Wednesday, September 01, 2004


Present and past are tied together; all cultural, social and individual constructs are defined apropos a particular time and thus it is the constructs of past which make way for the constructs of present. Some constructs change, some survive the test of time while some get lost in oblivion. Every community and society (construct) has certain pragmatic notions which are present in the very nature of its being. Violence is one such concept which according to me is present in the very nature of a society. We cannot run away, shun or eradicate violence because as mentioned above it is an innate idea which hard to bequeath.
Violence as we understand was as much a reality yesterday as it is today.

Nature of Violence:Levels of Violence: More often than not violence is experienced fundamentally at two levels at the individual level and at a collective level. The way an atomized individual sees violence is also different from what the group understand by violence. A concrete example of this is war in which the family of a dead soldier remembers the war not as a national calamity but as a personal loss.

Homogeneity: Violence homogenizes people on whom violence is inflicted it brings them together and puts them under one head, miserable. In the case of “Srilanka” the Tamil groups are diverse and highly plural but the Sinhalese club all of them together and give them an identity of Tamils (Daniel 1997: 18). This clearly reveals the reductionist approach of violence as pointed out by Das in Science Hegemony and Violence (1988) “Reductionist science as epistemological Violence”

Idea of the Other: Implicit in the idea of homogeneity is the idea of ‘the other’ (Pandya 2000:4). Homogeneity creates division by creating marked limits and thus introduces a boundary (Leach 1976: 33) and instigates conflict in which the inflictor of violence is seen as different from the one on whom violence is imposed. Thus violence is extended to a dimension of differential space where each side sees the complementary side as ‘the other’.
This idea of the other is sometimes enlarged to include everyone one except the imposer of violence like in the case of computer virus, the hacker wants every computer to be down.
(Excluding his own)

Freedom and violence: Violence has a very sublime relation with freedom. Denial of freedom is one of the chief characteristic of violence. The sufferers of violence are unquestionably denied freedom. The case of emergency is a perfect example of violence as denial of freedom, when the Govt. intrudes deep inside in your personal space and restricts your entitled freedom as citizen (Tarlo in Das 2000:243). Even in the case of Ireland the camera becomes the equivalent of gun and the observing eye of the vigilant curbs personal freedom (Feldman in Das 2000: 47)

Snowball Effect Violence multiplies and begets violence. One violent act is not the culmination of one phase of violence rather a violent act marks the beginning of series violent exchanges to follow. “Experience of violence generates desire for violent revenge” (Pandya 2000:15)

Society and Violence:
Significance of violence is established by its omnipresence. There is no time and space during which violence was/is absent. Today we see various forms of violence in society.

Science and violence: Science has in various terms redefined violence. As Alvares in Science Hegemony and Violence (1998:76) claimed “In the name of experiments scientists can detonate nuclear violence on human beings” .This depicts that a supposedly rational scientist shuts his ears and eyes in the name of scientific progress to all societal and human concerns, he wants his errand to be kept away from values and ethics which generates concern for the society at large, and thus the society has to deal with the ravages of violence imposed on them through the scientific method.
“Modern science is violent even in peaceful domains like health and agriculture”(Kothari 1998: 180).

Violence in daily life: We see violence becoming a routine part of everyday life; violence is in our bedroom, in our mind and in our heart of hearts through the impetus provided to it by the media. Seeing an act of violence is also violence. “Images of violence by the media in turn performs social violence –moral aesthetic and experimental” (Kleiman in Das 2000: 232).We also see the structured violence in which the violence is imposed on the lower strata of society which is under extreme poverty. (Kielman in Das 2000: 227). Domestic violence is a fact of life particularly in South East Asia where fair sex is targeted (Das 2000:206) and has to face the yoke of humiliation. The violence which totalitarian state incises is political face of violence for example the CCP regime in china (Kielman in Das 2000: 233). The nexus of medicine and violence are ubiquitous as air. The commoditization of modern medicine (Kielman in Das: 235) reiterates the fact that hospital can be the most dangerous place on the earth and furthermore only wealthy has the right to be healthy. Miracles of modern medicine prolongs the pointlessly life of nearly dead patient.
“Iatrogenic (doctor made) hell is paved with professionally good therapeutic intentions ”. (Kothari 1988: 168)
Thus the psychosomatic as well as the socio-dynamic impact made by violence on society assumes its significance in the aforementioned cases.
Cultural and Historic Notions of Violence:
Every culture has some amount of built in violence. Significant point is the assimilation of violence which is observed not as an act of seeing but as activity of being. Thus the internalization of violence into every culture is to an extent that it is no longer recognized as violence. Thus be it the Jihadi idea of state, be it perpetual scuffle between the surs and asurs (gods and demons) there is remarkable way in which violence is incorporated by every culture and history at large. One can also draw parallels between cultures to prove the ritualization of violence like the karnachedan sansakara in Hindus where ears of a Brahmin child are pierced and the khatna in the muslims (Mehta in Das 2000: 33). In both cases we see that community as an entity is present as an approving authority which gives recognition to the act. The Mohharam as a festival is a classic case of self-violence and tries to depict the exhibitionist as well as the repetitive character of cultural violence. Thus in the cultural context violence needs to be
a) Exhibited (Demonstrative Nature)
b) Relived (Re-Experienced)
The Sinhali Tamil conflict in Ceylon is a concrete case in which the Sinhalese believe that
“Tamils were enemy of glorious past of Sinhala people” (Daniel 1990: 26) thereby using history to place blame on one community and the Tamils using their heritage to counteract.
“Tamil cultural heritage of dance literature architecture and sculpture was not considered bourgeoisie even by these revolutionaries” (Daniel 1990: 27) Thus during violence the focus is on the dissimilarities instead of the similarities thus Sinhalese looked only at the historic and cultural differences (and not similarities) between himself and the Tamil.
In the words of Daniel (1990:31) “we define who we are by defining who we are not”.
Language is also used to create separatists identity of “the other” thus revealing the linguistic tinge of violence, as in the case of Srilanka dialect of Tamil is seen as an apple of discord between Jafna and estate Tamils
“these two groups of Tamils make fun of each others dialects of spoken Tamil proving the inability of language alone to sustain an imagined community that linguistic nationalism needs “(Daniel 1990: 18) Time and again we see history being used to either heighten or diminish violence. The tension between the Israel and the Palestinians, India and Pakistan, China and Tibet rely heavily upon history as object, an object which catalyzes violence. Just like the Sinhalese –Tamil conflict in which one sees the historical evidences being used to support or refute violence the cases mentioned above also draw their arguments from history. The very fact that the object of history is seen is as; “not finding truth but making it true” (Daniel 1990:32) gives the historical basis of violence a stark permanence. History is also used for diluting violence. “He called India his first love because it was land of Buddha “(Daniel 1990: 26)
The underlying unity of past and present which I have mentioned at the begging of the essay asserts the fact that causes of past have profound effect on events of present and future this is because history doesn’t exist as a buried chronology of events but as an idea in our minds which is rejuvenated from time to time when required.
Power and violence:
Similar to the idea of ‘the other’ we have the construction of a command and an obey class in which the command class uses power to do violence on the obey class. Thus violence becomes a case of abuse of power. Thus it is abuse of power which is the primary aspect in violence. There is also a patriarchal structure which is fundamental to power in which the control is administered by a selected few at the top of hierarchy. Bureaucratization is also an indispensable element because one needs a planned manner of transfer of power from the pinnacle to the base, as in the case of Auschwitz, the power was exercised by the state machinery in an organized fashion. In the Indian context the period of emergency vividly describes abuse of power to achieve targets defined on paper. (Tarlo in Das 2000: 253) The mechanism in which power works is by creating efficiency; the violence executing machinery creates a reward or punishment based system to support the process. Thus all those who got their vasectomy done were either rewarded (monetarily or otherwise) or the defaulters had to face harsh consequences.(Tarlo in Das 2000: 244 ) Thus power strives to create to complete submission to violence and curbs social freedom. The accounts of violence in china in the case of CCP regime also presents an aspect of the use of power for politicization of violence and the routinization of social sadism ,where collective experience of fear shook the very foundations of society. The idea of the other in this case is easily understood as the idea of the command class and the obey class in which command class enjoys certain freedom which obey class doesn’t (Keliman in Das 2000: 233). The visual characteristic of power is also central to violence. The Michel Foucault‘s idea of Panopticon of power, conceptualizes visibility completely around a dominating and observing gaze. Thus power assumes an all-encompassing “all-seeing” form. (Foucault 1977:226)
One important aspect of power and violence is control and whenever power is used on a large scale in tandem with violence it is the ability to control, which is central. The basic feature of colonialism which is intolerance of other cultures is extended to denial and oppression of the powerless. Thus the colonizing force (powerful) by means of power controls the colony (powerless) and thus gets the moral right to violence. Along with control power also requires vigilance as in the case of Ireland the camera keeps a ceaseless watch and thus vigilance becomes an aspect of control. (Feldman in Das 2000: 47) When power is used for violence it often diminishes with time thereby demanding the use of more power to maintain authority. Thus in Srilanka we see that the Govt. increases deployment of troops; thus sort of puts in more power to exercise control.(Spencer in Das 2000:123). Even in the case of Jarwas one sees Govt. using more and more power to subvert the revolution. (Pandya 2000: 15) Thus power constantly demands power and thus violence in a sense becomes a watch dog which is held by the chain of power, but the tenacity of violence decreases with diminishing power so we have circumstance where Asha who was overpowered by family which symbolizes authority and power was considerably relieved when she breaks the social ghetto and remarries. (Das 2000:208) We also see the power being used for transforming or changing the oppressed class, this can be justified either in terms of civilization (in the case of colonialism) or modernization (in the case of Jarwas).(Mukopadhyay 2002:38 )
Another critical relationship between power and violence springs out when the power starts depleting then often the powerful resorts to violence to maintain its power for example the in the Jammu and Kashmir case when the Indian Govt. starts losing control of a territory it deploys more force to maintain clout. Protracted violence therefore causes decrease in power making more violence necessary.


The very act of creation ensures obliteration. The moment you say life you have to also accommodate death. The positive brings into being the negative. This doesn’t mean that the complementary is an unwanted element, a necessary evil. What it means is; that only in mind we can create strict territories of distinguishable logic where we can differentiate one from the other but perhaps the reality is unity. Perhaps the reality doesn’t believe in clear cut expository divisions. It is with this underlying unity we need to understand violence, violence not as malevolence, which demands eradication, but violence as disposition of Nature. Violence not as an aggressive foreigner but as especial native, an eternal native, which needs to attended, addressed and understood.


1. Daniel, Valentine E. 1997 An Anthropography of violence, , pp. 1-134
2. Das, Veena The Act of Witnessing ‘Violence, Poisonous Knowledge, and Subjectivity’, In Veena Das, Arthur Klienman, 2000 Violence Knowledge and Subjectivity New Delhi:OUP, pp. 205-224
3. Feldman, Allen Violence and Vision ‘The Prosthetics and Aesthetics of Terror’ In Veena Das, Arthur Klienman, 2000 Violence Knowledge and Subjectivity ND: OUP, pp. 46-77
4. Klienman, Arthur The Violence in everyday life, In Veena Das, Arthur Klienman, 2000 Violence Knowledge and Subjectivity ND: OUP, pp. 226-240
5. Kothari, Manu L. and Mehta Lopa A. Violence in Modern Medicine, In Ashish Nandy 1988 Science, Hegemony and Violence ND:OUP, pp. 167-207
6. Leach, E.R. 1976 Culture and Communicaton: the logic by which symbols are connected. Cambridge: Cambride University Press
7. Mehta, Deepak Circumcision, Body, Masculinity ‘The Ritual Wound and Collective Violence’, In Veena Das, Arthur Klienman 2000 Violence Knowledge and Subjectivity ND: OUP, pp. 79-101
8. Pandya,Viswajeet Making of the Other: Vignettes of Violence in Andmanese Culture, In Critique of Anthroplogy, Vol20,(4) 2000, pp1-23

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