Yesterday, I was in Ahmedabad to speak at an event organised by Bhartiya Vidya Bhavan and Indian Council for Historical Research on “The role of cultural history in the formation of the society”. There is no doubt that in our obsession with the political history we have committed the cardinal sin of ignoring our cultural history and this is one of the main reasons why the newer generation is so disconnected with the great cultural heritage India offers. Because of this deliberate sidelining of cultural history, a generation of colonised minds controlled the mainstream thought process in our education system. Which is why, we know about the kings, invaders, colonisers but have absolute no knowledge of Kalidasa’s romance, Tulsi’s social commentary, natyashashtra, Rasas, Khajuraho’s symbolic meaning of detachment, cosmic dance of Shiva, concepts of sacrifice, service, nothingness and spiritual wisdom. At least not at the under graduation level. There is a vacuum when it comes to cultural history of India. We have ignored the native wisdom of India and as a result we failed to educate our students the great concepts of non-violence, debate, consensus and total acceptance. Instead, we adopted foreign concepts of censoring and banning. If I don’t like your art, your ideas, your writings… or just your face… or if you threaten my position, I’ll ban you. Or attack you.
When I reached the venue, there was a lot of media at the entrance and as soon as my car stopped it turned into stampede. They wanted my reaction on NSUI student’s demand to ban me from entering the venue. Since I had left straight from the editing studio and had not checked my SM notifications for a long time, I had no idea about this development. The organisers informed me that the NSUI students had written to the Vice Chancellor and have been protesting against inviting me to the Bhavans. It’s a legitimate demand and in a democracy they have a right to express their opposition by all these means. But I am glad that the organisers didn’t succumb to their demands. First, these students are not part of Bhavans. Secondly, they have no stakes in this subject of cultural history. Thirdly, their demand was purely political and had nothing to do with education. Lastly, if they had opposition to my views on Urban Naxals, it was understandable but they have no idea what my views are on Cultural History. Even if they do, the cultural history of India belongs to every Indian and not to Congress or its student’s wing NSUI. Obviously, they were working on the instructions of the high command which is rattled since my expose of Congress and Naxal links.
The event ended successfully and some great ideas were exchanged with the students, teachers and other thinkers. I had another event in Vadodara at 4PM so I left without wasting any time after the event. Considering the threat, my car was escorted by a jeep of Ahmedabad police and another jeep with security personnel. As soon as my car reached the exit gate, few young men jumped in front of the car and blocked the road, some were lying on the road. From all sides NSUI students covered the car and started to forcibly open the doors. They were banging the windows and shouting “Agnihotri, go back…. Go back’ besides choicest of the abuses. I have absolutely no issues with their sloganeering as I was anyways going back. But the anger and violence? The media rushed with their video cameras. This is exactly how the Jadavpur incident had begun. I have noticed whenever media is present, protestors get more violent. It’s a kind of psychological performing. One student got a rod from somewhere and started hitting the window in order to break it. Let’s assume if he had broken the window, then what? Would he have pulled me out and lynched me? Who knows? Police pulled the students who had blocked the road in quick time and the driver manoeuvred the car and drove away as students ran behind and threw whatever they could find… rod… stones…. Shoes.
The security person in my car was flabbergasted. Despite being a security man this is the first time he had faced a situation like this. “Sir, what have you done to deserve this violence?”, he asked me as we reached the expressway.
“Nothing. I just wrote a book which they don’t like.” though I presented a calm reply, I kept wondering what have we done as a society to deserve violence everywhere.
I am not politically naive. I am fully aware of the threats I have created for myself by exposing India’s enemies. Such resistance and opposition is part and parcel of this game. I have no ill-feeling for these students. But what worries me is the increasing belief in physical violence in campuses. It’s not that violence is a copyright of a particular group, party or ideology. It’s everywhere. It truly cuts across all politics, religions, regions and communities. Sabrimala, Ayodhya, Dalit protests. Political resistance, maratha/patel/jat reservations…. any conflicting issue and the violence erupts. Everything has become political. Every politics has potential violence deep inside it. On an extraordinary and wonderful technology like social media, there is verbal violence. In day to day life, there is violence in interactions. You open any newspaper, its full of violence. It’s a very dangerous trend and it can turn very ugly anytime. There are vested interests who are always ready to ignite this fire. Urban Naxalism is all about taking over the state of India by violent means. Terrorism brings inhuman violence. Violence is omnipresent – in words, in actions and in thoughts. Why is it so?
Some of the reasons I can think of in this context:
- We are a country of disparity. A lopsided society. There is an undercurrent of tension between haves and have nots. The vested interests and enemies of India use this disparity to fuel the fire. They keep this tension and conflict alive instead of bridging this gap. The disgruntled groups are volatile and they are exploited to use violence as a means to protest and, thus, keep the chaos and conflict alive.
- Over-politicisation of almost everything. In a competitive democracy, that too of a huge majority of unemployed, poor and uneducated, winning has become everything. To win, violence comes handy.
- We have become an over-communicated society. Social media feeds on outrage. All outrages converge into politics… generating intense ideological violence. Violence has a tendency to spread fast. Social media’s biggest trait is that it can make anything viral. This combination is lethal. Hence, widespread violence. Also, SM provides instant glorification and popularity. In this competition to be popular and famous… in this race to be heard…. Those who are not heard get violent. As a result, everyone feels violent all the times.
- Isolation from native culture. When we are distant from our native culture and wisdom, trying to be someone which is not our DNA, makes us violent. There is a constant pressure on youngsters to perform (as all lives are on public display due to SM) to be someone else… they have lost touch with the wonderful concepts of debate, consensus and non-violence. In this ideological war we have forgotten our biggest strengths – acceptance and peace.
It’s time we take a stock of things and relook at our education system. Instead of over emphasis on political history, we need to teach our culture which is ingrained in the concepts of harmony, peace and non-violence.
As I reached Vadodara, I noticed many dents and scratches in the poor taxiwallah’s car. As I offered him help, I wondered why is it that in every conflict, it’s always the poor man who suffers the most. Despite the fact that all political parties claim to be working for the poor.
What young students have to understand is that they can break bones, destroy life but how can anyone ever break the spirit of a man who walks on the path of dharma? How can you destroy an idea? The only way to defeat an idea is by producing a superior idea.
We need to collectively introspect. We need to do it now. Before we turn into world’s largest mass of outraged and violent people.
Believe in non-violence. Believe in debate. Believe in consensus. Be #IAmBuddha