Fighting for Peace: The Gandhian Way
- By Asha Gupta
Peace does not imply simply ‘absence of war’. Rather, it implies justice, equity and ‘freedom from fear’. Gandhi, one of the apostles of peace, not only propagated peace at the world level but also understood fully. Since all plans of wars begin in the human mind, it becomes absolutely necessary to make it the abode of peace. Without inner peace and growth of spirituality at the individual level, there can’t be any peace and tranquility at the global level. For this to happen, individuals and civil societies would have to play a proactive role.
The very term ‘Fighting’ for ‘peace’ seem contradictory and antagonistic. Whereas the term fighting presupposes use of force, violence and/or coercion, the term ‘peace’ presumes negation of them. Gandhi chose to fight not because he approved violence but because he disliked being a pacifist. He preferred engagement to ‘cowardice’ or ‘remaining inactive’ in case there were conflicts to be resolved.’1 He believed that fighting had its own benefits as it helped in arriving at various aspects of truth. To Gandhi, every fight was a fight among different viewpoints, each carrying some aspect or partial truth.
Gandhi was of the firm view that truth can emerge only in the process of fighting. Nor did he regard it as something bad or negative. To him, some may choose to fight; others may choose to avoid all sort of confrontation for the sake of peace but such peace is often shallow and may lead to depression in some individual cases. Gandhi’s advice was that cowardice and passive resistance should not keep anyone from fighting for a genuine cause. To Gandhi, inaction at a time of conflagration is inexcusable.2 Nor does it imply that one should fight every fight that comes one’s way. He made it a point not to be involved in other people’s fights unless and until the conflicting parties seek your intervention as a mediator.
Gandhi thought that backing out from a fight was a cowardly act because it let to withholding or running away from the truth. He always believed that all the conflicting parties have some truth in their version of arguments. Through fighting they can bring it out to the surface, which could help in arriving at some conciliation and thereby resolving a conflict peacefully. Gandhi made fighting a positive affair requiring great skills and efforts on the part of the conflicting parties. He believed fighting to be an art that could be learnt and practiced effectively.3
To Gandhi, each fight has a therapeutic effect. It allows each conflicting party to highlight his or her version of truth, partially true it may be.
To Gandhi, each fight has a therapeutic effect. It allows each conflicting party to highlight his or her version of truth, partially true it may be. In the process of fighting, each party can see the truth of the other party and it helps in changing one's stance. Through dialogue and/or mediation by the third party the conflicting parties can see the truth from one another's point of view and realize how futile it is to regard one's stand as the only one true, final or certain. It can help in solving the discords of modern complex societies by arriving at 'reconciliation in lieu of refutation', 'cooperation in lieu of confrontation' and 'coexistence in lieu of mutual annihilation'.
Gandhi justified fights on moral grounds. He gave priority to fights based on principles rather than on personal viewpoints, desire for power or position. To Gandhi, even if one fights the ordinary or 'dirty' way, it can still be useful as the very process helps in surfacing the hidden causes of the conflict and removing the stalemates due to lack of trust and/or deep sense of insecurity or vulnerability.
The Gandhian Way
Gandhi emphasized on using noble means, such as satyagraha (asserting for truth) and ahimsa (non-violence) for arriving at peace at the world level. These methods are even more relevant and practical today than during Gandhi's time because we find an escalation in the number of conflicts at the individual, local, national and international levels.
To Gandhi, sustainable peace can occur only in an environment based upon truth and non-violence. Unlike the judicial system, Gandhian ways aim at conflict resolution through reconciliation and arriving at a consensus by dealing with basic insecurities and lack of trust as the root causes. They are based upon conversion, persuasion, self-suffering and compassion instead of hatred, ill-will, suspicion or vindictiveness. The ways aim at peaceful and amicable settlement to the satisfaction of both/all the conflicting parties by arriving at the truth through non-violent means. They are more relevant in today's scenario than ever before.
Normally, individuals or groups resort to legal action in interpersonal, industrial, social or international disputes when all attempts at negotiations fail or do not fulfil the expectations. Under a legal action the emphasis is more on norms, precedents, verdicts, etc. It does not allow' the Gandhian dialectic to come into play. There is little or no scope for dialogue, mediation or compromise. Under the legal action one party wins over the other and all the conflicting parties incur costs as the parties usually interact through professional lawyers. Though a lawyer himself, Gandhi did not approve the job of lawyers as mere conductors of proceedings. He insisted that the true job of the lawyers was 'to unite parties riven asunder' and act as mediators so that all the disputing parties get some satisfaction.4
Gandhi's advice was to avoid litigation as far as possible. To him, men become more unmanly and cowardly when they resort to the court of law'. To him, the decision of the third parties cannot be always right simply because they deliver justice by taking our money.5 Moreover, the courts cannot satisfy all the disputing parties. Those dissatisfied may resort to other means of counter-violence, avoidance or 'lumping-in' by showing apathy or 'lack of will'. Hence conflicts apparently resolved by the courts actually remain unresolved at the surface because ill-will prevails. The disputants are neither accommodated nor converted as Gandhi desired, for the sake of sustainable peace. As such, Gandhian ways provide better hope by redirecting the focus of various conflicts from persons to principles.
The Sanskrit term 'satyagraha', pronounced as 'sat-yah-grah-aha' implies 'clinging to truth'. In fact, Gandhi's fight for peace begins with satyagraha. To him, peace can occur only in a truthful environment. In an environment where feelings of fear, anger, hatred, cowardice and retaliation prevail, there can be no peace. To Gandhi, only insistence on truth can help in resolving various conflicts and only by resolving the conflicts, we can build peace. Gandhi found a scientific connection between truth and existence. He believed that the truth exists like neutrons and can be discovered through 'mathematical conclusions' or 'logical deductions'. He believed that moral reality was as certain as physical reality even though we may not be able to see it with naked eyes. Gandhi argued that it is our duty to find out through consistent experimentation truth.6
Gandhi emphasized on 'truth in thought, truth, speech and action' to maintain the moral order of the world. To Gandhi, morality does not imply following off-beaten rituals blindly, rather it implies questioning the truthfulness of every position, however 'vaunted' it may be.7 We need to challenge conventional morality from time to time because it contains only partial truths like the unknown secrets of the physical world. Gandhi's fight was to sort out 'the truth' from 'the untruth'.
This task was based on an attitude rather than on certain rules. To Gandhi, truth as absolute is 'ineffable' whereas our perception of it remains limited or 'proximate'. Therefore, our version can always be challenged. We can, in fact, improve our understanding of the truth by understanding another person's version of truth. We must not fight for what we think is right but we must fight with it. This open ended approach of Gandhi towards understanding the truth is what saves it from 'the rigidity of moralism'. According to Gandhi, insistence on truth only provides the freedom 'to hunt for truth'. It does not provide a certificate to the hunter that s/he has it in hand.8 To Gandhi, a follower of satyagraha remains an 'irrepressible optimist' as s/he 'grows from truth to truth'. S/he aims at converting and not coercing the opponent(s) and believes in the dictum: hate the sin and not the sinner. S/he aims at liquidating 'antagonism' but not the 'antagonists' themselves. A follower of satyagraha does not believe in asserting his or her position/proposition but believes in creating new possibilities through dialogue. S/he is expected to remain gentle and never hurt others through his or her actions, thoughts or deeds and does not nourish the feeling of anger, malice or retaliation against the opponents. S/he is never fussy, impatient or vociferous and complete faith in truth and non-violent means. S/he knows it very well that there is partial truth in the position(s) taken by his or her adversaries who are amenable to his or her appeal to their hearts and minds.
Gandhi firmly believed that the truth in this world can only be discovered through non-violence. A truthful person can never be violent in thought, word or deeds. To him, the exercise of non-violence requires greater strength and bravery than that of the soldiers. There is no place for cowardice or vengeance in non-violent actions. For instance, the sun does not wreak vengeance upon little children for throwing dust on it.9 To him, non-violence requires individual conviction. It should be seen as a virtue that can be cultivated like any other virtue, such as, truthfulness, humility, tolerance and kindness. Non-violence should be seen as a means towards achieving truth as an end. Whereas violence hits the-sinner, non-violence aims at hitting at the sin and not the sinner per se.
Gandhi's concept of non-violence is not based on 'a negative state of harmlessness'. Rather it is based on 'a positive state of love of doing good even to the evil doer'. It is based on the eternal law of love that remains the largest tool for resolving a conflict at a personal or international level. Violence, on the other hand, leads to further violence. Gandhi believed that violence could only be countered by non-violence based upon the principles of trust and compromise.10 Gandhi equated violence with 'untruth' and insisted on not using coercion in any form because it would only lead the other party to use the same strategy thereby jeopardizing the whole process of searching the truth which is the ultimate goal for those who seek peace. To Gandhi, non-violence is the 'litmus test of truth'.11
Gandhi was influenced by the Jain philosophy on ahimsa (non-violence) which emphasizes on the fact that the very intention to harm somebody amounts to violence. Hence non-violence is to be practiced in thought, deed and words. It implies complete absence of the feeling to destroy, even if it happens to be an ant. To Gandhi, all obstructive, destructive, alienating and 'life-negating' feelings or actions amount to violence as they hinder the process of reaching the truth and violate the integrity of 'something living'.12 Non-violence, on the other hand, is based on the desire to nurture and love. Whereas violence is based upon the desire to use some sort of coercion, non-violence is based upon the inner strength. A follower of satyagraha and non-violence, as propagated by Gandhi, refuses to resort to physical force, manipulation, 'pummeling', 'scheming', 'blackmailing' or cheating for being cowardly and immoral.
Gandhi found that the usage of coercion restricted one's freedom, on the one hand and inhibiting one's ability to fight, on the other. He emphasized on consistent negotiations among the opponents and the fighters. One can come to terms with the other party only when there are no pressures or coercions of any kind. Coercions serve as hindrances in the process of finding amicable solutions. However, Gandhi did not regard all forms of force and pressure tactics, such as, strikes, demonstrations, boycotts and other forms of non-cooperation aimed at seeking opponent's attention as necessarily coercive. According to Gandhi's viewpoint, coercion occurs only when an opponent is forced to act beyond his or her will and in circumstances where the opponent is left with 'no choice but to capitulate'.13 As an apostle of truth and non-violence, Gandhi preferred self-sacrifice to causing harm to others. He firmly believed that noble ends could only be achieved through noble means.
Gandhi's concept of non-violence was not absolute or static. He knew that neither human-beings nor human institutions could follow absolute/pure non-violence because the very process of living is impossible without a certain amount of violence.14 He emphasized on the need for reducing violence as much as possible. His concept of non-violence was relative. He regarded physical violence accompanied by mental goodwill better than physical non-violence accompanied by mental violence.15 He preferred violence to cowardice or self-surrender in some cases, such as, violence by a woman against the rapist in self-defense. The purpose of such violence in unavoidable circumstances could be to create a more suitable environment for the enhancement of non-violence. Gandhi was prepared to sacrifice non-violence for the sake of truth in certain unavoidable and exceptional circumstances.
Fighting for Peace
To Gandhi, some struggles may never end and one can gain peace in such situations only by 'meeting violence in a nonviolent way'.16 Wars based on violence only lead to more violence by breeding feelings of hatred, revenge and bitterness. Non-violence, on the other hand, helps in bringing out the issues involved in a conflict into the open and finding out new solutions in accordance with truth. It does not leave behind any frustration or rancor which in turn helps in establishing peace on a lasting basis. To Gandhi, peace is more desirable than war because the legitimate aim of any war is also more or perfect peace implying calm or tranquility at individual level; social justice and stability at national level; and freedom of nations and co-existence at the international level. Therefore, it has become imperative to strive for peace 'both as a process and a goal'.17
Fighting for peace does not imply absence of war. It implies a positive mindset based upon certain virtues, such as, non-violence, truth, humility, forgiveness, mercy, friendliness, love, etc. Enduring peace is not possible without inculcating such virtues and abandonment of egoism. Nowadays we find such peace lacking at personal, societal, national or international level because mankind today is plagued by consumerist culture, rise in crime, unemployment, communal or ethnic riots, economic inequalities, xenophpbia, denial of human rights, escalation in terrorism, etc. Earlier humans feared death as inevitable but now the whole of mankind lives under consistent fear of the extinction of the human race.18
Today the focus has already shifted from territorial to human security. The threat to human security can come from anywhere, at any time and dealing with it requires more constructive and peaceful ways.19 The 21st century requires re- conceptualization of the very notion of war and peace. Peace studies do not aim at the prevention of war but at pursuing perpetual security and stability.20
The concept of 'perpetual peace' is not new. Philosophers, such as, Rousseau and Kant had advocated the need to create permanent conditions of peace. In the 20th century, attempts were made to secure peace through treaties and set norms between republican states, but they could not help in establishing permanent peace by ending all hostilities.21
At the beginning of the 21st century, some peace activists and pragmatic pacifists justified the use of force during humanitarian emergencies. To some of them, it was worthwhile to 'forego the immediate prevention of conflict' in order to 'preserve a wider balance of human security and peace.
In view of the changing nature of conflicts in the 21st century, it would be necessary to focus on the physical and psychological needs of the individual. In the process of settling disputes, 'mitigating actual violence' and 'preventing potential violence', the advocates of peace would have to focus on rising socio- economic inequalities in terms of wealth, influence and power. In the wake of deep and enduring inequities, peace advocates would have to deal with issues of sustainable development, debt relief and trade reforms to be able to formulate peaceful responses to local, national, regional and global conflicts.
Looking beyond Gandhi, the fight for peace would have to take into account climate change, extreme poverty, socio-economic, regional and cultural disparities. It would have to provide a much needed alternative to the hitherto focus on 'power politics' and 'state centrism'.22
Gandhi firmly believed that the force of truth and non-violence was greater than brute force. To him, it protects one's self-respect and integrity. It is the power which can be wielded equally by everyone as it requires inner and not physical strength.
But Gandhi was not always a Gandhian. Nor were the means suggested by him always successful. Limitation of satyagraha was seen. In the case of The Warsaw Ghetto vs. the Nazi Regime, the Gandhian way of satyagraha could not be implemented. In 1940, the Jewish community of Poland was confined to a walled ghetto in the wake of a deliberate policy of 'racial exclusion' adopted by the Nazi regime. Gandhi wrote:
If I were a Jew and were born in Germany, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or to cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment.23
Gandhi hoped that by challenging the Nazis openly, the Jews would find 'inner strength' and joy.24 His advice was 'bitterly resented' by the Jews. Hayim Greenberg, in an open letter to Gandhi, which was published in The Jewish Frontier.
A Jewish Gandhi in Germany, should one arise, could function for about five minutes, until the first Gestapo agent would lead him... directly to the gallows.
Similarly, Martin Buber, a Jewish theologian and a supporter of Gandhi's views, also parted from Gandhi on this issue. He wrote in 1939:
(an effective non-violent stand can be taken even) against unfeeling human-beings but not against a diabolic universal steam roller (such as the Nazis).25
Many believe that an unarmed and unprepared minority, such as the Jews in Warsaw, could not succeed against the powerful and single-minded Nazis through satyagraha.
Gandhi's usual methods for conflict resolution might fail in those circumstances where the opponents refuse to think of the other side even 'as human-beings worthy of moral consideration'.26
What really matters is not what Gandhi said or did. His life was an experiment with truth. He was an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life. He thought that ahimsa and satyagraha were the tools which could be used effectively by ordinary men and women. He could not realize the hard fact that most of us are unable to free ourselves from our weaknesses and natural human tendencies, such as anger, hatred, jealousy or revenge. Just as we all endorse truth yet keep telling lies on a day-to-day basis; similarly, we indulge in violence in thought, action or words consciously or unconsciously despite our faith in non-violence. It does not mean that Gandhi failed us, rather it simply means that we failed Gandhi as we could not remain truthful and non-violent. Nor could we imbibe other humane values, such as, honesty, politeness, empathy, compassion or kindness towards our fellow-beings despite the prevailing socio-economic, cultural, ethnic or linguistic diversities. Most of the conflicts arise due to lack of understanding, trust and moral values. What really matters is not what values Gandhi imbibed in his personal life but how he united millions of people in his fight for India's independence through non-violent means.27
It was remarkable on the part of Gandhi to unite 'a quarter of world's population' with wide diversities on a peace mission without seeking recourse to 'modem tools', hereditary authority, or religious gospels. He fought against the powerful British Empire in a completely unorthbdox way. He had no blueprint to follow and he remained unpredictable, but he was always willing to experiment. He truly cared for everyone, even his opponents. Though he boycotted British clothes, he took pains to visit the mills in Manchester and apologized to the workers. Gandhi had an amazing background - he had an academic degree in Law from London and practical experience of resistance in South Africa. He had travelled widely all over India and was in touch with ordinary people that helped him in seeking the support of the masses for his various movements. He 'lived with them, reasoned with them and prayed with them'. He had remarkable physical and inner strength and he believed in applying noble means for noble ends. He had the right amount of perseverance and patience to build the future brick by brick and not through revolutionary means. His simple living, high ideals and sacrificing nature appealed to the masses and leaders alike.28
Gandhi did not believe in the primitive idea of 'an eye for an eye' because he knew that it would leave the entire world blind. He advised to deal violence with non-violence; otherwise there could never be lasting peace. He was very clear in his mind that violence leads to violence. The need for violence only depicts our imperfection. Our greatness does not lie in what we are but in what we can be. Our motive should be to perceive peace, prosperity and harmony by showing full faith in the amenable nature of human-being towards perfection. It was beautifully described in a poem entitled Fighting for Peace by Daisaku Ikeda:
...in order to live
Gandhi was influenced by Buddhist, Hindu and Jain philosophy and many other leaders and writers of his time. He also influenced many others in India and abroad, such as, Martin Luther King during the civil right movements in the United States, Nelson Mandela during his anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and Aung San Suu Kyi during her struggle for democracy in Myanmar. In India, Vinobha Bhave, Ram Manohar Lohia, Jai Prakash Narain and Dalai Lama continued his legacy. In fact, Gandhi's fight for peace through satyagraha and non-violence remains a work in progress. For instance, in Northern Ireland, the Gandhian principles were applied even in terrorist conflicts. Had the conflicting parties not discussed reconciliation and solutions to the conflict, there would have been no peace. Tentative peace was reached in Northern Ireland only when both the sides started admitting grievances against the other side and admitting that the legitimate goals of the other side were unjustly denied. In this case, both the parties also realized that the strict adherence to rule of law hindered the peace process and sought out of court' solution as none was interested in facing the judiciary for committing atrocities earlier.30
In more recent times, the influence of Gandhian practices and beliefs can be seen in the Arab awakening especially in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. On January 25, 2011, non-violent protests began and lasted for 18 days resulting in the downfall of President Mubarak. Gandhi was a source of inspiration to the young and old in Egypt. The movement in Egypt involved all sections of the society, the poor and wealthy, educated and uneducated, professionals and common men and women. Everyone in Egypt realized that changes could not be brought without becoming the change one aspired for oneself. Similarly, the movement took place in Tunisia against corruption, unemployment, food insecurity, lack of freedom of expression and poor living conditions. In March 2011, some students protested peacefully with 'anti-government graffiti'.31 Though the rhetoric of Arab uprisings needs to be reviewed again, one thing is evident from these uprisings - a new political psychology has emerged in the Arab world. This new psychology does not accept the thesis of 'authoritarian stability'.32
Even the UNO is now focusing on fighting for peace. Instead of traditional war fighting role, the military forces are increasingly being deployed in peacekeeping, peacemaking, peace-building and humanitarian missions.
Promoting the culture of peace, the UNESCO (1989) declared:
The question arises, if peace is within our reach, why the 21st century is still suffering from rise in the number of conflicts at individual, social, national or international level. In fact, it is in the interest of political and economic hegemons to keep this number growing as it serves their vested interests. Most policy makers act in national interest and justify militarism and violence in the name of national security. They spend a lot of public money on the armed forces and procurement of latest technological devices and weapons of mass destruction. In comparison with this expenditure, they spend very little on the promotion of the culture of peace, the very backbone of democracy and human civilization'.
There are many who have expressed openly that it is wrong to say that Gandhi got India free through non-violent ways. It is very difficult to deal with those who think that violence is necessary, who use violence as a means to get what they want - 'a tool for acquiring power' or holding it. There are others who admire Gandhi but do not believe in his advocacy of non-violence as practical in an age where senseless violence and random acts of cruelty prevail everywhere. Nor do they find it 'doable' by ordinary people. Some may ask if non-violence is a powerful force then why were Gandhi and Martin Luther King killed violently? Similarly, the present 'dot com generation' may not find any sense in resorting to non-violence to deal with terrorists or terrorist attacks. Even those who are targeted by terrorists pray for the disappearance of violence as they do not wish others to suffer. They know very well that a 'tit-for-tat' approach could be more dangerous.
Gandhi remained an apostle of peace. For him, non-violence was a means as well as an end. His whole life was an example of his consistent struggle through non-violent means.
Gandhi believed that physical retaliation only led to counter violence .and more wickedness. He distinguished 'non-violence' from 'pacifism'. Pacifism implied 'negation of possible violence' between the states and governments. It meant opposition to war and all forms of militarism. Whereas pacifism is seen as a method of non- aggression, non-violence has to be seen as 'a way of life' and 'a way of understanding and managing of relationships of human-beings with each other'.34 The whole concept of non-violence has to be seen as something more- than 'absence of war and killings'. It has to be seen as a more 'dynamic, active, constructive, and forward looking philosophy, working for justice and positive social and political changes'. It requires 'continuous, pervasive and quotidian' effort. Gandhi said:
... non-violence is not a cloistered virtue to be practiced by the individual for his peace and final salvation, but it is a rule or conduct for society . To practice non-violence in mundane matters is to know its true value.35
The terrain of non-violence has not yet been fully explored. Gandhi believed that unlike anger, violence is not a natural human nature. He reasoned:
If mankind was not habitually non-violent, it would have been self- destroyed ages ago. But in the duel between forces of violence and non-violence, the latter have always come out victorious in the end. The truth is that we have not had patience enough to wait and apply ourselves whole heartedly to the spread of non-violence among the people as a means for political ends.36
No doubt, it is difficult to reconcile Gandhian methods of satyagraha and non-violence with the basic target of achieving lasting peace but we have to agree that there is no other alternative. The complexities of Gandhi's ways have to be understood 'holistically and not dogmatically'.37 If we continue to build mega urban societies having latest facilities and technology but lacking cohesiveness, compassion and caring members, we can never have the culture of peace. Without spiritual growth, individuals in materialistic societies can only be expected to be selfish and self-centered. Such individuals believe in punishing a person, as is evident from the rising number of road rages all over the world, instead of resolving the problem at the root. The question is not whether non-violence is relevant today or not, out the question is whether we are willing to grasp the real message of Gandhi by moving away from greed, selfishness and other negative, attitudes - our real enemies and adopt more positive attributes, such as, love, compassion, mutual understanding and respect.38
If we want to free ourselves from the 'tsunami of violence' that has held the world in its grip in recent years, we need to ponder seriously how to transform non-violence from an 'admirable ideal' to 'effective vehicle for social and political change'. We need not blindly follow Gandhi but explore deeply what led him to follow the path of satyagraha and non-violence. For Gandhi, satyagraha was never an end in itself, rather truth was the end. His idea was to fight selflessly to attain truth and lasting peace. We need to reinvent Gandhi because his ideas are more relevant than ever before. Without common minimum values, such as, non-violence, tolerance, empathy and mutual understanding, humanity's moral existence and peaceful environment is not possible.
In the global context, we need to think beyond Gandhi and use non-violence as a 'paradigm for human existence'. Insistence on dialogue, democracy and civil intercourse are possible only in a society where every member adheres to the principle of non-violence with full dedication. It can promote inter-cultural and inter-religious, east- west and south-south dialogue, on the one hand, and challenge fanaticism, prejudice, hate and violence, on the other.
The time has come to make rational, intelligent and practical choice of fighting for peace the nonviolent way. If we wish to grow and t survive, there is no other choice but to live together non-violently.
Notes and References:
Courtesy: This article has been reproduced from the Gandhi Marg, Vol. 38, Number 1, April-June 2016.
* Asha Gupta is Director, Directorate of Hindi Implementation, University of Delhi, Delhi 110007. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org