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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 20, May 8, 2010

What is Violence? What is Non-Violence?

Monday 10 May 2010, by Bharat Dogra

Violence is committed not just when someone physically attacks another person or fires a gun. Violence is not just an action but a way of thinking. Violence is committed whenever someone plans to harm others or deprive others for self-gain. When big companies and politicians in collusion with them conspire to grab huge areas of land and destroy the livelihood of millions of villagers in the process, then these companies and politicians are certainly committing large-scale violence even though they may not be physically attacking anyone.

Let’s be clear first of all that in the present context of the debate in India, the cycle of violence starts with the big companies and the politicians in collusion with them, their land-grabs and their MOUs. As all this is done in the name of development, let it be made very clear that alternatives which enable mining to be carried out on a small scale, not by displacing anyone but providing additional livelihood to many, are available. But this is not what the mining giants want and this is not for what they pay huge bribes. What they want is not mining for development and employment, they want mining for the maximum profits in the shortest possible time. And if their craze for super-profits involves a scale of operation and technology that will destroy sustainable livelihoods of a large number of people, they have no inhibitions in destroying these livelihoods. This is violence.

Now the next question is—when faced with this violence of big capitalists and politicians in collusion with them, what should the villagers (tribals or others) do? One alternative is to take up arms and fight the violence of the big capitalists with the violence of the poor. The most likely course of this action will be that the greater armed strength that the big capitalists can assemble will ultimately prevail, particularly in a big country like India. But even for the sake of argument if we assume that the resistance of the poor is strong enough to lead to a prolonged fight, in the middle of all this violence and counter-violence the original issue of the injustice of the land grab and destruction of livelihoods will be lost. If divisions appear within the rank of the poor, (as has often happened in the past), the situation will be even worse. Those who have to do the actual fighting on behalf of the big capitalists also mostly belong to poor or at best middle class families. Basically the poor will be killing each other.

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So it needs to be said loud and clear that the alternative path of non-violent resistance is not only available, but in addition it is the better path. Non-violence should not be confused either with an attitude of compromise, or with cowardice. In fact the possibility of an unjust compromise being reached is more in a violent, secretive movement than in a peaceful, transparent movement. Non-violent activists are cetainly not cowards, as is evident from the millions of non-violent activists who have faced bullets and batons both before and after independence.

The spirit of non-violent resistance is essentially that all democratic and peaceful methods open to us are harnessed in the best possible way to oppose injustice, and in the entire struggle activists as well as ordinary people get a greater chance to improve their capabilities and commitments, their hearts and minds so that they can contribute more for a better world. Thus in any struggle a lot of people get together to fight some injustice, but they emerge from it with greater strength and in greater numbers to fight yet another battle so that our strength keeps increasing, the numbers keep increasing till we actually succeed in creating a better world.

This, at least, is the principle. Why non-violent struggles haven’t succeeded quite like this in the recent past needs to be explained separately, but quite clearly the potential of non-violent, peaceful and transparent struggles is much greater.

The author is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.

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