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The pursuit of justice in time

The pursuit of justice in time

In the 20th century, when people spoke of modernity, they really were talking about attacking all things of the past as they marched their way to the future. Two options were given, communism and capitalism.

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Last Updated : 06 April 2024, 22:36 IST
Last Updated : 06 April 2024, 22:36 IST
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It began with the film Oppenheimer, which amplified the scientist’s ridiculous translation of the Bhagavad Gita, confusing the concept of Time (kala, in the original), with Death. Suddenly, time is on everyone’s mind, especially in Hollywood.

Christopher Nolan’s films deal with the backward and forward movement of time, based on the theory of relativity. In the Batman series, his character says, if you live long enough, the hero will see himself turn into a villain.

The Dune Saga novels bring back the idea of time, where the author realised that eventually all saviours turn into monsters. Therefore, in the forthcoming Dune III Messiah, we will see how the hero, now a prophet, will watch in horror as his followers kill a billion people as they unleash the holy war. A tragic-hero is different from the jubilant superheroes of Marvel movies who keep saving the world, until the next franchise and next supervillain. Much like the unending Deva-Asura wars of Hindu mythology.

In the 20th century, when people spoke of modernity, they really were talking about attacking all things of the past as they marched their way to the future. Two options were given, communism and capitalism. These were allegedly rational material philosophies that did not rely on the supernatural, and sought to establish justice in a post-feudal, industrial world.

In China, everything traditional was wiped out, as one made one’s way towards the future. The developing economies tried to break links with their colonial pasts, by trusting the Western discourse of modernisation. They went about talking about freedom and democracy, and globalisation. Things didn’t turn out as one expected. The shifting of economic and political power enraged the old elite, who yearned for a return to the traditional. The globalisation ‘flat earth’ trick simply enabled the rich of rich countries to harness cheaper labour in poor countries. Now, the rich in the poor countries want their share of the global pie.

In the 21st century, we see post-modern discourse rising, challenging power and, once again, it is time that is being considered. The Left Wing, with its critical race theories, want to erase all historical events and return to a world of pure before there was any injustice. In this scheme of things, all men are evil, all heterosexual men are evil, all white heterosexual men are evil, all cisgendered are evil. The language gets more and more complex. The aim is to ‘decolonise’.

The word ‘decolonise’ is also being used by Right Wing groups. They seek a return to a time before people spoke of equality and justice to a hierarchical world of Brahmins, of Christians, of a time when the Jewish people did not have to live in fear.

Everybody is seeking to reach the future by erasing the past. But time as a concept is the very opposite of justice. In Buddhist art, Kala or Mahakala, is shown consuming all things -- rendering all things impermanent, empires and kingdoms. There is no concept of justice in Buddhism, or Jainism, or Hinduism. There is Karma, credit and debit. You are bound to material reality as long as you are in debt. To be in debt, in hell.

In the mythological worlds of South Asia, the existence of paradise, Swarga, creates hell. Three kinds of hell: Naraka of those in debt, Patala of those exploited, and Pitr-loka of those entitled waiting for the current generation to move on. A world that seeks to create paradise will create hell. No nuclear bomb will solve the problem. It will stop a war, but it will not make humans kinder. It will just restrain the cruel, make them more subtle and subversive.

Justice discourse has roots in the Middle East, in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. They presuppose a finite time, when all that was wrong in the past is pan-balanced into something good. God sits in judgement on Judgement Day at the end of history, a concept alien to Hindus, Buddhists and Jains. The world moves on. There is no full stop. No eternal damnation. Buddhas keep coming and going. The world continues craving and suffering.

We watch how the judges of our country have long vacations while hundreds and thousands of innocent people lose years and decades of their life in jail awaiting acquittal. That time will never be returned, even if the judges profusely apologise in speeches and biographies. Justice myth shaped Christian and Islamic societies. It inspired Christians to rise up against Roman hedonism. It inspired Arab tribal leaders to challenge luxury-loving Persian monarchs. It mobilised the Marxist and the Woke. It gets women and queers going in ‘diversity week’. Dalits are seeking justice. Brahmins are seeking justice, too.

We forget that with time, victims become villains. In time, justice enables injustice, just as injustice inspires justice. Death is not fair or just. You cannot take your awards, or selfies, or truth, with you. Justice remains the delusion of those who reject time.

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