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Three Case Studies Of Non-violence
- in the Context of their relationship to Gandhian Satyagraha
By Krishna Mallick
The purpose of this paper is to make the point that nonviolence is well alive in this violent world. It is being followed in different parts of the world. I intend to show how the situation of three countries ―the United States, South Africa, and Myanmar ―is different by giving the timelines of each of these cases, yet each of them has used the nonviolent method to resolve the injustices that went on, in the case of U.S. with regard to the treatment of blacks, in South Africa with regard to Apartheid which discriminated against the black majorities, and is going on in Myanmar's (previously called Burma) struggle for democracy in spite of NLD's (National League For Democracy) victory in the 1990 election.
Gandhi said, "The essence of nonviolence technique is that it seeks to liquidate antagonism but not the antagonists themselves;" "Satyagraha is a relentless search for truth and a determination to reach truth" and "The Satyagrahi's object is to convert, not to coerce, the wrong-doer."
In conflict situations Satyagraha merely means that the satyagrahi follows no other plan than the adherence to nonviolence and has no other goal than to reach the truth. The truth being the end of the process, nonviolence is the means to achieve it. As good ends can never grow out of bad means, the opponent is not forced to expose himself to loss.
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. said: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comforts and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
Martin Luther King Jr. was born on 15 January 1929 and was assassinated on 4 April 1968. During his life he developed a great interest in non-violent struggle. His major protest took place in the form of the well-known Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955-56, which he launched against the segregation policy on the use of buses. His commitment to nonviolent methods got a fillip during his visit to India in 1959 when he met the followers of Gandhi and acquired first-hand knowledge about the theory and practice of Gandhian nonviolence. His protests put him in Birmingham Jail from where he issued a letter in April 1963 in which he elaborated his principles of nonviolent protest. In the same year, a few months later, he delivered a speech which is known as "I Have A Dream" speech in Washington. In this speech he outlined his vision of a just and nonviolent American society in which everybody would enjoy legitimate rights. As a recognition of his contribution to nonviolent struggle and peace, he received the Nobel Peace Prize in December 1964.
NELSON MANDELA wrote: "I always knew that deep down in every human heart, there is mercy and generosity...People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."
Nelson Mandela was born in 1918. Having studied at the University of Fort Hare, he became involved in political struggle against racism followed by the Government of South Africa. After completing his legal studies in Johannesburg, he started having active involvement in the African National Congress (ANC). He established the ANC's Youth League in 1944. During the late 1950's Nelson Mandela and his associates provided a more military direction to the ANC. In August 1968, Mandela was arrested in South Africa and was found guilty of several charges of indulging in anti-state activities. As a result, he was imprisoned for life. Despite this he was able to maintain contact with the ANC movement. Therefore Mandela became the most important symbol of the resistance. He was released from imprisonment in 1990 and became the first president of the Republic of South Africa. He gave up the South African presidency in 1999. It was because of his relentless efforts that South Africa was free from Apartheid policies which were made illegal. For his contribution to the creation of a just society in South Africa through nonviolent struggle he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
AUNG SAN SUU KYI said: "Now that we are gaining control of the primary historical role imposed on us of sustaining life in the context of the home and family, it is time to apply in the arena of the world the wisdom and experience thus gained in activities of peace over so many thousands of years. The education and empowerment of women throughout the world cannot fail to resolve in more enduring, tolerant, just, and peaceful life for all."
Aang San Suu Kyi was born in June 1945 in Burma (Myanmar). Burma came under the British rule in 1885. Burmese nationalists, led by her father Gen Aung San, helped the British defeat Japan in exchange for their country's independence. Myanmar has been ruled by repressive military regime since 1962. The first military leader, Gen. Ne Win initiated socialist policies and nationalized the economy and discouraged foreign investment. Aung San Suu Kyi is the leading voice of democracy in her troubled country. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 while she was under house arrest. In 1990, her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory but the military government refused to recognize the result of this election. She was released in 1995 after six years of house arrest but she was not allowed to leave the country. It is believed that there had been more talks of reconciliation. Myanmar is facing a number of problems created by the military regime of the country. Military action and its policies continue to create unlimited hardships for the people. Aung San Suu Kyi is considered to be the symbol of nonviolence and democracy in Myanmar providing able leadership to the people's protest against the repressive and authoritarian regime of the country.
IN EACH OF THESE CASES, the method of nonviolence has been used. Gandhi states that Satyagraha or truth force should involve the following criteria:
  1. Satyagraha is the weapon of the strong, not of the weak.
  2. Satyagraha excludes violence in any shape or form, whether in thought, speech, or deed.
  3. It resists the will of the tyrant wholeheartedly.
  4. It involves self-sacrifice and the readiness to bear endless suffering bravely.
  5. It is to be exercised by the well-qualified, well-prepared people who are devoted to truth, non-violence, and the welfare of all.
  6. It is grounded in faith, in the efficacy of innocent suffering.
  7. It is described as an unending relentless, dialectical quest for truth. It is holding on to truth, no matter what.
  8. It requires no physical assistance or material aid and is capable of being exercised by men, women and children.
Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Aung San Suu Kyi have demonstrated through their lives and actions that the nonviolent method of Satyaghraha can be effective in the long run. It takes tremendous amount of courage and patience to pursue nonviolence. It is something that can be accomplished only through discipline. In the end, it turns out to be long lasting accomplishment rather than a quick fix. Nonviolence is a struggle for justice, not for material gain. Each of these practitioners of nonviolence held and is holding on to truth/justice at any cost. It is a conviction, which results in peace and justice. King, Mandela, and Suu Kyi have operated on the foundation of nonviolence rather than on violence. Nonviolence as a practical tool connotes minimum amount of violence, not total absence of violence. During the civil rights movement of King, Mandela's struggle against Apartheid and Suu Kyi's ongoing struggle for democracy, many people were killed unjustly by the side which was doing the injustice, yet it did not lead to killing on a very large scale. This is due to the fact that nonviolence does not breed more violence. Satyagraha, as a method of nonviolence, can be applied universally, both in the East and in the West.
The above account of the three case studies is very sketchy. It only gives an indication of the broad relationship of the three cases with Gandhian methods and technique, in the hope that someone might take it as a framework of analysis and make a full-length study of the subject.
Source: Gandhi Marg, Volume Twenty-Five, No. Three, October-December 2003