October 2, 2021
Come first week of October and last week of January every year, the air in India is filled with the name of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Plenty of incense sticks are burnt alongside respectful sprinkling of rose and marigold petals. However, no one goes deep into the understanding of the Mahatma’s contribution to the creation of the Union of India. He did it through an advocacy of an ideology, a combination of freedom, nationhood, democracy, rural focus, pluralism and, above all, non-violence. Undoubtedly, the Mahatma is responsible for our country being a peaceful country in comparison with countries in Africa, South America or even the Middle East. It is this great man who had a ‘Maha Atma’, which gave this country its peaceful existence for the last seventy-five years.
The greatest thing that he did was his stand against violence and its associated use even for procuring legitimate causes. He won freedom for our country through non-violent means.
References to violence across the world, narrowing down to those in Africa, become necessary to understand the significance of our country liberating itself,with Mahatma’s effective leadership which stood on the bedrocks of non-violence.
Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer who won theNobel Prize for literature in 2015 describes candidly the story of the ‘Soviet Vietnam’, Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989 in her book ‘Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War’ providing readers plenty of information about the realities of war and violence. The word ‘Zinky’ in the title represented the shameful and shattered lives of Soviet troupes whose dead bodies were taken in sealed Zink coffins to different parts of Russia from Afghanistan. The sadder story is that of Afghanistan’s wars and violence in a period of hundred years after it won freedom from Britain in 1919. The three month war commenced by Afghanistan against the then British India ended with enormous amount of violence against women and children in Afghanistan itself. One cannot predict possibilities of abundance of violence in Afghanistan as it progresses now into the making of a new government and administering the country.
In January 2021, Netherlands witnessed unusual riots and associated arson and violence because of the curfew imposed to control Covid 19 infections, and that too only from 09.00 p.m. to 04.30 a.m. for a week. What shocked the world was the truth that alongside the riots, there was also heavy looting, especially from malls after breaking them open, in a country which is one of the foremost in happy planet index with 35.3 points. It also has the fifth spot in the UN world happiness index of 2019. Incidentally, and in passing, it may be mentioned that India ranked 140th with 3.573 points, indeed a score lower than that of Pakistan.Amsterdam, constitutional capital and the biggest city in Netherlands, an otherwise peaceful city, witnessed the maximum losses and destructions. Similarly, in the third week of August, hundreds of people were arrested in Australia after violent clashes between lockdown protestors and police. There were similar protests and arrests associated with national lockdown in New Zealand too. These are examples of how even in Europe and Australia, considered civilised in comparison by sociologists, violence is unabated as situations arise.
Several countries in the world face difficult situations of violence, either from revolutionary groups who strike at random or public outcry against imposition of any new law or rule, even when they are absolutely necessary. Twentieth century thinkers expect different peoples in different countries to abhor violence because of the establishment of democratic values in a large number of countries across the world.
Researchers to discover reasons for modern human progress, especially in comparison with the types of societies that existed a few centuries ago, and resultant peace in different countries attribute them to the establishment of democracy in various parts of the world. Such researchers also find that the progress of human into rational and logical civilisations have contributed to reduction in violence in several societies. They also comment that such civilisations have created structures of law and order which govern collective human living and these contribute to non-violent behaviours. All the same, they point a finger at several African countries which had become democratic in the last fifty to seventy-five years and which have widespread violence in these days despite democratic functioning.
It is interesting to make an analysis of one of the European countries and its life around 2000. Kosovo was supposed to have been an area with lowest rates of crime in the whole of Yugoslavia. However, after the 1999 war, crimes increased; drug trafficking, human trafficking, ethnic conflict between Albanians and Serbs; Kosovo became the crime hub of Europe; murders rose by 80% and other crimes by 140% by 2001. Sociologists and psychologists analyse and report that the type of freedom that is made available to people will get disturbed depending on the type of activities that are indulged in by the people for getting that freedom. So, many of them point out that the success of democracy and its functional ways will depend upon the way the basic freedom for democratic living have been offered to the people. If or when the strategies and methods adopted are violent, there are chances that the violence will continue and democracy as a human collective living will fail in its objectives.
Investigations on major fire that ravaged the cathedral in the French city of Nantes in 2020 led to a Rwandan refugee and now the same person is accused of the murder of a catholic priest in the Vendee region in western France in the second week of August 2021. As per the statement of Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, the suspected man is supposed to have gone to the police in the town of Mortagne – sur – Severe and declared that he had killed a priest. Such incidents have created wide ranging discussion on refugee behaviour and the issues connected to the advent of violence in European countries. Far-right leader Marine Ley Pen who is supposed to contest against the centrist president Emmanuel Macron for the presidency next year accused the government of tolerating violence of different types from refugees from Africa. However, some psychologists and sociologists have dismissed the incident as a stray behaviour of revenge.
Is the French politician justified in her accusations against the African refugees, especially because of a common belief in the significance of violence ingrained in the Africans? It is worthwhile to examine the authentic causes for the violence in various African countries which became independent in the last half a century or a little more and also search for the reasons for violence. It indeed is necessary not only to examine the type of violence but also the suffering that women and children face in many an African country. While it is true that there is violence in various countries, including the European countries which are proud of their heritage associated with civilised living and existence of democratic values as base for practised systems.
The democratic republic of Congo which was under Belgian occupation was liberated in 1960. Despite influence of exceptional leaders like Patrice Lumumba who headed the government as Prime Minister immediately after liberation, sectarian violence and fights between different leaders resulted in the assassination of Lumumba himself and Congo has never recovered from this status of violence that it plunged into. Today, Congo is known as the rape capital of the world with more than two lakh women as victims, the United Nations itself is looking after more than forty thousand dishonored women as they have nobody to care for them because many of them were not only subjected to exceptional violence but also stolen out from their own surroundings.
Nigeria today seems to be a country for kidnapping. Of the hundred and sixty-five children kidnapped recently, twenty-six were rescued. In 2014, Boko Haram snatched 203 girls from a rural school in Chibok and nothing was known about them thereafter. In December 2020, gangs targeted a rural school, Bethal Baptist High School and abducted young girls. They also looted the houses in the area and even stole cattle and took all of them to forest hide outs. Abduction of children is a very ordinary thing that happens in Nigeria. In August, Nigeria bombed and killed seventy-eight bandits during military operations as heavily armed bandits wracked North West and central Nigeria for years.
There have been plenty of unfortunate deaths that happen in and around Tunisia. In July this year, twenty-one bodies of sub Saharan migrants were collected as their boat sank off the port city of Sfax. These were the travellers trying to reach Europe. Since July 2021, four boat loads of people had sunk as they set off from Sfax. Those dead were all fleeing from ethnic violence in African states through Tunisia.
South Sudanese civil wars, in which neighbouring country’s armies were involved, since 2013, have resulted in lakhs getting killed and double the number of civilians internally displaced. Poverty has stricken the country in a wild way. If in 2018, there were one lakh ninety thousand violent deaths; there were also one lakh ninety-three thousand war related deaths in the month of April alone. More than one lakh fifty thousand people fled South Sudan.
A Nelson Mandela built South Africa faced exceptional violence after Jacob Zuma, the former President was convicted with a fifteen month sentence for contempt of court. During the riots on 14 July 2021, forty-six people were dead, many in a stampede though the riots and arson though they were restricted to only two provinces. More than one thousand two hundred people were arrested. People went into misery as supply chains were affected.
Despite a Nobel Prize for peace, Prime Minister Abhy Ahmed of Ethiopia, though he believes that he is a man of destiny, could not deal with the Tigray Militia who killed thousands. Eritrea which faced plenty of violence because of the fight with the People’s Liberation Front could not control the violence in the state despite its peace treaty with Ethiopia. Iraq, since the advent of the Americans, have had plenty of violent instances in July itself, reported death of thirty-six people as a bomb ripped through Bagdad market recently. Jihadists were very consistent in their bomb blasts in several parts of the state. In the third week of July 2021, Mali’s interim president Assimi Goitra was attacked by a man who tried to stab him with a knife. In northern Mali, a civilian was killed by Jihadists. Terrorists had been looting and stealing cattle of even ordinary houses for the last several years. In Zambia, after the death of Michael Sata in 2014 excessive use of force keeps resulting in violence, especially because elections are won on ethnic lines and violence is a strategy.
Now to the relevance of Mahatma in India becoming a free country and peaceful thereafter.
At the midnight of August 15, 1947, Jawaharlal Nehru, Babu Rajendra Prasad and many other national leaders assembled in the Council Hall at Delhi. The union jack was lowered and India’s national flag was hoisted. Lord Mount Batten, the last Viceroy of British India took oath as the first Governor General of free India and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was sworn in as Prime Minister with a cabinet of eminent men and one woman. The whole of Delhi was in the height of celebrations because they represented the pleasure of the people of the country in establishing a democratic nation.
Thousand five hundred kilometers away from Delhi, a man sat in distress in a small house in Calcutta. He was spending a sleepless night and was already on a fast against the violence associated with partition of the country. He was sad because of the murders of thousands in ethnic and religious conflicts. An hour before the announcement of the transfer of power from Britain to free India, the man woke up Sailen Chatterjee, the journalist from UPI who was also staying in the same house; Sailen wrote about this man’s response to the freedom at midnight later which was published during the golden jubilee celebration of the freedom of the country. The man decided to go through the streets of Calcutta to find out whether there was any trouble brewing in any part of the city. As he was getting out of the house, a radio reporter went to him asking for comments and he dismissed the journalist with the statement ‘I have gone dry’. He and Sailen got into a car and went to different places to check whether the city was peaceful. The man put a white cloth on his head so that he won’t be recognised by people. However, at Bali Ganj he was identified, he had to get out of the car and speak to the people. He told them that he was already on a fast and pleaded with them to coax people to keep away from violence. As he was speaking to the people, someone commented that it was already twelve o’clock, midnight and that they were in a free country.
When the whole country was celebrating the advent of freedom,bringing down the union jack, hoisting the national tricolor, oath taking and going through the process of transfer of power in solemnity, the Mahatma was persuading people to move away from violence.
We have the answer here why India is still peaceful when very many African and North American countries are going through violent phases despite winning freedom from colonial rules. India won its freedom through non-violence unlike many of those countries. In India, there were far too many kingdoms, religions, ethnic groups and they were culturally vastly different. All the same, there was a very great ideal that was presented to the Indians by the Mahatma, not to forgetmany of his ardent followers who also presented the same. He stood there with his hand spread to disallow any violence to come to his people and protected them from advocates of violence. His advocacy consisted of ideologies connected with freedom, nationhood, democracy, rural focus and above all non-violence. For more than previous three decades, he was the cynosure of the propagated ideologies and there developed a community of people with a culture of the ideology that he practised and persuaded people to follow. India as a country and as people accepted the ideals of the Mahatma and they could not have become violent even though he had to face a violent death. So, unlike the African or North American countries which didn’t have the benefit of a Mahatma who brought them up in great faith in ideologies, naturally had to be non-violent despite being let down by crooked and pseudonationalist politicians.
The ‘Dress Revolution’ Gandhi started hundred years ago on 22 February 1921 at Madurai have had the simple servant leadership being presented by the Mahatma to the common people of India. It may be that Gandhi was a ‘half naked fakir’ for Winston Churchill, the former Prime Minister of United Kingdom. It is that dress, the dhoti till the knee level from the waist and another one to cover his torso and a clean shaven head which became the symbol of the Indian commonness. Nothing could have been a simpler representation of non-violence of the Indian common man.
Indians are what they are as a peaceful country because of the Mahatma and his ideologies of freedom, nationhood, democracy, rural focus, pluralism and above all, non-violence.