The recent violence in India
March 1, 2002 11:31 AM   Subscribe

The recent violence in India and in various parts of the rest of the world made me ponder the contemporary relevance of MK Gandhi and his writings, specifically on violence.
posted by ajayb (27 comments total)
It all just makes me wonder how many more people have to suffer and die before religious conviction is properly diagnosed as a dangerous mental illness.
posted by badstone at 11:45 AM on March 1, 2002

The thing is, these things rarely turn out to be 'about' religion. Usually the religion is a mask for sectarian differences. I can't say I'm well educated about the current violence in India, but in general it seems that deeper fears than religious ones are what drive these kinds of conflicts.
posted by cell divide at 11:49 AM on March 1, 2002

I read (a good portion of) his autobiography and was inspired. What bothers me is that I haven't been able to transform his ideas into any meaningful action.

These days, calls for level-headed thinking are answered with "I wish I could live in a reality where there wasn't a smoking crater in NYC" (or the city/region of your choice that's been attacked or seen unrest lately)

As if Gandhi didn't live in a time of turmoil and calls for revenge as a response to violence.
posted by jragon at 11:55 AM on March 1, 2002

Like many Indians of my generation, I am ambivalent regarding Gandhi. We all hero worship him to a certain degree but realize at the same time that a lot of early failures on Indian foreign and economic policy had to do with his influence.
Regarding his non violent ideals; IMO, non violenct approaches need certain ground conditions to succeed. It needs a leader with great charisma and a real flair for the dramatic (If you read the Indian Freedom Struggle, its like one drama after another. e.g, the salt march, the fast unto deaths, the half-naked persona of the main leader). Also, the other side needs to be vulnerable to your tactics. The British, for many reasons were susecptible to his tactics. In contrast the Tibetan non violent movement does not seem to have much effect on the Chinese.

I have often wondered if the Palestinians could benefit from similar tactics. The world attention is focused on them, which a good ground condition for non violence to operate in. If the world media watched the Palestinians advancing towards a wall of Israeli soldiers, being beaten back, those being taken away by paramedics, with rows and rows continuing to advance (I am describing one of the scenes from Indian Freedom movement as depicted in the movie Ganshi). I can imagine that having a powerful effect. Maybe somebody should start giving the Palestinians copies of the Gandhi movie!
posted by rsinha at 1:10 PM on March 1, 2002

rsinha: Some writer for the PLO had suggested this but shooting proves easier. Ghandi not alwayhs right: he told the Jews going to gas chamber that they should have gone peacefully as a protest! Depends then who you are resisting...the Brits, for Ghandi ok; but Hitler?
posted by Postroad at 1:33 PM on March 1, 2002

I've always felt the same way re: the Palestinians. If they would just renounce violence, the world would probably bear down on Israel more determinedly to shore up its end of the situation. I wish non-violence were as viral as violence.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:37 PM on March 1, 2002

I wrote this five paragraph post about how I blame Gandhi for a bunch India's current problems, even though I respect Gandhi and am grateful for most of the things he has done for my country. I decided not to post it because my mom had told me a long time back that I should overlook his minor faults and look at the big picture, appreciate the man for what he did for the country on the whole, and forgive him for his minor short commings.
posted by riffola at 1:42 PM on March 1, 2002

Ghandi on the Palestine Question, 1938. An excerpt:

My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions. Through these friends I came to learn much of their age-long persecution. They have been the untouchables of Christianity. The parallel between their treatment by Christians and the treatment of untouchables by Hindus is very close....

But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. The sanction for it is sought in the Bible and the tenacity with which the Jews have hankered after return to Palestine. Why should they not, like other peoples of the earth, make that country their home where they are born and where they earn their livelihood?...

posted by cell divide at 1:44 PM on March 1, 2002

Ghandi not alwayhs right: he told the Jews going to gas chamber that they should have gone peacefully as a protest!
I find that hard to believe. Gandhi was definitelty very pro Palestine. But still, that does not sound like a thing he would say. Can you give me a reference for that? Thanks.
posted by rsinha at 1:45 PM on March 1, 2002

Thanks cell divide,
As I mentioned earlier Gandhi did agree with the Palestine side. But your statement seemed to imply that he was somehow being harsh to the Jewish people when he made that statement. This is an excerpt from the article you linked to:

The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred. ... Can the Jews resist this organized and shameless persecution? ... 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. 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.

Gandhism as a philosophy is so radically different that its difficult to swallow and even harder to practise. You have to remember that he advocated the same path for Indians to resist the British. Basically, he suggested that they offer themselves to the British. Think of how ridiculous it sounded to Indians when he came back from SOuth Africa and suggested a non violent approach. His advice to the Jewish people has to be taken in the context of his advice to his own people, and anyone else he cared to speak about.

I do personally agree that non violence would not have worked with Hitler.
posted by rsinha at 2:30 PM on March 1, 2002

Ghandi not alwayhs right: he told the Jews going to gas chamber that they should have gone peacefully as a protest! Depends then who you are resisting...the Brits, for Ghandi ok; but Hitler?

Harry Turtledove wrote a short story about that, an alternate history thing where the Nazis were successful, and eventually work their way down to India. Ghandi tries the same tactics against the new oppressors to expected effect.
posted by badstone at 3:03 PM on March 1, 2002

riffola, if you blame Gandhi for all of India's current problems, then thats not minor, is it!
I recognize the ambivalence about Gandhi though. I flirted with Gandhism for a while in college (basically wore a lot of fashionable Khadi wear!) and read a lot of books, then realized that capitalism was the only philosophy left. Gandhi did have a lot of negative influences on India. Even his non-violent approach. Any problem and Indians start with their strikes or satyagrahas. I was thinking earlier today as to what he would have done if he had been around today, a fast unto death? And would that have had any effect.
posted by rsinha at 3:16 PM on March 1, 2002

rsinha, do you have any links to Gandhism as a philosophy and who/where that is being taught currently or has been taught historically?(or even any anecdote's from your own experience) I don't really understand the teaching of his concepts as a static philosophy or religion. He himself wrote: I have not the qualifications for teaching my philosophy of life. I have barely qualifications for practising the philosophy I believe.... so I wonder about the people who followed him who thought that they could realistically teach it.
As for his reaction to the current situation, I think he would have been much more flexible, applying the nonviolent act necessary to achieve the desired result.
posted by ajayb at 3:33 PM on March 1, 2002

Guys, guys, If you're just gonna talk amongst ya'selves, shouldn't you take it to to a private Blog, or email?

What is the point of this? Gandhi worship? A pro-Gandhi league? (Gandhi cuts through the line, but sits down at the 40 to protest ground acquisition games).

Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but if the point of this thread is to tie Gandhi to modern events, then why is it all "I think he would have X"? Sorry, but I'm really not getting this.

(What would Brian Boitano do, if he were here right now?)
posted by Wulfgar! at 3:54 PM on March 1, 2002

Hey Wulgar!, showing respect for a possible Man of the Century by linking to his achievements is probably a good idea. With all the recent threads of bullshit entertainers, perhaps it would do us all good to read and understand a true national and world hero.

Besides, if you don't like this thread, don't comment or read. If you really have a problem, take it to MeTa.
posted by BlueTrain at 3:59 PM on March 1, 2002

"Guys" does not apply. I was born the female of the species :)

I thought we were doing fine, in a rambling sort of way. Talked about Gandhi's views on Jews, ambivalence regarding him in modern India, needing a specific set of conditions for non violence to work etc, relevance to Palestine ...

But I am relatively new to Metafiler (compared to most), so maybe my perception is not shared.
posted by rsinha at 4:06 PM on March 1, 2002

BlueTrain, chill out. I don't have a problem with Gandhi's achievements, I have a problem with the tenor of this thread (Well if Obi Wan Kenobi were here, he'd do this!!!). The fact is, I know a great deal about the man, and I was hoping for a lively discussion concerning the relevance of his words in the actions of the modern world. I'm not seeing much, (and yes, that is double entendre). This post was of a loosely related nature to one person's frustration. No big deal, and hardly worth raising a MetaStink over. Yes, India has problems and No, gandhi can't solve them.

If you wish to participate in hero worship, than please email me, and I'll supply you with a huge list of historical figures whose words would have relevance today, if only people would pay attention. Does that merit a Metafilter post ... eeeehhhhnnn.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:18 PM on March 1, 2002

rsinha, I sincerly apologize. I didn't mean any disrepect to your gender. I just didn't know.
posted by Wulfgar! at 4:19 PM on March 1, 2002

Hitler proved violence doesn't work.
Ghandi proved nonviolence doesn't work.

So uhm... what's left?
posted by ZachsMind at 4:43 PM on March 1, 2002

Both work given the right conditions - unfortunately, wrong usage of either invariably leads to a worsening of the situation (retaliation/brutal suppression).

I actually got the Gandhi DVD yesterday, very good indeed..

I imagine his response to this whole mess would be to shake his head sadly - the governments handling of the situation has been quite bad to say the least.. Non-violence isn't really an option either of the sides would consider at the moment though - its all heating up too rapidly - the best thing would be for the entire Ayodhya area to be fenced off and surrounded by troops for starters - Vajpayee should stop vacillating so much..

There was a article in the Guardian today with quotes from Horowitzs book, The Deadly Ethnic Riot, which sheds some light on possibly why this type of sad thing happens..
posted by Mossy at 4:58 PM on March 1, 2002

Actually, wulfgar, I for one appreciate this public exchange. It actually hasn't devolved into name calling, which is rare and refreshing.
posted by donkeyschlong at 5:15 PM on March 1, 2002

I too have fairly ambivalent feelings towards Gandhi. I credit him with making freedom struggle in India a mass movement. Before Gandhi it were it was largely devoid of the involvement of common men. I credit him with providing momentum to the freedom struggle. But like RSinha, I hold him responsible for a lot of what ails Indian's economy and society. I also hold him responsible for saddling India with Nehru.

Trouble is - with time - Gandhi has become such a huge sacred cow, that an objective assessment of Gandhi in mainstream media is virtually impossible. The only criticism of Gandhi tends to come from the extreme right wing religious loonies and are therefore not taken terribly seriously.

I think a number of events, personalities and quirks of history made India fertile ground for the success of a non-violent movement. The involvement of rank and file Indian masses, the weakening of British empire through the two world wars, and (I am probably going to get flamed for saying this) - the essentially milder nature of British colonialism in Asia (compared to the French, Portuguese or Spanish colonialism). When you compare British colonial responses in South Asia to that of French in Algeria or the Spanish in South America, you have to wonder wheather non-violence would have succeeded under those conditions. Also, what we should also not lose sight of is that, Indian freedom struggle had some very violent facets. There were a large no of freedom fighters who didnt believe in Gandhi and who believed in armed struggle/terrorism to gain freedom. the Brits gave so much importance to Gandhi also because he was so much of a lesser evil. By the late 1930s Gandhi had started losing India's youth who were getting increasingly disenchanted with him. The second world war changed all that.

The successs of non-violence - to my mind - also hinges to a large extent - on your faith in the goodness of your fellow human beings. Martin Luthar King applied the same principles of non-violence with reasonable success in USA in the sixties. It worked here too because there were people in USA who could see that there is wrong being committed and they worked with him, aiding him. Mandela's not-so non-violent movement probably would not have worked without International sanctions and boycott of South Africa. I dont think it would have worked with Hitler. I dont think it would have worked with Khmer Rouge.

Basically, I too feel that a set of ground conditions need to be met. I think Palestine can benefit from something similar because it is so much in the eye of the media, Israel is under so much pressure. But I dont think they have the leadership to pull it off.

India today is a different animal from what it was before partition. I think Partion destroyed Gandhi's legacy to a large extent. Gandhi essentially lost his heart and probably his will to live after partition. The number of people killed, maimed, raped, burnt can not be imagined. Even now, when you meet old men from the border regions, who received the trains full of dead bodies that reached from Pakistan, their eyes water over.

Partition changed the way Indians look at race relations. In the 53 years since independence we have also gotten a crash course on the exploitation of race relations for political gains. You need a messiah to make Indians believe in non-violence once again.
posted by justlooking at 6:37 PM on March 1, 2002

Wulfgar! - Look, I'm not trying to be a jerk here, but if the point of this thread is to tie Gandhi to modern events, then why is it all "I think he would have X"? Sorry, but I'm really not getting this.

There was only one post that barely asked the question, "I wonder what would Ghandi do today" and only one reply before you decided the conversation needed breaking up.

Wulfgar! - The fact is, I know a great deal about the man, and I was hoping for a lively discussion concerning the relevance of his words in the actions of the modern world.

Then why don't you jump in with some insightful thoughts instead of just being antagonistic?

Wulfgar! - rsinha, I sincerly apologize. I didn't mean any disrepect to your gender. I just didn't know.

You took the time to post her profile but didn't bother looking at it I guess.

Wulfgar! - Does that merit a Metafilter post ... eeeehhhhnnn.

Good thing you don't run MetaFilter then.

I for one was happy with where the thread was going, and would rather hear what you have to say on the subject instead of just interjecting valueless commentary.
posted by mikhail at 7:03 PM on March 1, 2002

Lets debunk gandhi, as a historical figure he has/had value, it did not apply then completely either.

I take exception with gandhi as our independence, he did not act alone, and his was not the only strategy that ultimately achieved that aim. There are a lot of freedom fighters who achieved great results and non-violence was an unconsidered term for most of them. As an example, look to the current indian prime minister, Atal Vajpayee, anyone remember that he was a part of the original Quit India Movement, he is a living freedom fighter. Current policies etc not withstanding.

Actually there is a great opinion as to how gandhi is the root cause of a series of crippling policy decisions that created the partition and the "now" great divide, where a muslim is one and a hindu is the other.
posted by bittennails at 8:57 PM on March 1, 2002

Sorry, the point was , gandhi=contemporary relevance=none.
posted by bittennails at 8:59 PM on March 1, 2002

I think a chunk of the educated youth in India is now disillussioned with the concept of Mahatama Gandhi.
I like Nehru, but I personally think Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel would've made a far better PM. One of the reasons he didn't become a PM is because he was Gujarati, as was Gandhi, therefore Gandhi didn't want to appear biased so Nehru became the PM.

I don't blame Gandhi for all of India's current problems, but there are a few things that are being done in India right now that is not right but people get away with it because we are still following the Gandhi way in some areas where obviously it no longer applies.
posted by riffola at 9:46 PM on March 1, 2002

Yup, riffola, imagine if gandhi had persuaded nehru to accept jinnah as the first PM of the indian national congress, there would be no partition...

When does personality supercede the purpose of the attempt? (independence)
posted by bittennails at 9:57 PM on March 1, 2002

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