Are Only Indians Suited To Non-violent Action ?

Then there are the critics who say non-violent action worked fine in India, but they don't think it would make sense to use it elsewhere. These critics believe that Indians are particularly suited to non-violent action, because of the ethic of non-violence built into their religion.

This is a very interesting myth, and those who believe in it certainly possess a very selective filter. Personally, I don't think you can follow the news from India for long and still believe Indians are less violent than other people.

Besides, Gandhi's philosophy of non-violence seems to have been consciously inspired first by the New Testament-the Sermon on the Mount. Only later, it seems, did he find similar ideas in Hindu scriptures.

It's surprising how easy it is to forget that we too have an ethic of non-violence built into our society's chief religion. We just don't happen to follow it. Just as the Indians don't normally follow theirs.

But really, the easiest way to see that non-violent action is suitable outside India is simply to look at all the cases of nonviolent action outside India. Unless your filter is pretty murky, you can hardly miss them. It certainly can't be easy to ignore the example of Martin Luther King, Jr., or to forget the Solidarity movement in Poland, or to overlook the overthrow of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines.

Then there's the cousin of the quot;only-in-India" argument. This one says that non-violent action can work only against "easy" enemies like the British, and not against, say, the Soviets, or Central American dictators, or those villains of last resort, the Nazis.

Here again, filters are in place, because non-violent action has been used with some success against all these.

In 1968, Czechoslovakian civilians non-violently held Soviet armed forces at bay for a full week and stopped the Soviet leaders from ever subjugating that country to the degree they had intended. In 1944, military dictators were ousted non-violently in both El Salvador and Guatemala. And during World War II, Norway nonviolently and successfully resisted Nazi attempts to reorganize its society along fascist lines.

(In case you missed any of these, you can find details, again, in Gene Sharp's The Politics of Non-violent Action, among other sources.)

One of the interesting things about the many instances of non-violent struggle around the world is that, even today, it is often by people who know nothing or next to nothing about Gandhi. After you look at a number of these, you have to conclude that people in many situations just naturally turn to such methods.

On the other hand, if you look closely at so-called popular liberation movements, you'll find that they're seldom started by the peasants or workers they're supposed to benefit. These armed struggles may gradually build wider support-but in almost every case, they're launched by students or other intellectuals in the name of the people.

Source: Mahatma Gandhi and His Myths - By Mark Shepard