We are living under the shadow of nuclear war and environmental disasters. The War in Ukraine is a clear reminder of violence, conflicts, corruption, injustices, exploitation, oppression, mistrust, and a process of dehumanization.
It has led the World to a deep crisis. The earth’s resources are being cornered by a handful of people without any concern for others and for the coming generations. The World needs to look to Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy to find a way out of this crisis and to build an alternative model of sustainable development. Mahatma Gandhi knew that the earth has enough to satisfy everybody’s needs but not anybody’s greed.
He had called for the replacement of greed with love. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a man considered one of the great sages and prophets. He was held as another Buddha, another Jesus, Indians called him the ‘Father of the Nation’. They showered their love, respect, and devotion to him in an unprecedented measure.
They thronged his way to have a glimpse of him, to hear one world from his lips. They applied on their foreheads the dust on the path he had trodden. For them, he was almost an incarnation of God, who had come to break the chains of their slavery. The whole world bowed to him in reverence. Even his opponents held him in great respect. Gandhi’s autobiography, which he had titled ‘My experiments with Truth’ can be rated as one of the most popular and the most influential books in recent history.
Gandhi is, therefore, now a source of inspiration and a reference book for all those fighting against racial discrimination, oppression, domination, wars, nuclear energy, environmental degradation, lack of freedom, and human rights. His principle of non-violence stemmed from this conviction. Non-violence was not a matter of policy for him; it was a matter of faith.
In 1947, the mighty British Empire declared India an independent nation without war or incited bloodshed because of Gandhi’s “belief that violence(in rhetoric or action)produces no permanent solutions, and is counter-productive in attempting to force compliance”, according to M.R Kopmeyer, America’s success counselor and author of How To Get Whatever You Want book.
It is a Psychological fact that violent acts or threats of violence are immature, ignorant attempts to re-assure one’s ego(self) which for some reason has been frightened or degraded and those who resort to violence are over-compensating for inferiority. Gandhi believed that a true civilization could be built on the basis of non-violence only.
Nonviolence is an active response that directly addresses the threat and has the power to transform opponents into allies. Active nonviolence can appear as non-co-operation, intervention, self-suffering, protest, and the creation of alternative systems. Furthermore, active nonviolence requires creativity, discipline, courage, and strength.
Creativity and discipline are required to channel anger over injustice towards the creation of opportunities that disrupt cycles of violence and constructively engage adversaries. Courage and strength are required to control one’s fear and perseverance while confronting injustice.
It is because of these attributes that Gandhi called nonviolence the weapon of the strong and violence the weapon of the weak. According to Marquette University’s Center for Peace-Making, principled nonviolence, also known as Gandhian, is often associated with a moral, ethical, or religious motivation or commitment.
Its goal is to transform relationships, societies, and adversaries through nonviolent direct action so individuals are not oppressed or exploited. The power of concern is to build “power with others” to shape society. Ensuring continuity between means and ends is a key component of principled nonviolence.
This requires that nonviolent means be used to achieve nonviolent ends. For instance, it includes a willingness to endure rather than inflict suffering and seeks to transform rather than defeat adversaries. Principled nonviolence derives its strength from its consistency—nonviolence is viewed as a way of life.
Examples of principled nonviolence campaigns include the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, the Satyagraha movement in India, the United Farm Workers movement in American farm fields, and the Peace People movement in Northern Ireland.
The principles of Satyagraha were born in South Africa. It was South Africa that made Gandhi. He made a deep study of religions there and became a staunch believer in nonviolence. The White rulers were bent on keeping South Africa under their domination. They wanted as few Indians there as possible and that too as slave-laborers.
In Transvaal, Indians were required to register themselves. The procedure was humiliating. The registration was proposed to be made stricter in 1906. Gandhi realized that it was a matter of life or death for the Indians. A mammoth meeting was held in September 1906 to oppose the bill. People took an oath in the name of God not to submit to the bill at any cost.
A new principle had come into being – the principle of Satyagraha. The agitation was first called ‘Passive Resistance’. Gandhi, however, did not like that term. It did not convey the true nature of the struggle. It implied that it was the weapon of the weak and the disarmed. It did not denote complete faith in nonviolence.
Moreover, Gandhi did not like that the Indian struggle should be known by an English name. The term ‘Sadagrah’ was suggested. Gandhi changed it to ‘Satyagrah’ to make it represent fully, the whole idea. Satyagraha means asserting truth through non-violence. It aims at converting the opponents through self-suffering.
Contrary to images of passivity the word “nonviolence” may conjure, nonviolence is an active response that directly addresses the threat and has the power to transform opponents into allies.
In their book, Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict, Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan find that nonviolent campaigns worldwide were two times more successful than campaigns using violent methods.
They collected data from 1900-2006 on all major nonviolent and violent campaigns aiming to overthrow a government or expel an occupying power. They argue that the moral, physical, informational, and commitment barriers to participation are much lower for nonviolent resistance than for violent insurgency. Thus, nonviolent campaigns are more likely to gather mass participation or garner mass appeal.
As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Nonviolence is the greatest and the activist force in the world. It is a force which is more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether.”
Author – Peter Ongera
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay