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Mainstream, Vol XLVI No 1

Violence and Our Youth

Tuesday 25 December 2007, by Hiren Mukerjee



This year marked the birth centenary of Prof Hirendranath Mukerjee (November 23). While remembering the veteran CPI parliamentarian (who also functioned for some time as the Leader of the CPI Group in the Lok Sabha) and distinguished scholar-historian, we reproduced the following that appeared in this journal in 1970—this was based on a speech he delivered in the Lok Sabha.)]

There is a completion lack of a sense of proportion and a fundamental irrelevance to basic issues that are confronting not only our country but the whole world today.

I shall disregard many of the things which are said in season and out of season, specially about West Bengal, the favourite whipping boy of certain sections of our people. History will give its verdict some time or other in regard to which way the wind will blow, as far as the people are concerned, in every part of our country. So, I shall disregard the footling little things said from time to time about West Bengal.

There is no doubt today that there is a lot of violence around. It is in the air, so to speak, whether we like it or not. Some of that violence might even be thought to be subversive, but the main point is that we cannot wish it away. There are fundamental reasons for such social distemper, and our job is to tackle those fundamental reasons, and not merely to beat our breast and shout from the housetops about Naxalites, or what have you. That is not the way in which we have to proceed if we are to settle this problem.

At one time the expression, “divine discontent”, used to be fashionable. Now the discontent of our people, divine or secular, has reached a certain stage and those who are in power must respond to the basic urges indicated in that discontent, or they will quit the stage of history.

Young people everywhere in the world today sense a sort of helplessness about their existence and about the future of man. I would not go into expatiating the reasons for it but the fact of the matter is that the younger generation to whom the world belongs—we are not going to be here in 2000 AD or even earlier than that—who will take charge of creation, and we have to take note of what is agitating their minds and not to think of the antediluvian ideas which someone might have imported from somewhere. From that angle we see how the youth of today in this country as well as in most other countries, sense a sort of helplessness in the air.

Naturally, being young they are more sensitive. They understand how the misery of the people is something avoidable, and, yet, is not avoided. They are faced with the problem of unemployment with nothing whatever to do, nothing to sustain their physical being, nothing to sustain their spiritual dreams, visions and aspirations. They look at the farce of the plans in India which, in spite of having done a certain amount of infrastructural and super-structural apparatus building, have not touched the heart of the problem, the core of those things which really matter to the people of our country. The result is that the masses, except where they can be led away by easy demagogy, which also flourished in this kind of atmosphere of desperation, are astir in one way or another, in a creative way or in a destructive way. This is not a matter of political infighting; this is not a matter which one can ascribe only to something which has been done by some foreign agency. One cannot merely say that the Communist Parties—Right, Left, Middling or whatever they are—are to be put in the same damn box and sent out of the country. We cannot solve problems that way because problems have now become so acute that one just cannot deal with them in that kind of authoritarian fashion.

I have heard Gandhiji’s name bandied about. Gandhiji preferred violence to cowardice. In 1920-21 Gandhiji was on record—one can consult Tendulkar’s biography of Gandhiji—as having told the Muslims who were joining the movement in enormous numbers in those days that if Swaraj was not achieved by the Gandhian method in a year, they were free to follow their Quranic tenets which did not adhere to the idea of non-violence. In 1942, when he gave the slogan, “Do or Die”, he was ready to say, “Leave India to anarchy and to God.” He was ready for certain things because he was a creative personality.

I cannot enter into a discussion on this but let us not bring Gandhiji’s name and damn all violence. What is the good of saying, all violence is rotten? It is a part of life; there is no doubt about it. Our merely saying that violence is rotten will not help eliminate the fact of violence being practised by all and sundry. You have terror of all sorts—red terror as well as white terror of even more dastardly description. If these are facts of life which we have to tackle, let us not merely say that we are against violence.

I have heard so much being said that the Constitution is being subverted. But I have said before and I repeat it: Did not Abraham Lincoln, the very high priest of democracy, say that the people have an indivisible right, their constitutional right, of amending the Constitution, and, if they so choose, their revolutionary right to overthrow and subvert it? He said this in that very famous Geettysburg speech which must have been read by everybody.

One may want a revolution in as gentlemanly a manner as possible. That is a different thing. Can one do it? Let us hope we can do it. Let us get together in such a fashion, mobilise all progressive forces in such a fashion, that we can eliminate all avoidable violence. We can go ahead in that manner if we have some ideological orientation. If one has no ideological orientation, then one will have politicking of the sort which everybody is practising, from Smt Indira Gandhi downwards in this country. Every political party is practising political manoeuvring. They have not a touch of ideological thinking. If we have no ideology, the people would call us back to ideology.

Grapes of Wrath

WHAT exactly is happening in my State? Many have read the book The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck. The grapes of wrath are stored in my part of the country. They could be grapes of beauty, too. Their juice is the life-blood of the people. What do we want? What sort of grapes do we want? Do we want grapes of beauty or grapes of wrath? What are we going to give to our young people? Nobody cares to answer this kind of question.

That is what worries the youth of today. It is no good dealing with footling little political problems that came up from time to time, and winning one’s point and gloating over it, because after gloating over it, one will have to wallow in the misery of defeat. What are we going to do about it? Violence is in the air, one cannot just stop it. The politicians of every hue have grievously failed and it is no surprise that our people are in a towering rage.

Talking of West Bengal, I do not want to claim any primacy for my part of the country as to what is happening there. If we cannot tackle it creatively and successfully, that will happen in the rest of the country tomorrow or the day after. There is no stopping it. One cannot merely shout from the housetops about Naxalites and other menaces. One cannot just stop it. There was a well-known writer Franz Fanon. He has been connected with the Indian Council of Africa. This is what Fanon has said inone of his most beautiful books, The Wretched of the Earth:

This irrepressible violence is neither sound nor fury nor the resurrection of savage instincts. It is man recreating himself.

One may differ from it. Maybe, we are at a stage of life when this kind of statement comes to us as a shock. Maybe, most of our people get a shock at the sight of blood, specially at the sight of our own blood. Maybe, that is the way in which we are constituted. But that is no reason for thinking that the problems of the world would come to be solved easily and in the way we like it.

Winds of Change

WHEN that sort of thing has taken place in different regions and in different periods of history, a new mystique is in the air today and you have to tackle it. What is that mystique? It is a kind of celebration in the manner of that thinker Sorel, of “cleansing” violence which will “rejuvenate the earth and transform former slaves and masters into full human beings”. This is the kind of feeling which at one time used to inspire us also. I remember Jawaharlal Nehru writing in his book, The Discovery of India, that there were many people in our country for whom the Bastille had not fallen and that for them the great convulsions like the Russian Revolution or the French Revolution or the Chinese Revolution had not taken place.

Winds of change are blowing not only in other parts of the world but over our country also. These winds of change are blowing furiously which it is necessary to understand. When I see people suffering in the struggle for Afro-Asian freedom demand what they call “equal humanity or equal annihilation”, when I find this new mystique also operating here, I have to grapple with it. I wish somebody like Gandhiji could understand what the temper or the spirit of the age was like.

Here is an age which is distracted beyond description. Can we meet our children, talk to them face to face and ask them moralisingly to follow this tenet or that? Are we not aware of the guilt that is in our soul today? Where is it leading to? This is leading to the outbreak of violent activities. This is leading to impatience, to a frantic frenzy for breaking our bonds.

I know that the non-ideological mind will be allergic to any statement which has nothing whatever to do with the miserable job which may be on hand at a particular moment. But you have to have an ideological approach to the problem. If we do not, all this talk about what we are going to do to Bengal, martial law or no marital law, will lead us nowhere. That is the warning. That is the handwriting on the wall which we have to see. Seeing that, possibly one would like to have the other kind of dictatorship which some of our people would like to have. They are talking about Generals taking over. They are talking about shutting up of the Parliament shop. All that is not violence to some persons, but what I say is violence because what I say is based on ideological conviction and historical understanding.

I would like, therefore, to say: please do think of the basic presuppositions of an Indian living today. Please do not run away from the fact that the country is facing problems that cannot be tackled by normal methods, please do not forget that if violence is not channelised in a creative fashion, it breaks out in orgies of brutality as have taken place in Ahmedabad, Bhiwandi and elsewhere. Please do not forget that the young people of today are depressed beyond words and that is why, all over the country, they are getting the sympathy of the common man. When a bus is brunt or something is done to anybody, the people do not intervene because they have come to believe that all politics is today a game of blackguardry, that politicking is going on, that corruption is rampant, that morality is nowhere in the picture, and some sanctimonious people talk in moralising tones to the youth of our country. That is why the youth of our country is in revolt. That is why so much violent manifestations are taking place.

If one does not take note of it, if one merely tries to apply some remedy from the outside, it will not cure the disease. One has to go to the root of the matter. Merely talking in terms of law and order being subverted is not tackling the problem. Something very much bigger than that is happening all over the world and also in my country, because, we are not an anchorite peninsula separated from the stream of world events. We have to be in the stream of world events. We have to solve our problem which also happens to be the problem of the world. [Based on the author’s speech in the Lok Sabha on November 7, 1970]

(Mainstream, December 5, 1970)

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