Nonviolence as an
instrument of awakening

The 20th century witnessed unprecedented growth of science and technology, both in the service and in the destruction of humanity. It also turned out to be the most violent period in human history. Predictably and hopefully,with the growth of violence also began the search for nonviolent capabilities by motivated souls in different parts of the globe. A conscious search for nonviolent alternatives began in 20th century with Gandhi who inspired men and women in different degrees in different parts of the world. Martin Luther King, Jr, is considered to have been the pioneer in the American continent in adopting the Gandhian strategies, which ultimately changed the course of American history besides altering the policy and practice of racism not only in the U.S. but in Africa as well.

While it would be naïve to assert that non-violent resistance began and end with Gandhi or King, it acquired a sharp edge and emerged a powerful and creative mode of social and political action. Gandhi, King, Ikeda -- the first a Hindu, the second a Christian and the third a Buddhist -- are among the greatest mobilizers of masses for collective nonviolent action towards world peace, individual empowerment and societal transformation. That each of these drew their inspiration from the religions to which they belonged is another important factor. Creative geniuses, they infused fresh and dynamic insights into their religions Hinduism, Christianity or Mahayana Buddhism and each of them offered new impetus, a kind of dynamism and social orientation hitherto unknown in their respective religions. Much as Gandhi understood non-violent struggles to be Satyagraha, King interpreted the struggles as agape (Love) and Ikeda expresses them as living faith through Nam-myoho-Renge-kyo. At the conceptual level, each of these is symbolized as Sarvodaya (Gandhi), Beloved Community (King) and kosen-rufu (Ikeda).

The Threat of Neo-Colonialism

When Gandhi began his public life in the last decade of the 19th century in South Africa, the biggest evil of the time was colonialism and its many manifestations. It is natural, hence, that his response was directed towards the dismantling of colonialism.

Colonialism was the practice by which a powerful country controlled less powerful countries and used their resources to increase its own power and wealth. The Industrial Revolution and, much earlier, ship-building skills gunpowder, tenacity, and a spirit of adventure gave the Europeans an edge to emerge as the Masters of the Sea and they went about “discovering” countries, nations, islands, civilizations which they believed “inferior and barbaric”. And it became the “white man’s burden” to civilize them. They roamed the world as if they were its masters; they enslaved, brutally assaulted and even eliminated large groups of people who were even powerless to resist. They were unscrupulous and mad in their pursuit of wealth and power. The victory of one nation in establishing a colony in one region gave enough courage to the other nations to join the game of enslaving the “barbarians” elsewhere, almost all European nations entered in to this with a competitive spirit until they started fighting among themselves for suzerainty. The Darwinian dictum of the survival of the fittest proved its efficacy and by the turn of the 20th century colonial rule around the world was an accepted fact, each colonial power treating its colonies as its own property, imposing its own values and outlook in its efforts to “sanitise” and “civilize” colonies. Some colonial powers boasted that the “sun never set’, in their empire. Their supporters, proponents and even collaborators did not fail to see how most of the colonies were being looted during this period, swelling the coffers of the masters. Most historians today attribute the present material progress and wealth of many of the European countries to the unprincipled manner in which they plundered their colonies. Whether or not that is ture, certainly the tactics they used to keep their hold on the colonies were cunning, deceit and brutality. What facilitated the often bloody and seldom smooth operation or transition were the oppressors’ skill, diligence in planning and sustaining their hold on the colonies was through their sophisticated weaponry. In most colonies the natives had to defend their freedom with arrows and traditional weapons. To sum up, one could see that the outstanding factors responsible for the establishment of colonies were skill, deceit, cruelty and superior weapons- at that time, the invincible gun.

Gandhi’s challenge

The first major blow to this invincibility came from Gandhi when he demonstrated with astounding effect the superiority of “soul-power’ over the brutality of the gun. It is now history how the mighty and entrenched colonial system had to bow before Gandhi and the non-violent mass movement he initiated in South Africa first and later in India. The British had to wind up their empire in India in 1947. India’s independence from Britain encouraged many nations to free themselves from colonial shackles. The end of the Raj in India was the death knell of colonialism. In the next two decades, most of the colonies were freed from the tentacles of colonialism. In Gandhi’s heroic fight for freedom, justice, human rights and equality, the weapons he used were not the conventional or sophisticated or brutal instruments of mass destruction but the highly innovative strategies of creating mass awareness and education to enable people to free themselves from fear and stand up non-violently with the power of soul-force.

When soul-force was pitted against guns and deceit, it was soul-force which triumphed and not the gun. Freedom fighters all over the world used the Gandhian strategies in varying degrees with convincing success. In various parts of the world, non-violent resistance is being used to end oppression, injustice and the denial of basic human rights. It is argued that though colonialism wilted under the pressure Gandhi exerted -- mostly at the moral and political level -- it has come back now with a bang in other forms: liberalization, market economy and globalization, particularly in the present unipolar world. Colonialism is dead, but neocolonialism -- that is, economic control or political influence by one country over another apparently independent country, especially control over its business or financial institutions, stares humanity ominously in the face. This raises very important questions about the nature of our future. Gun-trotting ships may not roam the high seas in our present computer and supercomputer age. The fate of the globe can be decided in one or two small rooms that may be strategically situated and controlled by the self-appointed guardians of the world. All the decision-making bodies, financial institutions, even the markets, and the form of governments in poor countries, are all being decided for them by a handful of the most powerful.

Gandhi dares

Ethics, morality, spirituality, religion and the arts, are all secondary. In intent and ferocity, neo-colonialism appears to be more dangerous than its father, colonialism. The only difference between the two is that neo- colonialism is more suave, more gently refined and cleverly hides all its teeth and malicious intentions. It is in this context that the impact of the non-violent Satyagraha Gandhi adopted to destroy colonialism becomes relevant. At one stroke, Gandhi demolished the myth of invincibility, though the significance of the Gandhian initiative was not immediately known widely. Let it also be remembered that neither the industrialized West nor the developing world took Gandhi seriously initially, though they were aware of what Gandhi was doing in South Africa and India. The difference in the cultural context in which Gandhi worked and the difficulty of many to look beyond their noses prevented the international community from realizing the supreme importance of the Gandhian strategy.

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.