Power And Violence
By Ram Puniyani
29 July, 2004
world scene has seen immense and horrific violence in recent times.
Two planes ram into the World trade center, nearly three thousand people
perish into oblivion, an "Islamic terrorist" Osama bin Laden
thanks Allah for this act. US President George W. Bush launches an attack
on Afghanistan to catch hold of Osama bin Laden and call this attack
Separated by thousands
of kilometers, in another part of the World, Gujarat, India, a train
coach is burned. Instant investigation by the Chief minister of that
state gives him the insight that this was an act of Islamic terrorists
in collaboration with local Muslims. His associates give the call that
Hindus are in danger and he signals that revenge process will not be
disturbed. He instructs his staff to sit back. His administration goes
a step further and assists the rampaging marauders out to kill Muslims.
Two thousand people loose their life. The plight of women and children
is beyond description. What these victims share in common is the religion
called Islam. Just a few years ago people in Bosnia and Rwanda died
in thousands for belonging to the 'wrong' religion.
Last three decades
have seen the violence world over under the flag of religions. Is this
violence done to save some religion or its followers? Is it done to
protect the moral values, din, ethics, and dharma of the particular
religions? Is this violence done to save the traditions and communitarian
ethos of the followers of those religions? How are religions related
to the massive violence, which goes on in their name?
One recalls that
even in medieval times the phenomenon of crusades, jihads and dharmayudhs,
which, kings undertook on the pretext of religion. Were these meant
to expand religion or were they meant to expand their empires. One recalls
that the identity of religions is associated more with the clergy and
less with the moral values of the religions. It does not require too
much of knowledge to realize that in pre-industrial society the clergy,
the most visible part of religions was associated with the landlords
and the kings in different forms. Somewhere in direct collaboration
from top to bottom, somewhere in fragmented form. Also there was another
set of people associated with religions, the saints, who were away from
centers. These were the saints, the bhakti saints in Hindu tradition,
the Sufi saints in Islamic tradition and mystiques and later liberation
theologian in Christian tradition, were away from the centers of power
and were close to the poor, exploited and
oppressed sections of society.
The rulers did not
tolerate the saints. The clergy, the official upholders of the religion,
were hostile to bhakti saints, who were killed in various ways. The
two facets of religion were always counter-posed to each other. Since
the traditions close to power are more dominant, the Church, Olema and
Brahmins are presented as the vehicles of religion. The parallel
traditions of saint's remains on the margins, snubbed by the social
and political powers.
A sufi saint Nizamuddin
Auliya refused to receive the emperor in his dargah, Tukaram was done
to death, Chokhamela reprimands God himself for the plight of the poor.
These traditions emphasize on the message of love and amity in contrast
to the clergy, which gives importance to rituals and the written word.
In India the saints, mostly came from low caste and did proclaim that
they have no capacity to learn the heavy tomes of their religion written
in Devbhasha (language of Gods, upper caste) Sanskrit, which was denied
to them anyway, because of their low caste status.
During the process
of secularization the role of clergy declined from the social and political
space. The structural hierarchies of caste and gender, which this clergy
legitimized in the name of religion started getting challenged, got
abolished in countries
where industrialization took place in the early period. These societies
strove for the values of Liberty Equality and Fraternity (community).
In colonies the nexus between colonial powers and the landlords, kings
blocked the secularization process.
And in country like India these declining classes, Landlord-Clergy,
threw up the politics in the name of religion, known as communal politics.
For example in India it came up as Muslim league and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS,
but these were marginal streams. At World level the politics was dominated
by the colonial powers. Later US emerged as the major World power and
national liberation struggles in the colonies took the inspiration from
Russian and Chinese revolutions, at many places under the flag of socialism.
During this era the global violence was presented as the struggle between
the 'free world' and communism.
After the cold war
era, the decline of socialist economies, the hegemony of US started
becoming indisputable. Its machinations in the oil zone where Islam
was the dominant religion, the new offensive of Imperialism took the
garb of religious language and the 'backward Islam' started being targeted
by the US and its cohorts. It is to support this imperialist
ambition that the theory of Clash of Civilizations (Samuel Huntington)
came up as a cover for US policies. This theory very cleverly counter
poses the advanced Western Civilization against backward Islamic civilization.
Here the Western civilization is not Christian, and the Middle East
Muslims and others are clubbed to be having the backward Islamic ivilization.
The wars launched by US against the eople of Afghanistan and Iraq is
presented as a ogical extension of this thesis, to set right the
wrongs of backward Muslims.
Around this time
in India the rise of Hindutva olitics has goals similar to the ones
of the US as ar as targeting Muslims and Islam are concerned. This indutva
ideology is a politics based on Brahminical tream of Hinduism and had
base earlier in the
declining classes of Landlords and clergy (Jamindar, brahmin, Bania)
and now it flourishes amongst the new middle class thrown up by the
so called development process. This middle class, affluent and the core
of 'Shining India' has gained immensely from the process of industrialization
and also from the mindless globalization from eighties onwards. It is
this middle class, which sustains a new breed of religious people, in
saffron or any other color. This new set of Gurus
and Acharyas, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Asaram Bapu, Pandurang Shastri Athwale,
Sudhanshu Mahraj, Aniruddh Bapu and the like, are the nerve soothers
for the existential tensions of the middle class. These Gurus are pushing
the Manusmsirit and the feudal values of caste and gender hierarchies
in a new language, the language laced with modernity, so to say.
Globally and locally
various phenomenon are overlapping. Now as the offensive of power seekers
at world level is masked in the language of religion, particularly anti-Islam,
those aspiring for control on social and political power at home are
also using this Hindutva, religion based politics.
The language of
religion is deceptive. It gives it a type of moral sanctity, it creates
a sort of mass hysteria, and it offers a sort of platform for the retrograde
ideology. The goals of power are creating violence, condoned by those
who should have different types of social power. Violence is the superficial
layer of this politics of power in the name of religion. It is more
than a coincidence that while, religion targeted by US at the level
of the World and the one targeted in India by Hindutva are the same.
The camaraderie of those using religion for their political goals cannot
Religion has diverse
functions in society. The way it is being used (! abused) by Hindutva
and US and its cohorts, is its most dominant face. The clergy at many
times plays diverse roles as well. At times it has played the role of
projecting the religion, which is the opiate of the masses, it has also
been the sigh of the oppressed in this heartless world. The Sufis and
saints had particularly played the latter role. While the opiate role
has been played by the section of clergy tied to the apron strings of
those in political and social power, acting as legitimizers of their
exploitative and oppressive role. One sees the Church
of old times associating with Kings, and the one currently, which is
opposing the US offensives as the same institution playing diverse role
with change of time. One can see in Indian context the fleet of gurus
with immense wealth under their control serving as the base for creating
the opinion and opium for Hindutva politics. One also sees the saffron
clad sadhus of Vishwa Hindu Parishad asking for revenge against Muslims.
Religion, if one
regards moral values as its core, should not be associated with power.
Different types of people associated with religion have at times played
as handmaiden to the power centers, legitimizing their violence in turn.
The triad of religion power and violence gets connected once we see
the ambitions of those using religion for their narrow goals. If the
people of religion cannot be associated with the plight of poor and
oppressed they are handmaidens of the powerful. And in turn then they
are legitimsers of violence. The examples of these abound.
It is time that the people associated with religion realize the abuse
to which religion has been put. Some streams of religion are for this
goal in a blatant fashion. Than there are other streams of religion
which play a soothing role for the exploited sections of society. This
section of religious people, true to the moral values of religions,
can live their religion only by associating themselves with the plight
of the poor, oppressed and the underdogs. Association of religion with
power is the crux of its negative role in society. A severance of this
will surely put religion more as the vehicle of sigh of the oppressed
and this can only be achieved by firm advocacy of the causes of this
section, this can be achieved by associating with their struggles for
the justice, gender, economic, social and political.
(Excerpts from the
talk delivered at 6th W.A. Vissert Hooft Memorial Consultation, Ecumenical
Institute Bossey, June 2004)