- Violence and Nonviolence in South Asia
In the original publication of Violence and Nonviolence in South Asia by Walter C. Clemens Jr. (doi.org/10.1353/apr.2019.0007) the title was incorrectly published as Violence and Nonviolence in Southeast Asia. The title and incorrect references to Southeast Asia in the text have been corrected in the online version.
The editors and publisher regret these errors.
Given human nature and the mounting demands on the earth's resources, is nonviolence possible among humans? Is it even desirable? Hard-and-fast answers to such broad questions are elusive, but each of the books reviewed here casts a bright light on these and related issues.
The experiences of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi with racial discrimination in South Africa led him to embrace policies of nonviolent action (satyagraha). Gandhi's journal was written in Gujarati but published also in English, serialized in his magazine, Young India, from November 25, 1925, to February 3, 1929. The journal recorded what he called his "experiments with truth." Many entries were composed during a time of in-dwelling while Gandhi resided at his ashram in Ahmedabad. Gandhi wrote in November 1925 that for thirty years all his activities aimed at "self-realization, to see God face to face, to attain moksha [freedom from birth and death, salvation]" (p. 46). Virtue for Gandhi combined nonviolence, dedication to truth, communal action, vegetarianism, celibacy (brahmacharya), and self-rule (swaraj). He later utilized these practices for himself and his followers to protest and to weaken British rule over India. Gandhi mobilized nonviolent action to press for India's independence, formally achieved in August 1947, a few months before his assassination in January 1948. [End Page 209]
Many details of Gandhi's life (1869–1948) are widely known, but the direct exposure to his own words provided in his journal offers a picture qualitatively different from a mere recapitulation of the major events that mark his historical impact. Thus, the journal tells of Gandhi's inner turmoil when he found himself masking from women he met in London the fact that he was already a married man with a child—"The Canker of Untruth" (pp. 140–145). Consider also his firm but calm response to being ejected from a first-class seat on the train from Durban to Maritzburg, even though he had a proper ticket. En route to Pretoria he was aided by a train agent who explained, "I am not a Transvaaler. I am a Hollander. I appreciate your feelings, and you have my sympathy." He had sold Gandhi a first-class ticket on the condition that Gandhi would not involve the Railroad Company if a guard forced him to shift to the third class. In Pretoria Gandhi had difficulty finding a place to sleep and dine, but was aided by an American, who was black, who knew a local hotel owner (pp. 208–217). Insights from reading about such experiences are deepened by the meticulous notes with alternative translations from the Gujarati original and commentaries in this critical edition published by Yale University Press.1
According to Kamdar (pp. 22–24), devotion to nonviolence and vegetarianism in India may well have begun with the Jains, adherents of Jainism, an ancient religion thousands of years before our era, perhaps in Vedic times (1500–500 BCE).2 Unlike Jainist and Buddhist practices, however, the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata extolled dharma—duty and proper conduct in accord with one's station in the cosmos. The protagonists in Mahabharata felt compelled to fight one another despite knowing that war, even a just war, would bring disaster to each side.
The survey history by Mira Kamdar...