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Guns And Books: How American And Indian Cultures View Tools Differently

The frequency of mass shooting is on the rise in the United States. From schools to malls to public streets, the sudden shooting into crowded places has become like an epidemic.

The worst are the school shootings. May 2022 saw an 18-year-old entering a primary school in Uvalde, Texas, and opening fire, killing 19 children and two teachers.

A Google search can easily reveal huge lists of such horrible shootings.

As usual the left and the right in the United States are in a pitched battle over gun control - the left supporting gun control and generally the right opposing it, saying that it infringes upon the personal rights of citizens. For example, in the context of school shootings, the pro-gun politicians demanded that the teachers also be armed and school security be made stronger.

But these solutions, of which gun control is definitely a better option, do not even touch the actual problem. The problem is the inability to respect the tools and also life.

In India, every year on the ninth day of Navratri, we worship the tools of trade. In southern India that day is called as 'Ayudhya Puja' - the day every person worships the tool which he or she uses for their living. A student venerates the books. A farmer venerates his ploughs. The dancer venerates her anklets. A sculptor venerates his chisel. A soldier venerates her rifle.

This is done because the tool is seen as an extension of our consciousness. Through millions of years of evolution, life in this planet has reached that stage where the thoughts extend out to become tools. Tools are mental conceptions which are materialised outside. So, they are not exactly inanimate. Our consciousness animates through them.

Understanding tools as extensions of our own consciousness and fruits of millions of years of evolution, bestow upon them a sanctity which our culture not only recognises but also celebrates. Thus, a child in India, whether Hindu or Muslim, would instinctively pick up a book that has fallen down on the ground with a gesture of veneration. It is not superstition but a recognition of the grandness of evolution - celebrating the collective evolution of human consciousness that the book represents. Whether it is a first standard arithmetic table or a textbook of advanced calculus.

When you extend the same thinking to weapons like rifles, they will cease to be weapons for killing and would become weapons for protection.

They will no more be a statement of masculinity but a symbol of responsibility and restraint. Unfortunately, sections of Western culture have always associated masculinity with a tendency to treat inanimate tools with disdain while at the same time treating weapons of killing with care. Just look at any Clint Eastwood movie or a movie of Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger. The masculine hero of Western movies treats all inanimate objects with utter indignity and cares only for the weapon of killing.

This has something to do with the very conceptualisation of frontier advancement and manifest destiny. The history of America saw guns as tools of conquest, especially of native Americans. Closer in time, the dominant popular culture in that country that celebrates cowboys and Vietnam Rambos.

All of this creates a dark fascination with weapons which are seen not as extension of consciousness but as a symbol of aggressive masculinity. When a disturbed, diseased and deranged mind gets the weapon then it is only a few microns away from using it to see the rush of power course through one's nerves. If you see a gun as nothing but a symbol of power, then one also dehumanizes the human victims who fall victim to the bullets.

So, when India evolved the cultural veneration of all tools, including weapons, it created a strong psychological taboo against any remote temptation to use a weapon for the destruction of life. Perhaps, someday, psychologists may discover this connection and that might help reduce violence. At the same time, there is a sad truth about India that we all need to take serious note of. If you think this is purely an American phenomenon and that we are safe, you should think again. Below, you can see a video of school boys in Tamil Nadu throwing away their books on the road after their exams are over. The whole road is littered with torn pages of books and the students are walking on them.


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