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ARTICLES > PEACE, NON-VIOLENCE & CONFLICT RESOLUTION > Conflict Resolution and Peace possibilities in the Gandhian Perspective
Conflict Resolution and Peace Possibilities in the Gandhian Perspective
By Surinder K. Shukla
Truth alone can resolve conflict. Peace an occur only in a truthful environment. Fear, anger, hatred and cowardice lead to conflict and there can be no peace in such a situation. Gandhi exhorts upon the individual to base himself on Truth and nonviolence. Conflicts at the individual level must go before conflicts at a larger level can be resolved.
What is Truth? Gandhi identified two truths―one may be called the absolute Truth and, the other, relative Truth. The absolute Truth refers to the ultimate, absolute, and perfect ideals which can never be realised fully, given the imperfect nature of man1. Relative Truth refers to the immediate goals which are fully realizable.
But there is no conflict between the absolute Truth and the relative Truth. Through relative truth, absolute truth can be approached. The idea of absolute truth is the pointer, the regulator, and the corrector of relative human truth.
Gandhi had a hypothesis, an assumption, and an intuition that the spirit or the essence of human unity―or God's existence―is present always and everywhere in all human hearts as well as it transcends the whole world and that it is supremely powerful. He proceeded to test the hypothesis everyday, and year after year. He stated his belief that truth and God are synonymous. He entitled his autobiography The Story of My Experiments with Truth2.
Gandhi considered that truth in this world cannot be discovered except through nonviolence. There will always be conflicts, great and small, in human affairs. The nuclear bomb has made it obvious that total war can no longer settle conflicts. And clearly no conflict can be ended in its inner reality by the alleged deterrence from the possession of nuclear weapons. In such a stalemate, the possibility of using nonviolent resistance might be worth examining3.
At the first mention, the term "nonviolent resistance" seems self-contradictory. How can any resistance be effective in this modern world unless it has the backing of great strength, power, and weapons? Nevertheless there have been instances in history where great courage, deep conviction, and a fine cause have prevailed without violence, against armed might. Gandhi's struggle for the freedom of India was one instance. He believed that unity can also be aroused, fruitfully and enduringly, by love and the desire for justice leading to resolution of conflict.
War or Peace?―exactly proportionate to the attainment of nonviolence by each individual.
Gandhi believed that the way of the peace is the way of Truth. Truthfulness is even more important than peacefulness. Indeed lying is the mother of violence. A truthful man, he continued, cannot long remain violent. He will perceive in the course of his search that he has no need to be violent, and he will further discover that so long as there is the slightest trace of violence in him, he will fail to find the truth he is searching for.
There is no half way between truth and nonviolence on the one hand and untruth and violence on the other. Man may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word, and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make steady progress towards it. Gandhi believed that the attainment of freedom, whether for a man or for a nation or the world, must be in exact proportion to the attainment of non-violence by each.4
Theory and Practice of Nonviolence
Gandhi gave the theory and practice of nonviolence, practiced it in his daily life and used it to resolve conflicts. In the method we are adopting in India, he said, fraud, deceit, lying and all the ugly brood of violence and untruth have absolutely no room.5 Everything is done openly and above board, for truth hates secrecy. The more open you are, the more truthful you are likely to be. There is no such thing as defeat and despair in the dictionary of a man who bases his life on Truth and Nonviolence. Truth and nonviolence are perhaps the most active forces in the world. A man who uses regular weapons and is intent on destroying his enemies, does at least require some rest, Gandhi argued. He is therefore essentially inactive for some part in the twenty four hours. Not so in the case of the votary of truth and nonviolence.
Mathematics of Nonviolence
In a discourse, Gandhi explained to a professor of mathematics the working of nonviolence which may be described as the mathematics of nonviolence. The study of mathematics reassured the professor and in geometry he experienced for the first time the existence of a real world which is not visible to the bodily eye. The triangle he learned about in geometry was not a particular triangle that he himself might draw but the essence of all triangles.6
Gandhi employed this scientific method7 in everyday life. Gandhi's application of this scientific method was in the realm of living forces. One feature of living forces is that all life responds to suitable stimuli. And growth depends on many repetitions of tiny and gentle stimuli. Gandhi recognised and practiced this law. For one hundred and fifty years all his teaching and action consisted of many repetitions of gently loving stimuli to the spirit in the hearts of all men, including his opponents. He thus caused the seed of the spirit in the hearts of almost everyone, to sprout and grow and in many cases to govern their actions.
The question arises: does the exercise of nonviolence have limits? Gandhi replied that the exercise of nonviolence requires far greater bravery than that of swordsmanship. Cowardice is wholly inconsistent, he said, with nonviolence. Nonviolence presupposes the ability to strike. It is a conscious, deliberate restraint put upon one's desire for vengeance.....the sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children who throw dust at him. They only harm themselves in the act.8 Gandhi said that individual conviction is the essence of carrying out nonviolence.
Nonviolence Based on Eternal Law of Love
Gandhi used the nonviolent method by basing it on the eternal law of love which is the single largest tool for resolving conflict. Gandhi argued that Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal law of love.9 He said that nonviolence is not merely a personal virtue. It is also a social virtue to be largely cultivated like other virtues. Surely society is largely regulated by the expression of nonviolence in its mutual dealings. What I ask for, he said, is an extension of it on a larger, national and international scale.
Nonviolence is superior to violence because it is diametrically opposed to violence. Violence is needed for protection of external things whereas, nonviolence is needed for protection of atman for the protection of one's honour.
Nonviolence cannot be learnt by staying at home.....He who trembles when he sees two people fighting is not nonviolent but a coward. A nonviolent person will lay down his life in preventing such quarrels. This power was trained and utilised by Gandhi to foster the principle of nonviolence in bringing about India's freedom without bloodshed.
Violence Thrives on Counter-Violence
Gandhi believed that means are related to the end. Violence can only breed counter-violence. The vital problem connected with nonviolence was that mankind had all along tried to justify violence and war in terms of unavoidable self-defence. The rule was simple that the violence of the aggressor could only be defeated by superior violence of the defender.10 This led to a mad race for armaments.
It may sound paradoxical but violence always thrives on counter-violence. Violence can never be ended with violence. Gandhi showed by practical experience, several times in his life, that violence can be countered only by nonviolence.11
Compromise and Trust, argued Gandhi, is the essence of nonviolence. The power of nonviolence is evident by the use of the twin concept of compromise and trust. Even if the opponent plays him false twenty times, the resister must be ready to trust him for the twenty-first time, for an implicit trust in human nature is the very essence of this creed. Compromise expresses a willingness to adjust to realities and avoid conflicts, even at the cost of sacrificing some position taken originally, howsoever, sound it may have been. In modern times compromise and trust are important weapons which can be employed with success in conflict resolution and bringing about peace in the world.
Modern Examples of Nonviolent Resistance
There have been many instances of the successful use of nonviolent resistance in different countries and at different times. This has been analysed by Richard B. Gregg in his "The Power of Nonviolence."12 Because the taste of historians inclines more towards politics and wars, these other events have received very slight attention at their hands, and records of many of them have been lost. In some instances the nonviolent resistance was by individuals, in other instances it took the form of a mass or corporate form. The latter form is rarer and perhaps more significant. Gregg quotes few outstanding examples13 to which the latest has been added at the end of the list:
Hungary - 1867
South Africa - 1906
India - Champaran, 1917
India - Vykom in the State of Travancore, 1925
India - Kotgarh near Shimla, 1921
India - Bardoli, 1928
India - Struggle for independence
Denmark - 1940
Norway - 1940
United States - Montgomery, 1956
South Africa - 1994 Success of Anti-apartheid Policy of Nelson Mandela
Appreciating the use of nonviolence at a larger level, Albert Einstein14 said that in our age of moral decay Gandhi was the only statesman who represented that higher conception of human relations in the political sphere to which we must aspire with all our power. We must learn the difficult lesson that the future of mankind will be tolerable only when our course in world affairs as well in other matters is based on justice and law, rather that on the threat of naked power.
Similar ethos is echoed in N. Radhakrishnan's Gandhi: The Quest for Tolerance and Survival in which, he notes with regret, India failed to project Gandhi who offered a healthy vision of life based on self-respect, self-help, non-exploitation, nonviolence, and transcendental ecofriendly―in short, a definite alternative to the manipulative, violent, and exploitative world order.
Not much research was conducted on the issue of these till the middle of this century. Gandhi was the shining example of the twentieth century who employed peaceful methods for bringing about a larger peace. In 1968, Willy Brandt gave a speech at a Unesco Conference highlighting peaceful coexistence as the spirit of solidarity.15 He said that peace is not merely the absence of war and violence, although we know that there are people today who would be grateful even for that. Peace demands freedom from oppression, from hunger, and from ignorance. Only under these conditions can men and people develop their capacities freely and responsibly.
In a world divided along the following lines of conflict, the Gandhian perspective of peace resolution is the only answer
- Conflict of Religious interest―conflict between Christian and non-Christian world, Islamic and non-Islamic, fundamentalist and moderatists.
- Conflict of Economic interest―conflict between developed and less developed countries.
- Conflict of Political interest―East and West relations and peaceful coexistence.
Gandhi showed the world the way in modern times to fight for peace in a most nonviolent manner. Revolution without the use of violence was the method by which Gandhi brought about the liberation of India. It is my belief16 that the problem of bringing peace to the world on a supranational basis will be solved only by employing Gandhi's method on a large scale.
This is more true in today's world where, according to Michael Brecher,17 crisis, conflict, and war are intricately interrelated, both conceptually and empirically. All are characterised by mutual mistrust between adversaries, turmoil, tension, and hostility. Violence, the essential trait of war, is often.... present in crisis and conflict.
The world is standing today at the threshold of transformation which calls for new alternatives, fresh approach, and search for a new paradigm. In making our choice we must accept that we have just one future or no future at all. What is required is a new paradigm from which all will benefit.
In this context Gandhi's methodology of truth and nonviolence based on love and cooperation rather than cut-throat competition has benign possibilities for the future. Most modern studies suffer from the major inadequacy of not viewing the relations from the standpoint of the less-developed countries.18 Inadequacy of a proper paradigm can be removed by using the Gandhian perspective of conflict resolution which is most democratic.
Economic conflict is the major conflict in the modern world. Anurag Gangal19 establishes in his book that the quest for a New International Economic Order has a lot to benefit from the Gandhian perspective as it is based on peace. According to Gandhi, nonviolent crafts are those occupations which are fundamentally free from violence and which involve no exploitation or envy of others.20
Gandhi dreamt of a free India in which peace will prevail. Such a realization was possible only when individuals are bound to each other by cords of love like the members of a family. Therefore anything that sets one individual against another is inimical to the realization of a nonviolent socialism.
Gandhi said that if we want love and peace, we cannot have it by preaching hatred and strife, just as, if we want water cooled, we cannot have it by placing it over a fire. Gandhi therefore advocated the ideals of love, non-possession, and brahmacharya or self-control. As a matter of fact, suggests Kumarappa,21 the eleven vows of Gandhi's Ashram are essential for the establishment of a nonviolent society. These are Truth, love, brahmacharya, non-possession, non-stealing, bread labour, control of the palate, fearlessness, equality of religion, untouchability, and swadeshi.
In the highly technically developed modern world of today which thrives on severe competition, it may not be possible to employ all the eleven vows of the Ashram to the hilt but the basic tenets of truth and love must be employed if the world has to survive.
Gandhi chose to resolve conflicts in his life and his times by the use of the tools of love and nonviolence. "It is for India to show an example to the world by employing these tools once again if humanity has to survive―if children do not have to grow up before time,22 if children have to be saved from cut-throat competition, if modern life has to be relieved of stress, and if the world has to be saved from the scourge of war." We need to focus on a Science of Peace, not Military Science, in all earnestness because more than war, we need peace.
Notes and References
1. Greek Philosopher Plato describes in his The Republic the ideal which is possible only in Heaven and towards which the mind's "inner eye" must be focused in order to arrive at an image close to the perfect one.
2. Richard B. Gregg; "The Power of Gandhi's Nonviolence," in his Profiles of Gandhi (New York: IBC, 1960), p. 168.
3. Richard B. Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence (Ahmedabad: Navajeevan 'Publishing House, 1938), preface.
4. Young India, 20 May 1926.
5. Ibid, 31 December 1931.
6. Harijan, 20 March 1937.
7. Richard Gregg, Profiles of Gandhi, p. 168.
8. Young India, 12 August 1926.
9. Harijan, 17 January 1939.
10. Harijan, 1 September 1940.
11. Harijan, 30 March 1947.
12. Richard B. Gregg, The Power of Nonviolence 1938, pp. 3-39.
14. Albert Einstein, "On Peace and Gandhi," in Richard B. Gregg, Profiles in Gandhi, p. 100.
15. Willy Brandt, "Peaceful Coexistence in the Spirit of Solidarity," speech at Unesco Conference, 6 November 1968.
16. Albert Einstein, "On Peace and Gandhi," p. 100.
17. See "Crisis, Conflict, War: State of the Discipline," International Political Science Review, Vol. 17 (1996), No.2.
18. J. Bandopadhyaya, North Over South: A non-Western Perspective of International Relations (New Delhi, 1982).
19. Anurag Gangal, New International Economic Order: Gandhian Perspective, New Delhi, 1985.
20. Harijan, 1 September 1940.
21. B. Kumarappa, ed, Towards Nonviolent Socialism (Ahmedabad: Navjeevan Publishing House, 1951).
22. In Japan, children do not go out for vacation for fear of losing in class by missing out on Summer Schools during the holidays.
Source: Gandhi Marg, Vol. 25, No. 4, Jan-March 2004