Power of non-violence: Issues must be resolved through dialogue, and not violence

Delhi, Delhi, India Jan 06, 2020, 08.38 PM(IST) Written By: Sanjay Kumar

As violence flares in Hong Kong, a look at controversial anti-mask ban. Photograph:( AFP )

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The world is faced with pressing issues – climate change, economic growth, inequality, anti-establishment protests and violence.

The world is faced with pressing issues – climate change, economic growth, inequality, anti-establishment protests and violence. Even as the other issues are receiving some attention, not much is being done with respect to addressing the wave of violence sweeping across the world. It is in this context that it becomes critical to delve into the root cause of violence and strive for a peaceful world.  

Violence is not only killing people, but it is also undermining the progress of nations and humane values. What prompts an individual to resort to harming others?  As we say this, let us recount, more than 71 soldiers in Nigeria have been killed by 100 militants in the deadliest attack against Niger military, India recently saw some worst crime against women while London and Amsterdam, witnessed multiple stabbing incidents and so on. Amidst this vicious circle of suffering and ferocity is it wishful thinking to strive for a world free of violence? A world without violence might sound utopian or a line straight from the script of a feel-good feature film. But we need to understand that a world without violence is surely attainable, provided we all work towards it. Violence is an attitude, an approach that needs to be dealt skillfully. Crushing protests and dissenting views is not the solution. Violence and aggression as a tendency need to be addressed at an individual, structural and societal level. 

If we delve deeper and try to analyse the reasons for violence, we would find that we all are stakeholders in this large-scale violence. Let us analyse the factors contributing to this violence.  

Lack of belongingness and trust 

It is the lack of belongingness and trust towards our fellow brethren which is giving rise to this cycle of hate and aloofness. The feeling of somebodies or the lack of belongingness has long been driving a wedge between us and others, be it during the era of capitalism, colonialism, or apartheid, where the weak were subjugated at the hands of the powerful. Unless we address the lack of belonging, violence will continue to spread as a wildfire and would be hard to curtail.  

The violence could be as small as a quarrel or fight between a husband and wife or can take the form of large-scale violence. As we are growing into a so-called “better off society”, we are trusting each other less. The magnitude of violence being experienced in the 21st century is indeed heartening. Violence is not the nature of man. However, man is the only animal who kills his fellow beings. Other animals rarely kill animals of their fraternity, rather they stand for their protection.  

Lack of trust is preventing nations from enjoying the fruits of development. This mistrust between nations is making them allocate billions of dollars in defence budget alone. This amount could very well have gone for nation-building or for providing a social safety net to people. While people living below the poverty line in India have fallen from 70 per cent in 1947 to 22 per cent in 2016, still the fruits of development are still to fully trickle down to all the sections of the society. 

Several polls conducted worldwide demonstrate that millennials have far lesser inclination to trust the society, the Government, the judiciary than they used to earlier. Today’s policies, laws and social habits showcase a falling sense of interpersonal trust. Security checks are becoming more rigorous than before given the uncertain times we live in. This didn’t use to be the case earlier. One core reason behind the growing incidence of depression is the feeling of alienation and lack of confidence in our fellow beings. We seldom find an avenue to vent out our feelings or have someone to hear to us impartially while at the same time maintain our confidentiality. If not addressed at the individual level, this takes the form of fear psychosis and becomes social aggression at the societal level. Many of the culprits behind gun-shooting incidents or terror attacks have often been found to be anti-social in character.  

Ideologies alienate us 

Ideology is the root cause of all violence. Thousands of wars have been fought, still fighting not for any real thing, but just for mere ideologies. The rigid notion that only our ideology is supreme or ours is the only truth have left numerous scars the world over which are hard to heal. The violence during the World War II, the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Cold War era of the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks in the US and 26/11 in India are still fresh in the minds of the people. Sanatan tradition in its unadulterated form is not an ideology but the art of living. The Sanskrit aphorism Ahaṁ Brahmāsmi, meaning “I am the Infinite” has long been propounded by our holy Upanishads. The aphorism signifies that Brahman is the infinite reality, the all-encompassing existence in itself, and only when the ego (somebodies) dies can it be realised. Unless we see the same atman or soul in each of us as the basis of our being, irrespective of caste, creed, race and religion, we won’t be at peace. Our holy scriptures have also advocated that one should see one (God) in many while many in one. The moment one drops ideologies and refuses to be blinded by it, suddenly one becomes aware. And that heightened awareness is the source of peace in and around the world. 

Freedom to ask questions 

While many may not agree, but we need to encourage people to ask questions. All the greatest inventions of our times and mass political movements, all owe their success to raising pertinent questions. Not providing people an outlet to ask questions and seek a response often gives rise to frustration, pent-up emotions, a feeling of subjugation which then take the shape of violence.  

The Indian civilisation right from its inception has encouraged people to ask questions. At a time when asking questions was forbidden in other religions and parts of the world, all major holy scriptures in India - be it the Narada Bhakti Sutra or the Bhagawad Gita have started with a question. India is also the land which gave rise to the Guru-Shishya parampara (Guru-Disciple tradition) where asking questions was encouraged. The prevailing chaos globally could be blamed in part to curbing the dissenting voices and forbidding people from asking relevant questions. Notwithstanding, India has a history of respect for all religions, which is unparalleled in the rest of the world.  

Role of language in violence 

Not many know, but language too has a role in exacerbating violence. A physical wound may heal sooner, but it may take ages for a verbal scar to heal. Violence is almost always accompanied by language. Anthropologists are right when they say that aggression is biological while violence is social. More than often the accompanying language gives violence its social character. There have been several instances in India where influential public figures have been booked for hate speech and for instigating violence. One can’t also turn a blind eye to language-related violence as seen in Bangladesh, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Maharashtra. Many political parties owe their successes to the linguistic card played by them. 

Technology: A boon or a bane 

The increased usage of technology and gadgets is subtly contributing to violence. While technology has made it easier to communicate seamlessly, at the same time it has increased levels of alienation. Youth playing games on mobile which involve killing and maiming the enemy often induces a sense of aggression among the teens. The easy access of pornographic material on gadgets is unfortunate too. It has emerged that several pedophiles and sexual predators have been influenced by such material online in committing sexual crimes. The advent of messaging apps such as Whatsapp and Telegram has made it easier for militant outfits to radicalise the youth or recruit them. Many of the ISIS recruits claim to have got influenced by groups created by the outfit on Telegram. 

Often, fake and unsubstantiated content is shared on such Messaging Apps, be it the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir or misconceptions regarding the intended purpose of policies as framed by the Government. India has been witnessing widespread protests pertaining to the objective of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens exercise. Unless the policy formulators proactively educate the public correctly about the exact significance of their policies and check rumour-mongering, such chaos is bound to occur as the reality is far from what is projected in these viral posts. Any violence emanating out of the lack of trust for the government’s policies often gives rise to mob-mentality and ends in massive destruction of public property, while claiming lives too. The misuse of the internet by anti-social elements has been one of the key considerations making the Indian government tread with caution in fully restarting internet services in Kashmir post the revocation of Article 370 in August. 

Gadgets in a way have become our companion. People tend to spend 14-16 hours with them, even keeping them besides them when sleeping. We get a high when we see our gadgets instantly obeying our commands. However, we become restless and aggressive when our friends and family refuse to respond or interact in the same vein. This needs to be addressed. Gadgets should be used for constructive purposes – learning a new skill, course, meditating, exploring new places or reading something positive. 

Way forward

Great things have been accomplished through non-violence. J. Krishnamurti, the enlightened author of Beyond Violence, once wrote: “Violence is like a stone dropped in a lake: the waves spread and spread; at the centre is the ‘me’. As long as the ‘me’ survives in any form, very subtly or grossly, there must be violence.” 

There is a mystical incident -- Towards the end of the British Rule in India, when the independence movement was at its peak, some British soldiers captured a Hindu saint on the suspicion that he was a spy. This saint was passing through a military cantonment area, and he had been in silence – observing a Maun Vrat – for 30 years. The soldiers interrogated him, but he chose not to break his “Maun Vrat” (silence). This unusual behaviour strengthened their suspicion and the soldiers became so furious, they stuck a bayonet in his chest. In his last moment, the saint uttered one Sanskrit word: 'Tattvamasi', meaning ‘That Art Thou’. It implies that even the killer is divine even though he is not aware of his divinity. 

Non-violence simply means you should be so powerful that nobody can undermine you by being violent towards you. It should not be out of weakness but out of power. Being powerful, you shouldn’t hurt or kill the latter, but rather protect them. You could even empower the other by educating him to shun the path of ignorance, of violence and come back into the mainstream. So, my idea of nonviolence is different from Mahavir, Buddha and Gandhi. 

My idea is non-violence should be out of an abundance of power. Don’t use that power to kill, to destroy; but use that power to create, enlighten and protect. And if anybody tries to harm you or anybody else, do everything to prevent that harm. 

Violence has to be completely removed from the world, but it can happen only if nonviolent people are powerful; otherwise, how can you manage? If violent people are powerful and non-violent people are powerless, then the violent people will overrule the non-violent. That has been our experience of two thousand years. I don’t support weakness. I support power; but power with compassion, love and creativity.  

Given my more than two decades of experience of working in Kashmir, North-east, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Nepal, it is clear that people could be transformed and be made to shun violence by educating them about the constructive power of non-violence and by hearing to them non-judgmentally with compassion.  

Furthermore, I feel that all the pressing issues in the world can only be solved through dialogue, and not war or bullets. Be it the decades of civil strife in Columbia or the centuries-long dispute pertaining to the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, both of which witnessed widespread bloodshed in the past, all have been resolved amicably through discussion and dialogue, thus setting a new precedence for our future generations.  

Role of spirituality  

In the prevailing times, the role of spirituality in addressing violence can’t be under-emphasized. Turning to holy scriptures irrespective of religion, their correct interpretation and education, yoga and meditation can go a long way in creating a society filled with tolerance and compassion. The United Nations recognising the significance of Yoga and declaring 21 June as the International Day of Yoga is laudable in this context. Yoga and meditation is also being taught across prisons the world over and has found a large number of takers. Many convicts feel their life would have been different had they been introduced to it earlier.  

It needs to start from our families 

Addressing the growing incidents of violence and preventing the societal fabric from deteriorating has become our moral responsibility. Spreading peace and compassion needs to start from our homes. By treating our loved ones with compassion, we can surely encourage them to do the same with others and hope this to have a spiral effect. At the same time, it becomes important to turn to our scriptures. The tenets of non-violence have been extensively propagated for long by them. The mention of non-violence comes before truth in the highly revered Patanjali Yoga Sutra.  

Feeling of belongingness and treating others with respect has been one of the key pillars of India’s tradition. It was among the first countries in the world to propagate the message of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, a Sanskrit phrase found in the Maha Upanishad, meaning "the world is one family". It is these ideals which made India to welcome thinkers, scholars and visitors from all over the world.  

India never attacked any country on its own in the known history and never tried to colonise any part of the world. It neither advocated that our truth is the only truth nor projected others as non-believers and sinners. India was and will continue to remain a melting pot of the peaceful co-existence of several religions, languages, dialects and cultures. Even as greed, materialism and religious dogma dominate the world, India, despite its shortcomings, still holds the torch that can light a new flame of awakening. The country is well-equipped to deal with any differences of opinion in a peaceful manner 

If we all – individuals, society, governments, world leaders, NGOs, civil society, spiritual organisations work in unison for fostering brotherhood and peace, a world without violence is surely attainable. 

(Views expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

Sanjay Kumar

The writer is associated with Art of Living and has been working in conflict zones in India for the last two decades.