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Relevance Of Nonviolence

Govindan Nair

Edited by Bidyut Chakrabarty
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 490, Rs. 1145.00


Bidyut Chakrabarty sees the mass uprisings of 2011 in West Asia as reconfirmation of the relevance of nonviolence. Barely three years after the exhilarating successes of the Arab Spring, however, nonviolence is far from the minds of the numerous factions engaged in seemingly interminable conflict for control of those troubled lands. Not only has the level of all-round violence spiralled to terrifying levels, but the most egregious of the feuding elements has adopted nothing less than ‘savagery’ as its political strategy. Reportedly driven by the ideological underpinning of Abu Bakr Naji’s The Management of Savagery, extreme violence is glorified, ‘softness’ is seen as the ‘ingredient of failure’.  One of the contributors to the volume under review, Dustin Ells Howes, observes that ‘the last three centuries of liberation movements can be understood as a long conversation about the potential and perils of violence in relation to freedom’. He concludes that ‘while the human suffering violence brings is real and enduring, the political change violence brings is superficial’ and, hence, is not a sustainable strategy. His paper, however, seems to have been written well before the momentous happenings in West Asia. Examining nonviolent resistance in Iran from 2009 to 2012, Bernd Kaussler wonders why it did not succeed in bringing an end to the tyranny of the Islamic Republic, whereas movements in West Asia had done so in largely similar circumstances, little realizing how things would pan out there. One wishes that Non-Violence had been updated to carry at least one contribution touching on today’s conversation on violence in the context of developments in the Middle East, or that Chakrabarty’s otherwise excellent Introduction had brought the discussion au courant.  Leaving aside the existential dilemmas of that unfortunate region, this anthology succeeds adequately in its aim of acquainting the reader with the evolution and nature of nonviolence as an ideology and as a political strategy, with reproductions of seminal essays of Tolstoy, Thoreau and Gandhi himself, besides scholarly papers on the theoretical foundations of nonviolence. In attempting to demonstrate the relevance of nonviolence as an effective means of articulating protest, however, the book reveals the conceptualization of Gandhi, the apostle of nonviolence, to be largely redundant. In his lengthy Introduction, Chakrabarty competently lays out the parameters of the discourse which he centres on ‘Gandhian non-violence’. He traces the influences on Gandhi’s thought and spells out his conceptualization of nonviolence: not merely a ...

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