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From: Zainab Bawa <>

The Spiral of Violence and the Question of the 'Other'

Violence has played an important role in my life. I have watched violence around me. No, I do not live in a war-zone or a conflict area. I live in my home as many of us do. Each one of us witnesses violence in some ways or the other. We witness domestic violence, riots, we watch war movies, we watch our opinions being suppressed in our own homes and that has repercussions on us in future and some of these repercussions can be violent too. What am I saying? I am saying that in today's world, none of us can escape violence. Within our own families, we can see how democratic institutions have failed. Children are not considered, leave alone asked, for their opinions. They are told that they are here to fulfil their parents' expectations. They watch that truth and their desires to know and experiment are suppressed most of the times and that the world is not as beautiful as they had once thought it to be. What can our children expect in such an atmosphere?

Violence, like what we are witnessing in Gujarat and in Israel-Palestine, is actually violence beginning in our own homes and penetrating deep into the zones of our minds, our hearts and our souls. Hitler was a product of his home and what Germany witnessed as Nazism was to a large extent Hitler's emotional baggage carried from his family. Wow! Does this sound too good to be true?

My personal understanding and experience of violence beginning at home in various implicit and explicit ways, leads me to believe in this theory to some extent.

Next, we undergo schooling. School is again an institution of authoritarianism. You can't ask questions, just like you can't ask them at home. You can't inquire. The teacher knows best because the teacher is the 'expert'. Then you enter college and begin to experience the world outside. The world outside is too large, with its huge companies, gigantic buildings, powerful corporations both business and political. You are lost in this whole culture of gigantism. Where is localness? Where is community? Is small beautiful or is the alternative true i.e. "Big is in" (so say commercials and media)?

I have many questions and thoughts in my mind as I read the essay on "Facing the Violence". Yes, it is time to face violence, both inside of us and outside. It is most important to examine the violence within us, the prejudices and biases that are operating in our minds, and become aware of them. Once we become aware of our prejudices and biases, it makes it difficult for fanatic forces to target them and gradually translate them into rigid attitudes and mindsets. We need to constantly subject our beliefs and opinions to question if we are to prevent tragedies such as the Gujarat carnage. Be open to dissent, be open to questioning and reflecting, understand your worldviews and know where they are coming from.

If we are expecting any future for ourselves, it has to be carved by us. We cannot afford to be dependent on a State Machinery to protect us and our rights and guard our liberties. All of it has to be done by us - us, the people who are the losers at both ends of this dastardly 'Hindu-Muslim' conflict.

My final thought is about the "Other" whom we are fighting against. Shikshantar has very well put it in this essay by saying that there is really no 'Other' and that 'Us' and 'Them' are merely binary labels. Yet, we know that there are what we call 'fanatics', 'fundamentalists' and 'aggressors'. Can we shun them? My belief is that we cannot and should not shun them. In community, it is very easy to make scapegoats out of these people and shun them. But true community demands that we listen to them, work with the very people who are the perpetrators of violence, listen to them, understand them and love them. It is difficult, very difficult, but my belief is that it is a very legitimate demand upon as a human fraternity. Can we keep this demand a vision at least - a vision, which we can aspire to achieve some day?

- Zainab Bawa is one of the founder members of Phase Five, an organization based in Mumbai, which believes in independent thinking, freedom, entrepreneurship, sustainability and alternative lifestyles.

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From: Navin Ramankutty <>

First, I received Shikshantar’s note on "facing the violence". A lot of my thoughts after the Gujarat violence gelled with what you all had to say. I was especially "turned off" by the many petitions that were floating around, expressing anger at the government for not having enough security, at the police for not doing their jobs, etc. Once again, it was an "us versus them" theme, and this is probably what bothers me most as well about activism. I remember a talk in Madison (WI) by the US director of Amnesty International. He said that he would like to turn activism against human rights violations to start thinking deeper about oneself. He thought that every one of us has the potential to commit acts of violence and deprivation such as torture, and we have to examine what makes us one. Similarly, we have to examine what causes the people who committed the horrible acts of violence in Gujarat to do those acts. In many ways, I felt compassion for those people because they must be really depraved to be able to become so non-human. I agreed with a lot of Shikshantar’s analysis, which I see is trying to get to some of the fundamental causes.

But, at the same time, I also wonder, "where do we go from here?". I always feel like most activists are struggling, fighting, against the enormous flow of the tide. Somehow, our thoughts, ideas, work, does not seem to become mainstream, they seem not to take hold. From a "systems" perspective, I wonder why certain ideas take hold very strongly, while others don’t. The idea of consumption seems to perpetuate on its own very easily, while the idea of peace, harmony, etc. seem to have to be beaten into societal consciousness all the time. I can definitely see that activism is useful, to keep the battle going, to continue to fight back the tide. However, I also think that a fundamentally new kind of activism, a new idea, needs to take shape. One that will self perpetuate because everyone thinks it’s a good idea, not simply because they are told by activists that it’s a good idea, or because of guilt.

- Navin Ramankutty is a doctoral student/professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA.

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From: Johara S Shahabuddin <>

It is as though you speak my own mind. How often have I felt that all over the world, the same problems have appeared: democracy moth-eaten across all nations, similar wars everywhere, and populations whose minds have been dulled and scorched into submitting to deadening labour. (A buddhist sage once compared the mind to a monkey that jumps around in suffering, drunk on alcohol, bitten by a scorpion, ...and having eaten poison berries. Alcohol is desire. Scorpion is envy. And the poison is pride.) And most people don’t see these things as problems, but a part of the context, like the climate, or a natural rock formation.

There are many levels one lives on - there is the every day one, where one relates individually to people, rich or poor, including one's self and family, who watch tv and buy nice things, eat, fall sick, and need counselling. Then there is a socio-political one where one relates to problems of being citizen of militaristic states, with schools to improve and jobs to get access to, with elections to influence, and riots expected someday soon. Then there is the imagination that seeks a different kind of world in this one, including a different `me' - which seeks, and lights, little candles of love and creativity, and helps them burn brighter. Then there is the imagination that seeks to let go of all worlds, in the understanding that freedom from seeds of downfall is not a goal, but a journey where each step improves on the last one. In all these levels of roles, one is seeking the truest relation to oneself, the best understandings of love, forgiveness, wisdom, and doing justice.

No amount of talking can make most people see these problems of the technical-industrial-military complex as problems - if I speak `too soon' they just think I am crazy - I wait and watch for moments where someone may be receptive to a `different' kind of thought, when they can connect their pain to an earth-wide pain. To allow to one's imagination the possibility of alternatives, has been difficult for me. Then how can I blame anyone for not allowing themselves to see that what they think is a boat is in fact no boat, they dont want to face the ocean without one? They are wiser than me for now ... their illusions often help them live moment-by-moment ... while I, seeking alternatives, go from one dream of illusion to another, knowing the futility of dreams, but still unable to abandon myself to the reality of being boat-less. In this process, I usually forget to live in this moment.

When one sees problems, one begins to look for causes. Till one exhausts the possibility of individual causes for individual problems (reductionism), there is no escape towards the ocean. After this, one sees that problems that have arisen are not confined to one kind of community, one kind of nation - that they cut across all - it is then that one first begins to look for even deeper causes, such as the ones you point out. That there is materialism, that there are systems that exist, that these systems come with complex and sophisticated gadgetry for indoctrination of fresh entrants into it.

I feel that any alternative system will also contain within it the seeds of downfall - except where an individual is empowered to understand and act on beliefs that give priority to inner conviction over social approval. The seeds of downfall exist even within highly empowered individuals, arising subtly, unobserved, as negative/ depressing thought patterns that slowly grow to domination, often unconsciously. In any case, each person tries for such empowerment, struggling for it all while that there is life still in them. I have observed that in this world, people are empowered according to the type of wish they have generated. A beautiful and mysterious unfolding brings to each one their wish - showing each one the truth of their wishing, giving them chances to change their own wishing style.

So the wishing style of the majority, can even make up a self-perpetuating system that exploits. It will give a role to `earth politics' like yours, set you in your place, with your particular campaign style, audience, rhetoric. Can the voice of beauty be heard over the din of the every day world? What will give it the necessary strength? Is there a natural cycle whose course one works through before the drops of life-water can accumulate into a quenching, flowing stream? So let each one of us who believes in what you say, seek peace through creativity and simplicity, letting the drops accumulate. Let those who teach come together to create different kinds of schools. Let those who write, write as you do, coming together to bring such ideas closer to the rest of us, directly, or indirectly through a living creativity. And us others who lack voices, reach out to neighbours, and seek to embody these principles in our own lives. We also pray for your success.

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From: Selena George <>

Is it the loss of faith in ourselves

and the loss of faith in others?

Or the loss of faith itself?

Of moral moorings

and answers to fears of the unknown, the Other and the future

and what makes anything right or not-right?

What do we answer when a six-year-old asks

"Why must I be polite?"

"Why must I bother with others’ feelings?"

Then what of murder and arson and rape

of nature or human?

Meaninglessness is taking over.

What truths do we have that will vanquish it?

The sadness and fear deepens as the violence continues unabated in Gujarat all through April too. News reports and eye-witness accounts from friends convey chilling narrations of extremely dehumanizing accounts of violence. The call for systemic analysis is urgent and makes perfect sense, as the scope of dialogue around communalism seems to grow smaller rather than expand into a systemic analysis – into the insidious and exploitative nature of the Development paradigm and community politics within it. I think such systemic analysis would benefit and be more holistic if it also considers the spiritual vacuum that seems to be growing ceaselessly throughout the world. Only under such a perspective could "equality", "tolerance", "respect", etc. assume any meaning. The creation and nurturing of spiritual spaces, I am beginning to think, is of utmost importance.

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From: Rajni Bakshi <>

Thank you for this detailed note. I agree with most of what you say in this note, except that I feel it should be shorter.

Some suggestions:

-- Let us not imply that heinous brutality is a creation of the modern development paradigm -- even India's history over the centuries is burdened by many forms of horrible violence (much of it communal and often between different sects within "Hindu" fold). What we do need to emphasis is that the DYSFUNCTIONAL urban context (of the kind we see in India) is packed with insidious violence to the individual in his/her day to day life in so-called "normal" times...the crowding, pollution, pushing-shoving kind of struggle for survival.

-- The KEY ISSUE in all this (whether the challenge of "development" and/or "communalism") is violence. Our job is to show how the modern development paradigm on the one hand seems to bring lots of conveniences into day to day life of some people but leaves a trail of insidious violence to the self. And "education" itself cannot solve this problem -- as long as those students have to live in a "real world" which puts inhuman pressures on their psyche.

-- Yes, there is a need for analysis of the current situation. BUT even more urgently there is a need for this analysis to be focused on WHAT DO WE DO? and HOW do we do it?

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From: Chhaya Datar <>

Thanks for providing this note. I do feel that at this juncture we need to also mention the efforts, which have already begun the questioning process in a concrete manner, so that the people would start identifying and getting connected wherever it is convenient and also of specific interest to them. The naming of the efforts give you hope. For example, I have started identifying with the movement of organic farmers in Maharashtra and I feel there is a need of a network of organic consumers. There are so many issues, but they are connected with the idea of new vision and alterantives.

My colleague Shahaji Narwade is looking after the Sustainable Agricultural Sector activities and has linked with the farmers who are part of the organic agricultural movement. Mainly, we organise lectures on specific crops, also take exposure tours to the farmers, who have been practicing these methods. There seems to be great enthusiasm, at least in the dry land areas. Also some of them want to market to the organic consumers. For that, we have not built good contacts as yet. But individually the farmers are doing that themselves.

Next we want to introduce is the modules on organic agriculture in the school curriculum at least in the rural areas. The classes on work experience can be used for that.

My main contention is that it is not enough to wallow in anguish or keep on saying that we want new vision. We need to take positions upon certain issues. I feel the best way to start is to build people's interest in local economy, in local resurgence, maybe a zero garbage movement. Like Gandhiji we need to identify the programmes, which would bring them together for the common cause. Village commons, urban commons could be the focus to raise the people's consciousness for collectivity, taking things in their hands.

Chhaya Datar works in two capacities: as a head of Unit for Women's Studies and as In Charge of Rural Campus, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Tuljapur, Dist. Osmanabad.

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From: Yusuf Progler <>

Thanks for the great piece about the tragedy in Gujarat, such clear thinking, and I'm glad you sent it off to Multiversity, too. You are so
right about the failure of education as evidenced by the brutality of "educated" people. I sometimes wonder how I survived being a relatively peaceful and calm person after the inordinate amount of education I have had in my life. Too few people try to make the connections that you do in that piece, that education is a major factor in the way we relate to each other and the militaristic competitive style of modern schooling can only do damage to those who march its hallways. I was a wondering wanderer, even sort of creative slacker in school, so maybe that's why I survived. I would like to meditate some more on your article, and think about how it might inform some of the work I've been trying to do in convincing my Iranian friends that they need a major overhaul in their approach to education, which, despite the revolution, is basically as it was before the Shah. I have given talks there on this in the past, but much more is needed.

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From: Ajay <>

I am staying in Surat, things are fine here. It is really shocking to see so much violence which is not getting subsided. There is a need to look for long term solution of these problems. To me, it seems that human beings have not been able to identify themselves as human beings and recognises each other on the basis of caste/color/creed/region/religion/language/body structure etc. And hence these problems are nothing but a lack on the part of human beings to relate to the other fellow as a human being and the solution lies in recognising ourselves as human beings as one race.

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From: Subhash Challa <>

The atrocities in Gujarat have effected hearts and minds of many Indians. Your statement is incomplete in my opinion. It seeks to explain why the particular youth involved in such atrocities are the way they are but it does not seek to find a solution to the conflict itself.

Irrespective of the causes of conflict, the fact is that it exists and one needs to find a way out. But for politicians, unsolved or even better unsolvable problems are a necessity and they continue to breed on such problems even if it leads to deaths, more deaths and even more deaths.

I was thinking about the question you have raised for some time: How long can we continue to defer our personal leadership responsibilities to big institutions such as the Courts, the Police, the Politicians, the Army, the NGOs, the MNCs? One item that is missing is the institution list is Democracy. For too long, people of India have been irresponsible with respect to their obligations towards democracy. This has to change, I do not know how, but it has to change.

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From: Arun Gandhi <>

This essay is by far the most sensible analysis of the problems we face in India. I commend the writer(s). Thank you for including me in the dialogue

Arun Gandhi is Founder-Director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, based in Memphis, TN (USA).

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John Peterson <>

Quite a powerful message, dear friends. This comes up for me: how does transformation occur?

What you write is so on target, in its way, and I understand the plea or the request, the invitation to self-criticize, self-understand, self-renew. I totally understand this, and respect it, and yet, does transformation happen out of a good argument for making it happen?

A bit, I am sure, and for some people more than others, and that is how much change happens, slowly, piece by piece, person by person.

And then, there are more dramatic transformations that happen, which really fascinate me, and why and how do they happen? A culture is ready. A person is charismatic. A novel is powerful. A technology becomes available. A person has an insight, or gets in touch with an untruth, or a childhood violation.

What you wrote was powerful and was inspired by love and commitment; yet, I wonder what would be the most powerful thing that you could possibly do to achieve the results you want. I am not saying this as a criticism, or a suggestion about what you could have done better; I just ask the question a lot, especially in the last few weeks, as a farmer starting up the season. I call it optimization. I know that we can want to do something effectively, and plan to, and then the result will be there or it won't. Our will has something to do with it; our passion has something to do with it. But we might have the will and the passion and have a failed crop. And we might not have that much passion or will, but have the right knowledge, or the right system and have a great crop.

This brings to mind something from Steiner's work: Our thoughts interest no one. Our will impulses annoy everyone. Only our feelings constitute the effectiveness of a talk.

You asked the question, "What processes and systems shape and harden communal identities and pit neighbors and friends against one another?"

Steiner has something interesting to say about pretty much everything, I think. He said that for the next 400 years, humanity would be developing something called its consciousness soul, that this development will bring forward some aspect of I-ness that will eventually enable people to meet one another with compassion, but that while this is developing, it has the opposite effect. It makes people self-centered. "What's in it for me?" people ask so often.

You also wrote, "Thus far, there has been no serious analysis of what is contributing to the growing number of highly schooled youth who are filled with very real feelings of rage, frustration, cynicism and desperation." I think part of this could be degraded food from birth on; this works in many ways, this fake food. I am not saying that is it, but I wonder sometimes. I feel a strong commitment to introducing a perspective on food and nutrition that goes beyond the materialist, reductionist framework within which food is conventionally regarded today. Food is more than a collection of vitamins and minerals; food is a potential carrier for forces that build up our thinking, feeling and willing; and, eating food imbued with these forces (which are especially enhanced by Biodynamic practices) can contribute immensely to the task of bringing healthy social impulses to humanity.

The following is a related quote by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer, an early Biodynamic pioneer: "There is more in food than just matter. If the factor of ...cosmic influence is at the minimum, we may get big yields, but the vital energies carried into the food will be low. Increasing nervous disorders, even the inability to make decisions, or to adjust to the faster pace of life, may result." (For more of these ideas about the link between food and feelings, see Field to Feast at

Thanks for sharing your note. It has been a huge thing to face, in India, I know. It's the sort of trouble that makes me just want to get on a tractor and farm all day.

John Peterson is the owner of the Biodynamic Community Supported Agriculture Farm Angelic Organics. See <> for more information.