By Ashok Kumar
Last week a play “Bapu Down Under” written by Dinsha Palkhiwala was performed by ‘Bapu and Kasturba’. The play reignited the much debated ‘flames’ of non-violence and violence. The play depicted that non-violence is still relevant in today’s world. But still raises a few questions.
First let us understand what is violence and non-violence. Violence, according to World Health Organisation is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”.
Non-violence on the other hand is a weapon considered bigger and mightier than the physical weaponry. It is the personal practice of being harmless to self and others under every condition. It comes from the belief that hurting people, animals or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and refers to a general philosophy of abstention from violence
Like in the case of Gandhi, when he was fighting the British, non-violence proved to be a bigger weapon, enough to subjugate the British or force them to free India.
There is no country in the world where there is no violence. But where there is violence there is a Gandhi.
In this context, let’s take a look into ancient Indian history and then draw our own conclusions. History has seen Mahabharata, Kalinga, the partition of India and birth of Buddhism and Jainism, the symbols of non-violence. Buddha and Mahavira have their own interpretation of non-violence.
Jainism developed and refined the non-violence (‘Ahimsa) doctrine to an extraordinary degree where it is an integral part of the Jain culture. Jain vegetarianism, for example, is driven by the principle of not harming any animals and both lay and mendicants are predominantly vegetarian.
In Buddhism, Mahayana monks in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam are vegetarian; however, vegetarianism is not required for lay Buddhists. In Theravada monastic tradition, a monk should eat whatever is placed in his bowl when receiving food.
If the civilizational roots of India lie in absolute abstinence from violence since these early times, then there ought to be representations that can be cited as evidence of non-violence as quintessential Indian outlook.
After the Kalinga war, King Ashoka renounced violence but records show he did not refrain from warning the tribals who revolted and often ordered executions. But he stopped even that when reportedly his own brother became a victim.
The biggest instance of violence in history happened in 1947 when partition of India took place and Gandhi still advocated non-violence. The impact of this violence can be seen in Kashmir where the issues between the two countries have still not been resolved
According to Delhi University Professor and historian, Dr. Opinder Singh, Gandhi was inspired by Bhagwat Gita in his commitment to non-violence but the same text can be interpreted to glorify the idea of war (Mahabharata). On the battlefield, Krishna tells Arjun that they are your enemies and do not see them as relatives. But Gandhi called Gita as dictionary of daily reference and with central message glorifying pacifism.
Coming back to Kashmir violence, some political leaders and writers felt that violence cannot end violence and let’s talk Kashmir under the Indian Constitution. The ruling party leaders who scoffed at the idea of talks as the long lasting solution should try at least once breaking the ice.
Dinsha Palkhiwala would agree that the Gandhian principle of non-violence is relevant even today, to check the turmoil the world is heading to. It all depends upon how the person perceives the thoughts given his environment.