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Public sphere is dead in Kerala, says K.N. Panikkar

Special Correspondent

He says individual has replaced society in the State

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Renowned historian K. N. Panikkar has said that the public sphere in Kerala, which evolved as a composite product of the renaissance, the freedom movement and the Left political interventions, is practically dead today and that the major challenge before movements and individuals in the coming days should be its revival.

Chairing a panel session on `Politics and Public Sphere in Development' held as part of the ongoing second International Congress on Kerala Studies here on Saturday, Dr. Panikkar said that the most tragic aspect of life in Kerala today is the withdrawal of individuals from society and the reluctance of the majority to intervene in societal issues.

"Public sphere is not the concern of a few institutions, it embraces the whole society, but the tragedy of Kerala is that the majority has chosen to distance from it," he said.

Dr. Panikkar said there was urgent need to revive the public sphere through new forms of public articulation. Partisan and mundane politics had forced its way into the public sphere decapitating it.

This meant that there must be a redefinition of the relationship between politics and the public sphere and an attempt to see how there could be a creative relationship between the two. This would be possible only through a cultural mediation, he added.

Media, he said, was playing a crucial role in the denudation of the public sphere and pointed out that the quality of media content should be closely and critically examined. Voicing serious apprehensions about the state of higher education in Kerala, he said the higher education scene in the State has become a `stagnant pool' intellectually. Higher education had failed to discharge its duties towards society, he said.

He regretted that whatever remains of the public sphere in Kerala has been coloured by caste and communal thinking and said there was a very powerful force behind this process. He also felt that Kerala society had been overpowered more by religiosity than caste feelings and said institutions that should have resisted this process had failed to do so because there had been no consistency in their interventions.

Dr. Panikkar said it was regrettable that there was no real debate on development in Kerala or any attempt to see how development would affect the bottom 20 per cent of the population.

Participating in the discussion, writer K. E. N. Kunhahammed said that Kerala society is in such a state that it has to rediscover its political moorings and find its own forms of resistance to the imperialist-driven globalisation process.

The dynamics of the public sphere in Kerala was now being determined by the culture industry through the mass media, he said.

Political commentators G. Gopakumar and J. Prabhash also participated in the discussion.

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