Nurturing Young Minds

Nurturing Young Minds

Friday, June 25, 2010

Need for Training in Non-violence

for securing a peaceful future for the mankind

Violence is one of the major problems faced by the nation and the world today. Terrorist violence, naxal violence, communal violence, ethnic violence, political violence, pure criminal violence, domestic violence and violence in the streets for petty reasons are some of the instances of this growing social tendency. What is most disturbing is not the individual instances of violence, big and small, but the fact that violence is converting into a mass culture.

There was once a trend among the students of human progress and social anthropologists to trace violence to the barbarian tendencies of the pre-civilised Homo Sapiens, and civilisation was seen as movement of the human societies away from crude and violent modes of behaviour towards more sophisticated  forms of  interaction based more and more on reason, persuasion, co-operation and  peaceful coexistence. The contemporary era of violence casts serious doubts on the veracity of the theory that believed that human history is a linear progression from barbarism to civilisation, and that lack of violence in growing degrees is a historical concomitant of civilization. While this theory might have been put in serious jeopardy on account of the growing cult of violence in a society that still likes to call itself more civilised than before, most of the sane people would still have reasons to believe that conceptually, if not historically, lack of violence is one of the surest concomitants of  civilisation.

            There are numerous external factors that are responsible for violence. However, violence springs finally from mind. If the mind is appropriately trained and disciplined, violence may not arise in spite of the external stimuli. Be it individuals or social groups, violence originates when anger and frustration accumulate beyond a certain level, and the mind does not know of an alternative and better response. This is not to say that outer stimuli have to be ignored or that no efforts have to be made towards elimination of the external causative factors. On the contrary, vigorous efforts are needed to remove the injustice and anomalies in the social realities that cause anger and frustration leading to violence. It has nonetheless to be understood that violence aims more at winning release from the suppressed anger and frustration than bringing about desired alterations in the texture of external reality that causes them. Violence does make some dent in the external reality, but that is usually limited, and its social costs are very high. By producing strife and tension, it diminishes the quality of individual and social life in substantial measure. It produces physical pain  and mental agony, sometimes on a very large scale, and usually results in loss of life and property of people who are completely unconnected with the conflict or its genesis. Yet, violence is better than inaction when it comes to confronting gross social injustice or moral turpitude of a barbarian character. However, there are responses infinitely superior to violence in all cases barring the exceptional. Today, however, these responses have to be learned and gradually acquired.

For violence to be effective in promoting a cause, it has to acquire a certain character. For example, it has to be well planned, well organised, and has to be perpetrated in a sustained manner. It has to employ lethal weapons, affect a large number of people and has often to target the mighty. Its agents have to be ideologically inspired and have to remain prepared for supreme sacrifice, and above all, they have to be imparted systematic training both in offence and self- defence. The terrorist groups or violent outfits inspired by social or political ideology are found promoting their cause through violence that has a character of the kind indicated above. It has to be clearly understood that effective non-violence partakes of most of the characteristics of effective violence, except one, that is, violence itself. This brings us to the question of training in non-violence, which is, unlike training in violence, not commonly available today.

Training in non-violence has essentially to be a training of the mind – its way of perceiving things and the way it has to respond to situations. However, the training in non-violence  does not end there. It has to go much beyond – into laws, existing rules and work procedures to make the trainees more efficient in exploiting the existing peaceful remedies offered by our democratic polity. It would become clearer after we have found out some of the remedies available today in a short while.
When we talk of non-violence, we usually think of the Gandhian ideology. It needs emphasis that as a concept non-violence is more ideology-neutral than would appear at the first glance. Ideologies unrelated to Gandhism, barring a few rare and extreme ones, would agree that if a certain change could be brought about without application of violence, that would be the preferable option, just as a disease being cured without application of the scissors would be more acceptable.

            Non-violence is also a wider concept than many might presume. Let us consider the following options:

·        Solving a personal dispute through third party arbitration or through the agency of courts rather than through violence is an act of non-violence;

·        Public Interest Litigation for public causes is an act of non-violence;
·        Peaceful picketing, dharnas,  processions and long marches are also some of the non-violent techniques that have been practised with great benefit by different individuals and organisations for social causes;

·        Individual and collective fasting  are a great tool of non-violence for securing justice and change in the opponent’s attitude;
·        Carrying out investigations, preparing reports with necessary evidence, including photographs, videographs, tape recordings and documents, and audio-visual presentations that undeniably establish public injustice, corruption by public servants, criminal neglect by administration, non-enforcement of rights of the weaker sections, atrocities by landlords or other vested interests, non-payment of minimum wages etc., and making them available to the newspapers and other mass media, inviting them to conduct independent investigations, could work wonders in building up pressure of public opinion on all relevant quarters for corrective interventions, obviating the need for violence. It would be  also be a positive act of non-violence; 
·        Approaching the right forum to seek redress for public grievances, if possible armed with investigation reports as indicated above, is a positive act of non-violence. Some such forums are:
§  Appropriate authorities in administration and government,
§  State or National Human Rights Commission,
§  Women’s Commissions,
§  SC &ST Commissions,
§  State Assemblies or the Parliament,
§  Consumer courts,
§  Other courts.

·        Convincing people who command high social respect, irrespective of the discipline they belong to, about a certain public cause and enlisting their support for the same can work wonders in creating public opinion in favour of the cause, and can lead to unexpected results, including favourable state intervention. Harnessing the power of public opinion in this manner has immense non-violent potential that the Indian democracy has mostly failed to harness in the post-Independence era. 

Violence, as indicated, is a mental attitude manifesting in a certain mode of behaviour, which, in most cases, is contacted from the environment. Since today this mode of behaviour is fairly common all around, it is easy to receive its contagion without a conscious effort. On the other hand, instances of effective application of non-violent methods for grievance redressal, dispute resolution and socio-economic change are not coming to the fore in a manner that would catch the fancy of the masses. Nor are there many conspicuous role models left at the national or regional levels that would inspire the youth and others to take pride in attempting non-violent methods for objects that are sought to be achieved through violence. This gives us an insight into why the theory and practice of non-violence stand pushed to the periphery today.           

A good deal of violence today takes place because the police are not effective and the justice system is not fast, economical and people-friendly. Violence seems to be an easier option than waiting for justice, which may never come. Simplifying the justice system and encouraging arbitration by a third party which may in many cases be local elders, giving it recognition under the law, especially in ordinary matters, both civil and criminal, may go a long way in reducing violence. The basic theoretical design for this has already been worked out, and the government and the Parliament have only to accept it.
If people, especially the socially active groups in deep rural areas, could be educated in the ways and means of Public Interest Litigation, it could provide an alternative to actual and potential violence. Perhaps the procedure for PIL could be simplified and streamlined .

Today most of the voluntary agencies and social activist groups, especially in the rural areas are not aware of the possibilities of approaching many forums that can be of great help. Some of these have been indicated earlier. If they could only be educated to do so, a great deal of violence in the rural areas would abate.

Rampant corruption by government functionaries causes widespread dissatisfaction and is a causative factor of violence in many ways. It also leads to development projects remaining on paper, perpetuating the suffering of the people. It requires an intensive training to the enable the activist groups to maintain vigilance over the administrative machinery, and to extract information from the government departments regarding the development projects for field verification and for exposing corruption.

Finally fasting. Mahatma Gandhi, the greatest votary of non-violence in recent times, said that fasting is an art and science that has to be mastered. In effect, this also requires training, so that it does not fizzle out and does not permanently affect the health of the persons resorting to fasts.

For the reasons explained above it may be very useful to work out a training system for non-violent action, as also to impart the training especially to the activist groups to enable them to go back and demonstrate the power of non-violence so that others also follow the trail and are weaned away from violence.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Virtues of Vegetarianism
 Saving earth's future by turning vegetarian

Though in the Hebrew Bible is recorded the belief that in the paradise the earliest human being had not eaten flesh, evidence suggests that the Homo Sapiens had developed a taste for meat soon after they found themselves on the mundane earth.  In a global perspective, vegetarianism would not be found to be a very prominent strain in the cultural make up of the peoples of the larger parts of the world.    In spite of the often repeated belief credited to the findings of science that the human food canal is so designed by nature as to be friendly to vegetarian food alone, the carnivorous tendencies of the human beings across the gamut of time and space have been found to be amazingly strong.  Eating of animal flesh, sometimes combined with cannibalism, found widespread endorsement among the prehistoric tribal religions, which dominated the globe prior to the emergence of the major world religions of the day.  Though cannibalism has declined amongst the existing tribal people with the growth of civilisation, consumption of animal flesh has by all accounts remained largely undiminished.  Hinduism, the oldest among the major religions of the day has not been completely unequivocal in renouncing animal sacrifice and flesh eating, with mainly the dominant Vaishnav sects unambiguously advocating complete avoidance of animal sacrifice and eating of meat, fowl and fish.  In the Christian world, vegetarianism has found favour in actual practice among very few sects like the Seventh Day Adventists who have always constituted a tiny minority.  Few votaries of vegetarianism can be found in the Islamic world, although some Sufi mystics did recommend a meatless diet for spiritual aspirants.  Jainism and Buddhism in India were more unequivocal about the killing of animals and Buddhism carried the practice to north and east of the world as far as China and Japan.  However, in many countries which came under the influence of the Buddhistic compassion a large class of interpreters allowed themselves to be served meat of a carcass if someone else supplied it.  In some countries fish were included in an otherwise fleshless diet.  In short, the sublimating influence of the more advanced religions of the world could also not persuade the larger part of humanity to stop cruelty to animals for satiating their palate.
In the pre-modern era, the main grounds on which vegetarianism was advocated were ethical and philosophic. History is full of ironies.  Until recently the lacto-vegetarian way of life was practised in India by the majority and shunned in the West by most.  In an ironical reversal of the situation, now it is the West that has come up in favour of the lacto-vegetarian way of life, although there it still represents the norm rather than the actual practice.  The change in the outlook this time has not been occasioned by religious faith or philosophical awakening.  It has also not really been caused by a concern for the survival of other creatures on earth.  Interestingly, this time the attitudinal change has been brought about by mankind's concern for his own survival.  The architect of this transformation has been science and not philosophy.
Scientific research in the recent times has shown that a vegetarian diet has several advantages over a non-vegetarian one.  A number of scientific surveys have confirmed that vegetarians tend to be lighter in weight, or rather closer to the desirable weight than the meat eaters.  This thesis may be earnestly contested by many of the television viewers in India who have watched Mr. T.N. Seshan canvassing for vegetarianism.  It must be conceded that Mr. Seshan's fulsome figure does not do full justice to the ideals of vegetarianism. However, it may be borne in mind that Mr. Seshan is always an exception rather than the rule. Scientific research has also established that the greater the degree of adherence to vegetarianism the lower the blood cholesterol tends to be which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease.  Mr.R.L.Philips in  ' Role of life style and dietary habits in risk of cancer among Seventh Day Adventists’ has recorded the results of a survey on the Seventh Day Adventists, which show that the members of this Christian Sect had lower mortality rates than the general population from cancer. A study in the Great Britain by P.N. Sweetnam and M.L. Burr provides evidence of reduced mortality from heart disease among vegetarians.  It is today widely known that dietary fibre has a great role to play in keeping at bay many ailments.   However, it is perhaps not as widely known that the fibrous looking animal flesh or meat as well as other animal food products do not contain any dietary fibre. Plant food, on the other hand, contains a lot.  Another feature which has drawn the attention of the scientific community in favour of vegetarianism is that the cholesterol generated in the human body comes from animal sources, which contain a lot of it.    This is one reason why food scientists recommend use of vegetable oils as cooking medium, especially those, which do not contain saturated fat and do not freeze at room temperature, rather than butter or 'ghee' (clarified butter) drawn from animal milk.  This has been already known for long that a non-vegetarian diet, especially the animal flesh, puts the human digestive system to considerable stress, which has adverse consequences for the whole system.  In addition, since meat is procured usually from the market, it is not often fresh; and if the stuff is in a degenerative state, it is fraught with formidable risks.
            A controversy as to whether a vegetarian diet could meet all our nutritional needs dragged on for some time in the past.  It is widely accepted now that a lacto-vegetarian diet can provide us with all the nutrients and a number of nutrients provided by such diets often exceed the Recommended Dietary Allowance.  It has been widely known for quite sometime that fruits and green vegetables provide vitamins and minerals in abundance.  Doubts were, however, expressed regarding the ability of the lacto-vegetarian diet to meet the protein requirements of the human body.  Sometime back the issue was widely debated among the scientists but thanks to the findings of research which are widely accepted now it has been established that a lacto-vegetarian diet can easily meet the protein needs of adults and children if they are properly planned.  A purely vegetarian diet, it is well settled now, can provide adequate amounts of all the nine essential amino acids.  It may be recalled that milk from animal sources forms part of a normal vegetarian diet regimen.  The modern western concept of vegetarianism includes eggs too.  The non-fertilised eggs or the eggs which are produced without the agency of a cock (the farm eggs in the market are produced without cocks) do not have potential for life and have been accepted as a part of vegetarian food by many since no harm is caused to life in consuming them, just as in the case of milk.  These animal protein sources which form part of vegetarian food are also excellent sources of all the essential amino acids and they are also admitted to be higher in biologic value than meat. The traditional Indian concept of vegetarianism does not include eggs, and it is established that a vegetarian diet with milk and without eggs is sufficient to take care of all our nutritional needs including the protein needs. Due to unusual concentration of cholesterol in the egg yellow, consumption of too many eggs is not recommended even in the West. The protein controversy related to vegetarian diet has been, therefore, finally laid to rest.
            In scientific acceptance of vegetarianism, discovery of abundant protein in the plant kingdom has been important. However, more than protein, it is the ecological concern that has given impetus to the movement that has built up in favour of vegetarianism in many places in the world. A diet that includes a large proportion of food of animal origin places a drain on the meagre natural resources, namely fuel, water, and land. A vegetarian diet has a favourable ecological effect because a much smaller quantity of grain and legumes is required for feeding people directly than for feeding animals. This has the effects of less land being needed for cultivation and less fuel being required for making fuel-based fertilisers, operating agricultural machinery, and transporting and storing food. A vegetarian way of life also makes lesser demands on water that may be needed for maintaining livestock and rearing crops for animal feed. Clearly, it would be possible to feed many more people a vegetarian rather than a meat-based diet. However, the question that painfully and unceasingly glimmers in the eyes of an animal is neither scientific nor ecological: How long will man take in his journey towards civilisation to be mindful of the suffering of other sentient beings that happen to share the planet with him, and how long will he take to expand the scope of his ethics of non-violence and civilised behaviour to include other living beings whom he sacrifices to the cravings of his own poor palate?