mahatma gandhi, non-violence

OPINION: Is Gandhi still relevant?

Today, we see violence everywhere – we have Syria; we have Egypt, we have the US, the UK and India. Name a country and we’ll find a conflict brewing. Except in a few nations like New Zealand, civil strife is killing people in every place with human settlement.

It is so widespread, that there’s no need to introduce or explain violence to the person in the street. Yes, non-violence is a theme that begs explanation.

Here’s an example. “Today, in class I argued how non-violence is also a form of violence. Happy birthday Gandhi,” tweeted one Shubhashish (@Shubhashish), a former Indian journalist now in London.

So, is Gandhi relevant in these turbulent times?

Today, any person that has heard of Gandhi has an opinion about him. Do you need to read Gandhi to understand his experiments with truth? Or are the history books taught in the school enough to help form an opinion about India’s ‘father of the nation’?

mahatma gandhi, non-violence

You wonder what this has to do with understanding Gandhi’s relevance today. Everything!

You see, the trouble is, we have discarded Gandhian principles without even reading a single article written by the freedom-fighter. And he wrote many. In fact, the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi runs into 100 volumes. “As Sunil Khilnani observes, like Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi wrote English well enough to have made, if he had so wished, a living through journalism,” writes Indian author Ramachandra Guha.

How many of us have read Gandhi? I am not referring to the intellectuals, but to the ordinary citizens.

The problem with India, as Indian actor and social activist Shabana Azmi once said, we have far too many opinions than information.

The problem lies in interpreting Gandhi without really understanding what formed the basis of his philosophy.

However, India also has intellectuals who are well-read and well-informed. Their opinions are based on facts. And when they raise questions about the usefulness of non-violence and non-cooperation in today’s violent situations, it deserves attention.  This is where we must beg the question: will Gandhi be useful in solving the problems in say Syria, North Korea, Egypt or India?

What would Gandhi have done in Syria? Would the Assad regime have reacted in the same, violent way had the rebels chosen the path of non-violence? Likely not. Anger begets anger. But it is difficult, rather unnatural, to respond to peaceful protests with excessive use of brute. Of course Gandhi would be relevant in Syria.

What about India? If the Indian leaders show similar commitment to truthful governance, as Gandhi did, would we witness similar violence in the four corners of the country?

Let’s get to the bottom of this: the common factor behind all violence and strife around the world is religious or ethnic division. If we look back at India’s history, the disastrous consequences of mixing politics and religion were known to us thousands of years ago. Gautam Buddha preached the use of ethics over religion in public life.

The Dhammapada states the general ethical principle: “Never in this world is hostility appeased by hostility; it is appeased by lack of hostility.”

I will therefore leave you with a story from ancient India, in the words of British professor Richard Gombrich, “A great king of former times tells his brahmin priest and prime minister that he wants to …raise taxes. His wise prime minister warns him that the country is full of crime. He says: “Your Majesty may think that he can root out all crime by killing the criminals, imprisonment, fines, censure or exile. But this will never succeed completely: there will always be survivors, who will go on harassing your kingdom.

“Here is the only system which will eradicate crime. Your Majesty should supply seed and fodder to those who work in agriculture or animal husbandry; he should supply capital to those who work in commerce; he should organize food and wages for those who work in his service.

“Then those people will concentrate on their work and not harass the countryside. Your Majesty will acquire a great pile. The countryside will be secure, free from public enemies. People will be happy, and dandling their children in their laps will live, I think, with open doors.”

(Vaibhav Gangan is the founding editor of The Global Indian magazine. Follow Vaibhav on Twitter.)


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