Nonviolence in a Violent World
TO LIVE in Bombay is to live in a constant crowd. During the day the streets are crammed. At night over a hundred thousand people sleep on the pavements.
Most of India’s cities and towns are that way: crowded and exceptionally poor. Housing and clean water are scarce. Food is precious.
Visualize for a moment that you live in a room 9 feet by 12 feet (3 m by 4 m), along with five to eight others! Corners of the room are rented out or maybe people sleep in shifts. Most of your life is spent in the streets or on the pavements. Every morning you walk to the local water supply and haul back a bucket of water. The water is contaminated. You work long hours at hard labour, but the money you make will barely feed your family for that day. You cannot change things, as hard as you may try. You see people dying around you daily because of hunger and disease. You are frustrated with a sense of helplessness.
At least you are established. You have a home. But as always, there is another India: People who have no place to call their own occupy nooks and crannies near gutters and roadsides. They form colonies of the dispossessed. There are old and young, women and babies, semiclothed and dying. They are a race of people that has never had enough to eat. All they want to do is survive another day.
This is not a pleasant picture. Of course, in India, as elsewhere, there are the rich and educated. But they are a minority. The ranks of the poor have outstripped the rich in the steady increase of population. This conspicuous consumption versus simple survival sets the stage for violence.
Temper of Violence
“Coiled in the twisted wires of stagnation and change, India is now a violent, cruel, ugly society,” says Bhabani Sen Gupta in his article “Is India Civilised?” In India thousands of young married women are still burned alive annually by their in-laws and husbands for failure to bring in enough dowry. About two million women are raped. Hundreds of thousands of other crimes are committed. Fifty thousand people, mostly young men and women, commit suicide in disappointment and despair. In 1978 there were 96,488 riots. Few comprehensive crime statistics are available for the whole country beyond 1978. Yet it is evident from such fragmentary reports that crime continues unabated.
Indian sociologist S. C. Dube believes that the temper of crime and violence is bred by the wide divide between what people want and what they actually get, and by the determination of the privileged to preserve their accumulated gains from the rising demand of the deprived for a larger share.
Violence and brutalities are not just limited to the cities but explode in rural India as well. The high incidence of rural violence is the result of the “widened chasm between landlords and landless workers,” according to Indian economist B. M. Bhatia. The result is a heavy toll in lives, property and values. “The weak and the poor are no longer in a mood to submit to the might and lust of the powerful and the rich. They have begun to hit back and have started asserting their rights. To the ancient traditional violence of the rich is joined the newly aroused violence of the poor,” Gupta writes.
A Faded Dream
“I must . . . hope to the last breath that India will make non-violence her creed, preserve the dignity of man,” wrote Gandhi in 1938. Forty-six years later, India is staggering under many kinds of social violence. And according to Gupta, “neither has it been able to preserve the dignity of man.”
According to The Times of India, despite the popularity of Gandhi’s message, “unprecedented violence stalked the land and banditry, rape and robbery were becoming the order of the day.”
This assessment of India is applicable to other parts of the world. Education, denied to many Indians, is available to those in many other countries. Yet the rest of the world is also guilty of committing Gandhi’s seven social sins—‘politics without principles, wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, education without character, commerce without morality, worship without sacrifice and science without humanity.’ Yes, Gandhi’s ideal of a world based on nonviolence has become a faded dream.
It is calculated that 15 years from now the population of India will be a thousand million. Of those, 600 million will be poverty stricken. There may be 30 to 50 million unemployed youths. Statistics like these present a grim future.
Gandhi’s noble message of nonviolence has failed to take real root in India where it germinated. Why? The failure does not lie in the message. Neither does the fault lie with Gandhi. His aims were certainly benevolent. Yet Gandhi was only a man. He could only teach so much to so many. People learn and then easily forget. History bears witness to that fact.
Does that mean that it is impossible for people to be nonviolent consistently? Who is capable of teaching not only Indians but all races of humankind to live in peace? What type of education would this involve? Will the world ever be nonviolent?
[Picture on page 8]
A typical street scene in an Indian city