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corinne kumar
Supryia and the Reviving of a Dream
Toward a New Political Imaginary

1. Introduction

Let me tell you a story:
a story of women, of their creative survival,
a story of timeless care,
a story of the gift imaginary :

It is a story from Tagore on the Riches of the Poor.

Once upon a long ago and of yesterday
it was a time of darkness;
it was also a time of famine that was devastating the land of Shravasti
people gathered; poor people, hungry people:
Lord Buddha looking at everybody and asked his disciples
who will feed these people? who will care for them?
who will feed these hungry people?
he looked at Ratnaka the banker, waiting for an answer:
Ratnaka, looked down and said
but much more than all the wealth I have would be needed
to feed these hungry people
Buddha than turned to Jaysen, who was the chief of the King’s army:
Jaysen said very quickly of course my Lord I would give you my life
but there is not enough food in my house.
then, it was the turn of Dharampal who possessed large pastures
sighed and said the god of the wind has dried out our fields
and I do not know how I shall even pay the king’s taxes.

The people listened, and were so hungry:
Supriya, the beggar’s daughter was in the gathering, listening too
as she raised her hand, she stood up and said
I will nourish these people: I will care for the people
everybody turned to look at Supriya:
how would she they thought do this? How will she, a beggar’s daughter with no
material wealth, how would she accomplish her wish?
but how will you do this, they chorused:
Supriya gentle and strong looked at the gathering and said
It is true that I am the poorest among you, but therein is
my strength, my treasure, my affluence, because I will find
all this at each of your doors.

Supriya’s words and actions come from another logic: she refuses the logic of property, profit, patriarchy; inviting us to another ethic of care, of concern, of connectedness. She sees the poor as a community of people with dignity in a relational way, not as individual separate units; and speaks for the many all over the world who are challenging the totalitarism logic of the master imaginary and trying to re-find and re-build communities, regenerating people’s knowledges and cosmovisions, reviving the dream for us all.


We live in violent times: times in which our community and collective memo- ries are dying; times in which the many dreams are turning into never-ending nightmares; and the future increasingly fragmenting; times that are collapsing the many life visions into a single cosmology that has created its own universal truths—equality, development, peace; truths that are inherently discriminatory, even violent. Times that have created a development model that dispossesses the majority, desacralizes nature, destroys cultures and civilizations, denigrates the women. Times in which the war on terrorism a la Pax Americana brings a time of violent uncertainty—brutal wars for resources—oil, diamonds, minerals: wars of Occupation state terrorism going global, patented by the USA, franchised by the CIA to nation states all over the world, times that are giving us new words: pre-emptive strike, collateral damage, embedded journalism, enemy combatants, military tribunals, rendition; new words: words soaked in blood. Times in which the dominant political thinking, institutions and instruments of justice are hardly able to redress the violence that is escalating, and intensifying; times in which progress presupposes the genocide of the many; times in which human rights have come to mean the rights of the privileged, the rights of the powerful; times in which the political spaces for the other is diminishing, even closing.

The world, it would seem, is at the end of its imagination. Only the imagination stands between us and fear: fear makes us behave like sheep when we should be dreaming like poets.

Let me tell you another story, a story of horror and hope, a story of the missing, the disappeared; a story so real, yet magical: a story from Lawrence Thornton in Imagining Argentina (1987).

It is a story about Argentina under the dictators. The hero is a gentle person, Carlos Rueda, an intense man who directs a children’s theatre and is at home in the world of children. During the time of the dictators, Carlos discovers that he has an extraordinary gift. He realizes that he is the site, the locus, the vessel for a dream. He can narrate the fate of the missing. From all over Argentina, men and women come to his home and sitting in his garden, Carlos tells them stories: tales of torture, courage, death, stories about the missing, about the disappeared.

One day the regime arrests his wife Celia, for a courageous act of reporting. The world of Carlos collapses till he realizes that he must keep her alive in his imagination.Only the imagination, says Carlos, stands between us and fear; fear makes us behave like sheep when we must dream like poets.

As the regime becomes more violent, it is the women who object. It is the women as wives, as mothers, as daughters who congregate in silence at the Plaza de Mayo. Silently, each carries a placard announcing or asking about the missing. The women walk quietly, sometimes holding hands.

It is not just an act of protest; it is a drama of caring; each listening to the other’s story, each assuring the other through touch, weaving a sense of community. The community grows as the men join them. All the while, through the window, the Generals watch them.

People realize that they cannot be indifferent observers, spectators, bystanders,even experts. The indifference of the watchers to the regime is not enough. One must be a witness. A witness is not a mere spectator. S/he looks but she also listens. S/he remembers.

Everything must be remembered. Nothing must be forgotten. We must retrieve history from memory

We must explore the new imaginary not as experts but as witnesses.

The Mothers of the Plaza Mayo, in Argentina express this new imaginary.


Our imaginaries must be different. The new imaginary cannot have its moorings in the dominant discourse but must seek to locate itself in a discourse of dissent that comes from a deep critique of the different forms of domination and violence in our times: any new imaginary cannot be tied to the dominant discourse and systems of violence and exclusion.

This new imaginary will move away from the eurocentric and androcentric methodologies which only observe and describe; methodologies which quantify, percentify, classify, completely indifferent to phenomena which cannot be obtained or explained through its frames. We need to deconstruct the dominant mythol- ogy, disallowing the invasion of the dominant discourse; refusing the integration of the South into the agenda of globalization and the war on terrorism. The new imaginary invites us to create a new spectrum of methods which depart from the linear mode of thought and perception to one that is more holistic, holographic. It urges us to search more qualitative methodologies in oral history, experiential analysis, using fluid categories, listening for the nuances, searching for the shadow, in poetry, in myth, in metaphor. It invites us to a way of knowing that refuses to control and exploit Nature, but one that finds our connectedness to Nature: to place together these fragments, to discern the essence, to move into another space, another time, recapturing hidden knowledges, regenerating forgotten spaces, refinding other cosmologies, reweaving the future. It is here perhaps, that the notion of the sacred survives; it is here in the cosmologies and rootedness of cultures; here in discarded knowledges of peoples on the peripheries here in the silenced wisdoms of women that we must seek the beginnings of an alternate discourse.

It is not difficult to see that we are at the end of an era, when every old category begins to have a hollow sound, and when we are groping in the dark to discover the new. Can we find new words, search new ways, create out of the material of the human spirit possibilities to transform the existing exploitative social order, to discern a greater human potential?

What we need in the world today are new universalisms; not universalisms that deny the many and affirm the one, not universalisms born of eurocen- tricities or patriarchalities; but universalisms that recognize the universal in the specific civilizational idioms in the world. Universalisms that will not deny the accumulated experiences and knowledges of past generations and that will not accept the imposition of any monolithic structures under which it is presumed all other peoples must be subsumed. New universalisms that will challenge the universal mode—militarization, nuclearism, war, patriarchy. Universalisms that will respect the plurality of the different societies, of their philosophy, of their ideology, their traditions and cultures; one that will be rooted in the particular, in the vernacular, one which will find a resonance in the different civilizations, birthing new cosmologies.

We need to imagine alternative perspectives for change: to craft visions that will evolve out of conversations across cultures and other traditions; conversations be- tween cultures that challenge and transcend the totalitarianism of the western logos; conversations that are not mediated by the hegemony of the universal discourse.

The new imaginary invites us to another human rights discourse; one that will not be trapped either in the universalisms of the dominant thinking tied as it is to a market economy, a monoculturalism, a materialistic ethic and the politics and polity of the nation state; neither must it be caught in the discourse of the culture specific but one that will proffer universalisms that have been born out of a dialogue of civilizations. And this will mean another ethic of dialogue. We need to find new perspectives on the universality of human rights: in dialogue with other cultural perspectives of reality, other notions of development, democracy, even dissent, other concepts of power (not power to control, power to hegemonize, but power to facilitate, to enhance) and governance; other notions of equality; equality makes us flat and faceless citizens of the nation state, perhaps the notion of dignity which comes from depth, from roots, could change the discourse: other concepts of justice—justice without revenge, justice with truth and reconciliation, justice with healing of individuals, of communities, because human kind proffers many horizons of discourse and because our eyes do not as yet behold those horizons, it does not mean that those horizons do not exist.

Take the universal discourse on democracy: the new magical word to reform the world, the Greater Middle East: the dominant understanding on democracy is tied to the notion of individual rights, private property, profit, the market economy; we are all equal we are told but the market works as the guarantor of inequality, of unequal distribution, of how only a few will have and how the many must not have. What shall we do with the rhetoric of political equality on which this democracy is built, while the majority are increasingly dispossessed, living below poverty lines? We must seek new understandings of democracy; that will include a concept of freedom that is different from that which is enshrined in the Enlightenment and its Market. There is an urgent need to reinvent the political; to infuse the political with the ethical: the new political imaginary speaks to an ethic of care.

In 1996, Madeleine Albright the then U.S. Secretary of State was asked what she felt about the 500,000 Iraqi children who had died as a result of U.S. economic sanctions (in the name of United Nations Security Council). In the context of the continuing war, was it a high price to pay? Was it worth it? She replied: “yes, all things considered, we think that the price is worth it.” Lives of children lost in wars are considered collateral damage.

In the world of rights we all are equal; each has the fundamental right to life. But what does the right to life mean to the genetically damaged children born all over the world because of depleted uranium? Depleted uranium that was used in wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and in Iraq for this generation, and for the generations to come.

The new political imaginary invites us to write another history: a counter he- gemonic history, a history of the margins. It is a journey of the margins: a journey rather than an imagined destination. A journey in which the daily-ness of our life proffers possibilities for our imaginary, survival, and sustenance; for connectedness and community. For the idea of imaginary is inextricably linked to the personal, political, and historical dimensions of community and identity. It is the dislocation expressed by particular social groups that makes possible the articulation of new imaginaries. These social groups, the margins, the global South, the South in the North, the South in the South, are beginning to articulate these new imaginaries.

The peasants in Chiapas, Mexico, describing their new imaginary explain their core vision in their struggle for their livelihoods and for retaining their life worlds. And in their profound and careful organization, in their political imagining and vision do not offer clear, rigid, universal truths ; knowing that the journey is in itself precious, sum up their vision in three little words: asking, we walk.

The asking in itself challenges master imaginaries, master narratives, masters’ houses, houses of reason; universal truths, of power, of politics, of patriarchy. The Zapatistas in offering another logic, draw the contours of this new imaginary.

The new political imaginary invites us to dismantle the master’s house; and as the poet, Audre Lorde said, the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. There is an urgent need to challenge the centralizing logic of the master narra- tive implicit in the dominant discourses of war, of security, of human rights, of democracy. This dominant logic is a logic of violence and exclusion, a logic of developed and underdeveloped, a logic of superior and inferior, a logic of civilized and uncivilized.

This centralizing logic must be decentered, must be interrupted, even disrupted. The new political imaginary speaks to this disruption; to this trespass.


It is a disruption of the dominant discourse and the dominant politics of our times and Public Hearings, Peoples Tribunals, Courts of Women are all expressions of people’s resistance: expressions of the new imaginary that is finding different ways of speaking Truth to Power, recognizing that the concepts and categories enshrined in the dominant thinking and institutions in our times, are unable to grasp the violence.

We must ask where can sovereign people go for redress, for reparation for the crimes committed against them? Where will the people of Iraq seek the reparation that is owed to them?

There are no mechanisms in the rights discourse (in its praxis or politics) where sovereign people can take sovereign nation states to task, locked as the discourse is into the terrain of the nation state: the states, on signing the International Covenants/Universal Declaration on Human Rights, become the guarantor of human rights and freedoms for their citizens; but what often happens is that the state is the greatest violator. We know that the International Criminal Court has been ratified by many countries but remains state-centric: the greatest violator, USA, refusing to ratify the Rome statute, continues to make bi-lateral treaties with other states assuring that the USA will not be prosecuted for war crimes that they will continue to commit with impunity.

So, where shall we find justice?

Perhaps, it is in the expressions of resistance seeking legitimacy not by the dominant standards, not from a dominant paradigm, not by the rule of law, but by claims to the truth offering new paradigms of knowledge, of politics: the Truth Commissions, the Public Hearings, the Peoples’ Tribunals, the Courts of Women are movements of resistance that are speaking to power, challenging power, speaking truth to the powerless, creating other reference points; other sources of inspiration, speaking to the conscience of the world, returning ethics to politics, decolonizing our minds and our imaginations, moving away from the master imaginary, finding worlds that embrace many worlds.

The South has, for too long accepted a worldview that has hegemonized its cultures, decided its development model, defined its aesthetic categories, outlined its military face, determined its science and technology, its nuclear options and moulded its modes of governance through the modern nation state. For the modern idiom of politics is the eurocentric world of nation-states, centralized, bureaucra- tized, militarized, some even nuclearized. The nation state in its homogenization of the polity, has subsumed all cultural diversity, all civilizational differences, into one uniform political entity, which now belongs to the New World Order.

A cosmology constructed of what has come to be known as universal values; a cosmology whose philosophical, ideological, and political roots were embedded in the specific historical context of the culture of the west. What qualified it then to be termed universal? The vision of the world in which the centre of the world was Europe and later North America (West) encapsulated all civilizations into its own western frames: it reduced their cultural diversities into a schema called civilization; it made universal the specific historical experiences of the west. It announced that what was relevant to the west had to be a model for the rest of the world: what was good for the centre had to be meaningful for the periphery. All that was western simply became universal. Every other civilization, every system of knowledge came to be defined and compared vis--vis this paradigm submitting to its insights as imposition, its blindness as values, its tastes as canons, in a word to its euro-centricities.

The Other in this cosmology were the civilizations of Asia, the Pacific, Africa, Latin America, the Arab world. Scarcely twenty years were enough to make two billion people define themselves as under-developed (Illlich 1981) vis--vis the post war growth model, the market economy and the international economic order conceived of at Bretton Woods. It minisculed all social totalities into one single model, all systems of science to one mega science, all indigenous medicine to one imperial medicine, all knowledge to one established regime of thought, all develop- ment to gross national product, to patterns of consumption, to industrialization, to the western self image of homo-economicus with all needs commodity defined, and homo economicus has never been gender neutral.

This cosmos of values has determined the thought patterns of the world, as also the world’s ecological patterns: indicating its scientific signs, giving it the develop- ment symbols, generating the military psyche, defining knowledge, truth: universal truths which have been blind, to cultures, race, class, gender. Universal patriarchal truths, whatever the cultural ethos, whatever the civilizational idiom.


What is essential is not to develop new doctrines or dogmas, or to define a new, coherent political schema but, to suggest a new imaginative attitude, one that can be radical and subversive which will be able to change the logic of our development. Perhaps as the poet says we should now break the routine, do an extravagant action that would change the course of history. What is essential is to go beyond the politics of violence and exclusion of our times and to find new political imaginations.

An imaginary where people of the margins, of the global South are subjects of our own history, writing our own cultural narratives, offering new universals, imagining a world in more life enhancing terms, constructing a new radical imaginary.

We must seek new imaginaries from the South: the South not only as third world, as the civilizations of Asia, the Arab world, Africa, Latin America; but the South as the voices and movements of peoples, wherever these movements exist.

The South as the visions and wisdoms of women.

The South as the discovering of new paradigms, which challenge the exist- ing theoretical concepts and categories, breaking the mind constructs, seeking a new language to describe what it perceives, refusing the one, objective, rational, scientific world view as the only world view. The South as the discovery of other cosmologies, as the recovery of other knowledges that have been hidden, submerged, silenced: the South as a rebellion of these silenced knowledges.

The South as history; the South as memory.

The South as the finding of new political paradigms, inventing new political patterns, creating alternative political imaginations: the South as the revelation of each civilization in its own idiom: the South as conversations between civilizations: The South then as new universalisms.

It invites us to challenge the master imaginary, to create a new imaginary, the South as new political imaginary (Kumar 2005).


The Courts of Women are an articulation of the new imaginary. The Courts of Women are an unfolding of a space, an imaginary: a horizon that invites us to think, to feel, to challenge, to connect, to dare to dream.

It is an attempt to define a new space for women, and to infuse this space with a new vision, a new politics. It is a gathering of voices and visions of the global south. The Courts of Women reclaim the subjective and objective modes of knowing, creating richer and deeper structures of knowledge in which the observer is not distanced from the observed, the researcher from the research, poverty from the poor. The Courts of Women seek to weave together the objective reality (analyses) with the subjective testimonies of the women; the rational with the intuitive ; the personal with the political; the logical with the lyrical (through video testimonies, artistic images and poetry); we cannot separate the dancer from the dance .

It invites us to discern fresh insights, offering us other ways to know, urging us to seek deeper layers of knowledge towards creating new paradigms of knowledge. The Courts of Women are public hearings: the Court is used in a symbolic way. The Courts are sacred spaces where women, speaking in a language of suffering, name the crimes, seeking redress, even reparation.

It is a rejection of the silencing of the crimes of violence. Silence subjugates; silence kills: breaking the silence signifies the point of disruption and of counter- hegemonic truth telling.

While the Courts of Women listen to the voices of the survivors, it also listens to the voices of women who resist, who rebel, who refuse to turn against their dreams. It hears challenges to the dominant human rights discourse, whose frames have excluded the knowledges of women. It repeatedly hears of the need to extend the discourse to include the meanings and symbols and perspectives of women. It speaks of a new generation of women’s human rights.

The Court of Women is a tribute to the human spirit: in which testimonies can not only be heard but also legitimized. The Courts provide witnesses, victims, survivors and resistors not only the validation of their suffering but also the vali- dation of their hopes and dreams that they have dared to hold. It speaks to the right of the subjugated and the silenced to articulate the crimes against them; it is a taking away of the legitimizing dominant ideologies and returning their life worlds into their own hands.

The Courts of Women celebrate the subversive voices, voices that disrupt the master narrative of war and occupation, of security, of justice, of patriarchy...

We need to find new spaces for our imaginations: gathering the subjugated knowledges, seeking ancient wisdoms, with new visions, listening to the many voices speaking but listening too to the many voices, unspoken; remembering our roots knowing our depths of wisdoms written on the barks of trees, written on our skins, as we search for the river beneath the river, listening to the different colors of the wind.
Supryia listens to this wind:
She offers another logic, another lyric,
lifting the human spirit, creating a new imaginary.
offering another dream.

Corinne Kumar is a poet, a dreamer leader, a visionary ... a pilgrim of life as she calls herself. With an abiding faith in women’s knowledge and all vulnerable wisdoms, she is a woman deeply committed to issues related to women and human rights, peace and justice. She has initiated and sustained groups at the local, regional, and inter- national level, whose core is transformational politics that is rooted in a more caring and compassionate society in immediate, lived realities. These include the Centre for Development Studies (CIEDS), Vimochana, a forum for women’s rights, both based in Bangalore, India and the Asian Women Human Rights Council, a regional network of women’s and human rights organizations. For the past decade, she has been the Director of El Taller, an international NGO based in Tunis that through its perspec- tives and programs, including training programs for NGO activists, attempts to create spaces for constructive reflection and action on the important issues of our times and enables a South-South and North-South dialogue. Information on the World Courts of Women is available at: www.eltaller.org.


Illich, Ivan. 1981. Shadow Work, Vernacular Values Examined. London: Marion Boyars Inc.

Kumar, Corinne. 2005. A South Wind Towards A New Political Imaginary: Dialogue and Difference. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thornton, Lawrence. 1987. Imagining Argentina. New York: Doubleday.
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