Mahatma’s ideas of nonviolence act as lighthouse in the modern day world where storms of hatred and factionalism rage
In a world marked by conflict and division, the pursuit of global peace remains an enduring aspiration of humanity. It is a quest that has been championed by leaders, thinkers, and activists throughout history. One of the most prominent figures in this quest was Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy of nonviolence continues to inspire people around the globe. The concept of nonviolence stands as a beacon of hope and a path toward sustainable peace.
As the world commemorates the International Day of Nonviolence and celebrates Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2, it is crucial to move beyond the celebration and understand it as a solemn commitment that global leaders must undertake (read acknowledge) for the betterment of humanity, which in future can offer a transformative vision that should guide us through the turbulent waters of our times.
Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy, of Satyagraha (truth-force), emphasized the power of truth and love to transform societies and resolve conflicts. Gandhi's influence extended far beyond the borders of India, leaving an indelible mark on the global struggle for peace. Historian Eknath Easwaran captured Gandhi's significance when he wrote that “Gandhi's teachings on nonviolence and his fearless commitment to justice resonate not as relics of the past but as timeless lessons for a world still grappling with violence and injustice.”
The universality of Nonviolence stems from the fundamental recognition of human dignity and the shared aspiration for peace. Drawing inspiration from diverse religious and philosophical traditions, Gandhi synthesised the principles of ‘Ahimsa’ (non-harm) and ‘Satyagraha’ (truth force) into a powerful tool for social and political change, demonstrating the efficacy of nonviolent resistance.
Gandhi's influence resonated globally, inspiring figures like Martin Luther King Jr., who championed Civil Rights in the United States. King's commitment to nonviolent resistance was deeply rooted in his Christian faith and the teachings of Gandhi. In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” underscoring the interconnectedness of humanity and the necessity of nonviolent action in the face of injustice. He went on to state that “Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it”.
Similarly, Nelson Mandela had unquestionable faith in the power of nonviolence. To him, “Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence and the truth is the only lasting legacy we have. All other political systems have failed. Ours is the only approach that can guarantee world peace because it is the only approach that can guarantee that mankind will be relieved of the curse of war."
Further, Desmond Tutu’s struggle against apartheid in South Africa showcased the transformative power of nonviolence. Tutu emphasized that nonviolence was not just a tactic but a way of life. To him, “Forgiveness and reconciliation are not just ethereal, spiritual things. They have concrete, pragmatic applications." The International Day of Nonviolence observed on the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, serves as a reminder of the global significance of this philosophy. The United Nations, recognising the importance of nonviolence in resolving conflicts and promoting peace, has actively championed this day. The UN has recognised the intrinsic connection between peace and sustainable development in its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In a world grappling with complex geopolitical tensions, the efficacy of nonviolence as a strategy for conflict resolution cannot be overstated. Peace activist and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ela Bhatt underscored this connection. She believes that "Without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable.”
In recent years, nonviolent movements have emerged as powerful forces for change in various parts of the world. From Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her bus seat, to Malala Yousafzai, who stood up for girls' education in the face of violence, to ‘The Arab Spring’ in the Middle East, to ‘The Umbrella Movement’ in Hong Kong, and the global climate strikes led by Greta Thunberg are examples of how nonviolent resistance remains relevant in contemporary global struggles. The protests, fuelled by a desire for democracy, social justice and environmental concerns for leaders to awake from their slumber, demonstrated that the collective power of nonviolent action could challenge established norms and demand change.
The birthday of Mahatma Gandhi and the International Day of Nonviolence is a clarion call for action. In a world grappling with diverse challenges, the principles of nonviolence offer not just a historical legacy but a roadmap for the future. As Mahatma Gandhi himself had declared, “Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind.”
Without exaggeration, it can be said that education stands as a formidable tool for nurturing the values of nonviolence from an early age. Nelson Mandela's insight, from his “Long Walk to Freedom” that people must learn to hate but can also be taught to love, underscores the transformative potential of education. Curricula that incorporate teachings on conflict resolution, empathy, and understanding lay the foundation for a more peaceful and tolerant world.
(The writer is a programme executive, Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Samiti; views are personal)