Shajia Sarfraz, EdM Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education; SAI Student Coordinator
Who speaks for democracy in South Asia? Whose voices are encouraged? Whose voices are supported? Whose responsibility is it to aid in the development of democratic dialogue across a country, between different groups and different regions? In a discussion at the South Asia Institute’s Annual Symposium on May 5, moderator Homi Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of English and American Literature and Language, and the Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, posed these questions to filmmaker Deepa Mehta, Adil Najam, Dean, Frederick S. Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University, and Michael Sandel, Anne T and Robert M Bass Professor of Government, Harvard University.
Panelists noted that there have been significant technological and communicational developments in the region, and discussed the question of whether there is a digital commons in place and to what extent it aids democratic discourse. Najam, perhaps the most optimistic panelist in the room, responded to the context of Pakistan: “Twitter speaks for democracy in Pakistan.” Although Pakistan is a country where one percent of the population uses Twitter, it is by far the most adequate metaphor for the kind of discourse that is taking place in the country. Najam went on to say that the aforementioned answer to the question of who speaks for democracy in Pakistan might have been the Pakistani drawing room, a “high-class, beautiful room where the elite, who are the masters of destinies of societies, talk and out of it comes a discourse that creates the destinies of nations.” Twitter, however, has opened up an avenue for anger, opinion, and impatience. What we see there is certainly not the most reasoned discourse, he said, but it is emblematic of a discourse, and although the state of the governance in Pakistan is a mess, the discourse of democracy has never been more open.