If Gandhi-ism is about turning the other cheek for another slap, I am sure the fundamentalists, the terrorists, the arsonists, the agitators, the rioters, the criminals, and even the hooligans and violators are going to smile and wish every law enforcement personnel steps out in white dhotis and a few mild words every time they are out with their agendas of torching the world. What I have just expressed is the way a lot of people think and believe. Quite obviously, Suman Khanna Aggarwal thinks differently and so does her book ‘The science of peace’. If I were asked to talk about this book in just a sentence or two, I’d simply ask you to replace mistrust and aggression with trust and love… and might go further to spell out what principled non-violence, non-violence of the brave, and non-violence as a creed really say.
This non-fiction book, published by Shanti Sahyog Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution (SS CPCR), is a well-researched book on non-violence and the myriad nuances of this notion. I have used the word ‘notion’ because non-violence is yet to become a habit for mankind. The book discusses conflict and the various forms in which it appears around us. Not surprisingly, the book merges concepts of violence and war to take a reader to the next logical step of ahimsa and the science and practice tagged to it. From here, one enters the third section of the book where satyagraha or non-violent direct action gets attention. The final section is on the formats of power paradigms prevalent today.
A perceptive understanding of conflict is helpful as ‘non-violence and a grounding in truth is more transformative, and in the end is far more effective than a reliance on force and militarism’ writes Richard Falk from Princeton University in the foreword. Richard Falk goes on to mention Gandhi’s ‘coherent, ethically sublime radicalism’ that is relevant while searching for solutions to a wide range of problems in the world today. Gandhi’s radical model, I believe, has elements that still carry that scintilla of emotive logic so essential while dealing with ‘inter-civilization co-operation of global scope’. According to the author, this book is ‘an easy self-help manual to those who seek a clear understanding of Gandhi’s thought and practice’. This is one reason why this review makes a lot of sense in the current month when the world celebrates Gandhi Jayanti.
Conflict is a rather invasive phenomenon because it isn’t just about clashes taking place on some border far, far away but is all around us in the form of beliefs, values, interests, mindsets, attitudes, upbringing, and ways of thinking. Gandhi, in fact, went a step ahead and explained that ‘the truth that we see is relative, many-sided, plural and is the whole truth for a given time’. Our absolute truth, therefore, is based on our own ‘limited, subjective experience’ though ‘the real problem is not differing opinions or conflict but the way we handle our differences’. It is at this stage that conflict resolution can become violent or choose to remain non-violent. Gandhi has a word on this as well when he writes that ‘just as a scientist will work wonders out of various applications of the laws of nature, even so a man who applies the law of love (non-violence) with scientific precision can work great wonders’. We are already aware that the Mahatama believed that living with others amicably is the right way to evolve.
Whenever conflict decides to seek the violent way as a means of redressal, the result can be damaging on multiple planes that include the mental, emotional, psychological, subtle, structural, cultural, and even spiritual. The end result is obviously disruptive, and this may happen even in cases where ‘the intention to perpetrate violence’ is not the initial motive. This simply means that it is intention that always needs to be ushered in or chaperoned towards the right direction. The book goes on to talk about violence and its implications on a lot of facets including ecology though the author hasn’t given as many examples or instances as a discerning reader would have appreciated. For instance, while discussing commitment to an eco-friendly lifestyle, the author dismisses it by recommending ‘simple steps, such as consciously limiting the waste we produce and finding reusable alternatives to one-time disposable products’. This sounds inadequate and more like a shallow blast in the preacher’s mode. However, we need to understand that this isn’t the real motive behind the book.
Is there a defined motive behind writing this book?
Well, as the author has mentioned in the later pages, the primary aim of her organization and this book is ‘to politically legitimize non-violence as an instrument of conflict resolution’, though she mysteriously also adds that this must be done ‘without abandoning the present military defense’ and that‘a parallel non-violent defense be instituted in national defense systems globally’. The whole idea is somewhat confusing because the author, in a way, does not want to recommend non-violence to tackle the military aggression of our neighboring countries but at the same time wonders ‘why (do) we allow ourselves to be used as cannon fodder by our respective governments?’ Well, no one really promotes the ‘an eye for an eye’ kind of solution to any complex geo-political issue as a pride of non-violent diplomatic stances precede any military solution anyway but comparing budgetary allocations to the military with poverty alleviation does not sound logical. Our history tells us that every time this country has been invaded by armies from other parts of the world, it is our people who had to face economic hardships whenever our military strength was weak. Thus, quoting Manoj Joshi from his 2003 article to point out that having a military budget outlay of 70,000 crore annually when ‘40% of the population lives below the poverty line and almost 60% with no formal schooling’ needs a Gandhian intervention seems like a proposition inviting foreign armies to once again plan an invasion. I say this because we are as secure as we are because we care to be secure. By the way, a military budget is not about just purchasing Rafales and the latest field guns but as much about giving internal security and even disaster management a real chance to make life better. I say this as this book talks about ‘198 non-violent tactics and at least 24 successful examples in the history of non-violent action’ with the former not being listed at all anywhere in the book. With this perspective in place, one is tempted to believe that there must be some other motive besides spreading the message of good and wholesome Gandhi-ism. However, though this uneasy feeling persists, I am sure there is no hidden agenda but simply a heartfelt appreciation of the works and life of Gandhi.
Some of the really intensively informative parts of the book are those that tell us about structural, cultural, subtle, sexual, mental, and spiritual violence… and this is one section where the book discovers what connects contemporary concerns with Gandhi’s writings from decades back. The book is an apt reminder of the fact that Gandhian thoughts have not ceased to be relevant… though one may warn here that a vested interpretation can always manage to destroy the essence or truth of what he wrote. Gandhi did not write for just his time but knew in his heart that his writing will continue to inspire future generations.
This book, let me admit, is one that must be read again and again and has bits of educated awareness popping out of it every time one opens any of the pages. One of the good things about this book is that after the first reading, one can open any of the chapters and do a read-through for a deeper appreciation… and this is precisely what I have been doing these past few days.
Title: The science of peace
Author: Suman Khanna Aggarwal
Publisher: SS CPCR
Note: This book review was first published in Education Post, October 2020
Written on 06 October 2020