Mahatma Gandhi & Non-Violence
(International Day of Non-Violence)
By: M Ahmad
The International Day of Non-Violence is observed on 2 October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. The world remembers Mahatma Gandhi not just for his passionate adherence to humanism but also a benchmark of the practice of non-violence. Gandhi, who helped lead India to independence, has been the inspiration for non-violent movements for civil rights and social change across the world. On the International Day of Non-Violence, created by the United Nations in 2007, we look back on the influence of an Indian activist born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi but known the world over as Mahatma Gandhi. The International Day of Non-Violence honors how Gandhi’s work and legacy has impacted global non-violent protest.
Throughout his life, Gandhi remained committed to his belief in non-violence even under oppressive conditions. It is not a public holiday in other countries, but is observed around the world in various ways, often to draw attention to global issues. Its date and purpose correspond with those of the Indian national public holiday of Gandhi Jayanti. The two basic principles or ideals that guided Gandhi’s life were truth and nonviolence. For him truth was God and realising this truth as God was the ultimate purpose of life. He expounded the proposition that truth could be realised only through non-violence: “Truth is the end and nonviolence the means.”
Gandhi gave his own definition and explanation of nonviolence which transcended conventional understanding of the concept. For Gandhi non-violence was not a negative concept meaning non-injury or non-killing but a positive one which meant love in the sense of selfless service of one’s fellow beings which included the entire creation. The essence of his arguments is that one must try to practise non-violence in deed and to organise all life activities on its basis, and that would bring in unprecedented and revolutionary changes in human life. One key tenet of the theory of non-violence is that the power of rulers depends on the consent of the population, and non-violence therefore seeks to undermine such power through withdrawal of the consent and cooperation of the populace.
Nonviolence is the personal practice of not causing harm to others under any condition. It may come from the belief that hurting people, animals and/or the environment is unnecessary to achieve an outcome and it may refer to a general philosophy of abstention from violence. This world has seen its share of bloody wars that ended countless lives and filled many more with grief. No matter what country you go to, there are stories of how someone’s greed or lust for power resulted in the killing of innocent people and the destruction of beautiful cities. Even wars that were fought for a good cause, like the Civil War of the United States of America, that resulted in slavery being abolished, have been responsible for a great many deaths.
However, there are people in this world who have gone about making the changes they thought necessary without violence or pure brute force, and these are the people that the International Day of Non-Violence celebrates. The principle of non-violence — also known as non-violent resistance — rejects the use of physical violence in order to achieve social or political change. Often described as “the politics of ordinary people”, this form of social struggle has been adopted by mass populations all over the world in campaigns for social justice. Non-violence is a weapon of the strong and we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it. “Nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.”
The theory behind Gandhi’s actions, which included encouraging massive civil disobedience to British law as with the historic Salt March of 1930, was that just means lead to just ends. He believed that Indians must not use violence or hatred in their fight for freedom from colonialism. Gandhi used nonviolent civil disobedience to eventually overthrow the British, who ruled India at the time. Despite being thrown in jail numerous times, but nothing ever caused him to abandon his peaceful approach, which eventually resulted in India finally gaining the independence they’d wanted for years. MK Gandhi was greatly influenced by many western thinkers and writers in formulating his theories and non-violent mode of struggle. Such people include Civil Rights activists Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Beatles star John Lennon, humanitarian activist and “King of Calypso” Harry Belafonte, and of course anti-apartheid movement leader Nelson Mandela. The life stories of each of these people is fascinating and inspiring. This day could be the perfect time to study their biographies to learn lessons of their virtues of bravery, compassion, and perseverance.
Gandhi took the religious principle of Ahimsa (doing no harm) and turned it into a non-violent tool for mass action. He used it to fight not only colonial rule but social evils such as racial discrimination and untouchability as well. Gandhi used ‘satyagraha’ which means ‘truth force’, in this doctrine the aim of any non-violent conflict was to convert the opponent; to win over his mind and his heart and persuade him to your point of view. Gandhi was firm that satyagraha was not a weapon of the weak – “Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it always insists upon truth.”
Even as the country celebrated its hard-won independence on August 15, 1947, Mahatma Gandhi, at that time the father of the nation, was fasting in Bengal to put a stop to the Hindu-Muslim violence. He was on a hunger strike in Kolkata, distant from the hard-won independence celebrations in Delhi. Mahatma Gandhi had stated, “To me, peace between Hindus and Muslims is more essential than the proclamation of independence.” In 1934 Gandhi resigned not only as the leader but also as a member of the Congress Party as he had come to believe that its leading members had adopted nonviolence as a political expedient and not as the fundamental creed it was for him.
In short, nonviolence for Gandhi is the law of our being, the cohesive law of love that binds humanity together and makes collective life possible and meaningful. It is also the power that operates through history facilitating human evolution towards the fulfilment of its destiny. It is soul force it is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind, argued Gandhi and added that “it is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”, and thus, working under the law of nonviolence it was possible for a single individual to defy the whole might.
In these modern times, it is violence that has emerged as one of the most common causes of human suffering. The pursuit of material benefits has resulted in growing conflicts between individuals, groups and nations and new forms of violence have thus emerged. Highly sophisticated and lethal chemical and nuclear weapons have opened up ways to inflict a maximum of destruction and damage. In truth, one ought to blame the modern ways of living for the violent tendencies that have taken strong roots in man. There is less of patience, perseverance, true courage, dedication and absolutely no sense of values at all.
Man, today, is lost and wandering souls can be easily misled in the name of anything. Violence has grown to such an extent today that it has almost acquired some kind of legitimacy. One fears that the growing violent attitude will ultimately wipe out mankind as a whole!
The world is desperately in need of non-violence as a way of life, to spread the gospel of love, brotherhood and peace. Man must awaken and realise that the world of violence in which he is living can blow up on his face at any time. Before time runs out, man must realise the folly of indulging in violence and give it up. Only the path of non-violence can truly provide mankind release from all ills and bring about harmony in the world. Only non- violence can restore sanity around us. Today, when the world is almost on the verge of a nuclear holocaust, non-violence as a means of solving differences among civilized people is extremely relevant. Pandit Nehru, one of greatest disciples of Gandhi, had admitted that he was convinced about the futility of violence in the aftermath of war and partition of the country on the eve of independence. The human agony and suffering that the world had been witness to after the partition of India seem meaningless today. The communal passions which were aroused in the hearts of the people still have not been resolved. They continue to raise their ugly heads and lead to countess deaths without resolving the issues at all. Violence, therefore, cannot yield any positive result. It never has sooner the mankind realises it, better it is for its own preservation.
One of the best ways to honour Mahatma Gandhi’s life and achievements, as well as those of other world leaders who have won their battles without violence, is that we should read their biographies—find out what motivated them to act as they did, what helped keep them strong even when they saw terrible things happening all around them. The independence of this country was not the only issue Gandhi found important, however; he was also keenly interested in building good relationships between people of different religions and ethnicities, expanding women’s rights, and reducing the amount of poverty. Even though he was assassinated by a Hindu nationalist in 1948, he has never been forgotten, and is called “the father of the nation”.
Samadhi of Gandhiji (Rajgath)
Non-violence as a doctrine has been preached by all wise men from time immemorial. The saints and sages all over the world have preached the gospel of love and understanding. All differences among people can be solved through love without resorting to violent means. “Non-violence is a power which can be wielded equally by all – children, young men and women or grown-up people, provided they have a living faith in the God of Love and have therefore equal love for all mankind. When non-violence is accepted as the law of life, it must pervade the whole being and not be applied to isolated acts”.
(M Ahmad is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at [email protected])