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...