Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ahimsa! Then and Now

In my last post. I wrote about Ahimsa and its relevance to our current circumstances. As a Riposte, AGG put up a very interesting post with a very valid point. Very correctly, she pointed out that an eye for an eye would make the whole world blind. She goes on to say, “Ahimsa looks good on paper, and not in practice. Still, there must be something to it, if it helped us get rid of the British.” Towards the end of her post, she says that she does not yet have a definitive answer.

I can understand that. There is no definitive answer. The reason - there is never one definitive solution that applies to all circumstances, all problems and all situations.

On Ahimsa itself – It isn’t that I think Ahimsa is not relevant anymore.

It still is and yet it always isn’t.

I had, in my earlier post, said that Ahimsa was a very practical solution to a problem of the time. Let me try to explain myself.

Gandhi, a brilliant politician and the man who introduced us to ahimsa, used non-violence shrewdly and wisely. He used ahimsa to bond a fragmented, culturally diverse people and direct their combined energy towards one common objective. As an example, what did Madras have to do with Punjab then... or even now… culturally? How else could he gather the numbers together on one platform to fight one battle, unless he appealed to some collective sensibility?

Ahimsa appealed to our cross-cultural (now Indian) sensibilities of self-pity and self-sacrifice. If you think that I am going too far about our sensibilities, go back to our Hindi film music. We have very popular songs such as “Gunghoroo ki tarah bajta hi chala hun main” OR “Sheesha ho ya dil ho... thooth jaata hai.” Read the Ramayan or the Mahabharata and you will find stories about rishis and saints fasting for years and giving up worldly pleasures to achieve enlightenment or seek an audience with God.

In addition, ahimsa ensured that a people, weakened by years of oppression and therefore obsessed primarily with self-preservation agreed to conflict because the perceived collateral damage and loss of life was relatively minimal.

Whenever, there were mass deaths, such as the Jalianwala Baug incident, it appealed to our “Gunghoroo” mindset… it made us pity ourselves and yet make us angrier and more resolved to beat down the demon that attacked the unarmed.

Ahimsa was a very practical solution, by a brilliant strategist, to a problem of the time.

Yet, Gandhi supported the British in Boer war and helped recruit Indians for World War 1. He also offered “moral and non-violent support” to the World War 2 effort, but this time in return for freedom.

This is not a criticism of Gandhi. I have immense respect for the man, his methods, his passion, and his organisation skills. It is to his credit that he very effectively used the only weapons at his disposal to achieve a very difficult end objective.

Gandhi, by the way, did write to Hitler to try to get the only man who could prevent the war to do so. And in the end the Congress did not end up supporting the British WW2 effort after negotiations failed. The result was the quit India movement.

Some would call this blackmail. Some called Gandhi a wily baniya.

In my opinion, I think he used his weapons effectively. Ahimsa, his first weapon, was only a means to the end – freedom. His other weapon was negotiation. He used that very effectively too. He did as was required, in the circumstances that prevailed.

Would Gandhi use different weapons in different times? I am convinced he would.

Nevertheless, is Ahimsa applicable at all today? I think it is. But to understand Ahimsa, it is equally important to understand the use of violence.

Man has always used violence for defence, for retribution or to exploit an economic / moral opportunity.

My personal interpretation of Ahimsa does not allow me to use violence for either retribution or for exploitation. I would however; use violence for defence if there is no other alternative.

I would therefore never recommend finding the chap who hit the Indian student and bludgeoning him to death OR killing Kasab now. Both are acts of vengeance. Eye for an eye makes the world blind. I buy that.

Neither would I recommend getting children to elbow each other to get into a bus first. This qualifies as using violence to exploiting an economic / moral opportunity. So does going to war with a country to exploit its natural reserves.

However, I would recommend violence if a nation started bombing any country and all peace processes failed.

That in a BIG nutshell, is my take on ahimsa.

Ahimsa… is there still such a thing… The answer my friend… is blowing in the wind… in the winds of change… and the winds blow differently… in different directions… with different answers... to different questions...

21 comments:

Mukund said...

I am not really sure if ahimsa is the way to go or not... this is a very interesting post... There is no conclusion to this..

Ms.R. said...

I totally agree on this..

Would Gandhi use different weapons in different times? I am convinced he would.

One is can't be a standard solution to everything, though Ahmisa did work best.

PS I wish I could practice it in real life. I'm the kinds person who believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and I end up in shit :P So yes, sometimes I do get blinded by it all. :)

agent green glass said...

wheee. i'm applauding. what a great post. and this is turning out to be such an interesting conversation. just walked into work, and read this.

i think you've nailed it. ahimsa, like anything else is a tool. you need to know how to use it and when. and yes, it is a tool you use to negotiate, to get attention, to seek a solution. it can not be a tool when everything breaks down, and the nuclear warheads are flying towards you.

what's the point. i'll just stand there, while you whiz in and wipe me out in two mins. no, i'll run...after i press my button, so you go down with me. sad, but true.

and ya, ahimsa looks great in history books. because i's a tool that is probably more difficult to use successfully than violence. and in retrospect it always leaves you feeling good about yourself.

but there is no answer - because finally ahimsa is a personal choice. you either subscribe to it, or you shoot the guy who's been honking at you for ages.

that said, i wish i practised it a lot more. : ) and once again, brilliant post blog gore.

Grayquill said...

I cannot really express an opinion specifically to your post. I can speak from principles. Such as big problems or long standing problems are complicated and solutions must be multifaceted. People in general seem to want to have simplistic answers to complicated problems. It seems most people are not willing to expend the energy and the research to find out effective answers. Answers in general are easy but rarely effective. One thing for sure sitting back and hoping something will change or hoping someone else changes it – ends with poor results.

Kaddu said...

So in a nutshell, what you mean to say is nothing is right or wrong. What might be right for one person, at one point of time & space, could be completely wrong, even for the same person in a different time & space. So we don't genralize... we look at each problem/situation individually & work out a solution. Right?

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ No Mukund... no conclusion... like most things in life mate... subscribing to options is a personal choice...

As the Mind Meanders said...

Hi R

Be yourself girl... and you will learn to practice control... I am sure...

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ AGG

I have to thank you. If you hadn't written what you did... I would never have ventured into writing about this issue to the extent that I have now...

Please keep writing... and keep inspiring...

Ms.R. said...

hehehe ya. My parents have been praying for that since they started recognizing bully paterns.. @ the age of 2 I guess :P

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ Grayquill

I am in complete agreement... "Jugaad" will not work here...

Hopefully... at some point of time in the future... we as people, globally, will start looking at these issues from the right perspective... I only hope that any external event that necessitates this... is not something worse... as it usually happens... something like aliens trying to take over the earth :-) Christ... I need treatment...

As the Mind Meanders said...

Yes Kaddu... Personal choice and collective choice based to the situation at hand...

You have written a very nice post on this though... very interesting read...

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ R again...

Oh! You are a late bloomer... at 21... Late bloomers though are always stronger in their habits though...

I pray for all those around you :-)

Kaddu said...

@ "aliens trying to take over the earth"


Oh but that's bound to happen, don't u think... the way we keep fighting amongst ourselves! ROTFL!

And btw, news ppl are spies & agents working for those very aliens u know! They are here to create panic amongst us, and keep us in fear and divided, so that when the Aliens attack the Earth, they don't face much of a defense! ;-)

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ Kaddu... the true blue conspiracy theorist :-) LOL

Choco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
As the Mind Meanders said...

@ Choco

The second comment is noted your honour...

... And it does feel nice when someone like you who writes so well likes something....

This inspires me to write more...

Thank You

Ms.R. said...

Surprise for you on my blog ;)

Ms.R. said...

Your comment hit the mark... I'l rethink my decision I promise..

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

found this post very interesting. am a huge gandhi fan and have a few posts on him-not scholarly but subjective.This is the link.
http://pareltank.blogspot.com/search/label/Gandhiji
true that gandhi used ahimsa brilliantly and shrewdly. But thru out your post, there is this suggestion that in his hands , ahimsa was a mere tool. while i agree with you it was a tool, i believe he could use it effectively because he BELIEVED in it. it is the strength of his conviction about the ethicality of weilding this tool, his conviction that this tool is moulded in the regions of innate spiritual content that lies latent in every human being that made him rush where wiser, more worldly wise men would have been terrified to tread. he KNEW it would work.

'Yet, Gandhi supported the British in Boer war and helped recruit Indians for World War 1. He also offered “moral and non-violent support” to the World War 2 effort, but this time in return for freedom'.
i beg to disagree. he had the larger picture in mind. britain was the lesser evil, he knew.that he chose to bargain is true but he wouldnt go for a similar bargain with hitler.

thoughts said...

good post.

As the Mind Meanders said...

@ Thought...

Thank You...