Why has non-violent India become so violent?

Published: August 8, 2016
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Indian activists protest against violence and crimes against women in Siliguri. PHOTO: AFP

India carries somewhat of a reputation globally as the home of spirituality and a champion of non-violence. The combined legacies of Emperor Ashoka, Gautam Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, and many other renowned gurus and sages have left an imprint on the way India seeks to carry itself on the world stage and also to an extent how the rest of the world perceives it.

Many seekers of wisdom and inner peace make their way to India, hoping to find a path to spirituality and enlightenment. Some succeed in finding what they were looking for, while others return with disappointment, disillusionment, and often a severe Delhi belly.

On the diplomatic front, India has traditionally espoused non-violence. At the United Nations, India most often advocates the use of peaceful means to solve disputes around the world. The country has not initiated any wars, even in a tense neighbourhood and in the face of some serious provocation. Historically, it has hardly ever sought to invade other territories in order to expand outwards. In fact, India has borne the brunt of massive invasions throughout the course of history. Many argue that this pacifist mindset allowed invaders to conquer it with extreme brutality and firmly establish themselves within its borders.

Even India’s road to independence from colonial rule was paved with the asphalt of non-violence. Sure there were elements that fought the might of the British Empire with fire, it was ultimately the peaceful mass movements like non-cooperation, Satyagraha, and civil disobedience that captured the world’s attention. Of course, Britain’s post-war decline contributed to its inability to hold on to its colonial possessions, but the headlines and history books will always cite the non-violent rebellion as a landmark.

Under this overarching image of peace and an aversion to violent ways, lies the contradiction of rampant everyday violence within society. One would expect a country that has given the world “ahimsa” and yoga to also be at peace with itself. Unfortunately that is not always the case.

While post-partition India has largely escaped mass slaughters, ethnic violence, or random violent crime of the scale seen in many other parts of the world, it still grapples with crime, insurgencies and communal unrest on an ongoing basis. These are undoubtedly serious issues for the country and need to be tackled at multiple levels, using multiple levers and are therefore not the dimension of violence that we seek to explore today.

The focus is on the high degree of low intensity inter-personal violence experienced in Indian society. So while internationally India talks and acts peace, it is ironic that its citizens often do not extend each other the same courtesy. The use of violence to resolve an issue is never too distant from most spheres of everyday life.

A great example of this is witnessed on India’s roads. An accident is not followed by the involved parties sharing insurance information and getting in touch the cops. Both sides alight from their respective vehicles and start yelling at each other, and often this verbal altercation turns into a full-fledged brawl to settle the issue. Might, or the perception of it, eventually decides which party wins damages.

It’s not just accidents that result in physical confrontation. Not yielding to the other driver, overtaking someone, or even giving an admonishing glance to an erring driver can result in some serious fighting.

Violence is also used commonly to settle differences. Fights often break out between patrons at roadside dhabas. Neighbours often quarrel and even fight over the volume of music played during social functions. Land disputes and business disagreements often end up in a vicious cycle of violence. Consenting couples, getting cozy in public places are beaten up by the self appointed guardians of morality.

Political protests often turn violent with severe damage to public property. Buses are burnt and buildings are vandalised, often at the slightest provocation. If a bus driver hits a pedestrian, no one waits to see what punishment the law will give him. He will be dragged out and given a major thrashing. When justice is perceived as uncertain, the mob mentality takes over and justice is meted out by the mob, on the spot.

Women and children, the most vulnerable sections of society, are often at the receiving end. In a society where might is right, the male child will always be preferred, at the cost of the female child, and this results in the further distortion of the socio-economic environment.

Salman Khurshid, India’s ex-Foreign Minister spoke strongly about maintaining peace at any cost across the borders, even in the face of provocation, during his tenure. However, the same gentleman had no hesitation in threatening his critics with serious consequences if they dared to set foot in his constituency.

All in all, the recourse to violence in everyday personal life is all too pervasive in India and the long-standing culture of “ahimsa” seems to have been ignored by its people. Why has this happened? There are three broad reasons for this.

Do you think India has become a more violent country?

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Pressures and hardship in the struggle for daily survival

Life in India is not easy for the common man. Resources are scarce and everyday there is a struggle to get the basics. One has to contend with lines for filling water, power outages, crowded public transportation, broken infrastructure and inadequate public services. Employment opportunities are still limited, and one is constantly under pressure to compete.

In the face of all this adversity, it is very easy to loose one’s cool and explode with violent fury to let out one’s frustrations at the smallest pretext. It is easy to follow “dharma” or “ahimsa” in sprawling ashrams, serene mountains, the broad avenues of South Block in Lutyens’ Delhi, or even the abundant landscapes of Scandinavia, but harder to adhere to them in the pressure cooker of the daily challenges of life in India.

Lack of faith in the system

In India, the system often does not work. You can stand in line for hours, but at the end there is no surety that you will get the service you had lined up for, be it seats on a bus or getting to talk to a government clerk, or even crossing a traffic light in an orderly fashion. In such an environment, everybody is constantly on edge and jockeying for the slightest advantage, which leads to confrontation and conflict.

No fear of consequences

The delivery of justice in India is very tenuous. Inefficient policing combined with an over-burdened judiciary makes it easy for people to take matters in their own hands and get away with it. The writ of the state is absent in large swathes of the country and that makes it very easy for someone who has some semblance of strength, to impose their will on a weaker adversary. The state is unable or unwilling to exercise its power to protect, and bullies can go about bullying with impunity and not worry about getting arrested or punished.

India must address all these factors to ensure that it preserves its beautiful tradition of spirituality and ahimsa and enables its people to walk on the peaceful path towards enlightenment, prosperity, and progress.

Why do you think India has become violent?

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Amit Nangia

Amit Nangia

The author is a learning and development professional with a background in finance and human resources that informs his commentaries on geopolitical and socioeconomic trends. He tweets as @amitnangia06 (twitter.com/amitnangia06)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Keyboard Soldier

    May be it has had enough of peaceful Islam along with other western countries.Recommend

  • NKM

    India is any day better than all Muslims countries put together ! We Indian dont go about bombing people , neither do we call terrorist freedom fighters. Most Muslim countires can actually learn the Indian flavour Islam from India as that version of Islam is the only hope. Indian put a stamp of Indianess on Islam , this is the only Islam that can survive !Recommend

  • Rohan

    Seriously why do Pakistani blogs always carry one article a week criticising India???
    It sort of justifies the creation of Pakistan, but wasn’t it demolished in 1971Recommend

  • Paki Terrorist

    1. Was this author sleeping all these years, that he did not take notice of the violence

    that existed in the Indian society all this while, just like any other society across the world ??
    2. The people may be largely non-violent, but they can not be taken for granted. That is exactly what happened in India during the past 68 years. The Congress party ruled over sixty years, and India is still a third world developing country, home to half the world’s poor, some are in worse than the worst in Africa … and you expect people to remain non-violent ??Recommend

  • Soul Speek

    Why is it that these authors only write negative articles about India? Where does your creativity go when you need to write something positive?

    Why is it that Pakistani news portals give more prominence to such authors who have to say something negative about their country?Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    India has always been a violent country. It has become less violent every decade since independence.

    Because of mass media, violence, which was routine, is played up and rightly so. The poor and downtrodden need to be heard. Violence need to be highlighted. Media will always succumb to sensationalize, but as smart citizens we can judge better and need not have to be swept away by the media circus. Today more Rapes are being reported, Dalits are voicing their grievances, women are more independent.

    Just because you hear more cases of violence, doesn’t mean it has actually increased. You are inundated with such stories, 30 years ago would have escaped your attention as there was only Doordarshan and not everyone had a TV. Not all bothered to scan through the section where crimes were reported, which is the same even today.

    Please get some perspective before making such grandiose statements.Recommend

  • Madhaya Yadav

    latest news.. in Balichistan Pakistan … 70 people killed in bomb blast Recommend

  • naeemhussain

    India was always a country it just has been exposed now.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    and India was not violent before?

    200,000 already dead for Nagaland, 150,000 for Kashmir, not to mention khalistan, Gujrat, Dalits etc with a gazillion rapes in a year. Seriously? are these Indian authors bluffing themselves?

    The issue of terrorism is growing in the whole Arab world due to American meddling. There is a diff between suicide bombing and ppl creating separatist movements.Recommend

  • Cool Henry

    The author is getting carried away by the violent videos – which is natural. But, the reality is that the Indian sub-continent has been a violent place since times immemorial. Mahabharat, Ramayan, etc. are stories full of violence. The Guptas, the Mauryas, Ashoka the Great, Alexander the Great, the Mughals – you name it and violence has been prevalent at all times. Nothing new. Ahimsa and non-violence was used as a tool for publicity and fight against the Brits. What will help is making the justice delivery efficient. 80% of people tend to abide by the law if they know that there’s gonna be justice in a timely manner.Recommend

  • vinsin

    India started 1962 war. India also send Army in 1950 to oppose unification of Korea in Korean War. Use of military unification of Goa, Sikkim and Junagardh. There was no non-violent Independence movement. Civil disobedience is not Independence movement. India is ranked 128 in homicide rate.
    verbal altercation do not come under violence. If Gandhi was non-violent then why he supported war to settle J&K issue. Why Gandhi wanted Muslims should have right to kill and rape non-Muslims? Your argument is that rise in perceived violence is due to incomplete partition, non-secular laws etc then again Nehru is responsible and for that Gandhi.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chola_dynastyRecommend

  • Ravian

    Most societies of the world are alike and one would beg to differ with the author that Indian people and government are non-violent historically. Please recall India sending its troops to Sri Lanka, East Pakistan and Maldives to “save” the local people, Within India, Indian Government used extreme violence against Sikhs, Kashmiris and insurgencies in the south. Communal riots have also been common and have a long recorded history. The current wave of violence should be attributed to rise in hindu nationalism, and where ever their is a wave of nationalism, it is accompanied with violence.Recommend

  • Manish

    And you have to write all this in a forum that is mostly out to malign India anyway.. Very good.Recommend

  • mimi sur

    Because this is not the age of Gandhi, Buddha or Ashoka . This is the age of Islamic menace and violence where Muslims kill non-muslims citing religion. Gandhi was lenient, Partition happened, but all muslims didn’t go. Few stay here, breed and foment violence . Buddha, Ashoka were kind, see how Taliban blew buddha statues up . Time to kill those nefarious followers of religion of violence. As Lord Krishna says in Mahabharata, We have to fight against enemies of humanity .Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Violence will be met with violenceRecommend

  • Bibloo

    Hindus from Hindustan or anywhere, have a hard time
    acknowledging Hindustan is a Third World Country.
    With two third of it’s population living on starvation wages.
    1 dollar a day. They like to put the blame on every other
    country or religion. When they themselves are the main
    reason for the abject failures and despondency of their culture/society.
    Hindu Desh has a long long long way to go. And it’s going nowhere
    until the Kashmir problem is solved. Nowhere…….karmaRecommend

  • Parvez

    Thought provoking article. Recommend

  • Patwari

    With hindus on a rampage. Muslims are hung from the nearest “holy” tree
    for allegedly eating beef. Truck drivers are burnt alive because they were transporting cattle [cows/bulls] from one farm to another in Kashmir.
    Muslim women are beaten and manhandled at railway station because
    they were suspected of carrying beef in their groceries. It was lamb.
    RSS/BJP/Shiv Sena thugs roam the streets looking for minorities to
    harass and kill. Christian churches are vandalized, burnt defaced by
    hindu mobs. A Dalit woman is raped every 7 minutes by a non Dalit hindu.
    There are 67 insurgencies percolating in Land of Gandhi. Starting with
    Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Ladakh, Kerala etc. etc. etc…
    And it goes on and on and on……no end in sight.Recommend

  • Milind A

    You need to understand that violence in India, is
    far less than what is seen in their country or other Muslim countries.
    Secondly this violence is not done in the name of religion. I agree the violence against Sikhs was wrong and initiated by Congressis. However In most of
    the case (e.g. Kashmir or communal riots) violence is initiated by Muslims. The Indian Govt & public gave non-violence plenty of
    chances, which was mistaken by the lumpens to be our weakness. Hence the limited violence (Surgical measures)Recommend

  • Milind A

    Violence was started by Muslims, in Kashmir first.. Killing of Pandits etc. The Govt gave enough chance for peace, but the lumpens thinking this to be Arab world, started it, which was met by a firm response.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    “The combined legacies of Emperor Ashoka, Gautam Buddha, Mahatma Gandhi, …”

    Despite an overwhelming Muslim presence in the Indian subcontinent for almost a thousand years, we do not have a single Muslim name which can inspire the rest of the world, what we have is Aurangzeb’s and Babur’s whom Muslims consider their heroes.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    What you thinks is Maths is actually paranoia.Recommend

  • Swaadhin

    Good for you, you will be eventually tasting your own medicine.Recommend

  • Ram

    It all started with Pakistan remember killing our non-violent champion Mahatma GandhiRecommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    India is a backward country. Most of India lives in the stone ageRecommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    India maligns itself, Indians behavior is barbarian, there is no escaping the facts.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Thanks to IndiaRecommend

  • gp65

    India is a developing country and no Indian claims otherwise.

    Your claim that two thirds of its population lives on starvation wages is simply untrue. While there are no grounds for complacence, India is 12 ranks higher thanPakistan in Global Hunger index http://ghi.ifpri.org/trends/

    While India has a long way to go, it is moving forward with confidence and is the fastest growing large economy in the world. It is also the country that received the highest greenfield FDI last year.
    Bollywood, IPL, ISRO, Yoga, Indian cuisine are all part of India’s soft power. Far from being despondent, Indians feel quite confident.
    Please look up which countries consistently appear among top 15 in list of failed states – India sure isn’t one of them.Recommend

  • PatelPara

    right. and ppl in nagaland are also Muslims? seriously at have some guts to face the reality.Recommend

  • kadwa each

    Are you kidding me – just one article a week criticizing India? The entire Pakistani media has been brainwashed to criticize India and Indians, particularly Hindus. That’s how Pakistan justifies its raison d’être — the reason for its creation which an average Pakistani is not even aware of. Blame everything on India – that’s the name of the game. That’s how the illegitimacy of the state’s creation is justified. But Indians are also happy that Pakistan broke away. That’s the best thing to happen to Indians.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Indian Hindus assassinated Gandhi, they don’t believe in non violence.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Indian Hindus sent troops into Kashmir using violence to take over Kashmir. Face facts Hindus are violent people.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Because Indian Hindu behavior results in prominent news articles that show India is a very negative country. Nobody is going to censor Hindu criminal behavior.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Evidence of Hindu terrorism in East Pakistan. Mujib’s family was slaughtered by Bengalis for his terrorist treachery.Recommend

  • Mike Pilgrim

    Murdering unborn female children, gang raping women, this can only be “better” for a Hindu Recommend

  • Rohan

    Nice fictionRecommend

  • Sane

    There are many if you get off with your bias and hate glass. Tipu Sultan, Nawab Sirajuddolah, Dr. Abdul Kalam (Ex President of India), Dr. Zakir (Ex President of India). If Ashoka is considered a hero then why not Babar and Aurangzeb.Recommend

  • Sane

    Why you comment on Pakistani website?Recommend

  • Sane

    Best is yet to come for India. Breaking of Kashmir and Pakistan. Recommend

  • Rohan

    Because I canRecommend

  • Jayman

    It is time to shed those fanciful and idealistic philosophy and answer the enemy in the language it understands. Be it within or without. Turning the other cheek didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.Recommend

  • art

    What a load of nonsense. India is not “better than all Muslim countries put together”. Yes, Muslim countries have more then there share of backwardness and social evil. But India has the discriminatory caste system, a high rate of rape and violence against women, female infanticide, and other societal evils. Indians are no more morally sound than anyone elseRecommend