My friend Harsha, writing about Singur, mentioned a writer called Sugata Srinivasaraju. I discovered his columns on Outlook and was piqued enough to create a login to check out his articles. I liked this one about "Public Intellectuals", or the lack thereof in India.
"a question that trails us is who should ensure that big issues are raised and brought to focus? It is here that we feel the absence of public intellectuals. This is a tribe that has diminished in the recent past...An independent, non-aligned, amateur hell-raiser, dutiful letter writer and conscience-keeper has gone missing from our midst -- and hence the steep fall in public discourse. "
His quote from Edward Said is too good to omit any part of it:
"...The intellectual is an individual with a specific public role in society that cannot be reduced simply to being a faceless professional, a competent member of a class just going about her/his business. The central fact for me is, I think, that an intellectual is an individual endowed with a faculty for representing, embodying, articulating a message, a view, an attitude, philosophy or opinion to, as well as for, a public. And this role has an edge to it, and cannot be played without a sense of being someone whose place it is publically to raise embarrassing questions, to confront orthodoxy and dogma (rather than produce them), to be someone who cannot be easily co-opted by governments or corporations, and whose raison d'etre is to represent all those people and issues that are routinely forgotten or swept under the rug..."
Offhand, I thought of Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar as people who fit the above description of a public intellectual. Can you think of any other examples?