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Sameer Patil

HINDUISM AND THE ETHICS OF WARFARE IN SOUTH ASIA: FROM ANTIQUITY TO THE PRESENT
By Kaushik Roy
Cambridge University Press, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 288, Rs. 995.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 3 March 2014

Scholars studying India’s tradition of stra- tegic planning have generally focused on Kautilya’s Arthasastra (3rd century BCE) as the root text. However, another stream of research has debated whether India possesses a strategic culture at all. This perspective was propagated by George Tanham, an American defence analyst, who argues that India has always suffered, and continues to suffer, from a lack of a tradition of strategic thinking.1   Carrying forward this debate, The Economist in March 2013 published a series of articles which argued that since Independence, India has got away with a weak strategic culture; and that now, as India inches towards a great power status, that forward march is being stymied by the lack of, or a weak, strategic culture.   Countering both these approaches, Kaushik Roy’s Hinduism and the Ethics of Warfare in South Asia argues that India—primarily in its Hindu philosophy—indeed had a rich tradition of strategic culture beyond the Arthashastra. To substantiate this argument, Roy examines the interconnections between religious ethics and how warfare is conducted; he looks at the debate between dharmayuddha (just war) and kutayuddha (unjust war) through various eras, beginning with the Vedic period (1500-400 BCE). His enquiry centres on four questions—what is war; what justifies it; how should it be waged; what are its potential repercussions?   Roy’s study sheds light on the work of other thinkers, such as Manu’s Manusmriti, Bana’s Harsacharita, and Kamandaka’s Nitisara. He writes that much before the Prussian strategist Carl Von Clausewitz spoke about the relationship between righteous war, people’s support and a stable government, Kamandaka had theorized about this in the 6th century CE.   The author also distinguishes between Indian and Chinese notions of warfare—which are usually collated by western scholars under a unitary ‘eastern’ category. Roy says that since Hinduism is also a socio-cultural system, it had outlined principles of warfare that enabled its followers to deal with conflict and violence. The socio-cultural aspect on warfare is clearest in the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, texts from the Vedic times. In Roy’s overview, Hindu philosophy also covers Jainism and Buddhism—the two religions that, despite stressing ahimsa (nonviolence), had prescribed principles of warfare.   Roy counters the general perception in the strategic community that early medieval India had no military theory worth studying. Instead, he argues that between the periods of Kautilya to the advent of ...


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