Truth and madness

August 10, 2016 00:25 AM Dinesh Sapkota and Shankar Tiwari


Dr KC, who was branded as mad by a constitutional body in Kathmandu, reached out to the flood victims in Tarai to offer them free treatment
Fast-unto-death is an ultimate method to be deployed in the process of Satyagraha. Prof Dr Govinda KC of Nepal has observed it for eighth times so far. Dr KC, as a veteran medical doctor, put forth his demands for quality, affordable and decentralized medical education. He demanded impeachment of chief of Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) on the empirical ground of abuse of authority. The evidences of abuse of authority have been published by leading national dailies almost every day. CIAA apparently labeled KC as ‘the mentally unhealthy, anarchic and mean’ person. It even asked the government for his clinical treatment.

After the government finally agreed to address his demands and signed an agreement with him two weeks ago, Dr KC has moved to flood affected plains of the country to offer free treatment to the victims. The same satyagrahi who was branded as mad by a constitutional body in Kathmandu some three weeks back.

However, this is not the first case of those in power calling a satyagrahi mad. When Anna Hazare, a prominent social activist and Gandhian practitioner of India, staged fast-unto death in 2011 demanding a strong anti-corruption laws and reviving the conscious of millions of Indian people, people in power in India called him the same. So why do people tend to dismiss a satyagrahi as mad? Is there shared ground between satyagraha and madness? This article will dwell on epistemological aspect of this question.

Satyagraha had been conceptualized as the non-violent weapon of people, who are coerced to be treated unjustly, against the brute force of despot. The deployment of this weapon of non-violence strictly follows basic tactics, and satyagrahi, wielder of universal weapon of satyagraha, also provokes certain code of conducts in his or her individual life that emanate from the spiritual being of human.

 A satyagrahi gains noticeable reverence in society despite his or her paucity, simplicity, diligences, and audacity to follow morality and non-violence. Moreover, the inventor of satyagraha, Mahatma Gandhi, inscribed such qualities as indispensible and asserted more disciplines like vegetarianism, voluntarism, self-reliance, and so on for satyagrahi.

Systematic, coherent and institutional set up of satyagraha seems concomitant with religiously underpinned moral code of conducts and the utopian ‘just society’ envisioned in scriptures.

Religious institutions such as the Church and Guthi not only recognize but also provide the institutional backing to satyagrahi  due to his or her unshaken faith in non-violence, universal truth (morals) and renunciation of materiality. Also the legitimatization of moral purity provides unseen power to satyagrahi. The institutional and societal recognition of satyagrahi often amalgamate with his or her devotion, which is a kind of knowledge according to French philosopher Michel Foucault, and produces the amicable effect in the external world.

Essentially, satyagrahi has to go through spiritual exercises rather than physical activism such as demonstration, protest, and war. Satyagrahi and despot both entertain power but their view of power is poles apart. Despot unveils the reign of brutality and compels people to accept the authority. On the contrary, the force of soul, which permeates from the love, non-violence and universalism, persuades people to change their way of life. The stark distinction between these two understandings of power encourages them to perceive each other as intrinsically strange.

French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault has explained the relation between interest, utility and reasonableness in his book, Abnormal (Lectures at the College de France

1974-1975). He has dismantled historical anthropocentrism and treated human body as a ‘docile object’ which can be shaped by ambiance. The spontaneity of instinctual expression in the form of unlawful but exemptible acts constitutes “abnormal personality.”

Abnormality exists instinctually into the human but the power/knowledge which exists in society has shaped the demeanor of individual. Abnormality has been superseded by the presence of corporeal threat under the force and law. However, sometimes a person can lose the restrain over the instinctual waves and experience the delusion, delirium, abnormality and madness. Mad persons are non-lawful as the reasonability of the actions which they carry out remains obsolete. Such unintentional or unreasonable unlawful acts are non-adjudicated since judge panel cannot rationalize the crime under the existing law.

Society also perceives the voice of mad to be off the hook.

Madness has historically strived to make sense of its voice. On the contrary, rationality struggles to prove the ‘mad voice’ as non-sensible, ignorable and sometimes pathological.  
Satyagrahi and mad person share some traits in terms of thought pattern, execution of law and self-insertion of pain. The stubbornness seems peculiar individual mannerism shared by both of them. More than the extraordinary commitment for self-sacrifice vis-à-vis materiality, the sadomasochistic action of self-destruction brings astounding and anti-conventional philosophical concern to be pondered over. They are to be exempted from law due to their irrational action of self-destruction unlikely rational persons who are supposed to face prosecution under the criminal law. Moreover, they pose two more unconventional problems in the field of philosophy and pathology.

Sigmund Freud has elucidated the human psychic tendency of seeking gratification by avoiding pain. Many scholars like Carl Gustav Jung and Erich Seligmann Fromm have conceded that pain is more striking than pleasure in human psyche. Subsequently, the avoidance of pain is the primary concern of human being. However, the avoidance of pain does not become motivational factor for satyagrahis. They get   pleasure when pain has been inserted in the body. Mad person might not set the goal to achieve out of the endurance of pain but satyagrahi thinks about other, possibly universal humanism that channels the moral power in the ‘sadomasochistic stubbornness.’ Not everyone can practice satyagraha because as Gandhi says “satyagraha is not a weapon of coward and the weak, but of the brave and the strong.”

Sapkota graduated from South Asian University in International Relations, Tiwari is a Gandhian thinker

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