In India's Battle Between Sentiments And Principles, Peace is An Orphan

The very principle of freedom is held hostage to sentiments. In the race of hurt sentiments, everyone is a loser.

4 min read
In India's Battle Between Sentiments And Principles, Peace is An Orphan

Today is as good day as any to brush one's memory of the Bhagavad Gita. The much misquoted and appropriated Hindu scripture that allegedly teaches you how to wage a war and feel good about its righteousness.

The author(s) of the Bhagavad Gita, however, anticipated this tendency to appropriate.

yāmimāṁ puṣhpitāṁ vāchaṁ pravadanty-avipaśhchitaḥ

veda-vāda-ratāḥ pārtha nānyad astīti vādinaḥ

kāmātmānaḥ swarga-parā janma-karma-phala-pradām

kriyā-viśheṣha-bahulāṁ bhogaiśhwarya-gatiṁ prati

These shlokas from the scripture can be loosely translated as:

"The undiscerning get attracted to the flowery words of the Vedas and glorify only those parts of the Vedas that please their senses. They indulge in acts and rituals that promise opulence, sensual gratification, and heaven."

These two verses from the Bhagavad Gita enunciate the tendency and dangers of appropriating religious/spiritual wisdom.

The irony, explicated even in the Bhagavad Gita, is that the righteous feel that their actions have the divine sanction.

The reality, however, couldn’t be further from the truth: most actions—and their foundations—have sentiments and not principles at their core.


Conviction of the Ideologically Driven

Let us take a look at the headline grabbing events in the past one month. BJP Spokespersons “hurt” sentiments and then there is a retaliation for the same. Fact checker Md Zubair gets arrested for “hurting” religious sentiments. There is no dearth of cheerleaders for all of them. Or the ones that bay for their blood. Each camp sworn to blood enmity to the other.

Where we are today in terms of our social contract is because our intellectual abilities often get overwhelmed by the compulsions of sentiments.

Blaise Pascal, the 17th century philosopher, stated in the Pensees, “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction”.

Many scholars have refuted this version saying that in the original quote,

"Jamais on ne fait le mal ſi pleinement & ſi gayement, que quand on le fait par un faux principe de conſcience",

Pascal referred to human conscience and not religious conviction. So be it.

The instinctively righteous have a sense of superiority—whether they derive it from the religious diktats or their conscience is of little importance.


Those Who Can Do No Wrong

A militant sense of collaborationism—around identity, ideology or idiom—is being seen as the antidote to any act of suppression. It could well be so. At the same time, it could be as destructive as what it ostensibly stands against.

The issue with collaborationism is that principles are abandoned in favour of subjective sentimentality. It discriminates on the basis of where the individual stands on an arbitrary spectrum. Ultra violet—easy to abandon, infra red—must be protected at all costs.

Freedom of speech and expression in India has fallen prey to this practice of collaborationism. Any utterance is assessed along the rubrics of who, what, where, and when instead of certain absolute principles. Constitutionally defined procedures also leave room for this obfuscation by setting limits and allowances.

And then there is the slippery slope of sentiments. The very principle of freedom is held hostage to sentiments.

Does it not go against almost all religious adages that seek to preach primacy of dharm over moh in any language or context?


Vicious Circle of Hate and Violence 

In the race of hurt sentiments, everyone is a loser because we relinquish progress to reach vindication or vengeance. Worse, we relinquish principles to protect sentiments.

Coming to the specifics, Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal may have hurt the sentiments of the Muslim community through their words. Same goes for Zubair and others when it comes to the sentiments of the Hindu community. Yet, words can't be fought with physical violence. Additionally, words—ideally—also do not merit any punishment beyond that involving words.

Caught in the vicious circle of hate and violence, we are here—yet another precarious point in human history—out of our own doing.

We, too keen to point fingers at those not like us.

We, always on our toes to banish inconvenient absolute principles.

We, the hollow banshees.

We, too timid to do Right.

A quick scan of social media will throw up unsurprising findings. The cauldron of hate and mistrust is kept bubbling. Sometimes all that is needed is a few good men and women who are unafraid of being ostracised for putting principles over sentiments. And these are getting rarer. There is complicity in conspicuous silence.


Can We Douse This Fire of Hate?

The Bhagavad Gita teaches us to not spare even our dearest people if they deviate from dharm. Yet, we conveniently ignore this while running the lemming race of approval and social cache. If not this, what else explains the hesitation in unequivocal denunciation of violence, when it comes to "our people"?

No excuses, no attempts at context building, no beating about the bush.

Peace seems to be the new dirty word for even the hitherto moderate voices on the Left and the Right of the political spectrum. As a matter of fact, it is an orphan that is left to fend for itself in this raging battle between competing sensitivities.

Billy Joel was right when he crooned "We Didn't Start the Fire, It Was Always Burning Since the World Is Turning.."

But, do we not have in ourselves to keep this fire from engulfing all of us? Especially when all it needs is standing by the latter when sentiments and principles clash?

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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