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Gandhian Approach to Peace and Non-violence

By Siby K Joseph

Dean of Studies and Research,

Institute of Gandhian Studies, Wardha, India.

Email: igsgvp@yahoo.com

The UN’s International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World was end by 2010 and efforts have been made on a global scale to carry out the agenda set in the declaration for a culture of peace. It is to be noted that the significant decision was taken during the year in which we commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of the martyrdom of Gandhi. This historic declaration placed before humanity the great challenge of transforming the institutional structures and factors contributed to the escalation of violence into non-violent ones. The strategies aimed at realizing the goals of the declaration are yet to produce significant results. The efforts undertaken so far have been inadequate to transform the culture of war and violence into a culture of peace and non-violence. There is now increasing realization that peace is not merely the absence of overt forms of violence, but is intimately linked up with questions of justice, as reflected in the several struggles for justice waged in different parts of the world, often by adopting violent methods. The challenge is to transform violent struggles into non-violent actions aimed at stirring society wide dialogue on fundamental and ethical questions; there is no doubt about the democratic credentials of such attempts.

Although there has been a rethinking in different parts of the world about the use of violent methods to achieve social and political goals, it has not reached a critical mass capable of capturing the imagination of policy makers and civil society. Concerted efforts are needed on the part of international agencies, educators, academicians, activists, civil society actors and policy makers to take the non-violent agenda forward. It is necessary that we not only examine the instances of successful application of non-violence to learn lessons from them for future practices, but also analyse conflicts in terms of their potential for applicability of non-violent methods as well as evolve suitable strategies for transforming violent conflicts into non-violent ones. There are tasks that need to be undertaken on a continual basis at different levels.

Humanity is passing through a very difficult period. Violence and terrorism have become the catch words of international politics. After the 9/11 attacks on World Trade centre and Pentagon, there is increasing realization that existing military solutions are inadequate to provide security to the people concerned. People all over the world are living in constant fear and insecurity. This precarious situation and the futility of the weapons of mass destruction in ensuring peace prompt one to think about non-violent methods.

The growing concern of international community has been reflected in the declarations and decisions of international organizations including the United Nations. The United Nations in its 61st General Assembly declared October 2, the birthday of Gandhi, as the international Non-violence Day. The wide co-sponsorship of the draft resolution reflected the universal acceptance of the non-violent method successfully employed by Gandhi in South Africa and later in India. Gandhi has now become a synonym for non-violence and peace.

The contribution of Gandhi is that he changed the very meaning of peace and non-violence. In other words, he has revolutionized these concepts and practically demonstrated its use on a massive scale. Although, Gandhi has not used terms like conflict resolution, conflict transformation and so on, he is acknowledged as one of the precursors of conflict resolution techniques.

His concept of peace and non-violence is integrally related to his world view. Gandhi evolved his world view from a concept of ‘self’ and human nature. Acknowledging the inherent goodness of human beings, Gandhi emphasized the capacity of all human beings to develop their full potential of non-violence. The path of violence was seen by him as a downward path away from our humanity and closer to that of brute while the path of Non-violence was closer to humanness. He believed in the unity and oneness of all including the sentient and non-sentient beings. He believed that all human beings are part of the divine and they are interdependent and interrelated. If one person gains in Non-violence, the entire humanity gains with him and vice versa. In such an interrelated and relational framework, Non-violence becomes the cardinal principle governing human relations.

Gandhi’s concept of non-violence is closely linked with his understanding of the above interrelatedness. Truth was fundamental in his philosophy of life. He also wanted to make the truth discovery as the principle around which the differences among human beings could be sorted out. Throughout his life he was experimenting and perfecting his notion of truth. For him Truth was a sovereign principle and it includes numerous other principles. Gandhi called Truth realization as the realization of the God. This quest for truth can be carried out not through any means. Violence is based on a notion that the person who employs it has the sole possession of Truth. Gandhi was of the view that the Truth known to human beings is never absolute but relative. Therefore a seeker of Truth has to adhere to the path of non-violence because unless he uses the method of Non-violence, he will no to be able to be receptive to the notions of Truth held by others. Gandhi wanted that all struggles and conflicts should be approached as a contestation between the notions of relative truth held by the conflicting parties. Only through a non-violent method you will be able to pursue a struggle of this kind because in it truth contestation becomes a joint effort of both conflicting parties. In other words it becomes a joint search for Truth by the conflicting parties. There is no imposition of your notion of Truth. Just as you envisage the possibility of the conversion of other side to your position, the reverse possibility also cannot be ruled out.

For Gandhi, non-violence was a creed or an article of faith. He subscribed to non-violence on the basis of a deep faith in it. His complete adherence to non-violence was based on principles rather than opportunism or purely based on cost benefit considerations, although he was not unaware of its strategic value. For Gandhi, it was not a weapon of expediency. It was a spiritual weapon and he successfully employed it at the mundane level. He made it clear that it is not a weapon of the weak and the coward. The application of this principle needs greater courage and moral strength. He believed that Ahimsa or Love has a universal application and it can be employed in one’s own family, society and the world at the larger level. Through the technique of non-violence a seeker or Truth tries to convert his opponent by the force of moral character and self suffering. A practitioner of non-violence has to undergo suffering to penetrate into the heart of the opponent. Gandhi looked upon self-less suffering as the law of human beings and war as the law of jungle.  How you can avoid pain and suffering is based on a utilitarian thinking, which is the basis of the much of the liberal thinking of the West. Suffering for a worthy cause in non-Western cultures is often seen as liberative, even if it emerged as the result of the application of violence against an oppressor. The redemptive character of self-suffering was emphasized by Gandhi and a constituted a key element of his Satyagraha technique. Gandhi’s commitment to Non-violence evolved also from a careful reading of history and its interpretation. He came to the conclusion that it is Non-violence that has sustained the world so far and will sustain it in future too.

Gandhian non-violence challenges the notion that the principle is applicable in interpersonal relations and has no value in the public world. Gandhi emphasized that the law of love operates at all levels, and for him public life and values should be an echo of private life.

Gandhi’s concept of peace is also a broad one. For him peace emerged from a way of life. Therefore peace is intimately linked up with justice, development and environment. It may be noted that the well known peace researcher Johan Galtung acknowledged his debt to Gandhi in the evolution of his concept of structural and cultural violence. His advocacy of ideas such s self-reliance and models of development focused on basic needs also have a strong Gandhian imprint. Gandhi’s influence could also be found in the ideas of Bjorn Hettne who has tried to focus on the relationship between models of development and peace. Similarly, Arne Naess who coined the term, deep ecology has acknowledged his indebtedness in the formulation of the term.

A search for the philosophical basis of Gandhian concept of peace should begin with a careful reading of his seminal work Hind Swaraj which he wrote in1909, where he criticized the modern model of development as inherently violent. One who scrutinizes Gandhi’s speeches, writings and actions will understand his deep commitment for the cause of peace and non-violence which was a part of his philosophy of life and his world view. In the ideal society of Gandhi’s vision the organization and relationship of the members of the society must be based on the law of non-violence or love. The real task before those who dream a peaceful and non-violence, Gandhi placed before humanity and contributes towards transformation of the existing society into a peaceful non-violent one. This task is a challenging one, but it is worth pursuing.

Source: 'Contemporary Perspectives on Peace and Non-violence', 2010