[Go back to related
issue of Nonviolent News]
Our piece this month is provided by Suman Aggarwal who will be involved in programme on this topic with INNATE in November (details to appear in Nonviolent News)
On the occasion of the Gandhi Satyagraha Centennial Year
By Dr. Suman Khanna Aggarwal
Associate Prof. of Philosophy, Delhi University
Founder President : Shanti Sahyog - Gandhian NGO
There are days that mark the dawn of an era, a new ray of hope for suffering humanity. One such day was 11.9.1906. It was on this day in South Africa, that Mahatma Gandhi put forth with aplomb his method of peaceful resistance against the discriminatory and unjust racist laws, prevailing there at that time. He termed his method satyagraha or nonviolent and steadfast insistence on what is true and fair, yet without malice for the perpetrator. “Ahimsa - nonviolence”, he firmly believed, “is the greatest force at the disposal of (all) mankind, a force more positive than electricity and more powerful than even ether.”
To acknowledge the historical contribution made by Gandhiji and the values espoused by him, the Indian National Congress convened an International Conference in January this year in New Delhi on: PEACE, NONVIOLENCE & EMPOWERMENT: Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century, as a major event in the commemorative centenary celebrations.
The global interest in this conference was reflected in the impressive presence at the Conference of eminent world leaders, Nobel laureates, representative delegations of major political parties from all regions of the world and leading civil society organizations working for peace and human rights.
It is indeed ironical that almost a century after a 11/9 came a 9/11 which is reminiscent of the very opposite of nonviolence – i.e., hostility, destruction, death, pain and suffering. Thus if 11/9 stands for hope, victory of democracy and the launch of Gandhi’s innovative ‘weapon’ – satyagraha – to fight injustice and political battles with nonviolence or ‘soul-force’; 9/11 symbolises helplessness and defeat of liberty, equality and fraternity. Thus, the need to heal a bruised and aching world is imperative, for although a gap of nearly hundred years separates 11.9.1906 from 9.11.2001, the world still remains a hotbed of variform divisiveness, namely, religious fundamentalism, terrorism, communalism, racism and ethnic conflicts, gender inequality and, above all, militancy and a growing threat of catastrophic war. Gandhi’s following words are as significant today as when he wrote them: “There is no hope for the aching world except through the narrow and straight path of nonviolence. Millions like me may fail to prove the truth in their own lives, that would be their failure, never of the eternal law.”
1. THE NIGHTMARISH PRESENT
a. The financial resources invested in or rather - squandered on – preparing for war are appallingly huge. The global military expenditure is US$ 2 million a minute. On the other hand, 35,000 children die daily in our global village just because of absence of basic health care facilities (UNICEF figure). Industrially developed countries devote over USD 500 billion a year to military defence but only US$ 47 billion to development aid. What is just as revealing of such imbalances is the fact that developing countries have eight times as many soldiers as civilian doctors.. It is also noteworthy that the price of one ballistic submarine (US$.45bn) would suffice to double the education budgets of 18 poor countries with 130 million children and the cost of one nuclear submarine – US$ 2bn – would be enough to reforest the entire earth.
b. In the past and present millennia many of the best minds have been directed to researching how to make increasingly devastating weapons. As a result, our present Nuclear Arsenal can destroy the world several times over in a matter of hours and precipitate a nuclear winter lasting for several centuries. One can hardly visualize a more gruesome way of utilizing (?) human energy and ingenuity.
c. Nuclear weapon testing and military industrial waste are a major threat to the environment today and a potent cause of the present ecological imbalance.
d. Finally, ever since developing countries have turned nuclear, chances of a nuclear war have increased manifold. To realize what a devilish threat it is one has only to talk to the survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts. They give hair-raising accounts of how as they played with abandon in their school playground, a huge ball of fire descended quite suddenly, turning everything around into embers and ashes. Is it not most urgent to provide against such calamities?
II. THE SURPASSING REMEDY
What, then, is the way out? Obviously it will not do if we merely mouthed such lofty maxims as: Vasudeva Katumbakam –‘ The whole world is a family’, ‘Ahimsa Parmo Dharma’ - Nonviolence is the Highest Religion, or ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’ / ‘Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself’. We have to take pains to get committed, not only in our thoughts and attitudes but in actual behaviour, to the way of Gandhi. It is noteworthy how very acceptably he argues for the gospel of love, service and tolerance. Humanism has often floundered at its inability to find a strict definition of human nature. Gandhi, on the other hand, focuses on what is in fact common to us all, that is, our basic needs, weaknesses and inherent though latent responsiveness to self-effacing love which explains the success of his numerous fasts to bring about communal harmony. There is, however, a good deal more in the way he pleads for nonviolence; and it is this that we may now bring out and explore as a basis for a life-giving practice today.
Gandhi is renowned for his ‘Experiments with Truth’, which got much publicity through his autobiography of the same name. His experiments with love or nonviolence are as impressive and legendary and of increasing relevance in a world, torn asunder by violence, war, ethnic profiling and terrorism.
Gandhi says that he practiced nonviolence, “for an unbroken period of 40 years”, in all aspects of his life – from the intimately personal to the glaringly political. Nonviolence for him is synonymous with love and so his practice of nonviolence is at once a practice of love. It is said that Gandhi’s nonviolence was effective because it began with himself. As such, the secret to attaining a nonviolent family/society is that each one of us has to begin making our very own experiments with truth and nonviolence.
Further, Gandhi asserts that it is only when we consciously choose nonviolence over violence in our inter-personal dealings and relationships, that we become truly human. His rationale here is: “The Law of Nonviolence which is the Law of Love is The Law of Our Species”. Thus, it is imperative that we analyse human nature in order to arrive at a true understanding of the import of nonviolence in our day to day lives. Further, since Gandhi equates Nonviolence with Love, it is meet that we unravel the components of love to clarify its relationship with nonviolence. Once this is done, it becomes crystal clear on how nonviolence alone can help lead us to a better society/ nation/world. Since, for Gandhi, life is one indivisible whole, the personal is political; in other words he shows how The Law of Love is also a channel of communication in politics through his various satyagrahas in India and South Africa.
Ahimsa or nonviolence is no mere euphoriant. It is, on the one hand, a science; and on the other hand, a discipline. It admits of detailed, analytic study, and is a well graded way of mind-body training. It is, in this context, pertinent to note that quite a few Universities in Europe, USA and Canada have recently established Departments of Peace Studies which undertake the teaching and study of nonviolence as an academic discipline.
Academic and individual effort has, however, to be buttressed with official support. Governments must legitimize the way of Nonviolent Defence and conflict resolution. This indeed is a crying need of the day, for, as Gandhi rightly insists;
“It is a blasphemy to say that nonviolence can only be practiced by individuals and never by nations which are composed of individuals.”
“In politics the vast possibilities of nonviolence are yet unexplored.”
“It may be long before the law of love (nonviolence) is recognized in international affairs. The machineries of governments stand between and hide the hearts of one people from those of another.”
“I have been practising with scientific precision nonviolence and its possibilities for an unbroken period of over fifty years. I have applied it in every walk of life, domestic, institutional, economic and political. I know of no single case where it has failed.”
If the Governments of nation states abdicate their obstructional stance it will only be consistent with U.N. policies: The Preamble to the UN Charter declares: ‘We, the people of the United Nations determined …to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war,’ and
Article 18 of the UN Convention on Human Rights openly says: ‘Each Individual has the right to … freedom of conscience.’
Now, if this is truly meant, then the following is demanded of democratic nation states by UN’s professed policies:
• That without quite abandoning the current preparations for Military Defence, a parallel Nonviolent Defence be instituted overseen by a Nonviolent Defence Ministry;
• Every citizen be granted freedom to be trained in Nonviolent Defence rather than in Armed Defence;
• Every citizen, who is a votary of nonviolence, be granted the freedom to divert his or her defence tax from Armed Defence to Nonviolent Defence.
It is noteworthy that if half the tax-payers all over the world opted for Nonviolent Defence, US$ 1 million per minute would become readily available for training in this alternative to war.
Thus, if today the importance of studying, teaching and researching nonviolence as a science is recognized, future generations will, in due time, be duly equipped with the necessary tools and skills of nonviolent conflict resolution and so may be able to abjure war totally. It is, in this context, noteworthy that Gandhi looks upon Satyagraha (Nonviolent Resistance) too as a science.
So, on this year of historical significance, let us, ordinary people of our Global Village, take the lead in launching a global campaign for Nonviolent Defence which is only demanded by Satyagraha regarded as insistence on the truth of humankind’s essential oneness. Our small, but vigorous Gandhian NGO – Shanti Sahyog – has already begun it, and it should be far easier and infinitely more effective for nations worldwide to follow suit. If we want to gift the legacy of a nonviolent world order to our future generations, it is imperative that we make a global experiment with love by politically legitimising nonviolent conflict resolution through the introduction of Nonviolent Defence in nation states worldwide.