Reconstructing the Concept of Non-Violence

The Soul Force Mission of Mahatma Gandhi

“When all the kings and princes and great captains of our time, who make so much noise and occupy so central a place upon the stage, when these have long since been forgotten, everyone of them, the Mahatma will still be known and revered as the greatest Indian since Gautama the Buddha, and the greatest man since Jesus Christ.

Gandhi gave to the Indian people the weapons wherewith to carry on their fight, weapons of unimaginable power, weapons that guaranteed eventual victory, and in Gandhi’s own time, praise be to God, won the victory that he could see. Gandhi’s programme of non-violent resistance is unprecedented in the history of mankind.” - Dr. John Haynes Holmes on Feb. 1, 1948 at the Memorial Service in Community Church, New York City ( p 482)

“Gandhi is unique. There is no record of a man of his position challenging a great empire. A Diogenes in action, a St. Francis in humility, a Socrates in wisdom, he reveals to the world the utter paltriness of the methods of the statesman who relies upon force to gain his end. In this contest, spiritual integrity triumphs over the physical opposition of the forces of the state.” - cited by Dr. John Haynes  from “The Tragedy of Europe” written by Dr. Francis Nellson (p 483)

“The fate of civilization and humanity on this planet is bound up with that deep instinct for the universal values of spirit, freedom, justice and love of man which form the breath of Gandhi’s being. In this violent and distracted world, Gandhi’s non-violence seems to be a dream too beautiful to be true.” -  Dr. S. Radhakrishnan p 35

It is a matter of immense honour and privilege to remember the sublime soul, the prophet of innate Love, Truth and Non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi,  who appeared at a time when not only India but the whole world had been groping helplessly in the dark and yearning for the Divine Light. So it is a task of profound serious responsibility to write and it is not possible to do even bare justice to the miraculous personality of our beloved Father of the Nation. I have done some homework to present this article in the same spirit.

In this one-world global village, no nation, howsoever weak or powerful, can live in isolation. What is urgently and essentially needed for all is the holistic approach to international cooperation for peace and progress and liberate the world from fear, insecurity, injustice, starvation and ignorance showing natural respect for human rights, decency and dignity as envisioned and espoused by Mahatma Gandhi.

However, I may add that I felt in the first two decades of independence how the country worked day and night in all honesty under the sacred influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s unflagging missionary zeal, in spite of stray hostile feelings and propaganda. That was the period after Gandhi’s greatest social and political revolution in history had initiated the smooth and radical process of harmonious transformation of the centuries-old stagnant and riddled with deep-rooted evils fabric of life in India and which had made a visible impact on the west also. The spirit of patriotism was intense; honesty was the very core of being; right atmosphere for the creation of a secular society suitable for the creation and provision of social, economic and political equality was being built up; the message of peaceful coexistence earned for us an envious standing among the world powers. He demolished the barriers of caste, race, colour, creed and nationality incredibly  with his Love, Truth and Non-violence and conquered millions. This was the charisma  of Mahatma Gandhi’s performance in which all participated or witnessed and felt in many other countries his inspiring influence so that the vision of Ram Rajya  could be realized. Not only this, literature also strongly felt deeply embedded in Gandhi’s influence. I still remember the trauma of partition which sensitized my being to undeserved suffering, misery and pain around which are a load even today. My article is set against this background.

Volumes are full and are being filled with laudatory and adulatory writings by scholars everywhere on Bapu Gandhi’s astonishing achievements in social, political and economic liberation and well-being. People all across the globe have lavishly spoken and written about the intellectual force, spiritual depth, moral radiance and physical glory of our Mahatma Gandhi. And, ironically enough, and more than us, the West has understood and practiced, and is practicing, Gandhi’s most illuminating and sublimating doctrine of Ahimsa, Non-violence, in letter and spirit. It is still a greater irony that we, Bapu’s direct and immediate inheritors, being a nation of conveniences, have flagrantly and deliberately ignored his convictions and principles and have unabashedly betrayed him in our daily conduct whereas we never feel exhausted in talking big. Our deep-rooted selfishness, mutual jealousies and hatreds, ill-will and intolerance, extremely parochial interests have not only made us insensitive but also callous to the ennobling path lighted by Gandhi’s love, understanding, tolerance, self-denial, self-giving and his ascetic and sagacious practice of non-violence for peace, harmony, progress and coexistence for which he lived and died. This  process which started almost five decades ago has done incalculable damage to our glorious value system reinterpreted and relived by our Mahatma Gandhi, our revered Father of the Nation, with remarkable success and the same has been replaced by the present value system which has thrown us back into the cursed times, notwithstanding the glitter and glamour of the new fabric of life.

What do we mean by non-violence which made Gandhi so idolized? What is the social, political, religious and personal significance and relevance of this antonym of violence? And how did Gandhi understand and follow and practice it? It needs elaborate insight so that we learn its honest application in the present-day national and global context. Such a view, I feel, will further boost its academic strength also.

Violence means the use of force, organized or disorganized, brutal or beastly, to crush or conquer the opponent/rival/ adversary. It may also be used by the anti-social, anti-national and anti-establishment outfits or organizations aided or abetted by external or internal powers to create social or political or religious imbalances to gain mileage in direct or indirect control over governance and also to use intimidating and bullying tactics for their exterior motives. Such violence results in state repression or tyranny or terrorism also. Non-violence, in layman’s language, means avoiding violence or intense fury. However, it really means avoiding violence as a matter of principle. To be principled in this regard is a matter of the sterling worth or strength of character. Such a person is non-violent, not because of any fear or lack of courage or the inability to face danger but because of his strong and invincible conviction of fighting for the right, justice, freedom and dignity. So non-violence, generally and traditionally, taken to mean passive resistance to all such forces as deny your right to live with freedom and dignity, peace and justice. The practice of such resistance has its origin in the soul force that emerges and develops in intellectual and spiritual powers that make on simple and pure, a sanctified being, almost an ascetic or a saint or a heroic figure in personal needs and cares resulting in miraculous attainments for the general and lasting welfare of all. And the reasons for such a performance may be different.

This is effectively practiced through resistance which is:

“A strategy or policy of resisting an adversary’s attack or an occupation of one’s country by non-violent means; the appeal to world opinion, political resistance, or Civil Disobedience.”
- The Fontana Dictionary of Modern Thought

This has been well-elaborated with Gandhi’s organization of resistance to the British Raj during its final decades, the prevailing policy of the Norwegian resistance movement in the Second World War, the decision of the Czechs not to offer any military resistance to the Soviet invasion of their country in Aug.1968 and instead rely on civil disobedience and global publicity. Then we have another example of domestic civil disobedience in the USA - the National association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Campaign for civil rights. Even the course of persuasion and dialogue is initiated to achieve the desired end. It becomes a long battle which tests patience, perseverance and determination. The powers that have to yield to the non-violent resistance either encourage such resistance or manipulate it so that non-violence does no harm to their hold or grip or doesn’t threaten their citadels of power. Sometimes such powers use their own tactics to make such resistance violent as the British Government in India did so unsuccessfully a number of times to tarnish Gandhi’s image. Even General Smuts felt the irresistible attraction of Gandhi’s methods. One of his secretaries confessed to Bapu how he rendered them utterly helpless with his self-imposed limits. (Mahatma Gandhi - His Own Story. P 247) How far is exhaustion experienced on both the fronts remains a matter of conjecture. However, if violence is used to crush non-violence, it sooner results in the victory of the latter. Violence may crush violence but not non-violence. Let the vultures of violence understand this.

Non-violence is not a state of helplessness but helpfulness. Non-violence means to work out an amicable and peaceful solution, without any feeling of hurt or bloodshed, in the larger and longer interests and well-being of the general public without standing on false prestige. This is an indisputable fact that non-violence is a weapon, the most powerful and useful, if valued and practiced in earnest. For Mahatma Gandhi, non-violence was a creed, a conviction, a way of life, the grace and decency of temperament, the irresistible passion and the force of rationality, the source of cool reflection. This is what he practiced whole-heartedly in all his thought, action and speech and made outstanding gains on sure- footing everywhere. Dr. Radhakrishnan says:

Gandhi is the prophet of a liberated life wielding power over millions of human beings by virtue of his exceptional holiness and heroism.”

Even Dr. Rajendra Prasad has also observed:

When we were feeling utterly helpless he made us realize our own strength through Truth and Non-violence. Man, after all, is not born with arms and weapons. He does not possess even the claws of a tiger or the horns of a wild buffalo. He is born with a soul and a spirit…No power on earth can keep us under subjection once that spirit is roused…..”  

People drunk in and with power tried to pooh-pooh Gandhian approach but retreated in humility or humiliation or shame. I am reminded of Goldsmith’s village preacher who was also jeered at by his listeners in the beginning but-

“They came to laugh but stayed to pray.” - From Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village

This is the greatest contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to the traditional glory of life in India which, unfortunately and painfully, has been betrayed and badly eclipsed today by his legatees for the ignoble ends. A few months before his death, what Gandhi wrote in Harijan was almost the same he wrote in early twenties in Young India: “I said at the Asiatic Conference that I hoped that the fragrance of non-violence of India would permeate the whole world. I often wonder if that hope will materialize.” The West today is amply permeated with that fragrance where the largest good of the maximum has been assured by the welfare programs of the state. This is a concrete realization of Gandhi’s vision of universal welfare.

Whenever non-violent resistance is based on weakness, emptiness and shallowness, it gives rise to greater authoritarianism and tyranny and total disrespect for human freedom, dignity, rights and justice creating the reign of fear or it may lead to chaos also. It was the law of the jungle which conquered the cities of the civilizations yore giving free reign to the howling jackals. The situation today, if viewed with a serious concern in the national and global perspectives, is worrisome where terrorism, war, drug-paddling, mad race for consumerism to keep alive production, rat race for money-minting rule polity and human mind. War conditions seem to have become a necessity of some, perhaps nowhere else but in the Middle-East and South Asian regions. We have already witnessed in the most recent times Iran- Iraq War, American-Afghan War, American-Iraq War and other civil disturbances and dangers implied in the threats and challenges. A civilizational conflict has brought the world on the crossroads  where the future hinges on-total annihilation and self-effacement or understanding, love, faith, harmony and peaceful coexistence. Carlyle said about Rousseau as Hero as a Man of Letters - “Light! Or failing that, Lightning! The world can take its choice.”

And, in this one-world global village, no nation, howsoever weak or powerful, can live in isolation. What is urgently and essentially needed for all is the holistic approach to international cooperation for peace and progress and liberate the world from fear, insecurity, injustice, starvation and ignorance showing natural respect for human rights, decency and dignity as envisioned and espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. Those who think that Gandhi is obsolete in the present-day context are sadly mistaken and are deceiving themselves into ruin. We need Gandhi today more than he was needed the. His life and message will make his presence felt as long as Man’s kingdom exists. Gandhi’s soulforce is the only hope and guide in this strife-torn, power-starved, turbulence-ridden intolerant world.

In India, apart from most of these menaces, every morning we wake up, we are shamed into a new scam or scandal with the meaningless pronouncements of action against the guilty. There is neither any fruitful passive resistance nor active resistance to such acts of disgrace and shame for there is neither political will nor any other mechanism to check the stink and the rot. This sorry state of toothlessness and impotence has not only considerably jeopardized but also shamefully lowered our national dignity and prestige. In this detestable stench and the quagmire of controversy, we have to think out, sooner than later, of restructuring our concept of non-violence, non-violent resistance to cleanse the filth that has polluted Mahatma Gandhi’s achievements and tarnished the grace of his conduct. This will work to ensure a clean, free, dignified and harmonious society in this land of Buddha and Gandhi.

There is a complete erosion of accountability of the leadership to the electorate, to the parliament, to law and to the nation. It is the exclusive responsibility of the mature and visionary leadership, which we don’t have, to view all their actions and decisions in the absolute national and humanistic perspectives so that there is no room for swarming shames and scams and non-violence remains the golden and effective maxim of governance to achieve the universal goal of welfare of the goal of universal welfare. the nation whose leaders and rulers live in luxury at the expense of the state exchequer remains riddled in poverty and corruption. Such powers expect patriotism to work at the bottom and they remain callous to the problems of the people, though all is done with the much-vaunted people-friendly programs. We feel a profound pain and anguish to see that - (a) there is scant or no respect for law and we are dead to any sense of the sanctity of law; and (b) there is least or no respect for citizens.

What aggravates this abysmal situation is the exhibition of arrogance in doing so. Under such formidable conditions in the land of Bapu, we have to understand that this is a rapid process of radical social and economic transformation set into motion by the scientific and technological advancements and shrinking the world to a global village with one man, one world. This is meant to achieve universal welfare but not at the cost of loot, plunder, exploitation, repression and sacrifice of our traditional and cultural glory. We should use Gandhi’s non-violence to fight out these menaces. Lord Rama had to create Lord Hanuman to end Ravana rule; Lord Krishna had to create Arjuna to fight out the blind lust of the Kauravas. Let us reincarnate Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence to work for harmony and happiness of mankind. 

1. Dr. Radhakrishnan, S ( Ed): Mahatma Gandhi: Essays & Reflections; Published by Jaico Publishing House, Bombay; Edition October 1956
2. Kcherry, Sudarshan: Keynote Address – Gandhi-Man and Mission, delivered at the JNU, New Delhi


More by :  Prof. R. K. Bhushan

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