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 Blooming Stars

Non-Violence And Violence

            The Scriptures say: “Ahimsa paramo dharmaha; dharma himsa tathiva cha.” Non-violence is the greatest religion; so is righteous violence. Here religion could be thought of as a way of living and being. Mohandas Gandhi practiced non-violence in personal life and politics, and freed India from the shackles of the British. He met with a violent death at the hand of an extreme Hindu nationalist, Nathuram Godse. The Hindu nationalists thought Gandhi’s appeasement of Muslims by giving too many concessions paved the way to the partition of India. Interestingly two distinct views on non-violence and violence can be traced to two great leaders who emerged from Hinduism: Gandhi, the Father of the Nation, who was a great believer in God, and Vinayak Savarkar, the Father of Hindutva and Hindu nationalism, a prominent president of the Hindu Mahasabha, who interestingly was also an atheist. Gandhi’s view of Ahimsa Paramo Dharmaha can be considered to be Ahimsa Paramo Sneha (Non-violence is perfect love).

             Gandhi would rather be killed and die without hatred for the assassin than kill someone to save his life. Vinayak or Veer Savarkar, one of the accused in the assassination of Gandhi but freed on a technicality, inspired and promoted Hindu political unity and social consciousness, can be considered to be an advocate of Ahimsa Paramo Dharma as well as Dharma Himsa Thathaivacha. The Gandhian view of non-violence facilitated the independence of India. His method was also successfully used by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the USA to obtain civil rights for African Americans, by Nelson Mandela in South Africa to abolish the apartheid and thereby to secure freedom for the blacks. The Gandhian non-violence, still remaining a great idea, suffered a serious set- back in the country of its origin as evinced by violent activities of all political parties that not only curtail freedom but also lead to anarchy and violent chaos.

            Jeevo Jeevasya Jeevanam (life is sustained by life). Strong animals kill weaker ones for food. Primitive humans killed weaker ones when there was no other food. In nature violence is routinely observed. Only humans have the will to commit or not to commit violence, to repress or sublimate violence for a higher cause. Gandhian non-violence or the teaching of Christ, that exhorts one to show the left cheek when one is slapped on the right, can come under sahana yoga (union through suffering), and can achieve a higher moral or spiritual goal. That may also mean the other side has a minimum required conscience to bring about the right result. In the best award winning picture Gandhi produced by Richard Attenborough after about twenty years of research on Gandhi’s life, there is the famous scene of Gandhi’s followers producing salt from the ocean in civil disobedience of the then British law in India, getting arrested, and brutally and inhumanly beaten by the police.

            The American reporter sending news across the ocean to the USA stated that on that day the British lost whatever moral ascendancy they had over the Indian people. Sahana yoga worked with the British. Would it have worked with Hitler? I doubt it. Did Hitler have a modicum of conscience? I doubt it. So Dharma Himsa leading to the theory of righteous self-defense or, for that matter, just war among nations when all other means have been thoroughly exhausted, may have to be very sparingly used. While I like to eliminate righteous self-defense or just war in favor of perfect non-violence (love) as a moral weapon, righteous violence (dharma himsa) can be justified. The war in the battlefield of Kurushetra that is also the dharmakshetra (the field of righteousness) wherein Krishna exhorts Arjuna, confused and beset by the unthinkable prospect of killing one’s own revered grandfather (pitamaha) and teacher (guru), to do one’s righteous duty even to the point of killing, is an instance of just and righteous war that takes place after all other options have been tried and failed. Non-violence is always desirable and is of paramount importance. But in very rare situations righteous violence may be exercised as a last resort and as a lesser evil. Dharmo rakshati rakshitah (Righeousness protects the one who protects righteousness).


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