“Is India still the land of non-violence?”
No land is either of violence or of non-violence. These are attributes of human beings. So, the question should read: are we shifting our faith from ahimsa to violence?
No one makes, voluntarily and naturally, such a shift. People are made to undergo such a shift in orientation. (Left to themselves, people busy themselves with addressing their needs from day to day.) Peace and ahimsa, not cruelty and violence, are native to humanity.
So, no people can be oriented from peace to violence without being violent with their own nature. But, given the power of propaganda, it is possible, once demagogues have succeeded in alienating a people from their own nature and thinking process that the expression of their collective will through the medium of violence begins to seem natural and valorous.
It is important to recognise that violence is a means. It cannot, therefore, be understood in isolation from the ends it is made to serve. Who employs violence? And why?
In our recent history, there is a manifest connection between ahimsa (non-violence) and freedom. Gandhiji connected the two in our freedom struggle. The path to our freedom was illumined with ahimsa. To Gandhi, even freedom was not an end in itself.
The important thing was what we would do with freedom. There is always the possibility that we would so abuse freedom as to bring about it annulment. Gandhi was worried about it. Towards the end of his life, he was agonised about it. In the martyrdom of Gandhi, himsa (violence) overpowers freedom; the most fundamental freedom of all: the freedom just to live.
It is important to note that in Hind Swaraj (1908), Gandhi denounced western culture. The reason was that, from Gandhi’s perspective, violence was of the essence in that culture. Technology facilitated and amplified the scope for violence.
Colonialism, which murdered the freedom of the colonised, including India, resulted from this. He emphasises that if our freedom only means that the British leave us and we retain their culture, the attainment of freedom would mean nothing to us. He believed that western freedom and slavery (for others) were inseparable.
The on-goings in our country today has nothing to do with our culture, or the Hindu religion. It is a masked version of western culture, masquerading itself as Hindu self-assertion. The western culture has been intolerant and violent.
As Gandhi argues, it is inimical to the expansion of the human soul. It works against the interests of humanity. So, enslaving people who are different from oneself is in the nature of western culture. It was never so with Indian culture. Vasundhaiva kutumbakam (the world as one family) has been its core vision.
We welcomed influences and enrichment from all sources. We exalted hospitality to a spiritual virtue. We were not insecure or neurotic about those who were different from us. As Swami Vivekananda said in his Chicago Address (1893), India welcomed the persecuted from every nation. Hospitality never was a western ideal. Intrusion was. Domination was.
The superiority of the western culture was established through the medium of overwhelming force. Even today its foremost representatives talk of “shock and awe” as the lingua franca of international relations!
If my assumption as stated above is right, it stands to reason that what is happening today is a re-colonisation of India. India as a “socialist, secular, democratic republic” is being annexed and morphed into a theocratic state. This is no longer in the domain of speculation. It is inevitable that this process necessitates violence.
No radical and massive reorganisation of a society has ever happened without large-scale violence. This is evident even from familiar examples. If a carpenter is to turn timber into a table, he has to use violence!
So, the crucial factor is not that there is violence, but that a radical change is being foisted on “we, the people of India…” Opinions will vary as to whether this is a good thing. Polarisation of the people is not only an inevitable outcome but also a necessary means for bringing about the designated change. The irony is that national unity (One Nation, One Language, One Culture) is being forged via polarisation.
What could be the outcome of all this? What has history to tell us about it?
Well, one thing is clear and certain. Those who resort to violence against any section of a society are poor custodians of human freedom. At the given point in time, it might seem that only the freedom of a particular segment – the targeted group – will be jeopardised. But that is a naïve assumption.
In a violence-ridden society, the freedom of all will be undermined. Quality of life will be degraded. Anarchy will be the order of the day. It might seem to the managers of the theatre of violence that anarchy of this kind can be suppressed with brute force. It is as logical as assuming that burns can be treated with firebrands. Every society in history has sunk deep into disarray in the wake of adopting violence as it language of public transaction.
Violence takes a heavy toll on a people’s humanity. It abolishes the conditions necessary – so long as it continues to rage and reign – for the development of human beings. It undermines the wholeness of a society and degrades it into an aggregation of anxious individuals, and not a free association of citizens.
Violence breeds anxiety. Your brutal strength will not help in this respect. The United States of America, the mightiest nation in the world, is also the most insecure. An anxious society, that must eradicate all pockets and agents of presumed danger, is a neurotic society. It shall know no peace. The resultant situation is best described as ‘the wall of all against all.’
To what extent we are already infected with violence can be readily seen from, say, Delhi election campaigns. In the recent years, we have seen a steady, alarming, rise in the degree of violence employed for effectiveness in campaigning. The adversary is degraded.
There is no need, then, to present one’s report card or apologise for one’s track-record to anyone. Campaigns of villifications are undertaken with a heavy artillery of falsehood compounded with fear-mongering as to what will happen if the other party wins! Violence and falsehood are two sides of the same coin. It doesn’t have to be argued that this corrupts the very soul of a society.
But, in the end, whether violence-driven agendas should succeed – and through that, if the use of violence should gain legitimacy and public currency – is also a matter of individual choice. The scary thing today is that, due to the influence of the electronic media, violence is almost becoming a covert public entertainment. A taste for violence is being injected into the national psyche. It is then equated with effectiveness in governance.
So, it doesn’t matter if farmers are dying by suicide in thousands, children are sinking deeper and deeper into malnutrition, rural distress is mounting, the youth’s frustration due to increasing unemployment is seething. A surgical strike will win elections. A Balakot will ensure landslide victories.
The vivisection of a state, the abrogation of an Article, the spread of anxiety – ill or well founded – among certain communities, will make elections a walk in the park for you. This popular taste for violence is indeed a cause for worry. Why it is so, will be evident, if it already isn’t, soon enough. It is unlikely, then, to leave many looking smug or smart.