I wrote an introduction to this very recent and very important poem, but have decided it works better as an afterword.
A Discourse on Non-Violence
(translated from the Malayalam by the poet)
The day was calm.Three of
Gandhi’s visitors stepped forward:
an expecting Mahar woman, almost a girl,
from the Maratha region, a young dumb Bhili youth
from Gandhi’s own place, his body burnt black,
a Korba from mid-India on crutches,
still carrying his bow.
As soon as Gandhi, filling post-cards
with his small hand, gestured to them to talk,
the woman pointed to her belly and said:
“You are responsible for this.”
Gandhi just smiled his Zen smile
as she went on: “ I could have cut him
to pieces, but you taught us to loathe violence.”
Now the Bhil spoke in sounds and gestures:
His landlord who had trapped him in debts
and enslaved him, tied him to a tree,
cut off his tongue and burnt him all over
for having drawn water from his well.
He had endured it all as to resist
would have meant violence.
The Korba lowered his bow: “ With this
bow and arrow I could’ve killed that leopard
that had left me lame; but what do we have
once we give up non-violence?”
Gandhi dropped his pen and told his
faithful disciples: “You have taken me literally.
Here violence was done by that rapist,
the landlord and the leopard. Of these
only the scared leopard was unaware that
he was committing violence. He was
just following his instinct. But the other two
deserved no mercy. Dear child, if teeth and nails
were of no help, you could’ve saved your honour
with your sickle or the kitchen-knife.
Gandhi now turned to the Bhil and spoke in gestures:
“Your axe would’ve helped where words failed you.”
“Then what about non-violence”, asked the Korba.
“Nowhere have I said that it is wrong
to harm the aggressor in order to save
your life or honour; only it should be
the very last resort..”
An onlooker now
posed a question: “Then why did you condemn
Bhagat Singh and his comrades?” “Simple.
I knew who I was fighting and we had
better chances if we abjured violence.”
“Is not fasting violence too?”, asked another,
“you torment your body and blackmail your enemy.”
“Look here: there is no iron-wall between violence
and non-violence, and no value in life is absolute.”
The woman stared at her belly, the Bhil youth
at his near-charred body and the Korba
at his leg-stumps: “ We didn’t understand.”
A tender voice responded from within the
woman’s womb: “ I understood.”
The author, Koyamparambath Satchidanandan, is a leading literary figure in India. Satchidanandan, as he is usually known, is revered as one of the writers who led in the development of modern poetry in the Malayalam language, a major tongue in Southern India, especially Kerala. He is not just a poet but a translator, a critic and a teacher.
When India was shaken in the late 1960s and early '70s by the Naxalite movement of Communist guerrillas based among the poorest section of the peasantry, Satchidanandan turned his attention away from abstract literary questions, to the point where his poetry was censored by the state and he was harassed by the Crime Branch. He, like many other progressive cultural figures, became less overtly concerned with political and social issues as state repression, adventurist errors and infighting drastically weakened the Marxist-Leninist movement by the late 1970s
Thus it is extremely significant that he has written this poem, this year, as well as another (still only in Malayalam) about the stunning military success of resurgent Maoist guerrillas in battle with Indian police at Dantewada. This reflects a revival of interest among Indian intellectuals and cultural figures in the suffering of the rural poor and in their rising resistance. This development has been spearheaded by Arundhati Roy's sympathetic reportage on the guerrillas.
The subject, too, is most timely. It challenges Gandhian non-violence as a useful response to gender, class and caste oppression. This is an important debate to have in today's India, where many dedicated activists among the rural poor, dalits ("outcastes") and adivasis (tribal people, the First Nations of India) see themselves as followers of Gandhi. Here in the US, folks steeped in Gandhian principles and stone revolutionaries have been among the most steadfast forces in the anti-war movement and often developed deep mutual respect, providing a good foundation on which to explore our differences.
August 17, 2010
posted by Jimmy Higgins