The extreme violence the world is experiencing in 21st century is of bit different type ? what world now calls it terrorist violence in the post-9/11 situation. In a way violence is violence by whatever name we call it. Wars until twentieth century were representative of aggressive invasions by some countries against the other, or some nations against other nations. However, terrorist violence has two characteristics: one, it is not frontal war (but not guerilla war either) and two, it is more of a reactive violence.
Recent terroristic attacks by Naxalites or Maoists, whatever we choose
to call them, are of the intensity which have disturbed the
whole country. Also, the brutality with which jihadis in
Pakistan are killing are highly disturbing as well. The attack
last Friday i.e. on 28th May on Ahmedi Mosques in Lahore killing
70 persons who were praying inside the two mosques shook the
conscience of humanity.
India produced apostle of non-violence in the person of Gandhi in the
last century and he liberated India from clutches of British
colonialism through non-violent means. Many people begin to
raise question in the face of such terroristic attacks on
innocent civilians as to the relevance of Gandhiji's
non-violence in our era. Has Gandhi become irrelevant? Is he fit
only for paying rich tributes on his birth day or day of
martyrdom, and nothing else?
It is for Gandhian philosophers to answer these questions. Are those who
proclaim themselves to be Gandhians, take Gandhi and his
philosophy seriously? Or Gandhism has also become a sort of
religion with certain rituals and priesthood with certain
ashrams and properties thrown in? Where are active Gandhians?
Gandhi was not mere philosopher of non-violence but an active
practitioner who made it a way of life.
When I was visiting Gujarat during eighties when frequent caste and
communal violence was taking place I did not find a single
Gandhian in Ahmedabad (which has Sabarmati Ashram) who could
dare communalists or even undertake an indefinite fast (as most
powerful tool Gandhi employed to fight communal violence) to
stop communal frenzy. In fact during 2002 those in charge of
Sabarmati Ashram did not allow a peace meeting to be held on
their premises by peace activists like Medha Patkar and others
fearing state government may stop their grant. How such
Gandhians who care for state grant can ever practice ideals of
Gandhian philosophy based on the concept of human behavior
purged of all vested interests.
Let us first understand crucial elements of Gandhian philosophy of
non-violence. Gandhiji always spoke of Satyagraha and Ahimsa
i.e. insistence on truth and non-violence. Both concepts are
integral to each other. No non-violence is possible without
truth and no truth is possible without non-violence either.
Also, we often say God is truth but Gandhiji reversed this and
said Truth is God.
Why truth and non-violence are integral to each other is because truth has
to be non-coercive and based on deeper conviction. An element of
coercion would contaminate truth. Violence, on the other hand,
is highest degree of coercion and is used to make people believe
what they do not want to believe and accept what they do not
want to accept. Thus violence and truth are totally opposed to
Non-violence, on the other hand, guarantees freedom of
conscience and people are free to base their behavior on their
deeper conviction. Self interests would also contaminate truth
and lead to unauthentic behavior and hence violence. Thus a
non-violent behavior should have following attributes: 1) It
must be based on genuine conviction; 2) it should be truthful
and 3) it should be based on freedom of conscience. Any behavior
lacking these attributes is likely to lead to violence.
It is also important to understand that by violence we should not only mean
physical violence. Violence can be subdivided into three
categories: 1) physical violence leading to injury or death; 2)
violence by words and 3) violence of ethical norms and
fundamental values. Physical violence could be either individual
or of nations and communities; similarly violence by words also
can imply individual or group or entire nation and of course
violation of norms could be cultural norms of a civilizational
group or those of an individual.
Another important dimension is that behavior such as this is possible
only if an individual or a collectivity (a group, nation or
religious or cultural community) is possible only when one is
constant communication with ones inner self and is very well
conscious of ones own ethical norms and civilizational values.
Such a communication is sin qua non of authentic behavior.
Interestingly an American Jesuit and a Gandhian John Merton
describes such a communication as ?encounter with solitude?. One
can deeply reflect and have encounter with ones self only when
one communicates with oneself in complete solitude unaffected by
what goes on out there and totally concentrates on what is
inside ones own authentic self. That is why all Rishis, saints
and prophets never neglected this deep reflection and
communication with ones own self and thus discovered truth.
Of course this authentic communication with self can be sub-divided into
two categories: 1) one who does it for self knowledge and does
or does not want to communicate with the world outside him or
her and 2) one who not only wants to communicate with the world
at large but also wants to transform the world. Many prophets
and Gandhi himself in our own time falls into second category.
Gandhi was primarily an activist and was not only in search of truth but
also wanted to see truth in action. For such people justice and
freedom not only of the self but of the entire people or nation
become central. Such people not only transform themselves but
know that individual transformation would mean nothing without
transforming the world around them. This is what Gandhiji set
about to do both in South Africa and in India when he returned
to his own country.
Thus from above discussion we can conclude that for a non-violent world
following conditions must be fulfilled: 1) the world order has
to be based on truthfulness and justice and 2) non-coercive and
genuine convictions and freedom of self or of nations and
communities. Since today our world lacks all this violence has
become all pervasive around us either aggressive violence of one
country or nation against another country or nation or reactive
violence of resistance groups, freedom fighters or even of terrorists.
I would also like to say here that those who follow founder of such
movements often fail to rise up to the ethical standards of its
founders and soon the movement develops vested interests and
becomes a powerful establishment, the very anti-thesis of the
original movement. Gandhian movement could not escape this
irony. Not only after Gandhiji?s death but in his life itself
Gandhi began to become irrelevant with dawn of freedom. Gandhi
was no more needed as freedom was there and now power was the
goal. Gandhi?s advice was no more needed as it could deliver
values, not power.
And then Gandhian movement was soon transformed into an establishment
with allotments of lands, formation of trusts, control over
properties and so on. Even worse, it lost its dynamic spirit and
became orthodoxy with its symbol of spinning wheel and khadi
without much relevance to new economic realities. Thus Gandhians,
devoid of creative thinking became ritualistic.
Now coming to all pervasive violence in the contemporary world how relevant
is Gandhism? Its relevance depends of course on truth, justice
and freedom form coercion. Since these attributes are lacking
how can we have a violence-free world? These attributes are sin
qua non and despite everyone talking of Gandhian non-violence,
violence remains all pervasive.
Can we then say violence-free world is just a dream? In a sense yes but
not quite so. One must dream a dream but one also needs an
activist like Gandhi with creative thinking and practical
application. The concept of non-violence has been there for
centuries as all spiritual thinkers, Prophets, Rishi and Munis
have emphasized it but it was Gandhi in twentieth century who
practically and creatively applied for freedom of the country.
The problem of violence has become much more complex with highly
destructive weapons based on latest technology and hence results
in loss of heavy life, less of actual combatants but mostly of
non-combatants. It is, therefore, highly necessary that violence
in our world which is highly unjust, highly unevenly developed
and promotes greed among few, ignoring needs of vast majority of
people and is heavily biased in favor of few rich nations, to
creatively apply non-violent methods of resistance to save humanity.
Should we wait for another Gandhi? It will be our weakness to wait for
one. We need collective value-based thinking. We must transform
our education system and make it accessible to poorest of poor
again through creative methods, an education system which is
cooperative, not competitive. Gandhian concept of economy has to
be just and need based and our education system has to promote
this concept of economy with creative use of modern technology.
We can then hope to contain violence at least on local levels.