We managed to catch up with Tejas Harad, who is one of the most interesting voices in our country at the moment. For this interview, Leela wanted to get an insight into his work in translation, his thoughts on activism and social media, and the strategies that he adopts to push our political discourse towards a more informed, inclusive, and kinder playing field.
Tejas is a copy editor with Economic and Political Weekly. He is also a regular contributor to various news publications. He is interested in everything that has to do with written word and politics.
Your work in translation brings a lot of overlooked texts to the forefront, do you think translation is a useful tool towards making social change and awareness? If so, why?
I have not really done many translations but I certainly want to take up a few projects in the future. I recently translated Maharshi Viththal Ramji Shinde’s manifesto of the Bahujan Paksha, a political front he had floated while contesting assembly elections in 1920. Even though the word Bahujan has gained currency in electoral politics and anti-caste movements across India, very few people are aware that its antecedents lie in the Maharashtra’s Satyashodhak movement of the early 20th century. A lot of the Satyashodhak literature has remained confined to Marathi political sphere and people who can’t read Marathi remain unaware of it. Therefore, translating Shinde’s manifesto was important to bring an important node of history to the attention of the English public sphere.
Each movement now and then faces questions that seem insurmountable. In such cases, movements from other spaces and other times can act as guiding forces, and translations play a crucial role in making those signposts available to activists. Also, a movement can have richer theoretical foundation if activists and scholars widen their net while looking at the source material.
What does social media mean to you? Has it been a positive or negative force in your work/life?
A: I always felt at ease while writing than talking. Social media allowed me to talk to people more freely and more deeply because in its early days social media was primarily text-based. Social media also activated the pamphleteer in me. I used it for talking about politics.
Social media has largely been a positive force in my life and work. Though, there have been times when it took a toll on my mental health. Sometimes I use Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp in a continuous loop jumping from one app to another and then another. At such times work certainly gets affected and one’s energy too get drained out.
Social media is an unprecedented phenomena and our brain as well as our sociocultural sphere is yet to adjust to it properly. But once it becomes as taken-for-granted as say TV, we will use it more optimally (I hope).
How do we redefine dominant thought and culture when it comes to activism on social media? Is there any value to changing the nature of the narrative on social media?
A: There definitely is value in moulding the narrative on social media. Social media is not a world unto itself. It can be an effective tool in activism if activists use a multipronged strategy in engaging with the public. Many activists spend their energy only in reacting to lies and hate propagated on social media. While I definitely see value in countering even the most obvious hate speech, lies, and misguided opinions, activists need to go further than this. Activists also need to talk about their own politics, principles and values they hold dear, the kind of world they imagine, and what practical steps people can take to reach the ideal world. Advocacy is as much or rather more important than countering the opponents’ malicious comments.
Activists develop their world view and understanding of society after years of engaged politics. Therefore, they should be patient with younger people who may not understand an issue with all its nuances. Activists should provide resources and guidance to people willing to engage in politics. Kindness and empathy need to go hand in hand with advocacy. Activists also need to show commitment towards politicizing more and more people. The great thing about social media is, activists can try multiple strategies at the same time. They only need to show willingness to do so.