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Sunday, December 07, 2008

Violence - an old response, mine

On 10 June 2007 I received a forward with the subject line "these are the worlds most wicked people - Have No Words To Describe".

The email had seven photographs of a six or seven year old-looking boy being punished, perhaps for 'stealing', by making a jeep run over his hands. The images were brutal. But the fact that the script on the pictures which was in Arabic and photos indicated that there was an obvious reference made to Islam. This made me to look at other details in the forward. The forward showed that the mail had originated on 21 July 2006 , almost a year before, and had been forwarded to 213 people before it reached me. The mail created a series of thoughts in me and I decided to give a response and emailed the response to all the 213 email addresses on the very day I received the email. There was only one reply with two words "Thank You"

The recent violence in Mumbai and the subsequent demand for retaliation reminded me of the email and the response I had written and thought I must reproduce it here.

It has been a little difficult to make this post here, because, for the last three years that I have been experimenting with blogs in education, I have kept this blog strictly for 'academic' purposes and have tried to refrain from my 'personal views on contemporary issues' creeping in here. Hence, it is with a lot of hesitation, that I am making this post.

If you are a person who completely supports violence in the name of nation, religion, better society, better future, 'enough is enough rhetoric', then in your own interest and that of mine you may avoid reading further.

Following is the response I emailed on 10 June 2007 to the 213 emails I had found in the forward.

HI all
I received this following email forward asking me/us to condemn 'violence in the name of religion'. If we are to condemn only Islam and Islamic countries for it, I think we are victimizing Islam, thereby perpetuating our own hidden agenda of becoming self-proclaimed promoters of our religion at the cost of other religions.

We also need to condemn violence in the name of religion that happens in the case of Bush who attacked Iraq in the name of God (by which he obviously meant a Christian god) and by extension all self-declared American wars, and victimization of Islamic counties by the US. Closer home we need to condemn violence that happened in south canara in the name of cow protection/slaughter, Vadodara incident where Hindutva forces ransacked university campus, even when there are constitutional provisions to address ones grievances.

Instead of condemning violence in other religions it is important that we condemn violence carried by the religious and community leaders of our own religions and communities- Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Jains. If we do not condemn violence by our own religions, then, let us accept that we too are communal deep within us.

Violence has different expressions. When it happens in the name of religion we call it religious-sponsored or communal. But what about domestic violence against women and children, what about the violence in the name of dresscode, better grades, Indian culture, linguistic identity, beyond-the-reach-of the-poor education that we see in our institutions and society, displacement in the name of industrialization, dams, IT that we keep tolerating? Shall we also condemn that?

Violence in any form, in all places, and in all times should be condemned- most importantly in our immediate places- house, schools and colleges, neighborhood, city in our own little ways.

As we become conscious of physical violence we also need to become aware of psychological violence. While it is easy to represent physical violence through photographs like the ones sent to me, it is extremely difficult to represent as well as understand invisible violence in the form of psychological violence. The immediate examples that come to my mind are one of parent imposed violence on children and the other management-teacher-imposed violence in schools, through assignments, exams, nicknames, passing remarks which create wounds that are difficult to heal.

The psychological violence we inflict on other communities, people by stereotyping or calling names is also a issue to be worried about. By visual violence i refer to the huge banners, buntings that 'decorate' all our public places put up by political parties, religious groups in the name of morhcas, conferences, rallies. They also need to be paid attention to and condemned.

May I now request you to spread this nuanced understanding of violence with the same enthusiasm with which you forward some unknown landscapes of the US or Canada or the morphed faces of our cricket players post-world cup?

Anil Pinto


ani said...

hello sir, anisha here. from aloysius. samvartha sent me the link to this post. thank you for posting it in spite of your hesitations. im glad to have read the words of a teacher speaking out.
thank you

you may have read this article by sadanand menon. i came across it in a magazine called better photography, but here s the link to it on

kavya sharma said...

This is not a practical solution to physical violence but I found it to be rather interesting:

"I believe in compulsory cannibalism,
if everyone was forced to eat what they killed ,
there would be no more wars"
Abbie Hoffmann

Anil Pinto said...

I like it, Kavya

Anil Pinto said...

Thanks, Ani, for the response and the link.

thomas said...

hello mr.pinto
I'm thomas kachappilli thomas from 2nd JPEng. I find it extremely difficult to remember something even after thorough reading, even though the subject matter may be small. Which is why i'm finding it quite impossible to study. I lose track of whatever i read and i feel there is alot in your blog that i cannot understand. Had this test been given a week in advance, i would have come well prepared for it. Since the test is a CIA, which means the marks are taken into consideration, i'm not quite sure of what i'm going to do for it. I'm very sorry for this message. May you have a good day.

Anil Pinto said...

thanks for your frank feedback. Will see what I can do.

Ali Rizvi said...

You know, sir, i was reading Che Guevara the other day and this idea struck me. Most of us feel nice about not having to live through a third 'World War.' But has the absence of war resulted in any real peace? There has been no world war because no other country has stood up against US aggression. people have condemned Bush, said all kinds of things about him, but no one came to the aid of Iraq or Afghanistan. Is this peace, or cowardly silence; silence of the terribly oppressed.

The other day someone asked me to denounce 'terrorism' as a 'liberal Muslim' on the website I posted this there:

"Well, I have many things to say to everyone who has posted comments here on this website. I assume it has been created in the wake of the attack on Mumbai. I am a Muslim and I believe that the killing of innocent people cannot be justified in any way whatsoever.

At the same time, I think it is easy for someone sitting in Paris or Seattle to distance himself from someone who is from the same community but has committed a terror act. It is not only convenient, it also helps one win the favour of those communities who are powerful and might initiate a backlash. I condemn the attack on Mumbai, but for me, much more condemnable is what the USA has done to Afghanistan and Iraq. I am left speechless when i see one of the posts explaining - "Muslims are humans.." (Is there any question about that?)I fail to understand why the people here are not outraged when hundreds of Muslims and Christians are massacred in Gujrat and Orissa by the Hindu right wing. When the big US agricultural conglomerates terrorise the small and marginal farmers in poor nations (while terming it 'free competition'), driving them to suicide, no one seems to have a problem. Most of you, sitting in your comfortable drawing rooms, have no idea what the Indian Army has done in states like Chhatisgarh, Kashmir and Assam, armed with draconian liberties like the Armed forces Special Powers Act.

I do not support terrorism, but I feel sad when the world media makes 'terrorism' an exclusively Muslim domain. When Muslims kill, it is terrorism; when other religions, institutions, and nations kill, even more ruthlessly, it is 'defense' or f'kin 'war on terror.' Why do we see terrorism as an isolated entity which has suddenly emerged, and has no past or future? It is simple to trivialise terrorists by calling them 'brainwashed' idiots, but must we not see why a person believes in something so strongly that he enters a building from which he knows he can never come out alive? We must deal with terrorism at the roots. Respect political, religious and social minorities and include them in the mainstream decision-making process. Unite against the ever-increasing economic inequalities in the world.

I am a Muslim, but I neither fast, nor pray or wish to go for Haj. For me, a true Muslim seeks the truth and does not side with injustice. I do not stand with terrorists, I stand with all the oppressed peoples of the world."

Anil Pinto said...

Ali, I agree with your views completely.

Alan said...

not sure if I'm too late to comment on this.. but anyway here's a couple of questions..
1) Why exactly does violence have a negative connotation?

since the post dealt with Religion and violence... 2(a)why do people say that "it is 'bad' or 'wrong' to do such and such in the name of religion"?

coz when you think about it... our ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, come from religious codes of conduct.
especially if u dont believe in God, ie you subscribe to the evolution theory... the theory also doesnt account for a moral center evolving between the monkey and human stage... (mostly coz a 'soul' cannot be scientifically tested) it assumes religions have conditioned us into concepts such as 'guilt' and 'sin'.

2(b)so can we even say something is 'wrong' with religion, without discussing the characteristics of a divine God (and thereby discarding atheism)? coz its like saying the legislative assembly's doing something illegal...

Agent M said...

Dear sir,
Wonderful piece! I do not know if I have read it in the essence with which you wrote it. I understand it in a way to which I correspond to. I believe you are asking for the move against violence to start at an individual level, which is often the most difficult.

Easy for most of us to sit in our comfortable homes and say violence is not the answer. But when it comes to simple everyday things, do we follow it? I saw a mob attacking a thief today. I do not go with what the thief was trying to do, but I do not agree with what the mob did either. And it is these same people in the mob, people like you and me, who have coffee table discussions about how violence is not the answer.

I believe that it really needs to start from an individual level. Starting from the smallest things we do, and say.

Thanks for posting this sir. And kudos for finally departing from the truly academic blogger you were. Teachers are also humans. They're allowed to take stands :) So please continue to post more of these!

Best of regards,

Anil Pinto said...

Thank you Mohan.