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.


  1. A blog from 2073 AD

    They are celeberating the birth centenary of Sachin Tendulkar. I don’t understand why this man is talked about even today. They say he is the `The greatest cricketer ever`. They had given him Bharat Ratna , which used to be given to eminent personalities like MGR.
    I don‘t understand why this man is still celeberated today…I started reading some books and cricket records. I think, his only aim was to score centuries after centuries and break all the world records. He never had an intention that indian team should win the matches. When he was the captain of indian team, india started loosing all the matches. And still he is revered as a great cricketer !!
    I think he just wanted to score tens of thousands of runs just for his personal glory. Whenever there was a final match of a series, he performed so badly…statistics show that. This means, he never wanted india to win tournaments.
    I dont think Tendulkar had given any significant contribution to indian cricket.
    And coming to the world cups, his contribution was very little. In the 2003 world cup final, he just scored one run and india lost against australia. Terrible !!. In 2011, India became world champions, but what did he do for that ? In the final match, he just took 18 runs, and great cricketers like Gautham Gambhir and M.S Dhoni toiled for indian victory. When India won the world cup for the first time in 1983, he was just a 10 year old boy, watching the match on tv, scratching his ass, and they say he is the greatest cricket ever … what an irony !!!


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