Ahimsa, Jains, and the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan

Posted: 08.06.2012

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Claremont Lincoln University


Office of the Provost

May 29, 2012

RE: Ahimsa, Jains, and the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan

Jai Jinendra to our Jain Friends and Colleagues,

In 2011, Claremont Lincoln University inaugurated its Jain Studies program, partnering with the International School for Jain Studies (ISJS), the Federation of Jain Associations in North America (JAINA), and the Jain Center of Southern California (JCSC).

In our first quarter, we have made remarkable strides together. Seven students from Claremont departed for India this week to take part in the ISJS summer education program. Prior to their departure, these students, along with six others, visited the Jain Center of Southern California to participate in puja and an aarti. A group of students began digitally recording existing Jain lectures to create an online resource for Jains and scholars of Jainism around the world. Over 100 books were generously donated to the university library to increase our Jain holdings. The first International Jain Conference on Bioethics will be held at Claremont in August 2012, and the first course, "Applied Jainism: Bioethics Among the Dharma Traditions," will be taught in Fall 2012. Many of these actions were made possible by a grant that we were awarded by the prestigious Uberoi Foundation in order to grow the Jain Studies Program and a generous gift from Gurudev and Pramoda Chitrabahnu of Jain Meditation International Center. You can see a full report of the first quarter achievements on the 'News and Events" section of our Jain Studies homepage: http://jain.claremontlincoln.org

We are looking toward the future in which we continue to collaborate with our partners to bring Jainism to Claremont Lincoln classrooms and campus life. Among the upcoming goals are the Oct. 2 celebration of Ahimsa, developing a fully online course, and bringing a Jain temple to campus. It is our goal that Claremont Lincoln will become one of the primary centers for Jain Studies in North America and around the world.

To that end, Claremont Lincoln is seeking support for a full analysis of Jain nonviolent action during the violent Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. Working closely with Dr. Sulekh Jain and Mr. Dilip Shah, chairmen of the Claremont Lincoln Jain Advisory Council, we have put together the following proposal. The four of us would be grateful if you could share this letter broadly with friends and colleagues. Only with the support of the Jain community can we research and publicize the courage of Jains during Partition. Many of the witnesses in India are now quite old. It is urgent that we find and videotape them while they can still describe what they did and saw. Otherwise their stories will never come to light.

Why Study Jains during Partition?

Numerous international conflicts are characterized by recourse to violent solutions, represented most painfully in U.S. foreign policy of the last twenty years. Religious practitioners look for alternative solutions, the oldest of these being the practice of Jain ahimsa, or non-interference. Ahimsa was a core principle for Gandhi, and later for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How could the ancient principle of ahimsa be brought to bear on contemporary conflicts? One of the most important test cases for ahimsa is the Partition of India and Pakistan.

The project has four facets. The first answers the question, 'What is Ahimsa?" We will summarize the philosophical, metaphysical, and logical foundations of ahimsa from Jainism, comparing and contrasting Jain theory and practice with the other three Dharma traditions.

The second facet examines case studies of ahimsa in practice, with a special focus on the event of Partition between India and Pakistan, and the actions of Jain practitioners of ahimsa caught at the border. We conduct in-depth research into the behaviors of Jains during this time of crisis. Specifically, through the Jain community we have the connections that will allow us to locate and make video recordings of Jains who were caught in this crisis of partition. Many of these individuals are at their end of their life now. If the recordings of their experiences are not made within a few years, they will be lost forever.

The third facet of the project is to analyze the video recordings and other raw data to detect patterns in the narratives, self-descriptions, and behaviors. Are there similar ways in which Jains interpreted the dilemmas of partition? Are there recurring patterns in the decisions they made and the actions they took?

The final facet offers applications of ahimsa: personal, within religious communities (including monasteries), non-governmental organizations (including the U.N.), economics, and government. In particular, if patterns emerge in the non-violent responses of Jains during Partition, how could these responses be held up as models for men and women as they face difficult decisions about violence today? It is often said that humans in these situations have "no choice" but to respond to violence with violence. It is our hypothesis that this claim is false, and that creative non-violence remains a live option even in the most desperate of situations. Our hope is that the results from this Partition Project will offer new data that help to substantiate this hypothesis.

Why Now?

This project is extensive and multi-disciplinary. Given the fact that many of the individuals who experienced Partition are at the end of their life, It is urgent that we find and videotape them in their own voice. We feel that best way forward is to just begin, realizing that the work may progress in strategic phases.

Timeline and Deliverable Outcomes

After securing initial funding of $15-25,000, Claremont Lincoln will send 1-3 doctoral students and/or faculty to India in Summer 2013 to begin gathering data, including video interviews. We plan to collaborate with the 1947 Partition Archive and to use their existing methodologies and training for ethnographic research.

From this first phase, we hope to produce:

  1. a detailed project report, complete with video archive
  2. several academic papers
  3. seminars and/or lectures on this topic
  4. doctoral dissertations
  5. a semester-long comparative study course on ahimsa across traditions
  6. a popular book on the subject, describing the courageous acts of Jains during Partition

Not only will this research showcase Jain teachings, but it will open the door for concrete dialog with other ahimsa traditions, such as the Quakers and Mennonites. Additionally, a project of this magnitude and scope will require the involvement of Jain scholars and institutions in India as equal collaborators and researchers. The possibility of turning this research into a book or film remains a lively possibility.

How can you help?

We are seeking donors at the level of $5,000, but any amount will help. Donors will be acknowledged on the Claremont Lincoln Website and in all media publications. We are very happy to announce that we have already received the first gift of $5,000. We hope you will help us achieve the balance. Please make out your tax-deductible gift in the name of Claremont Lincoln University and send your gifts by July 15, 2012 to:

Claremont Lincoln University
Jain Studies Partition Project Office of the Provost
1235 N. College Ave.
Claremont CA 91711

We welcome your support on this undertaking. The faculty and students of Claremont Lincoln are deeply inspired by the depth and uniqueness of Jain belief. The Jain Way of Life is urgently needed in this time of ecological destruction, impersonal globalization, and technological estrangement. This comprehensive study of Jains living during the violence of Partition may help the world find alternatives to the violent politics of our day.

We hope you will join us in this important and timely project.

In partnership,

Philip Clayton, Provost
Brianne Donaldson, Coordinator of Dharma Traditions

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Sulekh C. Jain