Non-violence : A Force for Radical Change

Narayan Desai

Chancellor, Gujarat Vidyapith, Ahmedabad, India (the University founded by Mahatma Gandhi)

The days that have been chosen for this international Congress on Peace and Non-violence are more significant than probably what we think about it. 30th January is the death anniversary of Gandhi. But I consider 29th January also to be important. It was on this day, Gandhi mentioned about his own death. It seems that he foresaw his death. During the year 1947 he repeated the vision thrice. He said to his grand-niece one day before his death. ‘If I die of any common disease, please announce to the world that Gandhi was not a Mahatma. But if I would be going for my prayers, and somebody comes and shoots at me, and I receive the bullets on my open chest, and have the name of God on my lips without having any ill will or hatred in my heart, then tell the world that I was an humble servant of God’. He was also foreseeing and describing which was going happen the next day.

Many of us use peace and non-violence as synonyms. But during the last few decades these words have transformed their meanings. Peace no longer means the absence of war. The Peace conveys the meaning of Peace with justice. Non-violence is no longer passive. It is a radical force.  But these ideas have transformed and we now have different meanings of these terms. While Innumerable people have contributed in changing the concept of peace, Gandhi, perhaps was the only person who changed the concept of non-violence. Ahimsa, the Indian word for non-violence is commonly understood as doing no harm or injury to the other people. But Gandhi visualized it as a radical force.  Even during the initial stages he explained the idea of positive non-violence. It was such an original idea that term was Satyagraha. He gave three synonymous words for Satyagraha. First one has truth-force. He also called it love-force and he continues to call Satyagraha as soul force. Truth force is based on the principle of justice. He looked upon the whole concept of non-violence as a force for radical change.  In Sanskrit language the word for truth is Satya and the root is ‘Sat’. Sat means one that exists. For many who understand these two concepts, there is no difference in truth and existence. Love force can move mountains. Soul force envisages the unity of soul of all people. Satyagraha is the philosophy based on voluntary suffering. I will give you an example. Many of you must have read the beautiful description of Gandhi’s first confession before from an ornament of his elder brother. He could not orally make the confession. So he wrote a note and confessed before his father. He asked for punishment. He did not know how his father would react. His father read the note and kept silent for a while. Tears were rolling down his cheeks. He did not uttered a single word. Gandhi said it was the first experience in non-violence. Self suffering became a tool of Satyagrahi which could transfer one’s own suffering even to the adversary.

We are all here with a lot of experience and lot of concern about what is happening in today’s world. We want to pool our experience and draw out strategies to change the world into a world with peace and justice. I am sure that, we will contemplate about our world today and how to change it to a better world. To me world today seems to be divided between two forces, one the force of love and two the forces, of death. The forces of death are highly centralized and connected with each other. The forces of life do not seem to be well organized. They are scattered and they do not manifest clearly. We have to find out how the forces of life can change the situation today. When I was reading one of the African friend’s papers for this Congress, I found that more than 70 percent of what he said applied to the Indian situation. It is not merely an African question. It is question of North versus the South.

Globalisation instead of creating a global family has created a global market. The market is bargaining hard. There is no trust on the other side. Liberalization of the poor world means the liberty to die. Economic force joined hands with military forces and they control the political power. All this together means forces of death. We have gathered here because all of us want to live.  The human kind does not want to commit suicide. We do not want to find the way to death. I am trying to explain the Gandhian method of solving these problems. The essential point of Gandhian method is to conscientize the people. By and large people of West and even many Indians looks upon the Gandhian method as a mere technique. But to Gandhi, non-violence was a technique as well as a way of life. You cannot just use non-violence without loving the adversary. Non hyphen violent action is action without anger and hatred within oneself. Gandhi described Satyagraha as love force. The three essential elements in Satyagraha are, one firm faith in truth, two overflowing love for the adversary and three the capacity to undergo any amount of suffering. I am conscious that in the West the word suffering has a negative meaning. But conscious voluntary self suffering was important for Gandhi. It communicates your ideas and emotions to the world.

Second aspect is organization. We see around the world centralized organization, we can never cope with that. We have to find new ways of organization; building from below, moving from centralization to decentralization and networking of human values in our organization. Organization is the test of non-violence. We may slip down to coercion and compulsion and repression, if we organize without love. How can we organize non-violence with love? This is the problem we should address during the Congress.

Never forget the fact that truth force applies to us too. We do not have complete truth in our pocket and teach others about it. Till the last date Gandhi declared to the world that he was not a Mahatma. He was a seeker of truth. He was holding fast to truth as he saw it, but he was open enough to see the other side.

It seems that there is a conspiracy. The State versus the people, in this conspiracy the people are the final sufferers. The State usually stands for selfish interest. How can we strengthen the people is an important question?

Gandhi’s method was struggling and constructing. It should be the subject of our contemplation. Struggle and construction are two sides of the same coin. Inside jail, Gandhi used to spin. He combined struggle and construction. These two should go together. I am here not to say that we consider only the Gandhian methods for solving the problems. He was ever learning. We should try to solve the problem drawing on knowledge from all over the world.

I am also sure that no international conference can solve the problems by the humanity. They can only give us solidarity, some clear idea about the problems. This is only the beginning of solving problems. I hope we will be able to make a good strong beginning.

Source: Contemporary Perspective On Peace and Non-violence


About Biju Negi

A writer. Working on small farmers' issues, food and agriculture concerns; and peace and nonviolence. Inspiration - Gandhi and Kabir, the poet.
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