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ARTICLES > PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > 'Conflict Resolution and Peace' : A Gandhian Perspective
'Conflict Resolution & Peace': A Gandhian Perspective
By Manas Roy*
Mutual trust and bilateral negotiations, preparedness to discuss the problem collectively with open mindedness, tendency to examine and change our own belief i.e. flexibility is required to escape conflict. Total disarmament is the need of the hour but it cannot take place unless and until the hearts and minds of persons who manufacture, sell and purchase weapons are changed. Public pressure could play an important role. Organizations, in addition to individual pacifists must pressurize the governments or the policy makers to adopt peaceful means to resolve problems. Gandhi accepted the potentiality of various kinds of conflicts as occasions to contemplate over the confirmed problems and also as an opportunity to search for peaceful means to resolve them, because of his positive attitude. He knew very well that the process of conflict resolution involved the painstaking task of restructuring the present world by liberating the human mind from dogmatism of various kinds such as economic and political barbarism, religious bigotry etc. To achieve simultaneously the negative aim of conflict resolution and the positive aim of establishing peace, Gandhi propounded his philosophy of peace. Our need is to proclaim again and again the significance of Gandhian pacifism to solve crucial problems of conflict and violence. To prevent structural violence, Gandhi proposed theories with the ideals of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, Swaraj, Swadeshi, Buniyadi Talim, Decentralization of power and wealth, Trusteeship, Social harmony & Communal unity, Economic equality, Sarva Dharma Sambhava, Democracy of Enlightened Majority etc. Gandhi's approach had always been holistic as human life is a synthetic whole, which can not be divided into watertight compartments of social, religious, political life etc. Trusteeship, Swadeshi, Bread Labour, Khadi and Village Industries, Decentralisation of Wealth, Eleven Vows or Ekadasha Vrata also recommends the solutions mentioned above and thus presents a constructive programme proposed by Gandhi. Once again it underlines (i) Removal of untouchability (ii) Prohibition, (iii) Upliftment of women (iv) Communal Unity (v) Service of backward class (vi) Village Sanitation (vii) National Language (viii) Basic education (ix) Adult education (x) Village Industries. Gandhi asserts that besides individual endeavour corporate actions are also needed. The most fundamental principle of his philosophy of peace is "Ahimsa" or nonviolence which is the law of love, life and creation as opposed to violence or Himsa, the cause of hatred, death and destruction. According to Gandhi the universal human value of Ahimsa ought to be cultivated not merely at a personal level, but at social, national and international levels too if we wish to avoid personal, social, national and international conflicts. It is a very powerful means to avoid conflict, since it springs from an inner realization of the equality of all human beings. It is absence of intention of injuring, harming, disturbing and agonising opponents. It is good will towards all human beings. Nonviolence at interpersonal and international levels can be defined as altruistic approach. As a peaceful technique to resist injustice, it includes a concrete programme and leads to self-suffering and sacrifice. For Gandhi "Fasting unto death" is the last step to oppose injustice. Gandhi's approach is ethical, as he believes, that moral degeneration is the root cause of all evils including conflicts. So he recommends acquisition of moral values such as truthfulness, nonviolence or love, self-control, forgiveness, non-enmity or friendliness, compassion, mercy etc. In fact values are the best equipments discovered by human beings to escape various types of conflicts. Researches also show that the root of all problems invariably lies in the infringement of values― moral, religious, spiritual, economic and political and moral principles. Undoubtedly conflicts are nothing but the illustration of the violation of moral laws, non performance of duties, negligence of human values, enjoyment of freedom without caring for responsibility etc. Hence Gandhi appreciates moral solution, which is inexpensive, and a single person can initiate and undertake the task of conflict resolution by attracting world wide attention. Gandhi, a great political thinker, therefore, recommends that politics should be a branch of ethics. Moral principles must be adhered to by politicians, ideologues, social activists as well as ordinary citizens of the world as there is no dividing line between private and public life. Assimilation of values in one's character and their expression in conduct is required to avoid conflicts and this in turn is possible through awakening of “Conscience” at personal, social, national and global levels. Public awareness of those values which are conducive to peace building must be evoked through exhibition, education, public lectures, dialogues and mass communication―T.V., Radio, Newspapers etc. Gandhi proposed and adopted "Satyagraha" as a moral equivalent to war and conflict. As we all know the successful conduct of war involves two things. On the one hand, suppression of the virtues of kindness, friendliness, forgiveness and consideration for the sufferings of fellow human beings, and on the other, encouragement of the feelings of unqualified hatred, anger and hostility towards so called enemies. Thus war leads to total violation of the liberal democratic principles of respect for persons and dignity of the individual. On the contrary, a satyagrahi while resisting injustice shows respect for his opponent by making moral appeals to him and expecting him to be responsive. A satyagrahi aims at conversion of the opponent's heart by making him aware of his ill will or inhuman behaviour through self-suffering. Satyagraha aims at winning over the opponent by love and gentle persuasion and by arousing in him a sense of justice rather than forcing him to surrender out of fear. The method of Satyagraha is purely moral and humanistic as it involves faith in the inherent goodness and good sense of the opponent coupled with goodwill towards him and readiness to come to an understanding and compromise. In fact Satyagraha aims at settlement of issue or issues with the opponent without causing him even psychological injury as it implies soul-force, courage and determination. A well-conducted campaign of Satyagraha, absolutely untouched by violence in word and deed, makes the opponent suffer as his own moral consciousness exposes the immorality of his action. Gandhi believed in the technique of Satyagraha, because he had faith in the goodness of human nature. The moral and humanistic grandeur of Satyagraha as a method of resolving conflict and securing justice has been appreciated by several thinkers, politicians and social workers. If we wish to keep peace, we ought to follow the UN charter of human rights, according to which dignity of human life must be honoured and maintained without reference to caste, colour, creed, etc. We have to redefine the concept of development and progress as Human Welfare and well-being by replacing the prevalent misleading concept of development and progress in terms of Economic Development and material progress. If we want peace, we have to replace the humanity negating industrial consumerist culture by idealistic humanism. Belief in the spiritual constitution of man led Gandhi to affirm equality of all human beings and to declare innate goodness of men. Humanism as the philosophy of Globalism or Global philosophy implies non-discrimination with regard to race, sex, language, region, religion, political ideology, social and economic status, international status of the country etc., since the basic structure and nature of human beings all over the world is same. We must rationalise our ways of thinking and instead of thinking of the world in terms of maps and markets, we should think of it in terms of men, women and children i.e. in terms of mankind. To prevent conflicts caused by religious bigotry, Gandhi suggested "Sarva Dharma Sambhav". According to him all religions are true and man cannot live without religion so he recommends an attitude of respect and tolerance towards all religions.
Role of Academics:
It is very shocking to note that no serious and sustained consideration is given to human search for peace or peace studies in academic institutions and syllabi, while ours is a world of nuclear giants and moral infants. Each and every citizen of the world must be educated to escape conflict, as ultimately the person himself is the insurmountable barrier in conflict resolution. Every educated person should be made aware of the fact that issues relating to peaceful co-existence basically belong to each citizen. So every person must be trained to rise above communal pressures, religious loyalties, regional and other interests etc. Harmonious interpersonal relationships must be developed through formal and informal education. Hence reconstitution of the present education system by re-considering its goal is a very urgent task. Awareness and awakening of creative qualities must be a part of the education policy and curriculum. Instead of over-emphasizing destructive instincts, we must try to emphasize constructive aspects of peoples personalities, because constructive aspect is related to human values and virtues as well as their incorporation in cognitive, co-native and affective dimension of our personality. The foregoing outlines of Gandhi's philosophy of peace endorses the truism that Gandhi is one of the very relevant precursors of conflict-resolution movement with his comprehensible philosophy of peace based on the psychology of human nature, awareness of social realities and knowledge of economic and political systems and situations. If conflict is not properly handled, it may lead to large-scale war, threatening the very existence of human survival. At times, the cooperative behaviour of a particular society or community may affect the peaceful life of others in the society. For example, the extreme form of nationalism of a particular country affects its relations with its neighbouring countries. In the same way, the conflicting behaviour of a given society may develop group cohesiveness and strong identity. (e.g. at the time of war and emergency, people show national solidarity). Thus dealing with conflict requires enormous potentiality, skills, strategies etc. Normative forms and natural way (leaving it to its natural course of its end) of dealing with conflicts very often proves stereotypic, uncreative and less effective. Since the causes for conflicts are multiple due to changing situations, the methods to deal with and respond to conflict cannot remain single and one dimensional. Albert Einstein said, "The significant problems we face today cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." Thus we require multiple and more creative approaches to respond to conflict. This will not happen through repetitive way of using the normative techniques of conflict resolution. What is required is an in depth study on various dimensions and dynamics of conflicts and more effective and creative ways of coping with them. This necessitates the need for education on conflict resolution. To bridge the gap between knowledge and action in conflict resolution, intensive training and wider exposure in this field becomes necessary. In order to improve human conditions at the micro and macro levels, education, research and training in conflict studies that is now phrased, as 'Conflictology' is needed. This comes very much under the purview of the academic field. We are passing through the era of information. Information is considered as one of the main sources of power. Academics, as the upholders of this power, have a significant role to play in the field of conflict resolution through their educational activities such as teaching, research and training. Intellectuals, the responsible citizens of civic society, are bound to do this work not only to make the world free from destructive conflicts but also to create an atmosphere where conflicts can be resolved creatively and effectively.
Though all minds do not think and feel alike, the best way to understand another man's mind is through observing one's own mind. When one watches one's mind, one sees that the emotions that arise in one's mind are not permanent. They do not always have the same intensity. Sometimes, we can be in the grip of an emotion, and at the same time see how the emotion has gripped our mind and is twirling our mind around as a storm twirls a tree around. We can also see how the storm passes, and the mind or the tree slowly―sometimes quickly―settles down and experiences the calm that follows the storm. We thus see that emotions arise in our mind, but are not part of our mind. If they were part of our mind, there would have been no variations in the intensity of our emotions, no changes, no arising and no disappearance. We should learn from this that the intolerance, anger and aggressiveness that we encounter from other minds are also capable of waxing and waning, arising and disappearing. Collective minds also share the same nature; they can be roused to a high pitch of fury, but can also respond with equal intensity to pity or love or compassion or loyalty or devotion to ideals or to God. It may be argued that the psyche of the individual and the psyche of collectives do not always react in an identical fashion. But it is also true, we have many instances that show, how they both react similarly. The Indian struggle for independence under Mahatma Gandhi is replete with instances that show how similar emotions arose and worked in the minds of individuals and groups, the readiness to overcome hatred, the readiness to sacrifice one's possessions or happiness, the readiness to suffer for a cause, etc. There is sufficient evidence to demonstrate the similarity of responses to similar stimuli or to the same appeal. It is therefore possible to believe that similar stimuli and appeals may help to decelerate the momentum of negative and divisive emotions and bring it below the level of the threshold of active confrontation or conflict. One of the major reasons why Gandhi was able to do this was Gandhi's success in making people distinguish between evil and the evil doer, or the mind that holds wrong views and the views themselves, which as we have seen, are not an inherent and irremovable part of the mind. If this is a valid and verifiable distinction, we can also see the consequences of holding the two as one. Firstly, if they are the same, there is hardly any way of changing or transforming views or emotions. The problems that arise from differences can only be resolved by the physical isolation or annihilation of the other person. Given the fact that human beings think and feel differently, this would have led to a perpetual desire to eliminate or contain the other. Such an attitude of mind would be inconsistent with the gregariousness or interdependence that characterizes the human species. It is therefore clear that the mind of the human being, as it has evolved in the species, has to be treated and approached as distinct from the views and emotions that arise, transit, and disappear, and the distinction has to be used to deal with problems that arise from differences in views and emotions. If this is a necessity to bring about changes or compromises in the short term, it is also a necessity to preserve the integrity of human society and to protect it from the violent and destructive effects of frequent fission. Secondly, if views are unalterable and there is no way of achieving (eliciting) consent or acquiescence through persuasion and consent, social changes can be brought about, and social systems can be sustained only through 'force', and not reason. Dictatorship then will be the natural way of governance, and suppression will be the natural way of dealing with a mind that dares to think for itself. Democracy bases itself on the belief that the human mind can be transformed, that views can be transformed, if not to the point of wholesale acceptance of other views and the abandonment of one's earlier views, at least to the point of acquiescence and tolerance. To Gandhi truth is the core of reality; the law that governs the universe and gives it its form: Dharma or the force of cohesion that sustains an entity. Love is a reflection of this force of cohesion among the sentient, as the law of gravitation is its reflection in the realm of the inanimate. He therefore looked upon Truth and Love as two sides of the same coin, and declared that as a votary of Truth or Satyagraha, it was his duty and his Sadhana to serve all creation. "All creation" includes not only the sentient but also the non-sentient; and the sentient as Gandhi explained includes the "creepy-crawlies" or the "meanest" of creations. To Gandhi, therefore, the purpose of individual and social life was the pursuit of Dharma through means consistent with Dharma or the force of cohesion, viz. love. Gandhi too believed that Truth manifested in itself, and was accessible only through the 'inexorable law of cause and effect'. A cause could create only the effect that was inherent in it. Conversely, a desired effect could be brought about only by creating the cause that could produce the effect (that contained the seeds of the effect). Means and ends therefore become almost indistinguishably interwoven. An evil effect or negativity can be removed only by the power of its antithesis or antidote. So to him too, love was the only force that could overcome hatred and conflict. Gandhi pointed out that since conflict took birth in the mind, it could be resolved only through a mental process or mental force, not through the deployment of physical force. He saw Satyagraha as a mental, moral and spiritual force that the mind used to work on other minds and to correct attitudes and acts that were inconsistent with truth, justice or the principle of cohesion that is the essence of Dharma. Both The Buddha and Gandhi were men of action. The Buddha is a remote figure in history and the interventions he made to preempt or resolve social conflicts or ensure justice to sentient beings are not remembered or recounted. But Gandhi lived in the recent past, and his interventions and struggles are still remembered and studied. Gandhi has explained why he became a man of "direct action". He had found that human beings were sometimes (often) impervious to the appeal of reason when their interests or views were involved, and only direct action could shock them out of selfishness or intransigence, into introspection and self-correction. He answered the charge that such direct action could become divisive and cause confrontation or conflict in society, and said that men of peace, persons of undoubted spiritual eminence like the Buddha and Jesus were men of direct action. According to Gandhi, "Never has anything been done on this earth without direct action. I reject the word 'passive resistance', because of its insufficiency and its being interpreted as a way of the weak." Thus Gandhi's recipe for the resolution of conflicts was Satyagraha, the desire to discover Truth, to insist on Truth, and abandon all that dilutes Truth or deviated ever so slightly from Truth. This could be achieved through a joint review of facts and issues; mediation or arbitration; introspection; direct action that promoted introspection and reminded one of the need for reconciliation in a society that comes into being, survives and prospers through interdependence; and tolerance for the residual differences that might remain on peripheral matters.
The manner in which Gandhi’s techniques have sometimes been invoked even in the land of his birth in recent years would appear to be a travesty of his principles. And the world has been in the grip of a series of crises in Korea, the Congo, the Vietnam, the Middle East, and South Africa with a never-ending trail of blood and bitterness. The shadow of a thermo-nuclear war with its incalculable hazards continues to hang over mankind. From this predicament, Gandhi’s ideas and techniques may suggest a way out. He advocated nonviolence not because it offered an easy way out, but because he considered violence in the long run, an ineffective weapon. His rejection of violence stemmed from choice, not from necessity. Horace Alexander, who knew Gandhi and saw him in action, graphically describes the attitude of the nonviolent resister to his opponent: "On your side you have all the mighty forces of the modern State, arms, money, a controlled press, and all the rest. On my side, I have nothing but my conviction of right and truth, the unquenchable spirit of man, who is prepared to die for his convictions rather than submit to your brute force. I have my comrades in armlessness. Here we stand; and here if need be, we fall." Far from being a craven retreat from difficulty and danger, nonviolent resistance demands courage of a high order, the courage to resist injustice without rancour, to unite the utmost firmness with the utmost gentleness, to invite suffering but not to inflict it, to die but not to kill. Gandhi did not make the facile division of mankind into "good" and "bad" He was convinced that every human being—even the "enemy―had a kernel of decency: there were only evil acts, no wholly evil men". His technique of Satyagraha was designed not to coerce the opponent, but to set into motion forces which could lead to his conversion. Relying as it did on persuasion and compromise, Gandhi’s method was not always quick in producing results, but the results were likely to be more durable for having been brought about peacefully. "It is my firm conviction," Gandhi affirmed, "that nothing enduring can be built upon violence." The rate of social change through the nonviolent technique was not in fact likely to be much slower than that achieved by violent methods; it was definitely faster than that expected from the normal functioning of institutions which tended to fossilize and preserve the status quo. Gandhi did not think it possible to bring about radical changes in the structure of society overnight. Nor did he succumb to the illusion that the road to a new order could be paved merely with pious wishes and fine words. It was not enough to blame the opponent or bewail the times in which one’s lot was cast. However heavy the odds, it was the satyagrahi’s duty never to feel helpless. The least he could do was to make a beginning with himself. If he was crusading for a new deal for peasantry, he could go to a village and live there, if he wanted to bring peace to a disturbed district, he could walk through it, entering into the minds and hearts of those who were going through the ordeal, if an age-old evil like untouchability was to be fought, what could be a more effective symbol of defiance for a reformer than to adopt an untouchable child? If the object was to challenge foreign rule, why not act on the assumption that the country was already free, ignore the alien government and build alternative institutions to harness the spontaneous, constructive and cooperative effort of the people? If the goal was world peace, why not begin today by acting peacefully towards your immediate neighbour, going more than half way to understand and win him over? Though he may have appeared a starry-eyed idealist, Gandhi’s attitude to social and political problems was severely practical. There was a deep mystical streak in him, but even his mysticism seemed to have little of the ethereal about it. He did not dream heavenly dreams nor see things unutterable in trance; when "the still small voice" spoke to him, it was often to tell how he could fight a social evil or heal a rift between two warring communities. Far from distracting him from his role in public affairs, Gandhi’s religious quest gave him the stamina to play it more effectively. To him true religion was not merely the reading of scriptures, the dissection of ancient texts, or even the practice of cloistered virtue: it had to be lived in the challenging context of political and social life. Gandhi used his nonviolent technique on behalf of his fellow-countrymen in South Africa and India, but he did not conceive it only as a weapon in the armory of Indian nationalism. Nonviolence, as Gandhi expounded it, ceased to be a pious exhortation, and became a necessity. The advice he gave to the unfortunate Abyssinians and Czechs during the twilight years before the Second Word War, may have seemed utopian thirty years ago but not today. Gandhi would have been the first to deny that his method offered an instant or universal panacea for world peace. His method is capable of almost infinite evolution to suit new situations in a changing world. It is possible that "applied non-violence" is at present having the same value to maintain "global peace" for ever.
In a human society conflicts will always be there between individuals, groups, nations because of differences of opinion, clash of interest, establishment of superiority and various other factors. Conflicts help in material and intellectual advancement. Economic deprivation and social subjugation are the basic causes of conflicts in human society. In the study of history of human civilization it is found that there was a continuous trend of torturing the weak by more powerful individuals or groups, exploitation of the poor by the rich and landed people, hatred of the upper caste people on the lower caste people, neglect of the illiterate people by the educated people, socially over-powering women by men and such other injustices. Such social injustices are a constant source of discontent giving rise to conflicts. Instead of solving those conflicts they were always suppressed. In the progress of civilization and development of humanistic attitude, people are now gradually getting more and more concerned with Human Rights that demand social justice to all sections of the society. Every human being must be provided with their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, access to education and health care and freedom. Extreme poverty and illiteracy among a major section of the population is the greatest tragedy for India. It is shame that a small section of our population including public servants and political leaders are living such a luxurious and expensive life which is in sharp contrast with the common people. Naturally this wide discrimination is a constant source of discontent and conflict. Also, in the global context there is sharp contrast between the rich and poor countries. A reasonable economic order through equitable distribution of wealth among different nations and more particularly among the people of the same country is very much needed to avoid conflicts and clashes. This is the biggest challenge faced by society. Keeping aside these basic facts, only a slogan for 'peace' can not change the society. In education along with spreading ideas of universal love and tolerance and importance of maintenance of peace for sustaining human development, there should be sufficient provision to make students conscious about denouncing extreme inequality in distribution of wealth. A mindset will be prepared that will help in developing a society where equitable distribution of wealth will be given due emphasis. Proper concept of human welfare should be cultivated through education. A humanistic education covering various aspects responsible for creating social discontents giving rise to conflicts and emphasizing on maintaining peace in resolution of conflicts, will create a society worth living as Gandhi visioned and worked for.