“Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.” – M. K. Gandhi

November 2, 2014

Non-violence was the central axis around which the Indian struggle for freedom flourished. It was the central weapon employed to bring down the British empire of India. This tool enabled masses to defy the authority of British Raj with conviction and devoid of any fear.

A closer look at the concept of non-violence is warranted before we delve into the validity of Mahatma’s assertion. Non-violence is the absence of violence in the conduct of an individual. But, the absence of violence isn’t limited to its outward manifestation towards others alone but also means an absence of violence, aggression, ill-feeling and hatred in the thought process.

Such being the nature of non-violence, it comes as no surprise that the idea of non-violence hasn’t been reduce to an outworn credo and continues to have takers around the world, cutting across national boundaries and issues.

Indian national movement was the test case for the strength of non-violence. Could it draw masses into struggle for independence against the mighty British Empire? Gandhi ji was certainly convinced so. Agrarian and Industrial relation issues soon provided an opportunity for Gandhi ji to demonstrate the efficacy of non-violence. At Champaran in Bihar, Gandhi sided with the farmers against the large revenue demand imposed on them forcefully. Again in Kheda, Gujarat, Gandhi ji asked for a remission of revenue to be paid, due to widespread crop failure. Both struggles saw Gandhi ji and his strategy of non-violence emerging as victorious.

Gandhi’s experiments were not limited to agricultural issues alone. At Ahmedabad, Gandhi ji conciliated the demands of industrialists and textile mill workers successfully. The concept of industrialists being as trustees of resources was a novel one and so was the strategy of fasting to ensure peace.

Champaran, Ahmedabad and Kheda, thus, saw the vindication of Gandhi’s tool of non-violence and rationalism. Without firing a bullet, without throwing a spear or without picking up a sword, the British imperialism was humbled.

Non-violence, though, never seemed liked natural choice for struggle given the prevailing socio-economic and intellectual atmosphere. Revolutionary movements were active in India in the first quarter of the twentieth century. Swadeshi movement had ebbed out but was replaced by a powerful movement which aimed at overthrowing the state through armed insurrection.

At that point in history, the dust of the First World War was just settling down. The struggle of Ghadar movement was still fresh in memory. Russian revolution had led to the establishment of the first socialist state and the ensuing struggle for power within was strained with blood. To think of non-violence in such a scenario shows the courage of conviction Mahatma had in it.

Gandhi’s adherence to non-violence was not a ploy to draw masses into action. It was a statement of belief and the first ground rule in the struggle against the British. At Chouri-Choura, violent behavior of Indians forced Gandhi to withdraw the non-cooperation movement. For Gandhi, thus, adherence to tenets of non-violence was above any issue – even Indian independence movement. Non-violence was a sacrosanct principle and non-negotiable under any circumstances.

Indian independence movement’s success inspired many to follow the path of non-violence to struggle against and unjust order or cause. In South Africa, Nelson Mandela launched a powerful movement against the apartheid policy. In America, Martin Luther King Junior fought for the black rights. Closer home, Aung Saan Su ki launched long struggles for a democratic regime change in Myanmar.

What is common in these illustrious mass leaders? Their adherence to non-violence and truth saw all of them succeeding after long struggles. Non-violence has certainly not become a outworn credo in contemporary world.

One may question the relevance of non-violence in contemporary world. It is true that the settlement of disputes, domestic or international has of late been settled in a violent manner. Down south in Sri Lankan army launched a fatal attack on LTTE to eliminate it, collateral damage not- withstanding.

But, some of the most vexed problems of the contemporary world viz. Palestine issue, Jammu & Kashmir conflict, Nuclear disarmament cannot be solved by an approach based on violence. Violence breeds violence. The humiliation and subjugation of Germany after the end of First World War and the ensuing Versailles treaty made the Second World War inevitable. In words of Mary Parker Follet, dispute resolution by domination merely postpones the problem without addressing the root cause of conflict.

It is also true that international or domestic situations may warrant the use of force in case of exceptional situations like blatant abuse of human rights, threats to world peace, threat to established rational-legal authority etc. One cannot take the refuge under the pretext of non-violence to act cowardly, when national interests are at stake. Even Mahatma Gandhi was all for resisting our western neighbors adventure in Jammu & Kashmir in 1947-48.

The contemporary problems of world like climate change, human security, food security, energy security and water security couldn’t be solved except by consensus and co-operation to mitigate and face the challenges boldly.

Indian sub-continent has been the harbinger of peace since time immemorial. The land of Mahavira, Buddha, Vivekananda and Gandhi should become the guiding light of Asia and the world for a better future of our posterity by promotion of international peace, non-violence and International fraternity, as laid down in the directive principles of state policy of Indian constitution.


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