Unabated hatred, race-mongering and vicious violence which characterized Charlottesville must open up new avenues of justice seeking. Can Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the Indian nation and most importantly, the global messiah of peace and non-violence offer a perspective on Charlottesville?

Co-opted skilfully in the American context by Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi was the spiritual beacon for the oppressed people of colour. Eschewing violence and warning against counter-prejudice, Gandhism was refreshingly employed with much success in the anti-segregationist struggles across the Deep South. Americans of all persuasions are aware of Gandhi and his response to institutional violence, hatred and bigotry offers the most viable alternative to a racially beleaguered nation as it stands today.

Separate the deed from the doer

Fundamental to understanding Gandhi lies in accepting the reality that the sin and sinner are two separate entities. No one commits a crime for the fun of it; it is the product of a diseased mind which requires a cure. Just like a disease must meet a remedy so should criminal conduct. This essentially implies that criminality, viciousness, hatred and prejudice are not fundamental to individuals but the result of factors external to one’s immediate control. So then, what is the cause of criminality? Criminality according to Gandhi is result of impurity of the individual soul aided by degenerate social factors. The cure for this malady lies in efforts to spiritually uplift profligate souls through an individual journey of ‘Satyagraha’’ (soul force) accompanied by social acts that tap on love, peace and compassion towards the wrong-doer. Only a spiritual journey to cleanse the soul of its impurities can essentially eliminate the scourge of crime or at least reduce it.

Mutual Compassion

Gandhi’s ideas on mutual compassion were revolutionary to say the least. He wanted the state to treat an offender with compassion. On the part of the offender, he expected a submission to authority by way of a confession. Mutual love reduces the alacrity of deviance, calms tempers and brings the wrongdoer on the right side. This is an attempt to essentially “convert” a deviant from the clutches of depravity towards the cause of righteousness.  This process of “conversion” must necessarily be a peaceful one without the use of force or violence of any kind. While punishments may be necessary, it should essentially tap on the inherent goodness of individuals eventually weaning away wrongdoers from the path of ignominy.

Gandhism in Charlottesville

Applying this idea in Charlottesville, can we view the white supremacist who rammed a speeding car into a crowd killing a lady and injuring others a victim of a malady that requires social attention?  Was he a repository of an impure soul clogged and sedimented with remnants of racism, hatred and contempt requiring our sympathy? Can he put on a course correction of Satyagraha which would morally compel him to inquire into the shallowness and needless brute of his own conduct? The American Penal system offers no solution akin to a Satyagraha. It is a system replete with violence, socially institutionalized violence inflicted against individual purveyors of violence. A delinquent cannot be subsumed into the cycle of reconciliation and closure through the deliberate and intentional employment of force. Imprisonment precisely does this and hence is an imperfect answer to long term deviance.

So should skin-heads and white-supremacists be offered red roses of love and compassion? Would such measures bring about a change of heart in the hardest of ruffians? The answer in Gandhism is affirmative. Irrespective of the attitude of your enemy, one is duty bound to treat him with love, compassion and mercy. This act of love, compassion and mercy expects nothing in reward except a benign hope that it will awaken the human in him pulling him from the vortex of soul impurity. This quest is eternal and never ending and must be the mission of every individual on the path of Satyagraha. In essence, it’s the ultimate search for truth which leads one to God recognizing the essential non-dualism of man with man and man with his fellow environment.  This symbiotic wholesomeness is the essence of man’s existence in this mortal world. Not a single black protestor in America can gain anything by wishing harm to a white adversary; no white supremacist can seek to achieve any goal by inflicting harm on others. Violence, prejudice and bigotry have to be conquered by love, peace and compassion by individuals marching on as truth-seekers. It’s time to employ Gandhi and his ideas when everything else has failed by awakening the human in our adversaries. 

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Abraham Joseph

Advisory Board Member

Abraham Joseph is a PhD candidate in International Criminal Law from NLSIU, Bangalore and an Assistant  Professor in Ansal School of Law, Ansal University, Gurugram.

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