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While on a visit to New Delhi, India, Metta Center founder and Nonviolence Radio co-host Michael Nagler met up with Gandhian activist Rajiv Vora and PhD student Niyati Bhat to discuss the principles and trials of nonviolence in Kashmir.
In the full interview, which you can listen to above, Rajiv describes some of the hard-won lessons in nonviolence he has learned while working in a high-intensity conflict zone. Meanwhile, Niyati discusses her family’s experience leaving Kashmir due to violence and how she became interested in nonviolence.
What follows is a short excerpt of Michael’s introduction, along with Rajiv’s explanation of why compassion, fearlessness and simplicity in the face of threatening situations are much needed skills.
Michael: I’ve known Rajiv for some time. He is an elder activist and writer who was a Gandhian.
He did then get interested in the Kashmir conflict. Now, Kashmir erupted into a shooting war shortly after partition. Actually, while Gandhi was still alive. Gandhi commented their cause was just and they could have easily succeeded through nonviolence.
But what I didn’t know about Kashmir is that it’s an ancient pluralistic culture with Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists – have been there for times immemorial, living together. Extremely artistic and extremely intellectual. In fact, the Hindu community in Kashmir today are called Pandits – which means, “Teacher.”
And Niyati Bhat, a much younger person. She’s a PhD student at Jawaharlal Nehru University, and she’s been in touch with us back and forth at Metta. And she is one of those people who, being a Pandit family, they had to flee Kashmir during one of the conflicts. Kashmir is now, of course, divided into an area of Indian control and an area of Pakistani control. And it’s led to three major wars between India and Pakistan.
And things are heating up again because Prime Minister Modi in India suddenly, apparently with no warning, revoked the autonomous status of Indian controlled Kashmir. So, it’s produced a lot of tension. And the area is sealed off. And Rajiv, who has worked there for many years is not able to go there. Now what Rajiv has been doing is absolutely fascinating.
He contacts young activists of one group or another and it’s a very complicated mixture. And one group or another who are extremely – or what they call Azadis– they want freedom. And they are getting ready to pick up the gun and ready to go into terrorism. He contacts them and he shares with them Gandhi’s first little book called, “Hind Swaraj,” or, “Indian Home Rule.” Extremely powerful little book, written in a dialog style.
And it’s kind of before Gandhi got known, if you know what I mean. He was very hard-hitting. He called Western civilization, “Satanic,” and things like that. And it speaks to these young men and they take to it. And in many, many cases have been dissuaded from armed conflict.
Now, unfortunately in the interview, Rajiv told me he would not really be able to talk a whole lot about what he’s doing in Kashmir because it’s so extremely sensitive. And he deals with top level diplomats and politicians as well as grassroots people on the ground, in Srinagar and surrounding areas. So, unfortunately, we won’t be hearing a whole lot about what he does in Kashmir, per se, but it is fascinating what he does.
And Niyati had to leave as such a young person, but has very interesting insights to share with us.
Michael: The significance [of this] is how people say that nonviolence is okay in a situation where, you know, in a very weak violent situation, but it couldn’t prevail against extreme violence. And what we’re hearing now is how you carried the message of Gandhi into the most – one of the most extremely inflammable and violent situations.
Rajiv: Well, what I have experienced, Michael-da, in this area, because every person, particularly the exploited, they want to know why I am what I am, and why you are what you are, with all your high lifestyle, this, that and they’re, “Why is my condition is such?” Maoists leaders go to them and tell them. The Marxist, the Maoist theory of exploitation and liberation. So, they walk behind them. We don’t go up to them. So, their questions remain unanswered. I’ve been to them and I went the first time and toured this area in a very rickety car with some people. The first village, they stopped our car and asked me, “Where are you going?” I said, “I’m going to this side, in this village.” He said, “You will become dead. You want to come back in two pieces?”
I said, “Let me see what happens.” So, it was a very dangerous area. Yeah. So, they have these questions. One, they look at your character. Compassion — and compassion means real complete open heart. Not that you don’t fear them, but you don’t make them also fear you, right? And when they say that your character is completely clean, you are nobody’s agent. Neither of the government nor of any funding agencies.
Transcription provided by Matthew Watrous. (Please contact us at Metta if you’d like transcription help and we’ll put you in touch)