Friday, December 24, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9e

It is often said that Gandhi was not wholly uncompromising in his doctrine of non-violence, that he would make exceptions. Gandhi felt that the ethics of non-violence had to be applied differently in different theatres like family, political community, international community etc. It did not act independently of the forces acting in these areas. That is why Gandhi paid attention to social reforms. He felt that social life cannot be free of violence without these reforms. 

He was willing to make many qualifications in his theory of nonviolence depending on the context. He was not interested in an abstract moral attitude far removed from the realities of the world. He was far more concerned with moral conduct than with moral judgement. He valued justice more than mere abstention from violence, courage more than non-participation in war. 'Refusal of military service is much more superficial than non-cooperation with the whole system which supports the state.' He said that all violence is sinful, but violence that is inevitable may not be regarded as a sin. 

He knew that it was impossible to achieve fully what one set out to to do in any given situation. He believed in compromise and said, 'I ever compromise my own ideal even in individual conduct not because I wish to but because the compromise was inevitable. And so in social and political matters I have never exacted complete fulfilment of the ideal in which I have believed.' But he thought that there are always times when one had to say 'thus far and no further' but where one draws this red line differs from issue to issue. George Orwell says in an essay, Reflections on Gandhi:

He did not — indeed, since his whole political life centered round a struggle for national independence, he could not — take the sterile and dishonest line of pretending that in every war both sides are exactly the same and it makes no difference who wins. Nor did he, like most Western pacifists, specialize in avoiding awkward questions. 

He believed that states had the right to self-defense, if necessary, by military means. He stated at the Second Round Table Conference, 'I think that a nation that has no control over her own defense forces, and over her external policy is hardly a responsible nation.' An independent Indian state would have to follow 'some kind of mild war policy.' When he was criticized for his support of WWI, he said, 'under exceptional circumstances war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil . . . an Ahimsaist [a practitioner of non-violence] may not stand aside and look with indifference, he must make the choice and actively cooperate or actively resist.'

The British disarmed Indians by passing the Arms Act of 1878. Gandhi was very critical of the compulsory disarming of Indians and he raised the demand for the right to carry arms from various platforms. It was one of the major demands presented to the Viceroy before launching the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930. Why was a man called the 'Apostle of Nonviolence' demanding the arming of Indians?

It was a difficult task for a handful of British to dominate a populous and vast country like India with only physical power. It was important to subjugate the minds of the Indians. Gandhi knew very well that there was a continuous psychological war going on between Indian and British men. The British colonial masters launched a 'propaganda' to impress the Indians that they were weak, effeminate and unfit to rule themselves. 

Gandhi believed that compulsory disarmament had made Indians unmanly and the presence of an alien army with deadly arms had made Indians think that they could not defend themselves against foreign aggression. So Gandhi demanded arms for Indians and in that context proposed nonviolence as a manly quality. Gandhi writes, "...I am not pleading for India to practice non-violence because it is weak. I want her to practice non-violence being conscious of her strength and power." As Gandhi saw it, weapons were of value only when used by persons of courage and restraint to protect innocent life. They were a menace when used to threaten the vulnerable.

He wanted Indians to develop 'nonviolence of the strong' i.e. Indians should have the capacity to retaliate but voluntarily renounce the capacity and opt for nonviolence. 'Nonviolence presupposes an ability to strike.' Instead what he found towards the end of his life  was that Indians had developed 'nonviolence of the weak'  or passive resistance i.e. they were using nonviolence as a temporary tactic because they didn't have the capacity to match the opponent's violence but the moment they have that capacity, they will use it. He had said on November 6, 1947:

What has, however, clearly happened in my case is the discovery that in all probability there is a vital defect in my technique of the working of non-violence. There was no real appreciation of non-violence in the thirty years’ struggle against British Raj. Therefore, the peace that masses maintained during that struggle of a generation with exemplary patience, had not come from within.

The pent-up fury found an outlet when British Raj was gone. It naturally vented itself in communal violence which was never fully absent and which was kept under suppression by the British bayonet. This explanation seems to me to be all-sufficing and convincing.”  

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9d

Gandhi thought that no regime, however despotic it might be, could function without the co-operation of its citizens. Thus, if citizens withdrew their cooperation, and were willing to take the resultant consequences, any regime will fall. This was what made Gandhi say in Hind Swaraj, ‘That we should obey laws whether good or bad is a newfangled notion. There was no such thing in former days. The people disregarded those laws they did not like and suffered the penalties for their breach…. So long as the superstition that men should obey unjust laws exists, so long will their slavery exist.’

The point is emphasized by James Carse in Finite and Infinite Games, where he writes that “Whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever MUST play cannot PLAY.” This is true no matter how high the stakes, even life and death. In slavery or severe political oppression, the refusal to play the demanded role may be paid for with terrible suffering or death. But  whoever takes up the commanded role does so by choice. ‘Certainly the price for refusing it is high, but that there is a price at all points to the fact that oppressors themselves acknowledge that even the weakest of their subjects must agree to be oppressed.’

Gandhi was not saying that one should break all laws. As a matter of fact, he was a stickler for following laws. He only advocated breaking those laws that unjustly discriminated against a population and his conscience rebelled against following them. In this principle, he was at one with Thoreau, the difference being that while Thoreau advocated individual civil disobedience, Gandhi expanded its scope to mass civil disobedience. But he was careful to stress that you have earned the right to break an unjust law only if you have first learned to observe laws consistently even if they cause inconvenience, not by those who used every problem as an occasion to display their conscience.                

He insisted on the strict condition that satyagraha cannot be initiated for personal reasons but only for the good of others. Satyagraha presuppose the ability and willingness to suffer and lose property. It cannot be organized unless the crowd  can behave as disciplined soldiers who can remain calm and unperturbed under fierce  provocation. It requires unobtrusive humility from the participants whose strength lies in the correctness of their position. In short, 'a satyagraha struggle is impossible without capital in the shape of character'. It is not a movement of 'brag, bluster or bluff'. 

For Gandhi, satyagraha was not just a matter of bravely breaking an unjust law and facing the consequences. It was also a time for many other symbolic acts that would improve the community's internal cohesion and shame the opponent. But even when the struggle was at its most intense, he kept alive channels of communication between the antagonists and thought that personal communication and compromise were crucial. He believed that compromise did not represent a defeat for either side but was a much higher and more desirable triumph for the strength of the human spirit. The votary of ahimsa does not aim for victory but wants to arrive at a better solution. He said on July 7th 1920 in Young India:

I pride myself on my yielding nature in non-vital matters . . . I have found by experience that if I wish to live in a society and still retain my independence, I must limit the points of utter independence to matters of first rate importance. In all others which do not involve a departure from one's personal religion or moral code, one must yield to the majority. 

Just because a movement rejects physical violence, it cannot be called a satyagraha. By the standards that Gandhi set, probably none of the strikes, demonstrations, boycotts, fasts, etc. that are often called today as satyagrahas can be called so. Satyagraha is inaccurately equated with passive resistance. Although it calls for inviting suffering on oneself and sacrifice, submission was never an element of the concept. Submission to humiliation was strictly prohibited and in every case, a satyagrahi must refuse to do what his conscience forbids him to do. 

How is one to judge whether a particular movement is a satyagraha according to the exacting standards that Gandhi set? The first distinguishing characteristic is whether all available channels for settling the dispute without humiliating the opponent have been explored before launching the agitation. Maximum publicity would have been given regarding the aims of the agitators. Efforts would be made to minimize hardships for the opponent. There should be readiness to accept the penalties provided by the law and typically, the agitators will not resort to legal defense. 

Gandhi countered Aurobindo Ghose’s argument that ‘we do not want to develop a nation of women’ by arguing that it was precisely the ‘feminine’ nature of non-violence that proved superior to the ‘brute  force’ associated with the ‘male aggression’ of the British Raj. He said that an agitator who didn't follow the stringent conditions that he had laid down for satyagraha were following duragraha. Satyagraha was distinguished by a creedal commitment to nonviolence while duragraha advocated the use of nonviolence because of an apparent pragmatic advantage. The latter saw more power in violence. 

Duragraha  may use harassment or feel enmity but ‘in satyagraha, there is not the remotest idea of injuring the opponent. Satyagraha postulates the conquest of the adversary by suffering in one’s own person.’ Satyagraha is not based on a zero-sum calculation of how much loss can be inflicted on the opponent. Duragraha involves harassment of the opponent and reaches a settlement by intensification of pressure. Satyagraha relies on persuading the opponent to change the position under attack and it seeks to strengthen interpersonal relationships by minimizing hardship to the opponent. Dennis Dalton writes in Gandhi: Non-violent Power in Action:

The theory of satyagraha, therefore, rests fundamentally on a certain view about "the capacity of man to change" by effecting a "context of reassurance" rather than of hostility, of mutual support rather than of alienation and anger. The ultimate goal is not to attain a decisive triumph, but "to achieve the transformation of relationships" that would genuinely resolve the conflict rather than simply postpone it to a later time. 

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Arundhati Roy on Gandhi - 9c

The popularity of violence is due to several reasons. Violence tempts us because it activates and nurtures our egos and an inflated ego is often celebrated as a hyper-masculine attribute of bravery. It does not demand the honest labour of self-reflection. Instead, we are led to believe that the problem lies necessarily always outside, and hence the annihilation of the ‘enemy’ out there is seen to be the only way to our redemption. Violence satisfies the urge to find quick ‘solutions’ and it encourages one’s sadistic thrill of being seen as ‘superior’ to others. 

Gandhi recognized that good and evil cannot be neatly separated as was commonly assumed and that good turned into evil when pressed beyond a certain point. Mankind therefore could not be divided into two neat classes with one so privileged that it had a right to punish the rest. In his view almost every revolution so far had led to terror, devoured its children, and failed to create a better society. Once people resort to violence to settle a conflict, they keep trying to increase their power and reduce their opponent's power. 

Gandhi thinks that once violence becomes institutionalized, it will be readily used against former friends and allies. It becomes an 'easy step from employing violence on foreign rulers to using it on our own people whom we consider obstructing the country's progress.' Violence soon becomes the normal way to settle conflicts and ensure compliance. Soon what were once morally objectionable actions become acceptable. He fears that 'once the custom of effecting reforms by force gets established, the people tend to become dull and lifeless.' Raghavan Iyer writes in The Moral and Political Thought of Mahatma Gandhi:

Gandhi's view of the connection between satya and ahimsa was based upon the belief that truth and non-violence are both unifying forces, while error and violence are divisive factors, in human society. Truth needs no violence for its diffusion and is, in fact, obscured by violence. 

Violence is not only a sign of insecurity and incomplete conviction but it also makes victory more important than truth, distorts the truth and renders its free acceptance more difficult. 

It is assumed that in certain situations violence is the only possible solution but it is not always so. But what is required, as Gandhi recognized, is tremendous courage, far more than what is required for violence. For softening passions and producing an atmosphere in which compromise was possible, Gandhi insisted that the struggle it involves cannot be sustained in an atmosphere of violence and fear. The ethical contest Gandhi invites all sides to enter forbids the use of fear: Arousing it is as bad as becoming its victim. The victor must prove moral superiority to the satisfaction of the loser. 

For Gandhi, ahimsa was much more than being merely civil to your opponents. Civility can arise out of a feeling of social obligation or a recognition of the cost of violence. Ahimsa, in addition, also has a positive faith that active non-violence can move the opponent towards seeing the justice of your resistance and in protecting the weak against the strong. Where reason fails, love might, but violence cannot, solve the problem. Gandhi is belittled because he had the guts to ignore Holderlin's maxim, 'If you have understanding and a heart, show only one. Both they will damn, if both you show together.'

At the root of all of Gandhi’s efforts was a focus on self-improvement. When riots broke out in Calcutta just before independence, Gandhi refused to write them off as simply a manifestation of goondaism. He asserted that all citizens of Calcutta were responsible for the violence; all must ‘turn the searchlight inwards’ and see that ‘wide open goondaism was a reflection of the subtle goondaism they were harboring within.’ 

How could they claim to enjoy their rights in a free India when they had failed in their responsibility to maintain civil peace and order? (He didn’t say this from the safety of a far-of place but in Calcutta during the riots.)  When he proposed a fast to quell the riots, Rajaji asked him, ‘Can one fast against the goondas?’ Gandhi replied, ‘I want to touch the hearts of those who are behind the goondas.’  It was enough for him if society at large had no sympathy with the goondas. 

For years Indians had blamed criminal elements in society for communal conflict as well as other urban violence. Gandhi replied: "Goondas do not drop from the sky, nor do they spring from the earth like evil spirits. They are the product of social disorganization, and society is therefore responsible for their existence. In other words, they should be looked upon as a symptom of corruption in our body politic." That was in 1940.

When in 1946 he was confronted with the Bihar riots, he again unequivocally placed the responsibility where it belonged by deploring "the habit of procuring a moral alibi for ourselves by blaming it all on the goondas. We always put the blame on the goondas. But it is we who are responsible for their creation as well as encouragement." The argument that goondas were distinct from ordinary law-abiding citizens had never appealed to Gandhi. 

His non-violent methods of protest were based on the principle that “to kill for freedom will legitimize killing after freedom.” A Western style of parliamentary government he would accept as Swaraj for the time being only. While in the ideal society there is no room for the military and the police, yet in the actual State there is provision for it according to the moral level of its citizens. Whatever political institutions Gandhi accepted, he did so only as a transitional device, to be transcended by better ones. No institutional device is final. They must evolve with the evolution of individuals. 

Gandhi was no philosopher in the dogmatic sense of the term. He did not cut himself adrift from the daily problems and struggles of the people and take refuge in a solitary physical and mental corner to formulate his philosophy of non-violence. His was the unique technique of taking active role in the process of the solution of the everyday problems of people. Though he had supreme confidence in the ideal of non-violence, Gandhi remained, to the end, a seeker — striving towards an ideal rather than claiming to have arrived at a goal.