In law, silence means consent. If you were to see someone coming from behind me a knife in hand, with the obvious intention of killing me, and choose not to warn me about the imminent attack, in the eyes of the law you’d be seen to consent to the act, and so be deemed to be an accomplice to murder.
In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for all Seasons, which was made into a movie, Thomas More uses this line of reasoning when he is tried for refusing to take the oath that Henry VIII is the legitimate head of the Church of England, a denial of which amounts to treason. More argues that his silence on the matter must be interpreted as compliance. But Henry doesn’t buy this logic and has More head lopped off by the executioner’s axe, anyway.
However, silence in a different context can convey the very opposite of consent, and it can represent dissent or disagreement.
Indeed, in some cases silence can metaphorically speak volumes and be far more eloquent than a spate of words.
During her infamous Emergency when Indira Gandhi muzzled all opposition, spoken or written, the country resounded with a resonant silence, the seething silence of suppression.
That silence found a thunderous outlet in the electoral eruption which followed when, on the advice of her sycophants, she lifted the Emergency and was soundly trounced at the hustings, giving way to Janata rule. Despite being an astute and seasoned politician, she mistook the silence of repressed anger with that of acquiescence.
Today, once again, when criticism of the sarkar and its catastrophic and continuing bungling of the pandemic – from failing to ensure adequate supplies of vaccine and oxygen, to under-reporting of deaths, and imposing on-and-off lockdowns – is being curbed by the powers that be, an eerie silence of enforced acquiescence is being imposed on the country.
Will this silence of pent-up protest break out in a resounding denunciation in the next general election? Perhaps, or perhaps not.
Whatever the outcome, what remains true is that, in its soundlessness, silence has a way of having the last word.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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