By – R.C. Rajamani : “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”.Mahatma Gandhi.
The world has changed drastically and dramatically since the passing away of the “Father of the Nation” sixty years ago. Political and social tensions have increased. Of course, war and violence were not unfamiliar to the world during Gandhi’s lifetime. But the menace of terror is a phenomenon that came much later. Acts of violence during his time were not targeted at innocent people and soft targets. Even those acts he did not approve of as he preached non-violence. Today, acts of terror are being committed and brazenly justified as means to political, social and economic ends. Worse, they are sometimes being given a religious dimension.
As Arun Gandhi,a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the founder of the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, New York, argues, “Violent and aggressive civilisations have thrived momentarily but in the end they have all met a very violent end, it is the comparatively more humane and non-violent societies that have been blessed with longevity”. As he points out, the power of non-violence has been best proved in the liberation of South Africa and the fight for civil rights in USA.
Nelson Mandela originally believed in a violent freedom movement against the pernicious apartheid regime but after he studied Gandhi during his long imprisonment, he altered his approach and brought a welcome change in his country without further bloodshed.
In the United States Dr. Martin Luther King fought against race and colour prejudice and got dignity and equality for his people by resorting not to bombs and bullets, but to non-violent methods of mass civil disobedience and passive resistance. It is well known that the Leader drew inspiration from Gandhi.
Gandhi never wavered in his unshakable belief in non-violent protest and religious tolerance. When Muslim and Hindu compatriots committed acts of violence, whether against the British who ruled India, or against each other, he fasted until the fighting ceased. Independence, when it came in 1947, was not a military victory, but a triumph of human will. To Gandhi’s despair, however, the country was partitioned into Hindu, India and Muslim, Pakistan. The last two months of his life were spent trying to end the appalling violence in the name of religion.
For Gandhi Ahimsa was a Dharma. It never bothered him if it was a plant of slow growth. Satyagraha, the pursuit of Truth, fully imbibed with Ahimsa, was the only weapon he used to fight his political battles with the British. Though he faced many trials and tribulations all along, he finally won freedom for India. It was possible because he was steadfast in his beliefs, political philosophy. It was possible also because he was brave and humble at the same time. Above all, the Mahatma was free from hatred. Herein lies the solution to the world’s many conflicts today. If people are free from hatred, they can find answers to any question, political, economic and social.
Needless to stress that such an approach would demand both-courage and freedom from ill-will among nations. Gandhi was always ready to negotiate and discuss. In the late 1920s he opposed the exploitation of the textile workers of Ahmedabad by the mill-owners. But he did not seek a strike to end it. He favoured discussion, dialogues, conciliation, arbitration and adjudication as the last resort.
Gandhi lived an austere life, practiced strict vegetarianism and abstained from alcoholic drinks, tobacco and even the milder stimulants like coffee and tea. His attachment to simple natural remedies against illness and disease and his radical ideas on education find expression in the system of governance. Village economy and village self-rule are being followed in the running of the Panchayati Raj system. His stress on basic education finds expression in the universalisation of elementary education. His fight for women’s rights and emancipation also find expression in the current efforts to give them a place of importance in political decision-making.
Gandhi’s relevance today was acknowledged globally when the UN General Assembly observed, for the first time, the Mahatma’s birth anniversary as the International Day of Non-Violence on October 2 last year. The day now forms a significant occasion in the calendar of the world body.