Calling all writers to give voice to the voiceless through literature
Literature can contribute to the enhancement of society.
“The words written by poets, fictionist, dramatists and other creative writers will continue to provide us the people of the region with uncommon sense, conscience and wisdom that will guide us through upheaval and uncertainty long after politicians and bureaucrats have left the arena of power and have descended to oblivion,” Abdul Khalik, co-founder and director of the ASEAN Literary Festival 2016, asserted during his opening statement on the book program .
This festival, held for four days starting May 5 in Jakarta, invited scholars, writers, and literary connoisseurs to connect and share ideas in open debates and discussions about the role of writers in bringing up ‘sensitive issues’ in society, such as those relating to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ( LGBT ) rights, human rights, the 1965 tragedy, environment and censorship.
“The power of literature is to bring truth to the people,” said Julian McMahon, a human rights advocate who spoke about human rights and the death penalty in the festival. “Literature can play the critical role in changing the society that is not being ruled by the rule of law."
McMahon gave the example of Samizdat, an underground press phenomenon that occurred in the Soviet Union during the 1950s to 1970s. In opposing totalitarian control and terror, a group of people insisted on creating an underground press despite having to face terrible punishment, such as being sent to concentration camps and psychiatric wards. The papers, printed by typewriters and copied to carbon paper, aimed to spread the truth about Stalin’s oppression on society.
This tyranny dreamed of utopia, a perfect society, he said. By writing the stories about people who faced injustice, literature could tell the society about power abuse and teach the truth about human nature, where finding imperfection in people showed that utopia is just an illusion.
“Writers can be the voice and the conscience of the society,” he said. “Good literature provides insights into humanity through the complexity of the stories.”
Writers are also expected to write in order to bring back the past to younger generations and educate society about pressing issues such as LGBT rights, tragedies in Papua and Timor Leste and the nation's dark past concerning the 1965 tragedy. Stories of the past can teach the next generation about humanity and empower them against one-sided prejudice, stigmatization or misconception from groups with a hidden agenda.
Like concerning LGBT issues, the LGBT community usually face social injustice because they are thought of as violators of religious values.
“I don't think religion is going to change, but I do think that we can change the way people see the issue, that this doesn't have to be a political issue, that we should respect people, no one is asking to be gay, no one is asking to have a homosexual lifestyle, but we do know that we should treat these people with respect and dignity, because they're human beings,” said Qurotul Ain-Bandial, a Brunei-based journalist, when on the LGBT, Sexuality and Freedom of Expression panel.
Through stories, it is hoped that writers can establish connections with readers, so readers can identify the character of human beings, who are just the same as them, and introduce empathy and sympathy in order to avoid any violence from happening in society.
“We really need to depoliticize the issue, we need to promote values, compassion and respect,” she said. ( kes )