Is violence ever justified? (Part-I)

When I first became faced with the preposition: “Is violence ever justified?” it instinctively gave me the impression as if someone had asked me, “Is the birth of a baby possible without the mother suffering labour pains.” But in the present case, let us not take anything for granted and look into the matter leaving all possibilities open. Nature is too elusive for our puny minds to jump to any conclusions.

Apparently it seems that seldom a big change or Revolution has ever taken place without first some kind of force or violence preceding it. Not only that, the violence is often accompanied with large-scale murders and bloodshed.

Change or flux, they say, is the rule of life, and whenever change becomes due either due to the rottenness of the existing order, or when the existing order has failed to respond to the aspirations of the people then necessity to change the existing order starts brewing in the public minds. It gradually gathers momentum until the opposition grows stronger after initially meeting strong resistance from the state. Often a tug of war follows between the state and the opposition for months and years until the opposing forces succeed in throwing away the yoke of the existing order.

The world has reached a stage when the small violators are only highlighted while the violators who perpetrate violence on a grand scale remain hidden

Over the course of civilization, there have been several incidents which have forever altered human history where ordinary people came together to bring down oppressive regimes. This is the normal complexion of revolutions everywhere, and is true about all the great revolutions. The American Revolution was against the British colonialism; the French Revolution replaced a corrupt monarchy by putting a democratic order; with the Chinese Revolution, People’s Republic of China under Mao Zedong brought an end to the decades old internal turmoil; the Iranian Revolution overthrew the US-backed Pahlavi dynasty and replaced it with an Islamic state led by Ayatollah Khomeini which in turn inspired many other similar movements including the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa; and Revolutions of 1848 in Europe involved several countries causing an end of the feudal system and installing democracy in their place etc.

One way to look at all of this violence is to blame human nature. People are naturally violent, and it is the bare truth and that’s why we live in such a violent world.

Violence is always a means to some end, not an end unto itself. To really explain the violent nature of the world, we must understand the conditions that produce violence, and the ends toward which much of the violence in the world is consciously organized.

Nearly always it is the state which is responsible for creating conditions conducive to violence which has an invincible physical force in the form of army, Police and other para-military forces to suppress or crush violence or opposition to its policies. And invariably wise governments which detect the real cause of the trouble try to appease the opposition by changing its policies or by making concessions in their favour. In case it sees that the demands of the opposition are flimsy and hold no ground or that that the opposition is not strong enough to muster enough public support to prove a real threat, it successfully curbs it through its sheer physical force.

But there have been occasions in history when movements for change have approached the strategy and tactics of nonviolence. Beside many such small nonviolent movements, there are two glaring examples of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr who successfully employed nonviolent means to attain their social and political ends. Of the two, Martin Luther King had fought for the Civil Rights Movement to end racial segregation and discrimination in America during the 1950s and 1960s and was fairly successful in his mission till he was shot dead in the prime of his life. Mr. Gandhi also met the same fate in his old age. But initially Gandhi supported armed struggle against the British army, then again called for suppression by force of the Kashmiri’s fight of self determination. It was only later in life that he resorted to Ahimsa, a movement for nonviolent civil disobedience when he found no other way of fighting a constitutional battle against the British.

Gandhi unfortunately became a target of criticism for the efficacy of his movement both by his contemporaries and later by other thinkers. It was not primarily Gandhi’s movement which ultimately compelled the British to leave India, but it was due to the geo-political realities emerging after WW2 that forced the British to leave India. Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize winning author, has accused Mahatma Gandhi for basing his doctrine of nonviolence on the acceptance of a most brutal social hierarchy ever known, the caste system. He is castigated for racial discrimination even by B.R. Ambedkar, the father of Indian constitution.

The world has reached a stage when the small violators are only highlighted while the violators who perpetrate violence on a grand scale remain hidden. Martin Luther King Jr. described the U.S. government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” He was talking about war in Vietnam where American military forces killed over 3 million Vietnamese people.

(to be continued)

The writer is a former member of the Provincial Civil Service, and an author of Moments in Silence


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