the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

In quest for peace, war is not justified !

Waging for peace ? War is not the answer ?


Dr Anoop Swarup


Contemporary world is at cross roads today: be it the emerging world order or the socio political or religious and economic chaos! In view of obamaspeak in this era of war and the menace of terror and conflicts: is Ahimsa or non violence more relevant now than ever before? To understand the same we have to consider the nature of terror, the conventional wisdom and the initiatives be it changes in the legislative framework or the enforcement mechanism we cannot even for a moment let go of the root causes and the role of civil society that have led to the problem in the first place. The assumptions first: terror’s weapon and vehicle is violence, its aim is destruction rather than development, its doctrine is based on intolerance, the means justify the ends and the ultimate effect is that it destroys human rights utterly. To add to the challenge we have legal issues with defining terrorism particularly political violence and terrorism, is a freedom fighter a terrorist, the web of jurisdiction and sovereignty vis a vis governance, international co-operation and the real intent of governments, state-sponsored terrorism: the use of force and hot pursuit in a foreign territory. We have the dilemma of the SC Resolution 1456 that clearly states “States must ensure any counter-terrorism measures comply with obligations under international refugee, human rights and humanitarian law”. Also the United Nations Secretary-General in  September 2003 observed “…we must never, in the fight against terrorism, lower our standards to theirs…to compromise on the protection of human rights would…hand terrorists a victory they cannot achieve on their own…”  


Let us develop an insight on the global menace that threatens our own existence in many ways. Terrorism not only threatens international peace but also takes away innocent lives indiscriminately, brings fear, endangers societal progress and peaceful existence that makes open liberal democracies like ours particularly vulnerable. No doubt terror is an anathema to the international community as it is the antithesis of every ideal that a modern society looks forward to and what the UN Charter enshrines.


Mankind has to realize that more than participation it is incitement to terrorism and complicity across borders that now undermines the international order. It is an irony that although very few societies are free from the menace of terror a global strategy to combat the evil as yet eludes us.


Perhaps the resolve is absent. Let us embark on a plan here and now to understand the very nature, ethos and the root of the problem so that we may at least be a part of the solution before it is too late.


Historical Perspective

Historically, the spiritual or religious justification of nonviolence, forms the central tenet of  many pagan religions and not only the major Abrahamic religions be it Islam, Judaism and Christianity but also the major Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Thus nonviolence is inherent to humans as also exemplified by nonviolent movements, leaders and advocates who testify the many diverse religious basis and spirituality for their non violent struggle. Some notable historical examples include nonviolence and forgiveness of sin be found in the story of Abel in the Qur'an, the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus urges his followers to "love thy enemy," the Taoist concept of wu-wei, or effortless action, the philosophy of the martial art Aikido, the Buddhist principle of metta, or loving-kindness towards all beings; and more prominently in the principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence toward any being, shared by Buddhism, Jainism and in Hinduism.

Non violence or Ahimsa as a form of Dharma traditionally practiced in India may appear to be philosophical idealism, but it does withstand scientific scrutiny quite well. Science does not dispute that all living creatures are interconnected and interdependent in a web of innumerable ecological relationships. Effects inflicted upon one species are always reflected on others. Dharma is very well elucidated By Lord Krishna in Mahabharata as: "Dhaaranaad dharma ity aahur dharmena vidhrtaah prajaah, Yat syaad dhaarana sanyuktam sa dharma iti nishchayah," or, "Dharma upholds both this-worldly and other-worldly affairs" (Mbh 12.110.11).

Thus as we develop our understanding of the present, the emerging realization supports a view of Ahimsa as self-evident and integral to the existence of life on earth. Dharma is eternal, also Satya or Truth, a fabric that binds human society and the therefore the axiom that "anyone who goes against Dharma will only destroy himself." Dharma is not just law or harmony but is also pure Reality. The Upanishads describe dharma as the universal principle of law, order and harmony and acts as the regulatory moral principle of the Universe.

“Verily, that which is Dharma is truth.

Therefore they say of a man who speaks truth, 'He speaks the Dharma,'

Or of a man who speaks the Dharma, 'He speaks the Truth.'

Verily, both these things are the same."

(Brh. Upanishad, 1.4.14)


A Paradigm Shift


Nonviolence is a philosophy for social change and a strategy that rejects the use of physical force. Alternatively, nonviolence is also an alternative to passive acceptance of oppression and also the use of armed struggle to counter it. Nonviolence may deploy diverse methods in its campaigns for social change that does not preclude critical forms of education and persuasion, assertive tactics such as Satyagraha (civil disobedience) and also more potent direct action that targets media and mass communication tactics.

Contemporary World

In the contemporary world, nonviolence is being used extensively by political and social leaders in absence of mainstream political power to achieve their objectives in a wide array of fields such as labor, peace, environment and women's movements.

Ironically it is little known that nonviolence plays a critically important role in not only undermining the power of repressive political regimes across the globe in both the developed and developing world and in sustaining our civilizational process. Consider this:

In 1989, thirteen nations comprising 1,695,000,000 people experienced nonviolent revolutions that succeeded beyond anyone's wildest expectations... If we add all the countries touched by major nonviolent actions in our century (the Philippines, South Africa... the independence movement in India...) the figure reaches 3,337,400,000, a staggering 65% of humanity! All this in the teeth of the assertion, endlessly repeated that nonviolence doesn't work in the 'real' world.

Walter Wink, as quoted by Susan Ives in a 2001 talk

It is indeed heartening that on November 10, 1998, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the first decade of the 21st century and the third millennium, the years 2001 to 2010, as the International Decade for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for....


Gandhian Imperative


A reflection on Gandhi's Satyagraha leads us to the three basic tenets: satya or truth, implying openness, honesty, and fairness; ahimsa, meaning physical and mental non violence; and tapasya, literally penance or self-sacrifice. Perhaps it is in the application of these tenets of Satyagraha that the individuals may find solaced and the society may be able to rejuvenate itself. It may be pertinent to quote Gandhi:

“In the application of Satyagraha, I discovered, in the earliest stages, that pursuit of Truth did not admit of violence being inflicted on one's opponent, but that he must be weaned from error by patience and sympathy. For, what appears to be truth to one may appear to be error to other? And patience means self-suffering. So the doctrine came to mean vindication of Truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but one's own self”.

The practice of Satyagrah involves self-effacement, humility, patience and faith best epitomized in Mahatma Gandhi’s own words: “Love does not burn others, it burns itself. …..  A satyagrahi, i.e., a civil resister, will joyfully suffer even unto death. It follows, therefore, that a civil resister, whilst he will strain every nerve to compass the end of the existing rule, will do no intentional injury in thought, word or deed……”

Drawing a distinction between passive resistance and Satyagraha Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted: “Satyagraha is a weapon of the strong; it admits of no violence under any circumstance whatever; and it ever insists upon truth. I think I have now made the distinction perfectly clear”.

We can only overcome violence with respect and understanding and love for each other. Today when we confront conflicts of all kinds be it– interpersonal, social, religious, state, national or even international conflicts – and use every possible technique for resolving them – in the end we may find the best resolution only through Satyagraha:

a potent Gandhian instrument.  A very pertinent statement that Mahatma Gandhi made is of immense significance today when we confront terrorism and violence that is used to achieve narrow political ends. He said,


“Violence will prevail over violence, only when someone can prove to me that darkness can be dispelled by darkness.”

A New Doctrine

“We will wear you down by our capacity to suffer”


— Martin Luther King, 1963


Nonviolent action as we now know and practice generally involves: Acts of Protest and Persuasion, Noncooperation, and Nonviolent Intervention.


Nonviolent acts are generally persuasive and are symbolically performed individually or collectively to garner support or express disapproval. The goal is to bring public awareness, influence or to facilitate future nonviolent protests for an issue. The message is generally aimed at an individual or the public and opponents affected by the issue. Methods of protests and persuasion are varied and may include speech, mass communication, petition, March, symbolic acts, art, procession, and public assemblies. Tactics are carefully chosen in terms of the political and cultural circumstances and at times as a part of a larger plan or strategy. Gene Sharp, a political scientist has classified a list of 198 methods of nonviolent action.


Interestingly, the deterrence of aggression, violent attacks and promotion of peaceful resolution of conflicts, as a method of intervention globally, has occurred time and again throughout history. The primary tactics include unarmed accompaniment and human rights observation and reporting. No doubt there are a few notable failures such as the Human Shields in Iraq (because the leaders perhaps failed to highlight and understand the value of the goal in contrast to the value of human life in the context of war). Successes are also equally notable like the Project Accompaniment in Guatemala. Some examples of non-governmental organizations include Peace Brigades International and Christian Peacemaker Teams


Similarly a powerful tactic of nonviolent intervention is the invocation of public scrutiny of the oppressors in the face of nonviolent resistance. Thus in case the state attempts to violently repress the nonviolent movement, the power actually shifts from the hands of the oppressors particularly if the resistance is persistent. The effect on the mind and emotions of the oppressor is indeed profound when the willingness to face such oppression is great.


There are also many other leaders and theorists of nonviolence that include Einstein who was a strong supporter of nonviolence, who have contributed immensely to the spiritual and practical aspects of nonviolence. These are: Leo Tolstoy, Lech Wałęsa, Petra Kelly, Nhat Hanh, Dorothy Day, Ammon Hennacy, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, David McReynolds, Johan Galtung, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Daniel Berrigan, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Mario Rodríguez Cobos (pen name Silo) and César Chávez

The Doctrine of Affirmative Nonviolence is based on the precept: Love the "enemy", or the realization of the humanity of all people, as a fundamental to the principle of philosophical nonviolence. The goal of this type of nonviolence is not to defeat the "enemy", but to win them over and create love and understanding between all. The fundamental concept of pragmatic nonviolence is to create a social dynamic or political movement that can effect social change without necessarily winning over those who wish to maintain the status quo.

Respect or love for opponents has a pragmatic justification, in that the technique of separating the deeds from the doers allows for the possibility of the doers changing not only their behavior but also their beliefs.

To quote Martin Luther King, "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."





1.        Stanley M. Burstein and Richard Shek: "World History Ancient Civilizations ", page 154. Holt, Rinhart and Winston, 2005

2.        RP's History Online - Velvet Revolution

3.        Dalai Lama brings message of nonviolence on campus visit

4.        Exiles question Dalai Lama's non-violence, BBC News, March 18, 2008

5.        Two Kinds of Nonviolent Resistance ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans

6.        Nonviolent Resistance & Political Power ~ Civil Rights Movement Veterans (U.S.)

7.        Life Magazine: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. 40 Years Later. Time Inc, 2008. Pg 65

8.        United Nations International Day of Non-Violence,United Nations, 2008. see International Day of Non-Violence.

9.        Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging Nonviolent Struggle. Extending Horizon Books. p. 50-65. ISBN 0875581625. 

10.     Sharp, Gene (1973), The Methods of Nonviolent Actioin, Peace magazine,, retrieved on 2008-11-07 

11.     Sharp, Gene (1973). The Politics of Nonviolent Action. P. Sargent Publisher. p. 657. ISBN 9780875580685. 

12.     Sharp, Gene (2005). Waging Nonviolent Struggle. Extending Horizon Books. p. 381. ISBN 0875581625. 

13.     Dan Jakopovich: Revolution and the Party in Gramsci's Thought: A Mo...

14.     Churchill, Ward Pacifism as Pathology. Arbeiter Ring, 1998.

15.     Brodd, Jefferey (2003). World Religions. Winona, MN: Saint Mary's Press. ISBN 978-0-88489-725-5. 

16.     Pagan Theology: paganism as a world religion by Michael York

17.     Pokorny, Julius. Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch. 1959.

18.     The Mahābhārata: Book 11: The Book of the Venus Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1 By Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen, James L. Fitzgerald pg.124

19.     The Mahābhārata: Book 11: The Book of the Women Book 12: The Book of Peace, Part 1 By Johannes Adrianus Bernardus Buitenen, James L. Fitzgerald pg.124

20.     Murthy, K. Krishna. "Dharma - Its Etymology." The Tibet Journal, Vol. XXI, No. 1, Spring 1966, pp. 84-87.

21.     Radhakrishnan, S. (1923): "Indian Philosophy Vol.1" (2nd Edition). New Delhi: Oxford India Paperbacks (Oxford University Press).

22.     Hume, R.E.: (1921): "The Thirteen Principal Upanishads" (2nd Edition, Revised). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

23.     Easwaran, E. (1987): "The Upanishads" (Seventh Printing). Tomales, CA: Nilgiri Press.


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Comment by Riccardo Gramegna on May 19, 2011 at 11:55am
Very thought provoking blog, thankyou very much for sharing Anupji. I am these days in Europe and will be back in Aug. see you then, it is long time since we met in your University. God bless you. Arya.



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