International Day of Non Violence

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In honour of the man who probably showed the world what non violence can achieve, 02 October, the birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who led the non violent uprising leading to India’s independence, has been declared the International Day of Non Violence by the United Nations on 15 June 2007.

According to the resolution which established the commemoration, the International Day is an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. The resolution reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.

The principle of non-violence, also known as non-violent resistance, rejects the use of physical violence in order to achieve social or political change. Often described as “the politics of ordinary people”, this form of social struggle has been adopted by mass populations all over the world in campaigns for social justice.

Professor Gene Sharp, a leading scholar on non-violent resistance, uses the following definition in his publication, The Politics of Nonviolent Action: “Nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.”

While non-violence is frequently used as a synonym for pacifism, since the mid-twentieth century the term non-violence has been adopted by many movements for social change which do not focus on opposition to war.

One key tenet of the theory of non-violence is that the power of rulers depends on the consent of the population, and non-violence therefore seeks to undermine such power through withdrawal of the consent and cooperation of the populace.

There are three main categories of non-violence action: protest and persuasion, including marches and vigils; non-cooperation; and non-violent intervention, such as blockades and occupations.

Why is such a day important for us to commemorate? Days like these raise awareness because the term, “non-violence,” has been used so often in the last century that its meaning has taken on new forms. Often believed to be a synonym for pacifism, which it can be, it’s also been adopted by groups around the world to be a force for social change, rather than strictly opposition to war. Non-violence is a proven method for social change because the term “Non-violence” is a broad umbrella term under which there are several categories. Non-violent actions include protests, marches and vigils, which were successfully employed in the 1960s to bring about social changes in America. Non-cooperation and non-violent intervention, such as blockades and sit-ins, were also successfully used in America to demonstrate further inequalities. All of these efforts led to the peaceful spread of ideas. And lastly world over there are plenty of conflicts to solve as globalisation has given us a more productive global economy but it’s also led to more complex issues that need solving. To help keep these problems from escalating to violence, spreading the ideas and success stories of nonviolence will be crucial.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known in India as Mahatma Gandhi and the Father of the Nation was a was a lawyer, an anti-colonial nationalist, and political ethicist, who employed nonviolent resistance to lead the successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule, and in turn inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. The honorific Mahatma which in Sanskrit means a great soul, first applied to him in 1914 in South Africa, is now used throughout the world.

Born and raised in a Hindu family in coastal Gujarat, western India, Gandhi trained in law at the Inner Temple, London, and was called to the bar at age 22 in June 1891. After two uncertain years in India, where he was unable to start a successful law practice, he moved to South Africa in 1893 to represent an Indian merchant in a lawsuit. He went on to stay for 21 years. It was in South Africa that Gandhi raised a family, and first employed nonviolent resistance in a campaign for civil rights. In 1915, aged 45, he returned to India. He set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability, and above all for achieving Swaraj or self-rule. The same year Gandhi adopted the Indian loincloth, or short dhoti and, in the winter, a shawl, both woven with yarn hand-spun on a traditional Indian spinning wheel, or charkha, as a mark of identification with India’s rural poor. Thereafter, he lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community, ate simple vegetarian food, and undertook long fasts as a means of self-purification and political protest. Bringing anti-colonial nationalism to the common Indians, Gandhi led them in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India.

After independence as many displaced Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs made their way to their new lands, religious violence broke out, especially in the Punjab and Bengal. Eschewing the official celebration of independence in Delhi, Gandhi visited the affected areas, attempting to provide solace. In the months following, he undertook several fasts unto death to stop religious violence. The last of these, undertaken on 12 January 1948 when he was 78, also had the indirect goal of pressuring India to pay out some cash assets owed to Pakistan. Some Indians thought Gandhi was too accommodating. Among them was Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, who assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 by firing three bullets into his chest.

In fact, in India, his birth anniversary which falls on 02 October is one of the three mandated national holidays in India. In a country with a multi religious population, public holidays which are usually holidays for festivals are mandated mostly by the state government and at work, a lot is left to individual companies to decide on holidays based on their workforce. Gandhi Jayanti, as his birth anniversary is called, is one of mandated holiday, irrespective of what other holiday you get, along with Independence Day on 15 August and Republic Day on 26 January.

I, for one, believe violence is over-rated. While I don’t want to get into any arguments, I personally believe that the money spent on shoring up their military, sometimes up to almost 10-15% of their GDP (depending on which report you want to use) could be used for the betterment of their citizens by providing more aid to the more vulnerable portions of their society, providing those without access to food, education and healthcare to what they lack and so much more. But this is an argument or a blog post for another day.

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