Do History Books Overplay Ahimsa?

The fight for Indian independence required several different modes to attain the desired results. These modes include a wide spectrum of strategies employed to achieve the change that included non-violent methods like those of ahimsa as well as violent extremism that required bloodshed in the battlefields. In status quo, the idea of ahimsa is being continuously overplayed in our history textbooks to such an extent that most Indians have begun crafting their identities as something that is intertwined with that of ahimsa.

While there is nothing wrong in Indians identifying with ideas of ahimsa, it becomes problematic when ahimsa in the context of the Indian independence struggle eclipses the efforts contributed by other extremist freedom fighters and portrays it merely as a struggle while in reality it was a war that required its share of brutality, extremism, bloodshed and sacrifice, not just diplomacy and ahimsa. When history textbooks start painting a monochromatic dimension to the incidents that occurred it is not acceptable because history books are the first point of contact of any individual in context to information regarding past events and should contain culmination and amalgamation of contributions by each and every freedom fighter.

While asserting the need to downplay ahimsa, we must remember that it definitely does not imply eradication of the efforts of Gandhi or the impact it created, but simply that history textbooks need to provide an unbiased and neutral narration that provides equal weightage to every form of struggle. When Gandhiji single-handedly becomes the face of Indian Independence, it is an insult to the several others who put in just as much efforts as him. Further, this also places an implicit judgement that suggests that other mechanisms were not as historically significant as ahimsa and trivialises the extremist strategies. When Mangal Pandey initiated the Revolt of 1857 by refusing to bite the cartridges provided, it was just as significant in the Indian history as the Dandi march in 1930.

What is often ignored by most of us is that ahimsa might not be the main reason why India gained independence, as is propagated by the narratives within curriculum history textbooks. Technically, the factors that led to immediate withdrawal of the British from India were the Indian National Army’s Rebellion from the British Indian army, mutinies in British Indian Navy, coercion from the Allied powers after the Second World War and global decolonisation to some extent. While a few other theories suggest that ahimsa actually prolonged the British rule in India for as long as 2 years and hence let the Britishers culturally appropriate the Indian culture, that is a very assertive take on the whole issue and not many evidences exist to back up the assertion.

However, it cannot be denied that history books have always had different reasons for emphasizing on ahimsa as the flagbearer of the struggle to gain independence. Some argue that being historically inaccurate with the greater aim of causing societal good is a better trade-off than being historically correct and setting examples of violence and extremism as examples for the citizens to follow. While ahimsa was a philosophy that was in a serendipitous manner coined by Gandhi, what it achieved enabled the masses to participate and contribute in the movements because it was not possible for everyone to take up arms.

When equal reverence is not provided to extremist leaders like Bhagat Singh, Chndrasekhar Azad, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, as that of leaders who preached ahimsa and satyagraha, it is injustice to the martyrs who gave up their lives fighting for independence of their motherlands. The Indian freedom struggle was wholesome and unique because the leaders with contradicting views had mutual respect for each other. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose drew inspiration from Gandhiji and Bhagat Singh respected views of Gandhiji as much as he valued his own. This evidently demonstrates the dynamics that were at play between various freedom fighters- contrasting views were present in a state of mutual coexistence. However, if now history textbooks fail to provide a complete picture of all the incidents and events that took place in the defined timelines, it is massive disrespect to the spirit with which the war of Indian independence was fought.

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