Thursday, March 20, 2008

Its not just war -Nandini Sundar

LIKE many other Indians, I turn to the ancient epics to try and understand a difficult situation. Faced with civil war inside the country — and after the scale of the Nayagarh incident and the government’s response, we can only call it that, rather than a mere ‘law and order problem’ — what better place to turn to than the debates around that immortal war, the Mahabharata? A war fought not just within a kingdom, but between members of the same family. How fortunate or perhaps unfortunate we are, in Irawati Karve’s words, that we can “read today a story called Jaya, which was sung three thousand years ago and discover (our)selves in it.”

The Gita is sometimes understood as an exegesis for a just war, but as a number of scholars and interpreters have argued, if there is anything the Mahabharata teaches us, it is the futility of war. The Pandavas attained a kingdom that had been totally devastated. As the philosopher Bimal Matilal pointed out in his Epics and Ethics, Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in the Gita is not to be taken as a justification for war, but an ad hoc resolution of a moral dilemma. Once Arjuna had gone this far, it would have been pointless for him to turn back. In other words, it is not in the moment of the encounter that the soldier or insurgent can afford to develop moral qualms about fighting. The time for thinking comes later — as in the regret that has driven some Naga reservists to suicide for their role in the savagery of Salwa Judum — or much before, when actions are being planned.

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