India, Non-Violence, and Gandhi: A Short Note

Indian civilization is at least 5000 years old. It has remarkable achievements to its credit in the fields of spirituality, science and arts all through its history barring the last three hundred years. Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, the whole world constitutes a single family, has been its eternal motto. Gautama Buddha, the Light of Asia, Tirthankara Mahavira, and mahatma Gandhi the greatest proponents of Ahimsa were born here.

India welcomed all those who wanted to trade with it and also those who sought refuge here irrespective of the faith they professed, the language theyspoke, and the traditions they followed. Once they were here, they were allowed to live the way they wanted. They all became Indians. No wonder then that the followers of the world's six major religions live in India today;' and there is hardly a religious community not represented in the country.' Parsees, the followers of Spitama Zoroaster, who came to India from Iran approximately 1500 years ago to save themselves from Islamic onslaught, are a living proof of India's large-heartedness. Their contribution to India's composite culture is great indeed. India is the home of 1618 languages and dialects. Indian constitution recognizes twenty-one languages as national.' India is a multi-ethnic society too; it has descendants of six ethnic groups.

Ahimsa (Nonviolence) constitutes the core value of Indian civilization. It has played a vital role in the evolution of Indian culture and Indic religions. It directs people's behaviour towards peaceful conflict resolution; accommodation; and Vasudhaivakutumbakam (whole world is a family). The Vedic-Hindu philosophy', which directs day-to-day life of majority of Indians, considers Ahimsa as Dharma (duty). It enjoins on people not to hurt anyone by thought (manasa), words (vacha) and deeds.

While further strengthening the core value of Indian civilization, Jainism went to an extreme and made Ahimsa esoteric beyond the scope of common man. Vardhamana Mahavira, the twenty-fourth Jain Tirthankara made a signal contribution to the theory and practice of Ahimsa; he converted it into a means of self-control, pure conduct and discipline. He defined Ahimsa as "Complete aloofness from Himsa (violence)."5 He considered all violence, big or small, and committed knowingly or unknowingly as adharina (impure action). Buddhism also lays emphasis on self-control and Ahimsa. Gautama Buddha asked his followers to cultivate Ahimsa (non-violence) by controlling the body, speech and mind. All these were possible if Karuna (compassion) rules supreme in human life and behaviour.

Some five hundred years ago, another religious philosophy arose on the Indian soi16, whose followers are known as Sikhs. Its founding fathers' were Vedic-Hindus, who rejected some of the dogmas which had crept into Hinduism. Like Gautama Buddha, all Sikh Gurus and Guru Nanak Dev in particular, laid emphasis on pure and virtuous deeds and self-control to usher in a nonviolent social order. Furthermore, like Gautama Buddha who conformed to the prevailing conditions of his time by making Karuna the fountainhead of Ahimsa, Guru Nanak Dev made harmony the basis of non-violence.

Gandhism is a body of ideas that describes the inspiration, vision and the life work of Mohandas Gandhi. It is particularly associated with his contributions to the idea of nonviolent resistance, sometimes also called civil resistance. The two pillars of Gandhism are truth and non-violence.