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Saturday, April 13, 2024

‘Ahimsa’ in times of ‘Himsa’ is a flawed theory


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Mahatma Gandhi preached, professed, lived, and got others not only in India but other parts of the world to live by the principle of ‘Ahimsa’.

He opined: Nonviolence is an active force of the highest order. It is the soul force or the power of Godhead within us. Imperfect man cannot grasp the whole of that essence – he would not be able to bear its full blaze, but even an infinitesimal fraction of it, when it becomes active within us, can work wonders.

Ahimsa according to Gandhi was not merely a negative state of harmlessness but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer. But it does not mean helping the evil-doer to continue the wrong or tolerating it by passive acquiescence. The active state of Ahimsa requires you to resist the wrong-doer.

He further opined, “Ahimsa is a weapon of matchless potency. It is the summum bonum of life. It is an attribute of the brave, in fact, it is their all. It does not come within the reach of cowards. It is no wooden or lifeless dogma, but a living and life-giving force.”

India did get its freedom from colonial rule. And there is no denying that the non-violent Satyagraha of Gandhi played a role in our nation’s freedom struggle. But it was not the ‘Ahimsa’ movement alone that drove the British colonizers out of India, there could be the far-reaching ‘Himsa’ of World War II, that could have forced the British to concede to India’s independence.

After WWII, Britain left not only India but nearly all its other holdings, including Jordan in 1946, Palestine in 1947, Sri Lanka in 1948, Myanmar in 1948, Egypt in 1952, and Malaysia in 1957. It is interesting to note that not only Britain but also France and Netherlands left most of their colonies. Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia were granted independence from the colonial rule of France and the Netherlands.

British prime minister Clement Atlee on India’s independence said that Gandhi’s non-violence movement had minimal effect on the British. In corroboration, Chief Justice P.B. Chakrabarty of the Kolkata High Court, who had earlier served as acting governor of West Bengal, disclosed the following in a letter addressed to the publisher of Ramesh Chandra Majumdar’s book A History of Bengal:

You have fulfilled a noble task by persuading Dr. Majumdar to write this history of Bengal and publishing it. In the preface of the book, Dr. Majumdar has written that he could not accept the thesis that Indian independence was brought about solely, or predominantly by the non-violent civil disobedience movement of Gandhi. When I was the acting Governor, Lord Atlee, who had given us independence by withdrawing the British rule from India, spent two days in the Governor’s palace at Calcutta during his tour of India. At that time I had a prolonged discussion with him regarding the real factors that had led the British to quit India. My direct question to him was that since Gandhi’s “Quit India” movement had tapered off quite some time ago and in 1947 no such new compelling situation had arisen that would necessitate a hasty British departure, why did they have to leave? In his reply, Atlee cited several reasons, the principal among them being the erosion of loyalty to the British Crown among the Indian army and navy personnel as a result of the military activities of Netaji [Subhash Chandra Bose]. Toward the end of our discussion, I asked Atlee what was the extent of Gandhi’s influence upon the British decision to quit India. Hearing this question, Atlee’s lips became twisted in a sarcastic smile as he slowly chewed out the word, “minimal!

I am not insinuating through my observation any question about the role of Mahatma Gandhi in India’s freedom movement or elevating the role of Subhas Chandra Bose. I am merely trying to highlight the flaw in ‘Ahimsa’ theory.

Contrary to the belief professed by followers of ‘Ahimsa’ that humans are intrinsically ‘non-violent’ by nature. History has proved to us, time and time again that humans are violent in nature. More so in the assertion of power and dominance over the weak, humans often display inhumane and diabolic behavior.

I am not willing to accept the theory that the brutal colonial power of the British developed a soft corner in their hearts because of the violence they perpetrated on us Indians. Or for that matter, the Portuguese colonial rule fell in love with the indigenous people of Goa and decided to stop its atrocities and walk away.

In the four decades between 1880 and 1920, when British imperialism was at its height, nearly 100 million people were killed in India as a result of British colonialism, according to a study published in the journal World Development.

According to a report published by the Guardian, British military scientists tested a chemical weapon on Indian colonial troops during more than a decade of experiments before and during World War II. Hundreds of Indian soldiers were exposed to mustard gas in tests conducted in Rawalpindi, which was then part of Britain’s Indian colony. The gas severely burned the soldiers’ skin, and caused pain that sometimes lasted for weeks. Some of the soldiers had to be hospitalized. The scientists wanted to compare the effect of the gas on the skin of Indians to the results of experiments done on British soldiers.

The British destabilized crop patterns by forced commercial cropping and left Indians more prone to famines. Between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation while India was under the control of the British Empire. In response to the outbreak of famines, the British authorities rarely made relief aid, insisting that starvation was a ‘natural’ and ‘necessary’ check for overpopulation. During the Great Famine of 1876-78 in Madras, it wasn’t until 5.5 million Indians had already died that the British authorities began to administer any relief efforts. Instead of giving charity, the British set up labor camps for the poor where Indian workers were fed food portions that were less than 50% of the size given in Nazi concentration camps.

On 13 April 1919, when peaceful protestors defied a government order and demonstrated against British colonial rule in Amritsar, they were blocked inside the walled Jallianwala Gardens and fired upon by Gurkha soldiers. Under the orders of General Dyer, the soldiers kept firing until they ran out of ammunition, killing between 379 and 1,000 protestors and injuring another 1,100, all within 10 minutes. Britain has never formally apologized for the massacre.

It has been estimated that Britain stole a total of nearly $45 trillion from India during the period from 1765 to 1938. British impoverished India through a taxation operation that equated to systematic theft. Put simply, the British exhorted high taxes in cash from the Indian population, used that tax money to pay Indians for their goods, and then exported the goods overseas and invested the profits into the British economy and a colonial army of Indian men that far surpassed India’s own defence needs.

I am not advocating violence as a measure of solving conflicts. Conflicts need to be resolved by peaceful measures. But to believe that non-violence alone will help in conflict resolution or conflict avoidance is demented and bordering on mental deprivation. Subjecting oneself, one community, or one nation to repeated acts of violence in the hope that the oppressors will stop because of your submission is not a guarantee of the stoppage of violence. I personally believe such acts of subjugation are an invitation to more violence.

In the words of Gandhi: “It is my firm conviction that a fearless woman, who knows that her purity is her best shield can never be dishonored. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before the flame of her dazzling purity.

I, therefore, recommend women to try to cultivate this courage. They will become wholly fearless if they can and cease to tremble as they do today at the thought of assaults. Parents and husbands should instruct women in the art of becoming fearless. It can best be learned from a living faith in God. Though He is invisible, He is one’s, unfailing protector. He who has this faith is the most fearless of all….

When a woman is assaulted she may not stoop to think in terms of himsa or ahimsa. Her primary duty is self-protection. She is at liberty to employ every method or means that come to her mind in order to defend her honor. God has given her nails and teeth. She must use them with all her strength and, if need be, die in the effort. The man or woman who has shed all fear of death will be able not only to protect himself or herself but others also through laying down hi (or her) life.”

I wonder how many beastly men of violence bowed in shame before the flame of the dazzling purity of women during the violence after the partition of India. It is estimated that over 75000 women were abducted and raped.

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