Impact of History on Future: Cult of Non-violence

By: Shreepal Singh

India’s official history of her freedom struggle asserts that this country won her freedom from the foreign power – the British imperialists – by non-violent means. Songs were compiled and sung in melodious tones to highlight this “unique” achievement of India.

Non-violence looks like a saintly courage in the face of a brutal force and the word “violence” evokes a deep indignation in our mind and an abhorrence to our conscience. But the reality is that “violence” is the integral part of life of ordinary humanity, whether one likes it or not.

Violence cannot be wished away in this world. It has to be faced as a reality here. Violence belongs to the world and non violence belongs to saints, and this world is not full of saints. It has its full quota of crooked persons who are violent in their thoughts and deeds. One cannot help it.

We are real people and we live in the real world.

Indians must be objective in finding the truth and honest in accepting the truth, because a fanciful approach in this matter has serious consequences for a country. Such a fanciful approach in this matter has implications affecting the correct assessment of the past, facing the present and getting ready to meet the future properly.

Nothing can be more far from truth than the assertion that India got freedom by waging a non-violent struggle.

Flaunting the power of non-violence in getting India free is a slap on the face of those who fought pitched battles with the British power in India and lost their lives at their hands. It is an insult to the sacred memory of those great sons and daughters of Mother India – in thousands, if not more – who suffered torture, agony and misfortune in the service of their Motherland. It is an insult to the supreme sacrifices made by  Jatin Bagha, Master Da Surya Sen, Bhagat Singh, Chandra Shekhar Azad, Subhash Chandra Bose and countless others like them.

Non-violence is a great virtue but it has very serious limitations. It has these limitations not because non violence is unworthy but because the people against whom this non-violence is practiced are more often than not unworthy of this virtuous treatment.

Non violence is founded on moral superiority and – in turn – morality is founded on religious teachings. But the fact is that all religions are not alike in the matter of their foundational morality. Some religions preach and follow the moral standrads, which are immoral ones in the eyes of other religions. Even in some of them, the resort to violence is not only an established morality but a sacred duty to do it in certain circumstances. Most of humanity today follow these diverse religions and practice such diverse concepts of marality. One has to live in this world and face the material acts – including violent acts – based on the morality of one’s religion. Let us deal with the reality of this real world around us and find the just place for ‘non-violence’ – the cult of non-violence – in this world full of people believing in diverse concepts of morality.

Here is an excerpt from Sri Aurobindo – The Morality of Boycott, an unpublished writing of Sri Aurobindo, seized by the Police and made an exhibit in the Alipore Conspiracy Case (May, 1908):

“When tamas, inertia, torpor have benumbed a nation, the strongest forms of rajas are necessary to break the spell; there is no form of rajas so strong as hatred. Through rajas we rise to sattwa, and for the Indian temperament the transition does not take long. Already the element of hatred is giving place to the clear conception of love for the Mother as the spring of our political actions.”

“A certain class of mind shrinks from aggressiveness as if it were a sin. Their temperament forbids them to feel the delight of battle and they look on what they cannot understand as something monstrous and sinful.

” ‘Heal hate by love’, ‘drive out injustice by justice’, ‘slay sin by righteousness’ is their cry.

“Love is a sacred name, but it is easier to speak of love than to love. The love which drives out hate is a divine quality of which one man in a thousand is capable. A saint full of love for all mankind possesses it, a philanthropist consumed with a desire to heal the miseries of the race possesses it, but the mass of mankind does not and cannot rise to the height.

“Politics is concerned with masses of mankind and not with individuals.[10] To ask masses of mankind to act as saints, to rise to the height of divine love and practise it in relation to their adversaries or oppressors is to ignore human nature.

“It is to set a premimum on injustice and violence by paralysing the hand of the deliverer when raised to strike. The Gita is the best answer to those who shrink from battle as a sin, and aggression as a lowering of morality.” — The Morality of Boycott, an unpublished writing of Sri Aurobindo seized by the Police and made an exhibit in the Alipore Conspiracy Case 1908.

“Hinduism recognises human nature and makes no such impossible demand. It sets one ideal for the saint, another for the man of action, a third for the trader, a fourth for the serf.

“To prescribe the same ideal for all is to bring about varṇasaṅkara, the confusion of duties…. Politics is the ideal of the Kshatriya, and the morality of the Kshatriya ought to govern our political actions.

“To impose in politics the Brahmanical duty of saintly sufferance is to preach varṇasaṅkara. (ibid.)

“The sword of the warrior is as necessary to the fulfilment of justice and righteousness as the holiness of the saint. Ramdas is not complete without Shivaji.

“To maintain justice and prevent the strong from despoiling and the weak from being oppressed is the function for which the Kshatriya was created.[11] ‘Therefore’, says Sri Krishna in the Mahabharata, ‘God created battle and armour, the sword, the bow and the dagger.’” (ibid.)

Referring to the circumstances in which passive or nonviolent resistance fails, Sri Aurobindo says: “To shrink from bloodshed and violence under such circumstances is a weakness deserving as severe a rebuke as Sri Krishna addressed to Arjuna on the field of Kurukshetra.

“Liberty is the life-breath of a nation; and when the life is attacked, when it is sought to suppress all chance of breathing by violent pressure, any and every means of self-preservation becomes right and justifiable[12]

” … just as it is lawful for a man who is being strangled to rid himself of the pressure on his throat by any means in his power. It is the nature of the pressure which determines the nature of the resistance.[13]

Enlarging upon the necessary evil of war and aggression, ,[14] so long as man in the mass is what he is, Sri Aurobindo writes in his Essays on the Gita:

“War and destruction are not only a universal principle of our life here in its purely material aspects, but also of our mental and moral existence.

“It is self-evident that in the actual life of man intellectual, social, political, moral, we can make no real step forward without a struggle, a battle between what exists and lives and what seeks to exist and live, and between all that stands behind either.

“It is impossible, at least as men and things are, to advance, to grow, to fulfil and still to observe really and utterly that principle of harmlessness which is yet placed before us as the highest and best law of conduct. We will use only soul-force and never destroy by war or any even defensive employment of physical violence?

“Good, though until soul-force is effective, the Asuric force in man and nations tramples down, breaks, slaughters, burns, pollutes, as we see it doing today, but then at its ease and unhindered, and you have perhaps caused as much destruction of life by your abstinence as others by resort to violence; still you have set up an ideal which may some day and at any rate ought to lead up to better things.

“But even soul-force, when it is effective, destroys. Only those who have used it with eyes open, know how much more terrible and destructive it is than the sword and the cannon; and only those who do not limit their view to the act and its immediate results, can see how tremendous are its after-effects, how much is eventually destroyed and with that much all the life that depended on it and fed upon it.

“Evil cannot perish without the destruction of much that lives by the evil, and it is no less destruction even if we personally are saved the pain of a sensational act of violence.

“Moreover, every time we use soul-force we raise a great force of Karma against our adversary, the after-movements of which we have no power to control. Vasishtha uses soul-force against the military violence of Vishwamitra and armies of Huns and Shakas and Pallavas hurl themselves on the aggressor.

“The very quiescence and passivity of the spiritual man under violence and aggression awakens the tremendous forces of the world to a retributive action; and it may even be more merciful to stay in their path, though by force, those who represent evil than to allow them to trample on until they call down on themselves a worse destruction than we would ever think of inflicting.

“It is not enough that our own hands should remain clean and our souls unstained for the law of strife and destruction to die out of the world; that which is its root must first disappear out of humanity…. So far as the problem of the individual’s action goes, his abstention from strife and its inevitable concomitant destruction in their more gross and physical form may help his own moral being, but it leaves the Slayer of creatures unabolished.”[15]

“A day may come, must surely come, we will say, when humanity will be ready spiritually, morally, socially for the reign of universal peace; meanwhile the aspect of battle and the nature and function of man as a fighter have to be accepted and accounted for by any practical philosophy and religion.”[16]

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