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Fictional Violence = Real Life Crime. Really?

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Fictional Violence = Real Life Crime. Mark Beech argues against the case for unnecessary media censorship which spoils the enjoyment of millions, in response to the actions of a very few crazed criminals who may not be influenced by violent films anyway. Nikolas Jacob Cruz was a bright but disturbed boy. Violence has been ratcheting up on all sides during white supremacist rallies in recent months — but 'antifa' is not planning the rallies, and statistically poses a lesser danger.

Mark Beech argues against the case for unnecessary media censorship which spoils the enjoyment of millions, in response to the actions of a very few crazed criminals who may not be influenced by violent films anyway.

Courts Offered Women Few Protections In Cases Of Rape(Bloomington, Illinois Newspaper)

Nikolas Jacob Cruz was a bright but disturbed boy. That was according to his teachers and just about everyone who knew him. He won awards for academic achievement. He was also naturally aggressive and impossible to control, making it necessary for him to switch school six times. Nikolas was a member of the college air rifle team until he was expelled for making threats to hurt or maim or kill other kids. Still, a psychological report concluded that he was a harmless fantasist. The U.S. authorities were also warned when in a YouTube post, he suggested plans to mimic the 1996 University of Texas tower attack in which some 16 people died. (They failed to find him although the post was clearly signed.) He had no especial record or interest in horror or manga films. At 19, he was unhappily working in his local dollar store in Florida and his adoptive mother died.

On February 14 this year Cruz carried out his threats, returning to his school and killing 17 people, mainly students, with a semi-automatic rifle he had bought legally a year before. Another 17 were injured.

**

The Stoneman Douglas High School massacre provoked shock and outrage across America. This case was one of the worst of its kind, following not just the University of Texas onslaught but dozens more. In 2017, the Sutherland Springs church shooting killed 26 and injured 20 others. Shortly before, a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, killing 59 and injuring 851 others.

All these strikes provoked a similar reaction: calls for greater controls on guns, especially semi-automatic ones – with the National Rifle Association strongly contesting any moves to curtail the right to bear arms at any age. All these horrors too provoked calls for better surveillance of disturbed people who might be targeting others. Plus there has been a constant undercurrent of asking how much the perpetrators are influenced by the media. Were they copying real incidents being reported; or fictional slaughters portrayed in films, TV, Internet, books, comics and more. There are those critics who argue that excessive bloodshed should be kept out of art in case it is replicated in real life.

There is general agreement that we should learn from these incidents. But how?

**

After these deeply tragic incidents the present writer has been called upon a few times to take part in broadcast discussions that discuss violence and films. I hope I am an expert on popular media but not brutality per se. Most recently, U.S. lawyer Charles Glasser was in touch with me seeking a quote that he included in his weekly OpEd for The Daily Caller on media issues.

(To be clear, this was not a question about gun crime. There is an undoubted case that many of these episodes could only have occurred with guns being available. However, as we shall see, I am a libertarian who would like freedoms curtailed as little as possible.)

Glasser’s question was effectively: is there is a provable correlation between violent media and real-life crime. And if so, what is the right response?

The links are being constantly assessed and are different from case to case, criminologists and physiologists tell us. There are whole PhDs being written about the subject, at least two at my alma-mater Oxford.

Clearly there are some connections in certain cases. Still, the perpetrators of these terrible crimes are usually judged not to be of sound mind: some have deliberately re-enacted scenes in movies such as Natural Born Killers. Others have claimed inspiration in “confessions” which may be legally advised as part of plea-bargaining. Because some of these cases are still continuing (not related to any mentioned so far), it is enough to say that if the accused can show diminished responsibility or unwarranted influence from an external source, it can result in a reduced sentence if this is confirmed by psychological tests.

It is worth keeping in mind that not all cases claiming evil influence from horror films are sustained. There was a famous controversy in the U.K. over the killing of toddler Jamie Bulger, who was tortured and covered in paint like a character in Child’s Play 3. Tabloid reports noted that one of the accused’s fathers had rented the video of the film. This sparked calls for new legislation on film classifications and labelling. However it later emerged that the killer, Jon Venables, was very unlikely to have seen the movie. He was not even living with his father when the tape was rented.

Frankly, most adult viewers have a modicum of intelligence. Those of sound mind can distinguish between real life and the fictional glorification of bloodshed. For a long time, rap music has also been criticized for its macho lyrics, with boasting, bling, bitches and guns part of the formula. While these tracks are surely not inculcating the best of attitudes, there is mixed evidence on if they really inspire criminality among a tiny few of limited intelligence or sanity. Again, artistic freedom should be used responsibly but not restricted.

News organizations I know of, or have worked for, receive periodic requests not to give blanket coverage to gunfire cases – whether at stadia, schools or churches – in case this provokes copycat incidents. This self-censorship request is often given scant attention. The media reports everything from terror atrocities to the works of crazed individuals because they remain news. Great care is taken not to reveal methods that might lead to people carrying out further murders. Rather it is to show how horrific the consequences are and how they should be deplored.

On the other hand, film makers are growing increasingly sensitive to the perception of public opinion and political correctness after #METOO and more. Amid pressure, Hollywood supported the March for Our Lives campaign that started after the Stoneman Douglas murders. The pressure came too late for the movie Black Panther, which has some 150 shootings.

There is a well-noted trend for pictures to glorify or celebrate gun assaults: Scarface, The Godfather, Goodfellas, Pulp Fiction and Terminator, to name just five, have huge body counts. Rambo has 247 deaths and Saving Private Ryan 255, according to the Screen Rant site. This (non-violent) critic will accept those figures as accurate. I haven’t the time or inclination to count. I would be sorry if we enter a zeitgeist where these exceptional films could not be made. Conflict raises the stakes and drama. Of course the “goodies” usually are excellent shots, who cleanly dispense of the “baddies” in seconds. However it is clear that pressure is growing for even this to stop. One London-based film-investment company I know has put a project about gang warfare on ice because of the changing climate over incidents of knife-crime in the British capital. One possibility it is considering is whether savagery can be shown realistically and without glorification? It can be done. After his Spaghetti Western and Dirty Harry days, Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven is a great example of an anti-western.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is another movie (based on Lionel Shriver’s novel) which also tells the graphic story of mass slaying in a school. Far from celebrating violence, it shows how disgusting, bloody and sickening it is. (It also has a twist with the murders being done by a bow and arrow – not as easy as firing with a gun).

Clearly there are statutory restrictions on film. These have been around for decades. In 1915, the Supreme Court said movies should not be protected by the first amendment, because films were made for profit, ergo were not art. That logic didn’t follow – there is plenty of art that generates profit – but the principle still holds in part. Films will be refused public release if they breach certain rules, for example if they are deemed to be promoting criminality or upset common decency in any way. This has been tested endlessly, and arguably works extremely well. Directors like to push boundaries but in general the more extreme scenes are trimmed in sensible compromises. Anything egregious is stopped before it ever gets to be seen by the wider public.

Obviously here we are talking about the stakes raised to maximum: destructiveness which can result in death. Arguably the media does far more damage by portraying actions which encourage unacceptable patterns in normal life, such as bullying, verbal abuse or petty criminality.

Even if the influence of art on ordinary people is small, one can predict a lot fewer cases of gratuitous fury in movies going forward.

Before discussing this on the BBC a year ago, I was sent a huge raft of academic articles on the subject: from the likes of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Experimental Psychology and Criminology Studies.

They clearly bear out the conclusion. Yes, people can be influenced by the media, but the ties can be subliminal or minimal. Yes, it’s probably a good idea to consider the impact of displaying bad behaviour of any sort in a film – whether it is James Bond being sexist or a Tarantino character who enjoys turning a crowd into strawberry jam with a machine gun. Yes, let’s realise, as many prison psychiatrists have, that extreme political literature, especially that encouraging hatred of any national, religious or ethnic group, can be far more damaging and likely to provoke aggression. No, let’s not restrict freedoms without good reason. It’s all very well saying that if we make bland, peaceful art with no deaths or murders the world will be a safer place, but there is little evidence of that. In the scope of this short article I can’t include all the weights of evidence on both sides, suffice to note that is the case.

I’m making no comment on freedom of gun ownership, but if we start restricting speech for big-brother reasons we are losing our most important freedom.

**

I saw a film today, oh boy… it was a re-run of Scarface. I love it as a movie, partly I confess because it is so visceral and brutal. The anti-hero, Tony Montana, makes a lot of money and is a ruthlessly successful businessman. He is also a monster of a man, a coke-addled killer who sprays people with bullets. I didn’t come out of it thinking “I want to be like that guy,” quite the opposite. I am sure most people would agree. If we stopped all nastiness in performing art, we’d best get rid of all of Shakespeare tragedies with the bodies piled on the stage at the end of Act Five. Let’s stop blaming art for these atrocities. The blame surely lies elsewhere.

Mark Beech is Editor of DANTE. The views are his own.

This is a different version of a longer piece that appears in the current Summer issue of DANTE magazine. Our quarterly publication can be found in newsagents such as W.H. Smith in the U.k> as well as independent newsagents. We are £5.95 or please click on the PayPal link on our homepage to subscribe for £30 post free.

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The charred remains of buses in Ahmedabad.

Nothing prepared the Indian state of Gujarat for the scale and extent of the Patedar agitation which spread like wildfire in two short months in July and August 2015. It was a surprise even to seasoned Patel leaders to witness the speed by which the agitation demanding caste based reservations for Patels in education and employment spread. It struck a chord that spilled millions into the streets and turned them into rioters and arsonists.

Last week, my father-in-law Laljibhai Dhanani, a local Congress Leader, who has now renounced all political connections to fight on behalf of ‘my community’ called me up from the Patel rally in Surat.

“Haven’t you yet turned on the TV to watch the news yet?” he admonished me. “There are a million Patels agitating on the streets today. Surat has never seen such a large gathering in its entire existence. And you haven’t even turned on your TV to see it yet, have you?”

A week later, I saw eight coaches parked outside my restaurant named Vrajvasi, in the Patel dominated Mota Varachha area of Surat. Hundreds of youth were assembled amidst crates of water and parcels of food, waiting to board the coaches.

“They are all going to the mega-rally in Ahmedabad organized by Hardik Patel,” said the clothes shop owner next door. “Tomorrow, we will see a rally in Ahmedabad that will be even bigger than what we had in Surat. More than 500 coaches and 2000 cars are going form Surat to attend the rally. And what is more, no one pays any money to get there. The coach ride is free, and the water and food are free too.”

The next day, I rang my father-in-law to find out more about the situation in Ahmedabad.

“I am half way to Ahmedabad,” he admitted. “My community is in trouble, and I am needed there.”

The mega- rally in Ahmedabad was a mega success. Almost two million (20 lakh agitators) were reported to have turned up. They chanted slogans, evoked the name of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, their iconic leader who had been awarded the title of ‘Ironman of India’ during India’s freedom struggle in the 1940s, listened to their new charismatic leader Hardik Patel, and responded to his call for action.

“If the Gujarat government does not listen to the demands of the Patel community, the lotus will not bloom here in 2017,” Hardik Patel thundered, referring to the election symbol of the ruling BJP, the lotus.

The mood outside my restaurant in Surat was belligerent. The Patels who dominate every household and every street outside my restaurant were out on the streets in large numbers, huddled together in groups. Many were glued to their Television sets, watching every move by Hardik Patel.

When the rally in Ahmedabad did not end at the scheduled time of 5.00 pm, officials swung into action. Hardik Patel inflamed matters by announcing an indefinite hunger strike. The Police swooped down and arrested him. The mob turned hysterical. The Police charged them with batons and sticks. The mobs went ballistic. They spilled out into the streets of Ahmedabad and started damaging Government property and setting fire to parked vehicles.

I called my father-in-law to check if he was safe. Fortunately, he had left the rally at 1.00 pm and was already back in Surat.

At 8.00 pm, I had a smattering of customers in my restaurant, much less than what we normally expect on a weekday. A family of eight was having a meal peacefully at a corner table, and several customers were eating in our outdoor area.

At 9.00 pm, a local friend came to me breathlessly and announced, “There are hundreds of people assembled at Lajamani Chowk. I think they are going to start something. You’d better shut the restaurant down or they may burn it.”

There are two main intersections near my restaurant that were busy most of the time. One is Lajamani Chowk, which is hardly 20 metres away, and the other is Sudama Chowk which is a kilometer away.

I walked briskly to Lajamani Chowk and saw hundreds of people assembled there. They had iron rods and sticks in their hands, and were shouting “Jay Sardar” and “Jay Patidar” at no one in particular. A restaurant at the Chowk had downed its shutters. All the other shops were being closed in a hurry too. I noticed several youth carrying cans of petrol with a purposeful gleam in their eyes.

I quickly instructed the manager and the captains at the restaurant, “Please ask all customers to leave immediately. Don’t ask for their bills. You can pack away any food they have not eaten and give them a takeaway packet. Down all the shutters and lock them from outside. The only entry in and out of the restaurant should be from the service entrance on the first floor. I want all lights visible outside switched off. Take everything in our outside dining area and store them inside, including chairs, tables, counters, signboards, potted plants, and anything that can be broken. Ask all the staff to change out of their uniforms and wait outside quietly.”

I also called up relatives and friends from the Patel community and asked them to stand vigil outside the restaurant.

“Since I am not a Patel myself, they may target my restaurant first,” I told a relative.

“Of course not, you are the damad (son-in-law) of a Patel. You are as good as a Patel. They won’t touch you,” he responded.

Ten minutes later, more than 2000 people had assembled at Lajamani Chowk. Hundred of bikes and cars were speeding everywhere hooting loudly. Half an hour later, I saw a few masked men with iron rods smashing all the security cameras in the Chowk in an organized manner. After this was done, it was like a spark had been thrown into a pile of dynamite. The violence that erupted threw me off balance.

Young men started breaking glass, smashing street lights, and setting fire to rubbish bins. Small wayside stalls serving food and tea were vandalized and set on fire.

A friend of mine, Padu, spotted me standing at the Chowk and invited me to ride behind him on his bike.

“Let’s go around and see what is happening around here,” he said.

We went to Sudama Chowk. Hundreds of men were assembled outside the gate of every apartment block whispering and pointing. The atmosphere was charged and electric. Almost every person scuttling around on a bike had an iron rod in his hand.

On the way we saw a huge mob outside the fire station. They had set fire to the fire engine standing inside and had dragged hundreds of metres of hose pipes on to the streets.

Fifty metres away, I saw dense smoke rising from a huge fire. At least two thousand people stood around it chanting the new slogan, “Jay Sardar, Jay Patidar.”

“They took the boat that the fire station uses to rescue people drowning in the river Tapi and have set it on fire,” explained Padu.

I saw several young people smashing the windows of a community hall owned by the Surat Municipal Corporation. They had apparently disrupted an Art of Living meditation class and bullied several ladies inside to step outside.

As we made our way back to my restaurant, I heard a huge cracking sound and a large roar. I looked around and saw scores of men outside the office of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. They had taken down a huge billboard of the party and were trampling on it with a sense of glee.

“Are we going to keep the restaurant open tomorrow?” asked my manager.

“Probably not,” I responded. “Hardik Patel has called for a full-scale bandh (shut down of all essential services) tomorrow and we cannot keep the restaurant open during a statewide strike. The Patel mobs will burn down any shop that is open.”

A few of my relatives dropped by to enquire if I was safe.

“You’d better not drive home. There are mobs turning violent everywhere,” they advised me.

Since I have a private room close to the restaurant in our staff quarters, I decided to stay back rather than drive. Padu asked my driver to park my car in front of his house which was inside a gated community just to be sure ‘no hooligan came and burnt it just for fun’.

The next day, I woke up at 6.30 and came out at 7.00 am to see if I could buy some milk for my breakfast. Not a single shop was open. Several people were already out on the streets walking amidst piles of ash and cinders in every street corner.

“Jeeju,” called a voice. I looked around and spotted a relative. He was a cousin of my wife, and hence called me ‘Jeeju’ a respectful term for a brother-in-law.

“I am trying to get some milk, but no shops are open,” I moaned. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and I need some milk.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find you some,” he said confidently and took me around on the back of his bike to a dairy farm two streets away. There were hundreds of cows and buffalos standing in neat rows right there in the middle of the city.

“I buy my milk here every day,” he announced.

Unfortunately, they did not have single ounce of milk for me. Back at the restaurant, I found a packet of milk from the previous day in our cold storage and managed to have a hearty breakfast, after all.

By 10.00 am, the streets were busy once again. Lajamani Chowk had turned violent as if on cue. At least three thousand people had assembled there. They had blocked the intersection from all sides with half-burnt and broken street lights, barrels and carts. There was a fire raging in the middle with a pile of rubbish. Several wooden trolleys lay around slowly burning away.

Down the lane, an entire Police station had been burnt down to ashes after the mob had chased the police away. A car lay turtle completely charred and reduced to a shell.

The bridge across the river Tapi that started at the Chowk and connected Mota Varachha to the rest of Surat was completely blocked with agitators.

A car passed by slowly through the unruly mob. A head popped out of a window with a mobile phone. He focused his phone and took a few pictures of the crowd that was wielding rods and batons. An angry roar went up as the agitators stopped the car and dragged out the passenger.

“If you don’t delete the pictures now, we will burn your car down,” they yelled.

The frightened man quickly deleted the pictures. The phone was passed around and examined before the car was allowed back.

Suddenly, a funeral procession wound its way through the Chowk. The mob stepped aside to respectfully allow the mourners through. The softer human emotions did show up even through the anger and angst.

A 4-G mobile tower standing near the Chowk was set on fire and smoke started billowing out of the top which was at least 20 metres tall.

Across the river, we could see at least ten spirals of smoke. It seemed like the whole city was on fire.

My friends and I decided to venture out on our bikes to see what was happening around.

At Sudama Chowk, we saw an angry crowd beating three policemen. The frightened policemen were pleading for their lives. One of them managed to run away, but the mob continued to thrash the other two.

We crossed the river and saw an unbeliavably thick column of black smoke arising between two flyovers. These were two flyovers that were being built side by side. The cranes, trucks, equipment and other vehicles parked under the construction site had all been set on fire.

Down the road, the retail outlet of a popular chain of icecream call Dairy Don was being ransacked. Agitators had managed to open the shutters, smashed glass windows, opened their freezers and were devouring ice cream with relish.

“Why are they damaging private property?” I asked. “Yesterday they were only damaging Government property. “

In response Padu showed me a video clip that had gone viral. It was a statement made by a relative of the owner of Dairy Don who had used abusive language against the Patel Community. It turned out that the owner of Dairy Don was a ‘Makwana’ from the community called ‘Other Backward Castes’ (OBC). The agitation had now turned into an OBC vs Patel fight with the OBCs opposing the Patel demand for reservations, and the Patels considering the OBCs their new opponents.

Back at the restaurant, I found my father-in-law sitting with eight of his friends.

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“Where were you?” he demanded. “I have been trying to reach you for the last hour.”

I noticed ten missed calls on my phone. I had not heard the ringtone because of the din surrounding me all the time.

Apparently, a crowd of fifteen people had arrived outside my restaurant an hour before, and had been surveying it suspiciously.

My father-in-law had summoned their apparent leader and asked him what was going on. He had discovered that the leader was a former Corporator of Surat who had lost his seat in the recent election to a BJP candidate. He admitted to my father-in-law that he and his cronies were surveying ‘appropriate’ properties they could burn down in the night and my restaurant had been picked as one of the most prominent targets in the area.

However, after seeing my father-in-law who was himself a Patel, they had decided to drop the idea of burning my restaurant down.

“I calmed them down, and had a meeting here with all fifteen of them,” said my father-in-law. “They now understand that this restaurant has a Patel interest, so they won’t dare to touch it. There is nothing to worry. But I have still called my friends here to see that no one does anything.”

My brother-in-law Mitesh rushed to the restaurant in no time after he heard about the threat. Other relatives started pouring in, all Patels.

“Don’t worry Jeeju, we are here to protect you,” they assured me.

An hour later, we heard that the slums that lay a kilometer behind my restaurant had witnessed heavy violence. The OBCs who lived there had uttered something inappropriate about the Patel community and 200 Patels had barged in with iron rods and pipes. In the ensuing violence two people had apparently been killed.

“One of ‘their people’ was killed with an iron rod that was smashed on his head,” reported a neighbor. Unfortunately, one of ‘ours’ was killed too.”

I shuddered to hear the ‘us and them’ language that was usually the cause of so many riots and violence around the world.

We went to the bridge on the river Tapi once again, but were appalled to see that every single street light had been bent from the base and lay across both sides of the bridge. Not a single vehicle could cross the bridge.

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“Looks like we are stranded in Mota Varachha. Can we go to the city using Kapodara Bridge on the other side?” I enquired.

“No, the Police have cordoned off that bridge and are not allowing any traffic across it,” replied Padu.

We were trapped inside the Mota Varachha area for the night once again.

There was a steady drone in the sky, and we witnessed several military aircrafts slowly circling at a low attitude readying to land.

“The Government has sent in several battalions from the army to secure the city,” I was informed. “They will soon stage flag marches and probably even shoot on sight.”

Word soon spread about the impending threat to my restaurant. Twenty people from a high rise building that stood near my restaurant came to me and said, “Rameshbhai, don’t worry. We are with you. We will stay awake till 3.00 am tonight to guard your restaurant.”

Ten of my relatives had gathered outside my restaurant and we were sitting outside. Suddenly, another ten people turned up and shook hands with me. I did not know a single person from the new batch.

“They are from the Dhanani clan,” introduced my father-in-law. “When the family is in trouble, they always come immediately without asking any questions.”

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I felt a bit overwhelmed by the support from so many people, even from those who did not know me personally.

At 8.00 pm the streets were deserted.

“Looks like things are limping back to normal,” I told my relatives.

“Of course not,” they laughed. “Everyone has gone back to have dinner and watch the News. They will be out again after 9.00 pm.”

Sure enough, bikes, cars and pedestrians were back on the streets after 9.00 pm.

But the mood had changed.

People seemed less belligerent. The energy seemed to have drained from the mob. They had a tired look in their faces. The gleam in their eye had gone away. A few fires burned here and there, but very few new ones were being lit.

“I think there won’t be any more trouble tonight,” declared my father-in-law. “But we still need to stand vigil outside your restaurant, just to be doubly sure.”

Hundreds of people still huddled outside apartment blocks, but the iron rods had disappeared.

There were at least fifty people standing or sitting outside my restaurant now, ready to protect my property.

I asked my chef to cook a light meal for everyone and serve it to them.

“All fifty of them?” he asked me incredously.

“Yes,” I said firmly. “They have come to help us, and I plan to make sure they are not hungry or thirsty through the night.”

The vigil turned out into a late night party with everyone tucking into Chinese starters in the pleasant breeze that came in from the river.

After midnight the roads were deserted. This was in stark contrast to the night before when thousands of people were rioting out on the same streets. When my friend and I decided to visit the flyover under which vehicles had been burnt in the afternoon, we found it completely empty. It was eerie to be standing all alone amongst charred vehicles and damaged property in the middle of a road that was usually always busy.

When I returned back to my room to retire for the night, I felt very thoughtful and contemplative

I was reminded of what Srila Prabhupada, once said about Mahatma Gandhi: “He was not only a great man; he was a very good man in the worldly estimation. His character, his behavior, his dealing – everything was good. He was ideal personality. But just see – he was killed by violence. He could not stop violence.”

Srila Prabhupada then explains that Mahatma Gandhi had based his teachings of non-violence on the Bhagavad-gita and points out: “We must always remember that it (the Bhagavad-gota) is being taught in the actual battlefield. Why He (Lord Krishna) was taking part in the battlefield? .. Just for the right cause. So He wanted to establish that for the for the right cause there must be fighting. You cannot abolish violence from the world. This is the instruction of Krishna in Bhagavad-gita. Krishna induced Arjuna to be violent. Arjuna wanted to be non-violent. But He (Krishna) wanted that: “You must fight. This fight is arranged by me.”

While Arjuna fought on the battlefield to establish the principles of dharma under the instructions of the Supreme Lord Himself, what I had witnessed was violence of a very different kind. The entire agitation in Gujarat had been based on the principle of ‘us and them’. It was based on the bodily identification of a set of people who felt deprived and cheated from sense enjoyment that they felt rightly belonged to them. To achieve this goal, they had used violence in an uncontrolled manner with little direction from those who understood the real purpose of dharma.

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Srila Prabhupada goes on to explain that this kind of violence is caused by lack of dharmic leadership: “..If we do not follow the right person.. mahajana yena gatah sa panthah – then however great I may be in the estimation of the innocent public, that is wrong path…Therefore the right thing is to follow the succession…. Krishna is not advocating non-violence…He is trying to induce Arjuna. Arjuna is declining and He is inducing – No, you must fight. Yad yad acharti sreshtas …So we have to follow the footprints of the great personalities.”

It is therefore clear that unless political leadership is based on the principles of dharma as taught by the mahajanas, society will continue to be divided and distraught. Even a small spark can ignite violence and anger under such frail leadership.

Srila Prabhupada explains that ‘real violence’ is when someone is checked from the discharge of his duties, especially in advancing towards self-realisation: “The human life is meant for self-realisation. If any civilization is checking people’s progress in the matter of self-realisation, that is the most virulent type of violence because people are being checked from the natural advancement of life. This human life is the point where one has to end all the miseries of material existence. That is the aim of human life.”

Srila Prabhupada’s words made me realize that the violence I witnessed in Surat was a direct result of the ‘real violence’ which denies people the right to become self-realised and attain the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord.

I went to sleep that night, feeling more grateful than ever to the devotees of the Supreme Lord who plant the seed of devotional service in the hearts of countless souls and thus act as the real messengers of peace and non-violence.

* * *

Romapada Dasa (Ramesh Kallidai) has been a devotee in ISKCON since 1985. He was associated for over two decades with Bhaktivedanta Manor in London. He is the former Secretary General of the Hindu Forum of Britain, the largest umbrella body for British Hindus, and was appointed Commissioner of Integration and Cohesion by the British Secretary of State for Communities. He was a member of the London Criminal Justice Board’s Independent Advisory Group, the Diamond Advisory Group at the Metropolitan Police London, and a cultural ambassador to the London 2012 Olympics. He migrated to India in September 2009 where he served Fujitsu, the world’s third largest IT company as its Global Sales & Marketing Director. In 2014, he left Fujitsu to start a restaurant and catering business in Surat.

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