What Is Nonviolence? A Dialogue with Ramchandra Gandhi, Saadat Hasan Manto, and Mahasweta Devi

In: Culture and Dialogue
Daniel Raveh Department of Philosophy, Tel Aviv University Tel Aviv Israel

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This paper is an attempt to make sense of the notion and ideal of nonviolence in these ultra-violent days. The paper is a dialogue with three “specialists” of violence, who nevertheless aspire to a different, brighter horizon: Ramchandra Gandhi (henceforth R. Gandhi), Saadat Hasan Manto and Mahasweta Devi. R. Gandhi is one of the most intriguing voices of twentieth-century Indian philosophy. Manto and Mahasweta are writers, the former known for his short partition stories in Urdu; the latter for her gut-wrenching literature in Bengali. All three dare to look violence in the eye, implying that nonviolence can only emerge from deep reflection on violence as an inherent human tendency. Violence is part of me as much as of anyone else. R. Gandhi argues that partition, the cradle of violence, is in the eye, and suggests that we can train the human gaze, our gaze, to prioritize the common denominator between you and I, which hides under the obvious differences between us. For Manto, the remedy is to be found in language. He implies that an ethical dimension is concealed within language, waiting to be excavated. Mahasweta gives voice to those unheard. Acknowledging the unacknowledged, she and Manto show us, is an act of nonviolence.

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