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.

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