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Chronicles from the writings of Henry David Thoreau - V

Chronicles from the writings of Henry David Thoreau

Chronicle – I:  Essential needs, work and money

Chronicle - II:  Being Truthful

Chronicle  - III: Natural Living

Chronicle - IV: Social life

Chronicle V – Civil Disobedience


In India, people are in a state of oblivion with the caste routines and superstitious convictions and wanted to dwell in and around them joining the rest and creating forces that recreate them every time it seems to fading away from them. However warned of their pitiable the living circumstances caused due to gullible ideas, they followed it so religiously with the organized structure and ready to follow the commands issued by the head that is pledged to serve his people, meet their needs and fulfill the ethical satisfaction for the leadership he availed thus far. When there aroused  a competitive situation for assuming the commanding seat, fortuitously they have an intelligence of electing and selecting their head through egalitarian means. America, as a land of liberty believe in the principle "That government is best which governs least or not at all”. People believe in their own self and want to do or get what they want and any form of government is a hindrance to them. But, this is just a spirit. Practically, it is the land of laws, laws that are very much gathered from each corner in the world.  


Thoreau’s perception of government is far too expedient and scrupulous in nature as people, in general, who talk about government would always want it that way. And, for the same reason, one could supersede one another, imposing on themselves for the sake of their advantage. This flexibility leads to complication and becomes the main cause of any civil-disobedience at the later stage. Hence, people won’t call for their original “No-government” call but to point at a “better government” once upon a time.


He believes – the power in the hands of people is out of might and strength. It is the strength of the majority that dictates terms of right and wrong and it appears fair to the minority. “Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience? -- in which majorities decide only those questions to which the rule of expediency is applicable? Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience, then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.”


How subtle it is? Do we men think ourselves as men, we forget the duties of citizen and our conscience alone work in interest of the government we behold, but not the people who lay at the bottom-most stratum of the society. It is up to us to decide if we have to cultivate obedience to the laws we imposed on us or the rights we deserve to live with even if assume a duty of a corporator. Does any civil servant in India ever ready to leave their human rights and basic privileges in place of the law in enforcement? Surely not for they believe that they are the ‘men’ not the ‘citizen’. Yet, when a citizen comes to them for a fair deal, do they still leave their conscience and act as apathetically as a corporation. State corporations are soul-less but not for men, isn’t it? It is truly enough said that a corporation has no conscience; but a corporation of conscientious men is a corporation with a conscience. So, to draw a line in this disheartened system, everyone has the right to do at any time whatever they think right. And, it included all the players such as men, citizens, rules and laws. From the state point of view, all these actors are just machines and to such are its expectations.


How do these suggestions meant for an average Indian? With all the innocence and inexperience, common man still goes with his own conscience but not with the state’s. Nevertheless he feels the suppression for which none knows whom to blame. It is the constant civil disobedience and intellectual indications that drive them intermittently to uphold the fairness and bring them back to their satisfaction. A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.


To act toward any government, it requires all virtues like patience, tolerance, sacrifice and perseverance.  Besides, one needs to develop a sense of belonging and possessiveness on the entire state in which he comes under. He shall be little more freaky and liberal to walk along the same places, roads and avenues where he was brought up once with ease, with much more vigor and sound that would captivates other’s attention. Who would shout slogans and make loud cries on the streets for the sake of the loss and lack of something he or she ought to have it in their possession? But, it is the right of revolution to display the resistance towards the unendurable tyranny or inefficiency of the government.  And, it is the strong obligation towards the expediency what the government has in its very focus.


And there could be some sects in society such as traders, merchants and farmers who oppose the policies for want of their own benefits. For you as an unknown individual, it might be much more awful when they show inhuman practices in achieving their goals. Thoreau identifies them too. I quarrel not with far-off foes, but with those who, near at home, co-operate with, and do the bidding of those far away, and without whom the latter would be harmless. He put the blame on the voters too. With all the moral questions about the right or wrong candidates, it seems to be a game of checkers with betting on the winners and losers by various members. However, his concern for the voters is way too intrinsic. While majority of the voters vote for abolishing slavery, they still remained to be slaves as others enjoy the outcome of the voting. Individual freedom, at length, is in the hands of the individual only. Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence - p.3.


The offender of the unjust laws has his fate defined. Either the imprisonment or the seizure of all his goods what he possessed. In either case, it is the silent offender is the one who wins. With all his richness, he would have no goodness of virtues to be seized. For the poor, he has obviously very less to forfeit. But, money doesn’t matter. It is the moral ground upon which he has conducted his remonstration. It is the fuel for the drive that takes him to the future. When a responsive action is taken, it is his duty to uphold the moral theme that keeps him alive in the crusade. Even the rich men shall have to keep his version of records straight. Thoreau point out this state of affair for an offender with the government: “Thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the "means" are increased – p.6”. Is it all one’s duty to eradicate all the wrong? No, says Thoreau, it is the least of his duty to wash his hands off all the dirt and speak up for the right.

In America, when the state took over churches it expected the civilians to pay ‘some’ for the maintenance of clergymen. Thoreau was one among the crowd which did not agree with that idea. Instead, he remonstrated with a question of why the schoolmasters pay the clergymen; why not the clergymen pay the state’s schoolmasters? Moral education is as equally important as imparting academic knowledge. Indian conditions are far too opaque. The public never worries about what the government is doing with their tax money. As long as they are fed with their basic needs, they do not want to be part of the administration except to get the updates through newspapers.


His kind of passive resistance to the state’s wrongdoings was very subtle. He knew that his conforming to the laws of the land was not good enough to bring justice to the people.  In whatever context was it, his conformity had put him workless, depriving of everything from his hands and just leaving him as a simpler patriot. “I please myself with imagining a State at least which can afford to be just to all men, and to treat the individual with respect as a neighbor… - p.12”


This is the last of the chronicles that were published as a series in this week. Thanks for reading.

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