In a world increasingly troubled by violence and strife Mahatma Gandhi’s message remains highly relevant today, 73  years after the assassination of this man of peace.

Gandhi’s work and writings covered a very wide range of activities, but perhaps what present-day  world needs to learn most from Gandhi is his overwhelming emphasis on non-violence to resolve any conflict or to confront any injustice. More than that, he emphasised non-violence as an entire way of life, emphasising its importance in our daily life (even relationships within family) as much as in huge movements for justice and freedom. Non-violence (ahimsa) for Gandhi is all-encompassing, bringing in its range not only all human beings but also all forms of life. Non-violence in action is considered  far from adequate – it should extend to our innermost thoughts.

 

Gandhi’s concept of non-violence is so pervasive that it will not only help the cause of world peace – rightly practiced it’ll help to significantly bring down the incidence of domestic violence and mental stress as well. The movement for animal rights or compassion to animals will also benefit from a wider spread of Gandhi’s ideas.

About the role of non-violence in his own life, Gandhi wrote “I have been practicing with scientific precision non-violence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life, domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case in which it has failed. Where it has seemed sometimes to have failed, I have ascribed it to my imperfections. (Harijan, 6-7-40, pp. 185-86)

Gandhi had big hopes from harnessing the tremendous force of non-violence. He wrote, (Harijan 10.12.38 p. 377) “more powerful than all the armaments, non-violence is a unique force that has come into the world”. Elsewhere he said “We are constantly being astonished these days at the amazing discoveries in the field of violence. But I maintain that far more undreamt of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of non-violence. (Harijan, 25.8-40, p. 260)

The path of non-violence is noble, but it is not easy. As Gandhi says (Harijan 14.5.38) “If the method of violence takes plenty of training, the method of non-violence takes even more training and that training is much more difficult than the training for violence. “A votary of Ahimsa has to be incorruptible, fair and square in his dealings, truthful, straightforward and utterly selfless. He must have also true humility. (Harijan, 20.5.39, p.133)

“The very first step in non-violence is that we cultivate in our daily life, as between ourselves, truthfulness, humility, tolerance, loving kindness. Honesty, they say in English, is the best policy. But in terms of non-violence, it is not mere policy. Policies may and do change. Non violence is an unchangeable creed. It has to be pursued in face of violence raging around you. (Harijan, 2.4.38, p. 65)

“Non-violence, to be a potent force, must begin with the mind. (Young India, 2-4-31, p. 58)

“…unless there is a hearty co-operation of the mind the mere outward observance will be simply a mask, harmful both to the man himself and to others. The perfect state is reached only when mind and body and speech are in proper co-ordination. (Young India, 1.10.31, p. 287)

“The alphabet of Ahimsa is best learnt in the domestic school, and I can say from experience that, if  we secure success there, we are sure to do so everywhere else.” (Harijan 21.7.40, p. 214)

“If one does not practice non-violence in one’s personal relations with others and hopes to use it in bigger affairs, one is vastly mistaken. Non-violence, like charity, must begin at home. (Harijan, 28-1-39, p. 441)

Gandhi captured the spirit of non-violent struggle in the following words – “I seek entirely to blunt the edge of the tyrant’s sword, not by putting up against it a sharper edged weapon, but by disappointing his expectation that I would be offering physical resistance. The resistance of the soul that I should offer instead would elude him. It would at first dazzle him and at last compel recognition from him, which recognition would not humiliate him but would uplift him.”

For Gandhi religion was clearly a place for peace and there was absolutely no room in his thinking for religious differences turning violent. He wrote, “I believe in the fundamental truth of all great religions of the world. I believe that they are all God given, and I believe that they were necessary for the people to whom these religions were revealed. And I believe that, if only we could all of us read the scriptures of different faiths from the standpoint of the followers of those faiths we should find that they were at bottom all one and were all helpful to one another.” (Harijan 16.2.34 P.5-6)

Gandhi saw clearly that the aggressiveness of the great powers is rooted in greed. He said world peace “is clearly impossible without the great powers of the earth renouncing their imperialistic designs. This again seems impossible without these great nations ceasing to believe in soul-destroying competition and to desire to multiply wants and therefore increase their material possessions. (Harijan 16.5.36 P.109)

The ideal he urged to his own countrymen was “we will exploit none just as we will allow none to exploit us.” (Young India 16.4.31 page-9). He added “I should reject that patriotism which sought to mount upon the distress or the exploitation of other nationalities.”

In fact Gandhi was an internationalist much ahead of his times. He wrote, “The better mind of the world desires today not absolutely independent States warring one against another, but a federation of friendly inter-dependent States. (Young India, 26-12-24, p. 425)

‘The structure of a world federation can be raised only on foundation of non-violence, and violence will have to be totally given up in world affairs. (Gandhiji’s Correspondence with the Goverenment – 1942-44, (1957), p. 143)

‘Federation is undoubtely a greater and nobler end for free nations. It is a greater and nobler end for them to strive to promote Federation than be self-centred, seeking only to preserve their own freedom. (Harijan, 9-8-42, p. 265)

Speaking optimistically of his vision of a future world  he wrote, “The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. That is the first law: out of it all other blessings will flow.

“… An individual can adopt the way of life of the future – the non-violent way – without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can do it, cannot whole groups of individuals? Whole nations? Men often hesitate to make a beginning, because they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. This attitude of mind is precisely our greatest obstacle to progress – an obstacle that each man, if he only wills it, can clear away.

“…Equal distribution – the second great law of tomorrow’s world as I see it – grows out of non-violence. It implies not that the world’s goods shall be arbitrarily divided up, but that each man shall have the wherewithal to supply his natural needs, no more.  (The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi, PP 458-60).

“…only truthful, non-violent and pure hearted socialists will be able to establish a socialistic society in India and the world..” So what we see in his vision is a socialist society based on non-violence.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian ideas for our times) and Protecting Earth for Children.


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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Sumanta Banerjee says:

    Today, when we mourn the assassination of Gandhi, the best way to pay homage to him is to take an oath to eliminate the followers of his assassin – those who occupy the throne in Delhi.

    Sumanta Banerjee

  2. Mahatma Gandhi made a great contribution to world peace and made a massive contribution to India obtaining its independence from British imperialism.

    Many Christians in the west admired him so much that he was often referred to as the most Christian person in the 20th century!

    Personally, I am not a pacifist although I am pre-disposed to be one. I think we should try to resolve major disputes between potential combatants as peacefully as possible.

    As much as I admire what Gandhi’s message of non-violent disobedience achieved in India and other places, I think there are cases where it would not work:

    EXAMPLE 1: INDOCHINA
    if the Indochinese people had practised Gandhi’s satyagraha method would that have spared them the US massive bombing raids, use of napalm, defoliants, anti-personnel weapons and other methods of warfare?
    Sadly not, I think because they wanted them to accept puppet regimes the US wanted them to have and the US war machine/Military Industrial Complex. There were Buddhist non-violent peace movements, but they were put down with massive violence by the puppet regimes. It was the combined action of the NLF and the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the resistances in Laos and Cambodia that led to the defeat of US imperialism in the region..

    EXAMPLE:2: EAST TIMOR & WEST PAPUA
    When the Indonesian military (TNI) invaded East Timor in 1975, it immediately began wholesale slaughter of the The East Timorese population. The TNI was then operating under the fascist dictatorship of General Suharto who was one of the great mass murderers of the 20th century.. The East Timorese established an armed resistance under the leadership of the FRETILIN Party and later known as FALINTIL which the TNI could not defeat. With the fall of Suharto in 1998, to resolve this stalemate, the Indonesian leadership agreed to a UN independence referendum of the East Timorese population to overcome this stalemate. The TNI was finally was driven out due to a UN peacekeeping force following a period of murders and mass destruction by it and its Timorese militias.

    The TNI entered West Papua in 1962 and it is still there and even though Indonesia is supposed to be a democratic nation, the TNI is carrying out mass murder, torture, rape, evisceration and other gross crimes against humanity. The Organisasi Papua Merdeka (OPM) has organised both armed and civil disobedience throughout this time, but the West Papuans still have not achieved peace The WP resistance movement is now the United Liberation Movement for West Papua under the leadership of Benny Wenda and mostly uses civil disobedience.

    This is a case where the UN should step in, but probably won’t because Indonesia is a client state of the US and it was the US that stopped the Dutch from giving the West Papuans in the early 1960s and delivered this Melanesian nation to Indonesia. Being totally non-violent against a barbaric military like the TNI will not by itself obtain freedom for the long suffering West Papuans.

    EXAMPLE 3: PALESTINE
    The Palestinians have been occupied by the Zionist state of Israel since 1948 after terrorist gangs had carried out a reign of terror following WW2. One of the basic problems is that Zionism believes that the Israeli people are superior in race and religion to the Palestinians. Large numbers of Palestinians have died, have been usurped from their land, suffer daily military persecution to their lives at the hands of the Israel “Defence” Force.

    The situation- like the one in West Papua – is not likely to change unless there is UN intervention. However, this is a long time off because Israel is a client state of the US and American leaders support the situation no matter how badly Zionist Israel behaves against the human rights and land rights of the Palestinians.

    The Palestinians have tried both civil disobedience and armed struggle against Israel, but so far neither tactic has brought about a just resolution. for their independence or their rights.

    And there are many other examples where civil disobedience will not by itself bring about freedom or justice.

    In the struggles for independence, social justice and human rights, it seems to me that those being oppressed should strive to use peaceful means to obtain their goals, but sadly may need to be involved in armed resistance when this fails.