A mas­ter­class in nu­ance

Mint Asia ST - - News -

some use of vi­o­lence is un­avoid­able? Then, Gandhi re­peat­edly said, a vi­o­lent counter re­sponse is bet­ter than cow­ardice. For in­stance, Gandhi helped to en­list men for ser­vice in World War I.

Why did he do this when noth­ing was more im­por­tant to him than Ahimsa? Though he him­self was against the in­sti­tu­tion of war, Gandhi said, he was lead­ing men who be­lieved in war. For such men to re­frain from en­list­ing out of cow­ardice or be­cause of anger against the Bri­tish Gov­ern­ment would be wrong.

What about in­fa­mous cases of one-sided vi­o­lence? Je­sus ver­sus the Ro­man Pi­late may be the quin­tes­sence of one-sided vi­o­lence— but it was Je­sus who came out the vic­tor. Je­sus’ act of non-re­sis­tance and for­give­ness re­leased forces of good in so­ci­ety. This hap­pened, Gandhi ar­gued, be­cause of the ‘an­cient law of self-sacri­fice. Satya­graha was noth­ing but a new name for this an­cient law and, wrote Gandhi, “the rishis, who dis­cov­ered the law of non-vi­o­lence in the midst of vi­o­lence, were greater ge­niuses than New­ton.” This is why he saw non-vi­o­lence as the root of Hin­duism.

Above all, it was this claim about Hin­duism that bred ha­tred for Gandhi among Hindu na­tion­al­ists—who ac­cused him of en­cour­ag­ing weak­ness and meek­ness. On the con­trary, Gandhi of­fered an im­pec­ca­ble logic for his es­pousal of ‘the an­cient law. Firstly, non-vi­o­lence is not a cover for cow­ardice. On the con­trary, it is the “supreme virtue of the brave” be­cause it pre­sup­poses the abil­ity to strike. Se­condly, non-vi­o­lence is “a con­scious, de­lib­er­ate re­straint put upon one’s de­sire for vengeance”. It is the urge for vengeance, which arises from fear of harm, be it real or imag­i­nary, that is a form of weak­ness.

There­fore, for­give­ness is higher be­cause it is the source of true strength and val­our.

“A man who fears no one on earth would con­sider it too trou­ble­some even to sum­mon up anger against one who is vainly try­ing to in­jure him” wrote Gandhi in Young In­dia in 1926. “The sun does not wreak vengeance upon lit­tle chil­dren who throw dust at him. They only harm them­selves in the act.”

Su­per­im­posed on this rea­son­ing was Gandhi’s sharp aware­ness that life is gov­erned by a mul­ti­tude of forces. This meant en­gag­ing with the re­al­ity of vi­o­lence—not look­ing the other way in order to feel good. So, even though he was a con­firmed war re­sister and re­fused to take train­ing in de­struc­tive weapons, Gandhi ex­plained why he had par­tic­i­pated in the Boer War by cre­at­ing an am­bu­lance corps:

“…so long as I lived un­der a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment based on force and vol­un­tar­ily par­took of the many fa­cil­i­ties and priv­i­leges it cre­ated for me, I was bound to help that gov­ern­ment to the ex­tent of my abil­ity when it was en­gaged in a war, un­less I non-co­op­er­ated with that gov­ern­ment and re­nounced to the ut­most of my ca­pac­ity the priv­i­leges it of­fered me.”

Per­haps, it was this rig­or­ous com­mit­ment to duty, which Gandhi al­ways put above rights, that gave him the con­fi­dence to claim that good is self-ex­is­tent while evil is not. Evil, he ar­gued, was like a par­a­site that thrives only as long as its host gives it sus­te­nance. So, the an­swer to the ques­tion we started with—the search for core prin­ci­ples that would en­able each one of us to bring more nu­ance and non-vi­o­lence to pub­lic dis­course—is that first and fore­most we are called upon to have a wider sense of moral agency. When ha­tred and vi­o­lence are pro­lif­er­at­ing around us, there are mo­ments when you can feel over­whelmed. That comes from a feel­ing of help­less­ness, which in turn is a con- se­quence of the de­bil­i­tat­ing doubt that per­haps evil is stronger, more tena­cious, more ef­fec­tive than good. It is this which shrinks our sense of moral agency—that is, un­der­mines our con­fi­dence not only that good is self-ex­is­tent, but that ev­ery in­di­vid­ual who con­sciously lives this truth is im­mensely pow­er­ful.

One way to over­come this con­di­tion is to cul­ti­vate the art of think­ing things through with those who ap­pear to us as the ‘other. The pre-req­ui­site for this is deep lis­ten­ing—the will­ing­ness to lis­ten for the hurt, the con­cern, be­hind the other’s com­plaint or even vit­riol. This, of­ten painfully dif­fi­cult en­deav­our has nei­ther a clear path nor landing lights. But Gandhi’s ex­per­i­ments, in­clud­ing his failed ef­forts, with truth and nu­ance are at the very least a light house.

“He him­self was some­times sur­prised at the things he said. His think­ing was fluid. Most per­sons like to be proved right. So did Gandhi. But fre­quently he snatched a vic­tory out of an er­ror by ad­mit­ting it.’— Louis Fis­cher.

Ra­jni Bak­shi is the au­thor of the books Bapu Kuti: Jour­neys in Re­dis­cov­ery of Gandhi and Bazaars, Con­ver­sa­tions and Free­dom: For A Mar­ket Cul­ture Be­yond Greed and Fear

Gandhi would think aloud, re­veal­ing each step in his think­ing, so you could fol­low him to the con­clu­sion

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