This month marks the 50th death anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr, the charismatic leader of so-called coloured Americans who fought for their rights through a method alien to most. King’s method seemed cowardly for a world that believed in the philosophy of eye for an eye. He penned his thoughts in a best-seller book called ‘Strength to Love’. This book has had a profound influence on me like it did on millions of others. The book had assumed great significance for one like me with a turbulent past characterised by anger, frustrations and indecisions borne out of several instances of injustice enacted right before my eyes. Retribution, I believed, was the best way to fight injustice. Not after I read this book.
To a world raised on the philosophy of retaliation, King’s answer was poignant: ‘forgive your offenders’. Does one think he was an impractical idealist who did not really experience real pain? Not if you know the kind of subjugation and humiliation his people underwent. His was a struggle against those who considered negroes to be inferior to the whites, a struggle against a white majority who argued that the negro’s brain was smaller than that of the white man. He saw his fellow negroes ridiculed, kicked and spat upon.
Yet, his advice was: forgiveness. And not just forgiveness, he wanted his fellow sufferers to have the strength to love their oppressors. “The potential beauty of human life is constantly made ugly by man’s ever-recurring song of retaliation,” he said and added: “Non-violence is no longer an option for intellectual analysis, it is an imperative for action.”
Fifty years on, we are still in the same boat. The domineering majority community takes the liberty to push their agenda through means that’s similar to what was employed during King’s times.
When Christians were killed brutally and our women were violated in Kandahar, when Muslim men were lynched for the ‘crime’ of transporting cows or purportedly carrying meat, when Graham Stains and two of his innocent children were burnt inside a vehicle by Hindu fundamentalists, when Sr Rani Maria was brutally attacked, dragged and stabbed by Samandur Singh, our blood boiled. Our inability to react earned us the moniker ‘spineless candle bearers’.
But are we not reacting? Yes we do. In a much more powerful way. When Graham Stain’s wife forgave the murderers of her husband and her little children, she was reacting in a more powerful way than this world can understand. When the parents of Sr Rani Maria forgave their daughter’s killer and adopted him as their son, they were reacting in a more effective way than their perpetrators. They were sending out a new method of retaliation: Love.
Forgiveness is a gift you can give yourself. You’re not doing this for your offenders, you’re doing it for yourself. Yes, your mind might try to convince you that forgiveness is “letting someone off the hook,” and that you are in fact doing those who mistreated you a favour by forgiving them, but the truth remains that you are doing yourself a favour.
Forgiveness cures you. Ask the medical experts, they will tell you how. It can cure a lot of physical ailments. Forgiveness is an act of strength. You don’t forgive because you are weak, but because you are strong enough to realise that only by letting go of resentments you will be happy and at peace. King’s life is the best example.
In the much-admired special edition of Bangalore Mirror called The Forgiveness Issue (published on 31 Dec 2017), the newspaper wrote: “Retribution is a way to extract a price from a wrongdoer from a community or society. But forgiveness is a way for the victim of that wrongdoing to find, and take charge, of their own place in the world.
What’s my place in the world?