India is old, getting older. That is a geographical reality. Its sons and daughters are young, getting younger. This is a demographic fact. And so, many of those reading this column were not yet born when, on June 4, 1957, Martin Luther King spoke at the University of California, Berkeley, on what he called ‘The Power of Non-Violence’.
That subject, whether as a caption or theme, would put an Indian audience or readership to sleep. For too many have theorised on it, written on it with little or no impact on the multiple forms of violence within and around us. ‘Non violence’ has been turned into a cliché and ‘The Relevance of Gandhi’ beaten into a dhun, a chant. In King’s volcanic imagination ‘The Power of Non-Violence’ boomed.
It holstered the pistol awhile. Not because the then 28-year-old man had a voice that could be heard against the Niagara, but because he had a message that could turn the idea-equivalent of those Falls on their head, counter the gravity of conditioned thinking, reverse the voltages of hatred and vengeance into a torrent of contrary energy. That speech, a precursor of others, hurtled into the minds and hearts of a people who had heard nothing like it before. In sound or sense. “The end of violence.”
King said to his Berkeley listeners, “...is bitterness.” And as his listeners waited for a follow-on, he said “The aftermath of non-violence is reconciliation.” But as with his Indian pathfinder, and with one like Jayaprakash Narayan, King’s reconciliation was tough as nails. It did not come to adjustments, but achievements. The most potent part of that speech, of which today marks an anniversary, followed.
It bears reproduction in extenso: “Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word. It is the word ‘maladjusted’. Now we all should seek to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.”
“I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out in words that echo across the generation, ‘Let judgement run down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, ‘All men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.
God grant that we will be so maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and our civilisation. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man to the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.”
What should we maladjust to? At once so old and so young, so wise and so unwise, so far-sighted and so myopic, so caring and so callous, so well led and so well befooled, what should we, India’s citizens, maladjust to? We should maladjust, first, to the games of the market-place. Not to its laws, said to be immutable, but to its tricks. We should maladjust to its artifice, its deception, its cunning, its contrivance. To that in it which creates a hunger for the very thing it then pronounces scarce, christens dear. We should maladjust to the moving teeth that tear through our land, scooping its soils, lifting its ores, parching its tanks, tumbling its trees. We should maladjust, with the most visible and voluble asymmetry, to the soil-borer that disembowels our ores, without title, without restraint, without let, without hindrance.
We should maladjust to him who then tells the dazed woman her pond of fish, her patch of greens, her home and hearth stood on India’s future Lake District, India’s own Geneva. We should maladjust to him that tells the crazed man whose skills lie useless now, with his hoe, spade, plough and rake, that he was standing between India and India’s progress, between India and India’s coal, India’s steel, India’s swift roads to its great tourist hot-spots, its glory, its dream. We should maladjust to that scene-changer posing as a chapter-turner. We should maladjust, next, to the theatrics of the public square.
Not to the Spirit of Democracy, our lifeline, but to its coarsening. We should maladjust to the politics that promises at dawn and dissembles at dusk, the politics that betrays trust, sells and encashes it. We should maladjust to the politics that traces fault-lines on our ancient earth to sow fears amid its shards and hates along its crannies. We should maladjust to the politics of the cussed, the craven and the corrupt — equally. We should maladjust to the power of illicit money, illegal arms and political force majeure. We should maladjust with the violent, be they in thick hiding or thin disguise.
These monsters shrivel before maladjustment. We should maladjust, too, to the mountebank who poses as a messiah for faking is evil, be it in ‘dote’ or antidote. We should maladjust, above all, to those behemoths of development that abuse our physical environment, without realising that there are limits, sheer physical limits, beyond which our land and our rivers, our forests and our coasts cannot be pummeled without revolting.
We should maladjust to that dangerous unconcern, as our glaciers are melting away. Not to disappear but to re-visit us as the drought we did not avert, the flood we did not foresee, the forest fire we could not control. And flowing from that the hunger we could not appease, the thirst that would not be quenched and the blights that took our land so old and our people so young. There is in all these maladjustings the power of non-violence, its courage and its commonsense, without the sanctimony we have stuck on that phrase.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor.
The views expressed by the author are personal