Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Applied Gandhian Ahimsa: An analysis

It is understood that Mohandas K. Gandhi popularised the concept of Ahimsa. Discussions in my buzz regarding Gandhi and Gandhian principles of non-violence has led me to write this piece on my understanding of how M.K. Gandhi developed and applied this very peculiar concept.

Mohandas Gandhi believed in a version of Hinduism that bore many similarities to monotheistic Abrahamic religions. He promoted fasts, abstinence and various extreme dietary lifestyles that were akin to Semetic religious practices. Contrary to the free and open ended contemporary practices of Hindusim, he elevated the concept of Freedom from that of individual physical freedom to spiritual Freedom. And the means to arrive at this state was by practicing non-violence. Gandhi's religion was His politics. The two are inseperable and the debate on which came first will probably never be resolved. He proposed his extreme version of Ahimsa that transended the simple laws against killing of another living thing to receiving pain and suffering in order to attain freedom of the mind. What this means has never been understood in real practical terms. His notions of Ahimsa was criticized even by Aurobindo Ghose who writes:
Purani A. B. , Evening Talks with Sri Aurobindo
The Third Series , 28th November, 1940 

...Something in him takes delight in suffering for its own sake. Even the prospect of suffering seems to please him though he puts in a lot of ethics with his justification, the fact is that something in him enjoys suffering."
2. Secondly, if he knows that to the British Government 50 Gandhis would not matter – what does he propose then to achieve politically by his fast?He even knows that the British people are not even going to consider the possibility of Ahimsa!  ...

...Fast and Satyagraha changing the heart of the opponent is absurd. What it can do is to exert pressure and secure some concession.

But it can't succeed if it challenges the very existence of the other force. For instance, Gandhi succeeded in settling the labour question because the capitalists did not want to earn public obloquy. So they gave concession to his demands. But suppose instead of some demands of amelioration he had asked them to hand over the mills to the workers then he would not have succeeded.
All the talk of change of heart is absurd. If it changes anything, it may change only the mind – not the heart....

We do know from documents that Gandhi sincerely believed in his version of non-violence. He did have a clear understanding and the extend of evil prevalent in the world at the time because he was responding to several letters written to him from various sources regarding the condition of the Jews. This is particularly evident from letters he wrote to the Jews in Germany. Asking them to literally surrender to the will of Hitler and commit collective suicide as an ultimate resolution.

Published in Harijan on November 26, 1938
"If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment . And for doing this, I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance but would have confidence that in the end the rest are bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can. Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the god fearing, death has no terror. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep."

It's no mystery what happened latter to those unfortunate Jews in Europe.

Religion and politics were inseperable to Gandhi. To understand Gandhi's politics we must understand what Gandhi saw in religions. Gandhi's support for religious state stems from his less popular slogan "സർവ്വ ധർമ്മം സമ ഭാവഃ" Gandhi tried to equate all religions as one. Religion and state was never seperate in his view. Gandhi whole heartedly supported the Khilafat Movement, a purely theocratic movement that aimed to bring about Sharia rule.

Middle-Eastern religions and Hinduism are fundamentally different. Semetic religions have a central god figure. Doctrines, laws and revelations are imparted through prophets, son of god, imams, rabiis, popes etc. These doctrines, laws, revelations are considered devine and cannot be questioned. All communications back to god generally pass through the same heirarchical channel of agents with minor differences. These religions derive authority from devine sources. All devine ordinances, even the seemingly atrocious and inhumane ones, are rationalised by virtue of its source: The devine source.

Hindusim is a pluralistic open ended religion that does not have such restrictions, monotheistic structure nor unanimously agreed charter of faith. Finding a central focus to derive devine authority is neither easy nor possible due to its scale and range of practice.

Gandhi discovered that his version of Ahimsa had all the qualities of devine source while appearing perfectly secular to the world. Seemingly ridiculous and irrational actions were justified by the concept of Ahimsa. For example a whole crowd of un-armed protestors will suffer lathi charges, tear gas, or even death, just because it is in the cause of Ahimsa.

Gandhi took Ahimsa and elevated it to the central pillar of his new-found belief system. Ahimsa is indistinguisable from appeasement and absolute surrender to the enemy's mercy. The extent of his Ahimsa can be better understood by examining one single statement made by him in 1909.

Vol 10 Page 337
December 1, 1909
I never realize any distinction between a Hindu and a Mahomedan. To my mind, both are sons of Mother India. I know that Hindus are in a numerical majority, and that they are believed to be more advanced in knowledge and education. Accordingly they should be glad to give way so much the More to their Mahomedan brethren. As a man of truth, I honestly believe that Hindus should yield to the Mahomedans what the latter desire, and that they should rejoice in so doing. We can expect unity only if such mutual large-heartedness is displayed. When the Hindus and Mahomedans act towards each other as blood-brothers, then only we can hope for the dawn of India.

Latter we see that Gandhi's Ahimsa was not applied  uniformly during the Moplah Rebbelion of 1921, When unspeakable atrocities were done to Hindu women and children of Kerala. Gandhi never openly opposed their action through his writings or speeches, [at least I havn't found any such references]. It would be wrong to assume that His endorsement of the Khilafat Movement and Ali Brothers resulted in the Moplah Rebellion of 1921, but when asked why such attroities were not admonished by the "Mahathma" who upheld Ahimsa as the pinacle of his belief he justified it in his own peculiar style:
 "Young Indian" September 8 1921
 The Moplahs are among the bravest in the land. They are God fearing. Their bravery must be transformed into purest gold. I feel sure, that once they realize the necessity of non-violence for the defence of the faith for which they have hitherto taken life, they will follow it without flinching.
It would be worthy to note that the Rebellion began in August 1921, and the above statement was made subsequently. Gandhi consciously  ignored to mention the terrible human tragedy afflicted by the Moplahs, and continued to shower praises on them. Perhaps this was a politically motivated statement aimed and  not to upsetting his Muslim supporters.

To me this was nothing but appeasement and the selective application of Gandhi's Ahimsa. Gandhi was a politician who strategically used religion to it's full potential. He formulated a central belief system that did not have obvious religious significance but in fact was rooted in his religious beliefs.  It was not enforced on  Muslims while Hindus were allowed to suffer in its absence.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I don't Care Who Anna Hazare is. I care about what we intend to do.

Who Anna Hazzare is, was or will become, is irrelevant to me. He could be an icon of the opposition to harp about till the end of this Parliamentary election.  He could be the next anti-Christ for all I care, but what he did is certainly commendable.

He created an awareness on the rampant corruption that has started to erode and threaten the very fabric of our nation.

There is absolutely no doubt that we the citizens of India have to address this problem if we have to qualify for the title of The Greatest Democracy on Earth.

Unfortunately Ann Hazare or any of his buddies are neither legal experts nor elected representatives of any constituency in India. As it stands the draft proposal has too many loop holes, inconsistencies and filled with questionable motives. These issues can do more harm than good in the fight against  corruption.

A body that is arbitrarily populated with hand-picked members from within civil society cannot be entrusted with the task of arresting Democratically elected members of any house of the people.

A body that has been paid by the government to do the task of investigating corruption cannot retain 10% or any portion of the funds ceased from an investigative operation as Intensive. A corruption redressal system that equates itself to the Supreme Court of  the Country should not operate like Credit Card Collection agency or Parking meter attendants.

What we have to do now is discuss the Lokpal bill in the finest detail possible by checking if they are in violation of our constitution and fundamental rights.

With all it's corrupt and unqualified members in both houses of our parliment, I still have some confidence in our law makers. The proposed bill in its present form cannot and most probably will not even pass through the first reading in Lok Sabha.  At least the bureaucracy of this nation will not allow that to happen.

Lets stop worrying about an old man in an ashram and worry about what we can do to improve this bill.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

So Anna Hazare did a good thing. The old guy fasted for a few days and got the government moving their asses on something that should have been done 40 years ago. Kudos to him. Make no mistakes the man does have balls to stand up to all this corruption. Even though you are a Gandhian, I salute you sir.

And then I read this: Jan Lokpal Bill version 1.9

Whoever drafted this document  needs to be whacked in the head with a baseball bat. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there is a need to formulate a bill to form a body of ombudsman to check the rampant corruption within our bureaucracy. When I say rampant I mean ridiculously gargantuan scales of rampant. If "rampantness" had a scale it would be blowing its springs by now.

However the spirit of the bill should be appreciated. Institutionalized Corruption within our system has reached unprecedented proportions, and our citizenry is tired of it. The mass rally in support of Anna Hazare's fast is proof of public outrage. No doubt there are errors, and flaws in the draft proposal. But that does not invalidate the need for such a bill. Yes it's a shitty bill but that does not by any way mean that we have to put up with the ongoing corruption and graft in Government and corporate offices. Having said all that, the bill is still what it is draft. Poorly written with too many arbitrary conditions, one sided and naive in its wording.  A boy scouts hand book would have better logic.

My reservations on the draft bill are the following:
Section 6
A selection committee consisting of the following shall be set up:
a.Two senior most judges of Supreme Court
b.Two senior most Chief Justices of High Courts
c.All Nobel Laureates of Indian Origind.Last three Magsaysay Award winners

(Regarding b and c) These awards are just too arbitrary criterions that have no bearing on the individuals ability to choose the right person(s) to be in this committee. And why Nobel Laureates of Indian Origin? Let's see now, I can think of only two  would qualify for this position. These Nobel laureates  may be smart but I have no Idea why these two non-Indians be part of this committe? Are we running out of  qualified Indians to do the job in India that we have to ask retired college profs to do our dirty work?

The bill in its present form gives the possibility for unelected non-indian citizens to be in the selection committee that chooses Chairperson and Members.

Section 12
Lokpal to be a deemed police officer:
(1) For the purposes of section 36 of Criminal Procedure Code,the Chairperson, members of Lokpal and the officers in investigation wing of Lokpal shall be deemed to be police officers
That's interesting because earlier on page 10 we read.
9. Issue of Search Warrant, etc.
(1) Where, in consequence of information in his possession, the Lokpal
may by a search warrant authorize any Police officer not below the rank of an Inspector of Police toconduct a search or carry out an inspection in accordance therewith and in particular to, -(i) enter and search any building or place where he has reason to suspect that such property,document, money, bullion, jewellery or other valuable article or thing is kept;(ii) search any person who is reasonably suspected of concealing about his person any articlefor which search should be made;(iii) break open the lock of any door, box, locker safe, almirah or other receptacle forexercising the powers conferred by sub-clause (i) where the keys thereof are not available.

So they are essentially assuming the role of Police. Which also means members of the Lokpal can arbitrarily enter any premises and cease any documents just on a hunch. Not good people, not good at all. That simply is giving too much power in the hands of individuals who are not trained in the management of law and order. And that too in a nation notorious for being corrupt.

Section 27Protection- (1) No suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Chairperson
or members or against any officer, employee, agency or person referred to in Section 14(4) in respect 
of anything which is in good faith done while acting or purporting to act in the discharge of his official 
duties under this Act.

(2) No proceedings of the Lokpal shall be held to be bad for want of form and except on the ground of
jurisdiction, no proceedings or decision of the Lokpal shall be liable to be challenged, reviewed, quashed 
or called in question in any court of ordinary Civil Jurisdiction.

Essentially the chairperson is untouchable. Come on people, do we really want to give so much power to one individual? That too in India !?

Perhaps the chap who wrote all this got carried away, or perhaps he was watching some re-runs of the Mahabharat episodes, or he was just plain smoking some really weird shit.

People lets remember that We the people are the ones who are so fucking corrupt that we don't even have calculators to count the number of zeros in 1,76,000, crores. How can we entrust a bunch of foreign  college professors and novelists to regulate themselves. They are not even under our jurisdiction. If shit happens they would be on the first plane back to where they came from.

We need to really work on our documentation skills. What ever checks and measures we cook up it should never, never ever be at the expense of civil liberties.