The Debate Between Violence and Non-Violence in Social Movements

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In history there has been a long debate between violence and non-violence in the context of social movements. Some very great persons who brought very beneficial and durable change chose the path of non-violence and peace. Some very courageous and capable leaders and their followers, on the other hand, had no hesitation in using violent methods and they too achieved positive results in the context of reducing injustice and inspiring others to seek justice. So  from the pages of history we have inspiring examples of both kinds of social movements.

However if on balance we have to decide whether non-violence or violence in social movements has been more useful, then on the whole we can say with a fair degree of confidence that the path of non-violence has been more useful and capable of bringing more durable positive results.

One reason for this is that violence in its various manifestations is itself is a big cause of human distress. This is of course seen in very cruel forms and on very large scale at the time of wars and civil wars from time to time, but in addition we can see this everyday in numerous aspects of everyday life that violence, cruelty, domination and excessive  anger, all of which are inter-related, are a leading cause of human distress. So something which is so often a part and cause of the problem cannot very readily and easily become a part of the solution. There are thus inherent problems in preferring violence to non-violence in social movements which basically seek to reduce the distress of human beings as well as other forms of life.

Secondly, social movements are likely to be more useful if these are more transparent and involve wide consultations, and are likely to be less useful if these are more secretive. But violent movements by their very nature tend to be more secretive and even conspiratorial. On the other hand non-violent movements, while these may also involve some amount of secrecy at some stage, can on the whole afford to be much more transparent and can benefit from the opinion and consultation of many more people.

Transparent movements, with a lot of well-informed discussion around them, have much more possibilities of self-correction, whereas the chances of self-correction along the path are much less in violent movements which often under the grip of a few powerful persons. Non-violent movements are likely to be much more democratic than violent ones.

Non-violent movements can become relatively more broad-based, involving much more people, and can persist in their efforts over a longer period, compared to violent movements.

The overall effort ultimately is to reduce human distress and hence care has to be taken to avoid loss to any innocent persons. The chances of innocent persons getting harmed , and sometimes even  colleagues and comrades getting very unfair or even cruel treatment, are much higher in violent movements.

While these factors have always been there, the case in favor of non-violent movements has become stronger in present times as the survival crisis of our times involves very complex issues and hence the need for transparency and well-informed wide discussion is much higher in these times, while the role of secretive action is lesser compared to earlier times. The possibilities of extending movements over a longer time horizon and increasing support base with the passage of time are also now more for non-violent movements, even though several problems remain.

Although the case of favoring non-violent movements over violent movements is strong today, this does not mean that all violent movements can be rejected outright. In the case of such movements whose honesty and sincerity is well-established we have to also look at their compulsions. Efforts should be made to reach out to them in such a way that they are able to pursue justice, equality or other sincere objectives without having to resort to violent means.  Inspite of disagreement with violence, where there is  honest commitment to justice, this aspect always deserves respect.

Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine.



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