Adventures in Aipotu: Episode 5, Part 1
The Battle of Hubcenter
As they drew closer, Damini found it to be a rather small settlement - of possibly forty hutments all of which were in a rather dilapidated state desperately needing repairs. The elephant slowed down as it entered the village. Reaching the center, it stopped, bent on its knee and allowed God to jump off. God then gave Damini a hand and she jumped off as well. There were about hundred men and women gathered all around them. They were waving and cheering God. A number of children peered from behind the aprons of their mothers or their fathers' cloaks. The atmosphere was gloomy and the dark fortress in the background was foreboding. However, the presence of this old man in his white cloak with his flowing hair and long beard seemed to have an uplifting effect. "Sardar", they called him, respectfully. He seemed familiar to them and they to him. The leader of the group - a big man with disheveled hair and a torn cloak - came up to him with folded hands, his head bowed respectfully. "Sardar", he said pointing towards the fortress, "we can hear their conches blowing. They are getting ready to rampage through our lands, killing those they find and ravaging our women unless we give in to their demands, vacate our fields and move away." God put his arm on the leader's shoulder and walked towards the center of the village where a tree stood around which a circular platform had been built. The tree itself had shed all its leaves as if trying to keep itself from contrasting with the stark ambience all around.
"Rana", God said to the leader, sitting down on the platform, "come sit next to me". Rana sat down on one side and Damini on the other. The entire group had now gathered in front of the tree, tense and waiting, as if a final decision was to be made now. With one hand on Damini's shoulder and the other clutching the staff, God asked Rana whether they had sent an envoy to speak with the lords of the fortress. "Yes, Sardar", Rana replied, "we did as you suggested. They put him in their dungeons and sent word that we should not try any other tricks. Every year they have come demanding that we pay them with our harvest. Else, they put us in prison and beat us. But enough is enough. We just cannot go on this way for the rest of our lives."
"Rana", one man said from the crowd, "we will have no lives to live if we try and fight them. We are mere farmers. Given our levels of poverty, we can hardly plow our fields. You expect this rag-tag bunch of farmers to fight the trained killers that will ride upon us? I suggest that we move to another place. Besides, there is something to be said of pacifism and non-violence"
"What is the point of that, Param?", an old man asked the last speaker. "We have moved every two or three years, and every time they find us and torture us even more. It is as if we have become their indentured laborers. We have lost all our self-respect. This is not the life I would recommend for our children. We cannot just roll over and let them oppress us. I am an old man, with little strength. Yet, I am willing to resist their oppression."
"I agree with you, baba", a young woman spoke from the crowd, addressing the old man. "We women are also willing to resist these maniacs. Every year we run. Run from being raped and tortured. This is not the way to live."
All eyes turned towards God, waiting for his wisdom to resolve things for them. "Sardar", Rana said quietly, "you have helped us during difficult times. You have told us how we should change our modes of cultivation, you have told us when it would rain and warned us of drought. You have cured the sick and brought strength to us. We look up to you now to advice us as to what we should do?"
God thought for a moment and said, "My friends, I have known you for years. I have come and lived with you during my travels. I know that any human cannot - should not - ever accept oppression, exploitation or injustice or walk away when he or she sees others oppressed. That is not pacifism. That is cowardice. Non-violence does not mean cowardice. It means active resistance without being violent. So I will definitely not suggest that you just accept the oppression you have been facing. You have to resist the oppression. The question, however, my friends is how you will resist. Will you resist violently or non-violently? That is the question you will have to decide for yourself. I will go on a walk now. And when I am back, you can tell me what you have decided. I will help you in implementing your decision."
"But, Sardar", the young woman who had spoken earlier exclaimed. "We need your help in making the decision. We have reached an impasse amongst ourselves and have not been able to decide. More importantly, we have to decide soon for the time draws near."
"Ah, young woman", God said smiling, "you would have someone else make your decisions, would you? Well, here is my friend. Her name is Damini. She will help you decide."
Everyone - including Damini - stared at him. Damini was about to say something but then remembered God's instructions. God stood up, clutched his staff and began to walk away. The crowd made way for him. Reaching the fringe of the crowd, he said, "Let not her young looks fool you for she is wise beyond her years. I trust her wisdom so have faith in me." With that the old man with the flowing hair and long hair walked away without looking back.
The crowd stared at the old man walking away and then turned their gaze at this girl. Damini was feeling very self-conscious of herself. How on earth could she lead this group of people, people who had borne the hardships of life, when she herself had led a sheltered life? Could she even come up with a solution? And why would they listen to her? Suddenly Rana stood up, banged his fist against his hand and exclaimed, "Sardar has gone mad. How can this young girl who knows nothing about us help?" Before he could finish, the young woman who had spoken earlier walked up to Damini, smiled at her, turned to the crowd and said, "Sardar has always helped us before. We have never known him to be wrong. Now, we must trust him. If he thinks this girl, Damini, can help us then she can." Then turning to Damini, she carried on, "My name is Ritu. I am Rana's daughter. There is not enough time to give proper introductions or to ask about you. But, Sardar has said that you can help so we will trust you."
Damini found her friendliness encouraging. Finding her voice, she said quietly, "The man you call Sardar has said that not resisting is not path that you, we, should take. I am in complete agreement with him. I do not know how weak you are but to passively allow oppression is to encourage oppression. It is not non-violence, nor is it pacifism. It is cowardice."
"Well, you might be right", the old man said. "But how do we go and fight them?" Ignoring Damini, Rana burst forth exclaiming "We will go and fight. We will use our hoes and our shovels if we need to but we will go and fight. They have oppressed us long enough. There is no turning back now."
The crowd turned its eyes at Damini. With a voice that was straining to stay calm she said, "In the long run, there is nothing to be achieved by a violent action. Even if you win, you will only lose. I understand him who you call Sardar. He will help you if you decide that violence is the way to go but I know he does not believe in it. This is an opportunity for you - for us - to understand and implement how best we can resolve a conflict without killing each other."
"What nonsense you speak, girl?" Rana thundered, glaring down at Damini. "You spew philosophy while we are afraid for our lives? Sardar has really gone mad."
Damini stood up to Rana and then turned to the crowd and said, "Let us say that we decide to violently fight those that come to do you harm, and you are victorious - as I know you will be - what happens then? You destroy the enemy, go and live in that dark fortress that looms over us. Suppose for a moment that a new conflict occurs between people now in this community? How do you then plan to resolve it?"
The old man spoke condescendingly to Damini. "Girl, you speak of our victory as if you know of it. Never mind that. However, we have neither time nor patience to argue with you. We are unwilling to sacrifice our lives for some philosophy you want to engender."
Damini replied, "I have not said that we fold and lay down our lives. We can resist in a non-violent fashion. It will take longer but remember that the advantages of violence though immense in the short term, are negated by the long term disadvantages." She remembered that Gandhi had said some phrase to this effect and she repeated it to sound authoritative. But the look in the crowd made her stomach sink. This crowd wanted to fight, wanted blood. Then she realized what God had told her - that non-violence couldn't be imposed on a community from outside. It has to reach that process by self-realization. She might have been able to guide it but she had failed. She had failed God and she was feeling very upset.
Ritu stepped in and said, "We do not have too much time. There are clouds rising in the horizon. The riders have left to plunder. I suggest we vote on our decision."
Damini looked towards the horizon. Dust clouds were rising. She could hear that the crowd had its adrenalin pumping and was voting to attack the riders. Suddenly the crowd parted and God walked in. "So you have decided, I see", he said. "What is your decision?"
Rana stepped up to him and said, "Sardar, we have decided that we will fight them, attack them with whatever weapons we have, even if we have to die."
"Hmmm", said God as if he had anticipated this decision. "I guess you did not listen to Damini. Well, I have promised to help you and so I will. Follow me. And do not worry about weapons." He went up to Damini and ruffled her hair affectionately.
A huge cheer went up from the crowd drowning that last statement. Everyone rushed into their houses and fields and within minutes hundreds of men and women were back with spears, knives, and daggers, of various sizes and shapes. God looked at these people with their weapons and smiled. He knew that the other group had vastly superior weapons and that they would not be able to fight their enemy with these, and yet, with the adrenaline pumping, there was little willingness to think. But he had promised to help them.
He walked up to the tusker who was still sitting and patted the elephant. He propped Damini on its back and then pulled himself up as well. The tusker rose over the crowd and began to move towards the cloud of dust that seemed much nearer now. The crowd with their homemade weapons followed the tusker.