Home > Archives (2006 on) > 2007 > December 22, 2007 - Annual Number 2007 > Is the Cult of Non-Violence opposed to the Fight against the Culture of (...)

Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Is the Cult of Non-Violence opposed to the Fight against the Culture of Tyranny, Injustice, Oppression and Exploitation?

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Lakshmidhar Mishra

Both violence and non-violence have to be perceived and internalised in the context of sacrosanctity of human life and the volley of abuses, cruelties and indignities which are heaped against human life every day in India and abroad. Let me start with a couplet from Maharishi Valmiki’s Ramayan which espouses the validity of my thesis apart from enunciating lucidly and forcefully the quintessence of protection of all lives. I quote from the English translation:

O hunter, please do not kill this pair of beautiful hawks
immersed in an act of pure love. What lasting fame would you attain if you wantonly kill them?

The simple philosophical meaning underlying these lines is this.
Do not indulge in mindless killing for life, once destroyed, cannot be recreated.

In Bheesma Parva of Mahabharat, Bheesma Pitamaha, the grand sire of the Kuru dynasty, utters words that reinforce the primacy and centrality of that philosophy of sacrosanctity of human life. Bheesma had fallen on the tenth day of the battle of Kurukshetra and was lying stricken on a bed of arrows, writhing in physical and mental anguish. Yudhistheera approached him along with his four brothers and asked him: ‘O Pitamaha! Please enlighten us as to what is the ultimate truth of life.’ Quick came the reply from the quivering lips of the grand sire:

Let it be known by you and others, O Yudhistheera, that human beings are the finest and best in creation. There is nothing greater than man.

The Mahabharat of Vyasa is a product of his rich imagination and creativity and Yudhistheera and all others are nothing but imaginary characters in the great epic. The cultural message underlying the beautiful lines of Bheesma Parva as quoted above is, however, important and worth imbibing. It is this:

Protect, preserve and promote human life and its essence and do not destroy it (or its essence) for once, destroyed, it cannot be recreated.

It also means:
Every human body and mind has an integrity which is inviolable.
Every human person has certain irreducible barest minimum needs such as right to land, potable water, food, clothing, health, medical care and treatment, clean and hygienic conditions for living accommodation, sanitation and personal hygiene and so on. Deprivation of any one of these amounts to violence to the human person.

This yearning for sustaining life with dignity and decency has manifested itself in numerous forms in the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas. To illustrate, the birth of a child, which signifies duplicationof human species, is a festive occasion, a source of excitement and joy, for parents, for neighbours and for the whole local community. We pray for the long life, uninterrupted health and well-being of the child in the following words of the Shukla Yajur Veda:
- You may live for one hundred years;
- You may see one hundred autumns (in all their resplendent glory);
- You may inhale the fragrance and freshness of one hundred autumns;
- You may listen to the whispers of falling leaves of one hundred autumns;
- You may minstrel to humanity in the language of one hundred autumns.

The warmth, zest and joy with which these lines were composed are evenly matched by the beauty of the following lines of Wordsworth many centuries later:
- My heart leaps up when I behold
- A rainbow in the sky
- So was it when my life began
- So be it when I shall grow old
- Or let me die
- The child is the father of man.

These lines indicate how the petals of human life unfurl themselves from early natal to late and neonatal stage, infancy to early childhood, early childhood to boyhood, boyhood to youth, youth to manhood and manhood to old age. The varied hues of the rainbow are reminiscent of the rich variety and diversity of life.

The importance of human life, the eternal longing for a clean, safe, healthy, productive and congenial existence has found lucid expression in the utterances of Indian poets such as Chandidas and Viswakabi Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore. To quote from two such poems to illustrate this point,

I
- Listen, O brother, listen
- Man stands head and shoulders
- Over everything else
- There is nothing greater than Man. (Chandidas)

II
- I do not wish to die
- (But) want to live in this beautiful planet
- I wish to live in the midst of human beings
- Amidst the rays of the (rising and setting) sun
- Amidst the verdant green
- Of this multicoloured garden of beauty and fragrance
- How (fervently) I wish
- I could secure a place amidst the hearts of living beings.
- (Viswakabi Rabindranath Tagore)

It is natural, therefore, to ask why is it that despite such lofty thoughts permeating the works of so many sages and seers, creative thinkers, poets and artistes, the corridors of history has been splashed with the blood of so many innocent girls and boys, women and men? Why is it that Kofi Annan, ex-Secretary-General, UN had to say with so much of anguish that the 20th century with the maximum number of genocides was the bloodiest one in human history? Why is it that so many children, ‘the flowers of home and family’, are being involuntarily pushed to work at a time when they are supposed to be attending school? Why are girls and women being trafficked within and across borders for forced labour and commercial sexual exploitation? Why have we erected so many artificial walls of division between girls and boys, women and men? Why are members of the SC and ST communities being pushed to the background as bonded labourers in the name of development? Why are landless agricultural labourers being gunned down and their bodies being thrown to oblivion for the only ‘offence’ of demanding minimum wage? Why are so many manmade disasters taking place at home, at the workplace, in the rest shelters, in protection homes? Why is it that undertrial prisoners are subjected to so much of incarceration and sometimes are made to undergo imprisonment much longer than the maximum penalty awardable to them for the particular offence committed by them? Are they non- persons to be deprived of all the human rights to which they are entitled? Why are women subjected to so much of sexual harassment at the workplace? Why is it that in the name of development we are over exploiting our mother earth so that eventually no natural resource for development will be left? Why is it that the doyens of the civil society have eyes to see numerous macabre tragedies being enacted before them and ears to hear the wailing of humanity but no tongue to speak? Why is it that the ‘cycles of 20 centuries have removed us farther from God and nearer the dust’? These and many other questions continue to haunt us as we proceed further. This essay is an objective and dispassionate analysis of where we are vis-à-vis the primacy and centrality of life, what have we gained by subjecting the most precious object in creation to multiple forms of depravities and banalities and where do we go from here. It is also an attempt to read Bapu’s thoughts in the midst of this all-enveloping gloom to discover, if we can, a streak of light, a ray of hope for a bewildered humanity which has lost is true path to true evolution and progress amidst a labyrinthine maze.

I

BOYS and girls are born out of the same mother’s womb. They breathe the same air, they eat the same food, drink the same water, wear the apparel made out the same fibre. The same RBC and WBC flow in the blood of their veins and arteries. Girls are as intelligent, imaginative, creative, ingenuous and resourceful as boys.

Why is it that no sooner the foetus is out of the protective warmth of the mother’s womb than it is subjected to so much of violence? Why do we take recourse to sex determination test (amniocentesis) which is the first form of violence even before the foetus falls on earth? Why do we take recourse to foeticide or destruction of the foetus when we find that it’s a girl and not a boy? Why do we take recourse to female infanticide?

Discrimination is the first major form of violence. Discrimination manifests itself in determination of sex of the child, in food, in dress, in education and in total upbringing of children. It manifests itself in early child marriage, in dowry, in hurling all forms of indignities and indecencies if the girl turns out to be barren or infertile or if it gives birth to another girl child. In those eventualities and in a made dominated society she becomes the butt of ridicule and her life is reduced to less than a biological existence. Life for her becomes a nightmare, a living death.

Very recently in one of the conferences of the Chairpersons of State Human Rights Commissions (18) held at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi on November 19, 2007, it transpired that one of the most progressive and literate States of the Indian Union has taken a stand that children assisting their parents in traditional occupations (carpentry, smithy, leatherwork) cannot be called working children and there is no child labour as far a these traditional occupations are concerned.

To this it is pertinent to raise a fundamental question. Why should anyone cling to the theory of every child following his or her ancestral calling? Must we, the children, do so out of parental compulsion even if it does not suit our capacities, preferences and interests? Must we mechanically and blindly pursue our ancestral calling even if the same was unethical and immoral (like pursuing the calling of a pimp, a prostitute, a drug peddler or one who indulges in hawala transaction)? Should we on the premise of teaching and learning inter- generational skills promote and perpetuate a caste- based artificial social division of labour?

Thus social discrimination based on the artificial and soulless social division of labour on the basis of caste is the first major form of violence as those who are at the lower rung of the ladder of that division like the Dalits or members of the SC community are the worst victims of that discrimination.

Birth in a particular milieu or caste or community is independent of one’s choice. And yet it is ironical that birth in a particular caste or community becomes the starting point of social isolation and economic exploitation. Despite successive and determined attempts of social reformers like Mahatma Jyotiba Phule, Savitribai Phule, Sant Ravidas, Kabir, Guru Nanak and scores of others to remove caste based stigmas including untouchability, they have acquired deep roots. Shocked and deeply incensed at the severity of some of these socially abominable practices, Bapu had once observed with a lot of anguish:

I do not wish to be reborn but if I am reborn I wish that I would be reborn as a Harijan, as an untouchable so that I may lead a continuous struggle against the oppression and injustice which have been heaped on these classes of people.

The Dalits or members of the SC community are human beings entitled to the same dignity and decency as any other member of the civil society but in effect, and tragically so, over the years formal channels of power have penetrated into the entire fabric of society perpetuating the culture of subordination and bondage on the ground that it is all preordained. The system of social division of labour has degenerated itself into one of the worst forms of caste hierarchy which has thrived on expropriation and ruthless exploitation. Whether it is inequality in distribution of landholdings or rackrenting or absentee landlordism or serfdom, they are all ugly manifestations of caste hierarchy.

To make mattes worse, untouchability continues to be practised after six decades of independence despite constitutional and legal provisions, despite the relentless struggle launched against it by a number of social reformers and activists almost at an unremitting pace. The members of the SC community are not allowed to draw water from public wells, are prevented from eating with others in restaurants and public places, are denied to drink tea in the same cup as members of privileged castes, are not allowed to walk with chappals or shoes or use an umbrella inside a caste Hindu locality and not allowed to ride on a bicycle in the streets used exclusively by caste Hindus. Even when they die their dead bodies are not allowed to be buried in their respective religious burial grounds or ghats.

Could there be any other worse form of violence to the human person of any other human being than this? The answer: an emphatic No.

II

CHILD LABOUR is the second specimen of one of the worst forms of violence which is at the cost of their fundamental human right to education guaranteed under Article 21A of the Constitution. A child is the finest and best form of creation known of his/her pristine purity, simplicity, innocence, nobility of character and guilelessness. Childhood is the most tender, formative and impressionable stage of human development. It’s a stage in the total cycle of human life which is meant for singing, dancing, caricaturing, cartooning, painting, sculpting, playing and learning and not a stage meant for being involuntarily pushed to work—hard, arduous, drudgerous and hazardous work. Such work stifles; it cripples, debilitates and also dehumanises. The dust, heat, fume, gaseous and toxic substances to which the children are exposed at the worksite would give rise to pulmonary diseases—TB, pleurisy, silicosis, pneumoconiosis, asbestosis; they would choke and suffocate the working children to death. They would be the worst victims of educational deprivation at the most formative stage of their life when they need to open up or unfold themselves. As million petals of childhood wither away in wilderness before blossoming to the flowers of youth the excitement and joy of childhood is also lost, never to be regained.

III

DISCRIMINATION in employment and occupation is the third specimen of violence to the human person of human beings who are born as human beings and are entitled to the same inalienable rights (of dignity, decency, equality and freedom) as any other human being but are treated differently as second class citizens on the ground of sex, religion (faith and belief), colour of skin, social origin, political ideology and national extraction. Prejudices, and not objective assessment of abilities and attitudes attributed to individuals belonging to a particular sex or social group, are responsible for such differentiation or segmentation or discrimination in the labour market.
Why do we term discrimination as a form of violence? The reasons are not one but many such as:
• Discrimination ignores merit and introduces extraneous considerations in the matter of recruitment, selection, training, human resource development, awards, rewards and incentives for a just and fair contribution by an individual to the tasks mandated.
• Discrimination shatters initiative, creativity and self- confidence; it demotivates and demoralises an individual beyond measure for no fault of his/her.
• Discrimination upsets equilibrium in employer-employee relations, strains the relations and such equilibrium, once lost, cannot be regained.
• Discrimination dampens the work environment and takes away the natural urge and flair for work which is detrimental to production and productivity.

IV

ALIENATION of land and progressive marginalisation of the members of the ST community on account of the land being taken away in the name of development is yet another major form of violence both before and after the LPC syndrome. At 84.3 million, according to the 2001 decennial census, the tribal population is largely egalitarian with minimal stratification. At one point of history they had a complete traditional command over natural resources. That command has been progressively derecognised and replaced by the superior authority of the state. Many parts of the Central Indian Tribal Belt (West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh) over the year have witnessed:

• intense industrial and mining activity;
• replacement of a hoary agro-forest traditional culture by a modern industrial culture where alienation and not inclusion is the inevitable outcome;
• large scale alienation of tribal land for public and private sector industrial and mining complexes resulting in denial of traditional sources of livelihood;
• the shock impulse generated by the new age of knowledge which is beyond the absorptive capacity of the members of the ST community who are unable to imbibe and assimilate the stresses and strains of modern age.

The quest for unplanned and unregulated industrialisation, urbanisation and unabashed exploitation of mineral resources (this is evident from the indictment issued by the Supreme Court in the recent judgement relating to grant of bauxite mining lease in Lanjigarh in Kalahandi in favour of an international corporate body for their aluminium complex), construction of hydroelectric projects and thermal stations and acquisition of tribal land has pushed the process of displacement further. Such displacement, from one’s native habitat where one is born and brought up, from the flora and fauna, from the air and water to which one is used for generations, is indeed traumatic. A very conservative estimate indicates that during the last 50 years approximately 21.6 million people in the country have been displaced due to construction of mega projects. This would mean that approximately 5,00,000 persons are being displaced every year.

Can any amount of compensation in shape of land, housing and money minimise, far less compensate, the amount of violence on account of displacement unleashed on the lives of innocent and guileless tribals? The answer: an emphatic ‘No’.

V

VIOLENCE caused to cultural, linguistic and religious minorities is the next in order of intensity (of such violence). Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists and Parses have been declared as minority communities by the Government of India. We have clear constitutional provisions (Articles 16, 21, 25, 29 and 30), legal provisions (National Commission for Minorities Act, 1992 and Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993) and institutional mechanisms (National Minorities Commission and National Human Rights Commission). It is, however, a matter of deep societal concern that the linguistic, cultural and religious minorities continue to suffer from a series of handicaps and disadvantages such as insecurity of life and limb, lack of dignity, honour, self-confidence, economic insecurity, lack of freedom to enjoy and develop their culture, belief and language. These handicaps and disabilities flow from the politics and culture of hatred and mindless violence on the one hand and distrust and suspicion of members of the majority community against members of the minority community on the other. These lead to the destruction of life and property of the minorities, inadequate flow of credit, unequal representation of minorities in public services, denial of minority status to minority educational institutions and lack of absolute rights in the matter of admission of candidates as also in the matter of maintaining, managing and controlling their educational institutions. The recent Rajendra Sachar Commission’s report submitted to Government of India on the status of minorities bears eloquent testimony to this sorry state of affairs.

On his last birthday (October 2, 1947) and few months before his assassination, Babu had made certain utterances at his daily prayer meeting which are pregnant with meaning and which will continue to be relevant to mankind which is torn by communal hatred, malice and violence for many generations. I quote:

I say that I am a Hindu, a Santani Hindu. It is for this reason that I consider Muslims, Sikhs, Parsees, Christians, Jews and members of all other communities as branches of a big tree. God is one and indivisible, whether you call Him Ram or Rahim. The culture of India has taught me that there is an essential unity pervading members of all communities. I ask you a question: Do the Muslims have one Sun and you have another? The Sun is only one for all. The mother Ganges never tells: ‘Look no Muslims can drink my water.’ When it rains from heaven, Indradeb never tells humanity that my rains are meant for members of a particular community, be they Muslims, Parsees or Christians. Whether it is Quran or Bhagabat Geeta the soul is one; only the forms are different. Their essential spirit and meaning are one and the same.

We are still miles behind realisation of the lofty spirit behind the clarion call given by Bapu to members of all religions, cultural and ethnic communities on communal harmony, secularism and national integration.

VI

THE violence committed against members of the physically, orthopaedically and visually handicapped community is a matter of equal concern as is the hatred, violence and mindless killing of members of the minority community. As is the case with the latter, there are constitutional (Articles 14, 15, 16) and legal provisions (Disabilities and Equal Opportunities Act, 1995) as also institutional mechanisms (Rehabilitation Council of India) but these have not ensured that the physically challenged persons receive equal opportunities for development, full and equal participation in social, economic and cultural activities. The community based integrated services and the avenues of public employment available to them are still far below the desired level (that is, at the same level which exists for non-disabled citizens).

Among the physically challenged persons there are sections who are afflicted with severe handicaps. These include migrants (both in the country and overseas), refugees, persons with hearing impairment, mentally ill persons, that is, persons with intellectual and psychiatric disability, elderly persons, persons afflicted with HIV/AIDs and a growing number of children and adults with multiple and extensive disabilities. The inability of those people to participate in community life disrupts their social relationships. It affects social institutions, family life, marriage etc. Social disability disrupts the balance between individual needs and social demands. It is also subjected to social stigmatisation.

Let me enumerate the extent by which these cross-sections of humanity are being increasingly rendered helpless victims of violence of their children, family members, of the society and the state.

VII

LET me start with the mentally ill persons. A mentally ill person does not cease to be a human being merely on account of certain disabilities crippling him. He/she is entitled to be treated with the same dignity and decency as any other human being. Their number is on the increase both in PC terms and absolute number (from 11.5 per cent in 1998 it is estimated to go up by 15.5. per cent in 2010). Not one but a host of factors are responsible for this increase, such as increased insecurity of home and family life, breakdown of the joint family system and increasing atomisation of the family structure, increase in stress and strain in day-to-day life and inability of individuals of average merit and ability to cope with such stress and strain, a large number of people being driven to desperation due to mounting economic insecurity leading to larger number of suicides.

Mental illness is capable of being effectively treated and cured. There is a National Mental Health Policy, a Mental Health Act, 1987 and 37 State run Mental Health Hospitals in different parts of the country. There are two highly professional Institutes, that is, one at Delhi (VIMHANS) and another at Bangalore (NIMHANS). There are rapid strides in the science of therapeutic treatment through modified ECT to chronic schizophrenic patients. Through occupational therapy and half- way homes (being managed by NGOs) a good number of such patients are fast on the way to complete recovery and rehabilitation—physical, economic and psychological. Social workers are having increasing interface with family members to whom the mentally ill persons will turn up to after they have been effectively treated and cured. All these notwithstanding, there are serious problems of discrimination, stigmatisation and denial of mentally ill persons from their family members, from the neighbours and from the local community as a whole. Since they are totally unacceptable to the family, reintegration into the social mainstream becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. Unfortunately for us, the print media does not ordinarily bring out instances of such callousness, insensitivity and wanton cruelty in its daily or weekly columns; the electronic media is totally indifferent to instances of such violence.

VIII

A person in prison dies not become a non-person. In Sunil Batra versus Delhi Administration (1979), Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer had said:

Prisoners are, of course, persons. To say anything in the negative is to convict the nation and the Constitution of dehumanisation and to repudiate the world legal order which has now recognised rights of prisoners in the International Covenant on Prisoner’s Rights to which our country has signed assent.

The Court proceeded further:

It is imperative, as implicit in Article 21 that life or liberty shall not be kept in suspended animation or concealed into an animal existence without the freshening flow of fair procedure….

No prisoner can be personally subjected to deprivation not necessitated by the fact of incarceration and sentence of Court. All other freedoms belong to him and to read and write, exercise and recreation, meditation and chant, creature comforts like protection from extreme cold and heat, freedom from indignities like compulsory nudity, forced sodomy and other unbearable vulgarity, movement within the prison campus subject to requirement of discipline and security, the minimum joys of self-expression, to acquire skills and techniques and all other fundamental rights tailored to the limitations of imprisonment.

There is no justification in aggravating the suffering already inherent in the process of incarceration and hence the urgent and imperative need for adoption of a humane and reformative approach as opposed to a custodial and retributive approach.

IX

OLD age like childhood, youth or manhood is an important phase in the cycle of a man or woman’s life. It is inevitable. It is also extremely painful on account of social isolation, loss of skills, loss of jobs, loss of memory, loss of reflexes and decline of mental faculties. It becomes all the more painful due to gradual disintegration of the joint family system, uprooting of the family as a basic unit of development, impatience, restlessness and the aggressive acquisitiveness and insensitivity of the youth. The pain is both physical, mental and emotional. Between women and men, older women are more handicapped than men on account of their low levels of literacy and low level of skills. The predicament of women who are issueless and who are widows in addition to being non-literate and non-numerate is compounded further as such women are denied access to and control over resources. The question is: who is or who are responsible for this cruelty, segregation and violence to the elderly? The answer: the society in general and the youth in particular are responsible. The latter should not forget that when the old were young they, through their ‘blood, sweat and tears’, made significant contribution to the family, enterprise, local community and society as a whole, either as workers or householders or citizens. But for their tremendous sacrifice and suffering the family, the enterprise and society would not have been what and where they are today. Now that they have entered the twilight zone of their lives they cannot be left by the wayside is being done to them today. The youth must remember that they would cross the spring and enter the winter of their lives much earlier than expected (on account of increasing stress and strain of life) and their children may as well treat them as inimically as they have done to their parents. They should wake up to this tragic reality and must replace the uncalled for adulation of the mammon by the eternal values and principles (respect for age and experience being one of them) which have held the family and society together for generations such as duties and obligations, gratitude and reciprocation of the young towards the old.

X

HIV/AIDS is a deadly killer. It is neither treatable nor curable but only preventable. Those who are afflicted with HIV/AIDs are sooner or later destined to depart from the world. They deserve to be treated with kindness and compassion and not with indifference, far less disdain.

The ground level reality that obtains instead is quite different. It is one of total discrimination, stigmatisation and denial (DSD). DSD afflicts both adults and children. It is all-pervasive. It starts with the family and pervades public hospitals, private health and medical clinics, neighbourhood, community, educational institutions, workplace etc. Children with HIV/AIDs positive are not allowed to be enrolled in schools. The women, when infected, face greater risk of rejection, ostracism and neglect. HIV/AIDs affected employees, both women and men, are subjected to a lot of discrimination. They are denied access to employment even if they otherwise qualify for the same and to retention in employment. They are subjected to denial of fair wages and to punishment by way of discharge, dismissal and termination of employment.

Such discrimination is degrading and uncalled for. It is a denial of the basic dignity, beauty and worth of life. It is a disrespect of the sacrosanctity of life itself. It is violence in a banal form.

XI

I would now turn to trafficking which is yet another banal form of violence. ‘Trafficking of persons for forced labour and sexual exploitation is one of the most egregious violation of human rights. We must not accept a world where we must raise our children in fear,’ so had said Kofi Annan, ex-Secretary-General of the United Nations at the time of signing of the UN Convention against Transnational Crimes at Palermo in Italy in October 2000.

Any person—a girl or a boy, a woman or a man—who is trafficked for forced labour is subjected to merciless, grueling and exploitative labour without fixed hours of work, without spread over, without wages and overtime and without any semblance of dignity and decency.

A girl or a boy or an adolescent or a woman who is trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation is treated like a commodity, a thing, which is passed off from one individual to another. Her/his confidence is shattered; she/he loses confidence in everybody and everything else, in the Constitution, in the law, in the procedure established by law; she/he is reduced to a physical and mental wreck. This is how trafficking either for forced labour or for commercial sexual exploitation becomes

• anathema to civilised human conscience;
• repudiation of inalienable human rights;
• antithesis of decent livelihood and income;
• end of dignity, beauty and worth of human person.

This is how violence has taken today multiple forms—both individual and collective. On one side, we have poverty, unemployment, hunger, starvation and malnutrition/undernutrition as one set of forms of violence affecting very large cross-sections of the humanity while, on the other, we have individual greed, avarice, lust, acquisitiveness, business rivalry, neighbourhood rivalry, distruct and suspicion, meanness, pettiness, malice, jealously and hatred which drive individuals to come out with their ugly monstrosities, looting other’s properties, outraging women’s modesty, running berserk over others in a state of drunkenness, displaying road rage and killing others in cold blood.

XII

OVER 800 million all the world over go to bed hungry every night. In India, according to the survey conducted by the NSSO in 2994-05, a whopping 71.6 lakh people go without sufficient food every day of which 8.8 lakh people do not get two square meals a day throughout the year. This is the tragic reality, notwithstanding the fact that we have reached a stage of production of foodgrains at 216 million tons, over Rs 25,000 crores are being spent on food subsidy and foodgrains worth Rs 31,500 crores have been made available for distribution through the Public Distribution System during the last three years. The foodgrains, however, do not reach those for whom they are intended on account of the monster of corruption. There is a close criminal nexus between the powers that be, the bureaucracy at all levels, the storage and distribution agents, the dalals or middlemen on account of which the godowns may be overflowing with foodgrains but they do not reach the hungry and the malnourished. It is said that poverty is the cruelest form of violence inflicted on people by the state. Have we been able to identify the people who are genuinely below the poverty line? No. Ground level studies and investigations reveal that a large number of people who are genuinely poor and deprived have been excluded from the BPL list and consequently from the list of BPL/Antyoday/Annapurna card holders for considerations not entirely ethical or moral.

The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme was launched by the PM at Anantpur on February 6, 2006 with the central objective of (a) providing avenues of stable and durable employment for 100 days in rural areas, (b) ensuring stable earnings at Rs 60 in the minimum per day, (c) preventing/minimising incidence of migration, (d) creating solid permanent assets and strengthening basic infrastructure in the countryside. Over Rs 11,000 crores are being budgeted annually for this purpose. Several ground level studies conducted during 2006-07 have brought out a glaring evidence of rampant corruption at all levels and how the funds intended for a specific purpose for a specific area and for specific target groups have not at all reached them, far less benefiting those for whom they were intended. These studies have confirmed that levels of literacy and awareness in a particular State or State like West Bengal and Maharashtra may be high but they have not succeed in eliminating the monstrosity of corruption.

XIII

OF greater concern today than violence of one individual towards another or towards members of a group, of a cultural or religious or ethnic community is the violence which we individually and collectively have been perpetrating on the mother earth—our creator, our rearer and our nurturer. At one time it was said like this:
- Where has Mandhata, the majestic king of Surya dynasty and the ornament of the millennium, left?
- Where has Sree Ramachandra, the slayer of the ten-headed monster Ravana, who had built a bridge on the sea, left?
- Where has Yudhistheera, the cradle of virtues, the very embodiment of -Dharma, and his brothers and queen Draupadi left?
- All have gone the same way alone as they came
- Mother Earth did not go with any one of them
- It remains forever—placid and stable.
- You will depart one day
- But mother earth will not go with you (O Munja, King of Bhuj) anywhere either.

Mother Earth is the sum total of land, air, water, biomass, flora and fauna—a majestic combination of all that is good, beautiful, life breather and life sustainer.

She, the very picture of serenity, beauty and fragrance is not the same today as she was in the old millennium which would be evident from the following:

• We have not even a third of the original forest left in the world.
• Barely 20 per cent of the country’s total geographical area is left with forest and vegetal cover.
• We consume today over 150 million tons of firewood and many million tonnes of wood for building and industrial uses.
• The practice of overcultivation, overgrazing and denudation of forest deprives the top soil of nutrients and organic matter, thereby exposing it to erosion from the sun and wind. Consequently a vast extent of semi-arid land goes out of production every year making increasing desertification a major manmade disaster.
• Denudation of forests on account of indiscriminate felling of timber also deprives the people of their right to live within and use forest resource for day-to- day living.
It is indeed a pity that while human population is growing at an alarming rate, the environment which is so crucial to sustain the living beings is being progressively destroyed, bringing the very survival of humanity to peril. This would be evident from the following:
• Of the total land area of 266 million hectares, as much as 175 million hectares are being degraded to a greater or lesser extent.
• More than 50 per cent of this area, that is, nearly 90 million hectares are being badly degraded partly on account of denudation and continuing loss of top soil and partly on account of waterlogging and salinisation to such an extent that they are rendered completely unproductive.
• A sizeable land area is also vulnerable to recurring cycles of flood, drought, low productivity and resultant poverty.
• This coupled with denudation of forests at the rate of 1.5 million hectares per annum and disappearance of vegetal cover (almost one-third of the country’s total land area) has disturbed the natural habitat of several animal species. It has brought about total extinction of about 22 species of land vertebrates in the 19th century and 85 such species in the 20th century. About 120 species of birds and mammals have been wiped out in the last 400 years.

It is thus shocking that year after year man’s unabated greed and rapacity have robbed him of so many innocent creatures and rare species. This is what had led Bapu to say with a lot of anguish:
Mother earth has given us everything that we need but not everything according to our greed.

XIV

IF this is the violence that man has unleashed against man and Nature, what is it that Bapu did to stop this unabashed and banal exploitation of many by man or Nature by man? Was he merely an apostle of peace and non-violence or did he launch a non-violent struggle against man’s tyranny, injustice, oppression and exploitation against man and Nature?

Objectively and dispassionately viewed, there is no contradiction between the two. If one signifies the end, the other signifies the means. Viewed in this sense, Bapu was both an apostle of peace and non-violence as also a relentless fighter against tyranny, injustice and oppression. To put in Bapu’s own words:
- For me non-violence is not a mere philosophical principle .
- It is the rule and breath of my life…
- I know that war is wrong, an unmitigated evil.
- I know too that it has got to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom.

Would that all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act of mine non-violence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form! Not violence, not untruth but non-violence. Truth is the law of our being……

I hold myself to be incapable of hating any being on earth. By a long course of prayerful discipline, I have ceased for over 40 years to hate anybody. I know this is a big claim. Nevertheless, I make it in all humility. But I can and do hate eveil wherever it exists. I hate the system of government that the British people have set up in India. I hate the ruthless exploitation of India even as I hate from the bottom of my heart the hideous system of untouchability for which millions of Hindus have made themselves responsible…….

Some days back a calf having been maimed lay in agony in the Ashram (Sabarmati). Whatever treatment and nursing was possible was given. The surgeon whose advice was sought in the matter declared the case to be past help and past hope. The suffering of the animal was so great that it could not even turn to its side without excruciating pain. In these circumstances I felt that humanity demanded the agony should be ended by ending life itself. The matter was placed before the whole Ashram. At the discussion a worthy neighbour vehemently opposed the idea of killing even to end pain. The ground of his opposition was that one has no right to take life which one cannot create. His argument seemed to me to be pointless here. It would have a point if taking of life was actuated by self-interest. Finally in all humility but with the clearest of convictions I got in my presence a doctor kindly to administer the calf and quieten by means of a poisonous injection. The whole thing was over in two minutes...

Just as a surgeon does not commit himsa but practices the purest ahimsa when he wields his knife, one may find it necessary under certain imperative circumstances, to go a step further and severe life from the body in the interest of the sufferer. It may be objected that whereas the surgeon performs his operations to save the life of the patient, in the other case we do just the reverse. But on a deeper analysis it will be found that the ultimate object sought to be served in both the cases is the same, namely, to relieve the suffering soul within from pain……..

The trouble with our votaries of ahimsa is that they have made of ahimsa a blind fetish and put the greatest obstacle in the way of the spread of true ahimsa in our midst. The current and, in my opinion, mistaken view of ahimsa has drugged our conscience and rendered us insensible to a host of other and more insidious forms of himsa like harsh words, harsh judgements, ill will, anger, spite and lust of cruelty; it has made us forget that there may be far more himsa in the slow torture of men and animals, the starvation and exploitation to which they are subjected out of selfish greed, the wanton humiliation and oppressed of the weak and the killing of their self-respect that we witness all around us today than in mere benevolent taking of life………

I am painfully aware of the fact that my desire to continue life in the body involves me in constant himsa, that is why I am becoming growingly indifferent to this physical body of mine. For instance, I know that in the act of respiration I destroy innumerable invisible germs floating in the air. But I do not stop breathing. The consumption of vegetables involved himsa but I cannot give them up. Again there is himsa in the use of antiseptics yet I cannot bring myself to discard the use of disinfectants like the kerosene, to rid myself of mosquito pest and the like. I suffer snakes to be killed in the ashram when it is impossible to catch and put them out of harm’s way. I even tolerate the use of the stick to drive the bullocks in the Ashram. Thus there is no end of himsa which I directly and indirectly commit…………….

It is worth noting that Bapu was not an ordinary preacher of truth and non-violence but an active practitioner . He practised non-violent struggle for justice, equity and fair play at Champaran in 1917, Kheda and Ahmedabad in 1918. In the twenties, thirties and forties, one single call from Bapu energised, united and nucleated the nation as none else had been able to do earlier. He founded the Textile Labour Association (TLA) to protect and sasfeguard the genuine interests of textile mill workers of Ahmedabad. Millions of women and men rallied round Bapu with one voice, one conscience and one energy. With his magnetic personality and power of appeal, Bapu sought to fuse so many defused and uncoordinated currents of Indian history and imparted it a unity and solidarity as never before.

Bapu definitely believed in what he said but he was not rigid or totally blind to the realities of the ground level situation in carrying his pursuits to a logical conclusion. In 1919 and 1922 when he thought that Indians were not yet fully prepared to wage a non-violent method of struggle, he suspended the civil disobedience movement twice. To illustrate, in 1922 he was fully aware of the risk of outbreak of violence during the currency of a civil disobedience movement (and it did take place at Chauri Chaura when 22 policemen were burned to death) but that did not make him abandon the course of history which he had charted for himself. As he said on March 18, 1922,

I knew I was playing with fire. I ran the risk and if I was set free, I would still do the same.

Within a couple of years he was more than convinced that the civil disobedience movement had acquired enough legitimacy not to be abandoned by sporadic acts of violence. This conviction grew as the faith in and commitment to non-violence and was fully fortified at the time of the Quit India Movement of August 1942.

There was no dichotomy between Bapu’s uncompromising adherence to non-violence and the struggle for national freedom and social justice. He was as outspoken as ever against the futility of a World War, was full of admiration for the grit, courage and determination shown by the French leaders in 1940 when France had fallen to the unbashed aggression of Nazi Germany and had appealed to Britain to stop the madness associated with war and aggession. ‘No cause,’ he had said, ‘can warrant the indiscriminate slaughter that is going on minute by minute. And a cause that demands the inhumanities that are being perpetrated now cannot be called just.’ Bapu’s non-violence clearly was one of the strong and not of the weak. He had gone even to the extent of stating that he would not like to exchange non-violence even for independence of the country. India, according to Bapu, through non-violence would be a messager of peace to the whole world.

Bapu was an uncompromising and relentless advocate of non-violent struggle both for securing national independence as also for securing social justice in a highly casteist and stratified social order. He admired the grit, courage and deter-mination with which Socialists like Jayaprakash Narayan and Narendra Dev espoused their cause. While he found himself in broad agree-ment with their social and economic objectives, his differences with them related only to the use of violence in promoting socialism. Bapu has been little understood and much misunderstood on account of his total opposition to class war but suffice it to say that his opposition to class war essentially arose from the fact that such war is associated with violence and not on account of the fact that he was opposed to the idea of a united struggle by the exploited sections of the society against their exploiters. To understand Bapu’s perception correctly on the subject one has to go back to what he wrote in Harijan August 25, 1940. To quote,
If…… in spite of the utmost effort, the rich do not become guardians of the poor in the true sense of the term and the latter are more and more crushed and die of hunger, what is to be done? In trying to find out the solution to this riddle, I have lighted on non-violent non-cooperation and civil disobedience as the right and infallible means. The rich cannot accumulate wealth without the cooperation of the poor in society. If this knowledge were to penetrate to and spread among the poor, they would become strong and would learn how to free themselves by means of non-violence from the crushing inequalities which have brought them to the verge of starvation.

Violence for self-defence or the defence of one’s rights or values or possessions has always been recognised as legitimate and Bapu had also recognised this. He always preferred such violence to cowardice and had always exhorted people to defend themselves violently if they did not know how to do so non-violently. He was, however, convinced that an alternative to violent resistance had to be found if mankind was to survive and this is how the science of non-violence or Satyagraha was built around the basic urge to stand up and fight for the just and fair, for the irreducible barest minimum of those who were in need of that minimum and yet did not have them.

A distinguished IAS officer (now retired), the author once functioned as the Union Labour Secretary. He is currently a Special Rapporteur, National Human Rights Commission.

ISSN : 0542-1462 / RNI No. : 7064/62 Privacy Policy Notice Addressed to Online Readers of Mainstream Weekly in view of European data privacy regulations (GDPR)