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Ethnic diversity

Similarly, Gandhi was convinced that contact between different cultures can be healthy and mutually beneficial. In essence, this is what got Gandhi killed. Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin, wanted free India to be a modern European style nation state based on a singular categorisation of the entire subcontinent as a Hindu nation. Gandhi’s insistence on honouring, even celebrating the spiritual and ethnic diversity, as well as intensive interrelations, was anathema.

It is true that since the late 1980s, polarisation between Hindus and Muslims has increased. But attempts to strengthen our shared co-shared heritage have also continued.

All this is well and good but how does it help us to grapple with the harsh realities of the world we live in?

One, such endeavours necessarily view peace not as the absence of violence but as universal well-being and mutual creativity. The latter might be severely undermined even in situations where there is no visible violence. Two, when you expand space for recognising and appreciating overlapping identities and affiliations there is greater chance of finding some common ground. This can then, potentially, become the basis for addressing points of conflict and disagreement. Three, it is important to creatively oppose all forms of retributive vengeance. This opens up space to examine the limitations, even dangers, of an approach to human rights which is based on a firm division between victims and perpetrators.

Though practice on the ground might not always bear this out, societies across the world do in principle acknowledge the futility of an ‘eye for eye’ model of justice. But what about situations where one set of people have been brutally oppressed and abused by the dominant group?

An answer to this question was offered by the post-apartheid regime in South Africa. Instead of opting for a Nuremberg-style court of justice the South African leadership instituted a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This decision was challenged by some, for it seemed to short-circuit serious justice. But two decades later the TRC is acknowledged as one of the key steps by which post-apartheid South Africa avoided a protracted civil war. Certainly the TRC approach is complex. Both in South Africa and in Ireland, where it was also applied, it has helped to heal and not just wiped out the wounds of deep injustices. But, it did open spaces to both acknowledge wrongs and move on to a future in which the injustices can be corrected.

This is what drew Gandhi to Christ’s call – ‘Love thy enemy’. For injustice can never be undone by fostering hatred towards the oppressor.

Similarly, shifting the focus to the core civilisational questions of purpose and meaning and moral wholeness might seem difficult today. The assumption that a clash of civilizations and cultures is inevitable and more natural is still very much in the air. But so is the awareness that to be locked into this assumption is somehow to diminish human potential. A surrender to such real-politik is a failure of spirit that makes revolt even more powerfully inevitable.

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