Prof. Neelakanta Radhakrishnan
Chairman, Indian Council of Gandhian Studies
Excellencies, distinguished fellow promoters of peace, ladies and Gentlemen,
At the outset I should express my profound gratitude to the Ministry of External affairs, Government of India; Indian High Commission (Dhaka), Indira Gandhi Centre for Culture and the University of Dhaka for inviting me to this heartwarming function arranged as part of the International Day of Nonviolence on 2 October . Let me also greet all of you assembled in this hall before I proceed with my presentation.
Perhaps never before in History has there been so much speculation and anxiety about the future of humanity as there is today. Will our world always remain a theater of violence? Will there always be poverty, starvation and misery? Are we going to have a firmer and wider belief in religion, or are we going to see a godless world? If there is to be a great transformation in society, how will that transformation be brought about? By War ,or Revolution? Or will it come about peacefully as Gandhi had wished? What Jonathan Schell, the author of landmark books like The Fate of Earth; The Gift of Time; The Case of Nuclear Abolition Now points out could be of great use to us in our understanding of the present human predicament, that too on an occasion like October 2 which the United Nations thoughtfully declared International Day of Nonviolence in deference to the contribution Mahatma Gandhi made to humanity:
Two paths lie before us. One leads to death, the other to life. If we choose the first path - if we humbly refuse to acknowledge the nearness of extinction, all, while increasing our preparations to bring it about - then we in effect become allies of death, and in everything we do our attachment to life will weaken our vision blinded to the abyss that has opened at our feet, will dim and grow confused; our will, discouraged by the thought of trying to build on such a precarious foundation anything that is meant to last, will slacken, and we will sink into stupefaction, as though we were gradually leaning ourselves from life in preparation for the end. On the other hand, if we project our doom and bend our efforts towards survival - if we arouse ourselves to the peril and act to forestall it, making ourselves the allies of life- then, the anesthetic fog will lift: our vision, no longer straining not to see the obvious, will sharpen: our will, finding secure ground to build on, will be restored and we will take full and clear possession of life again. One day -and it is hard to believe that will not be soon - we will make our choice. In spite of such hope and wishful thinking, there are dark clouds all over threatening a heavy downpour at any moment. It appears there is no respite for humanity. If anybody believed that the Cold War era has ended and humanity could live henceforth in peace, justice, and happiness, those hopes have been completely belied in the face of raging violence and senseless killings in various parts of the world. Notwithstanding all high-sounding assurances on arms reduction and cuts in military expenditure, we see only an alarming escalation in the production of lethal weapons. It is estimated that there is an annual worldwide expenditure of one trillion US dollars on arms alone. Even one sixth of this huge amount is sufficient to remove world hunger within the next six years.
How can anyone forget the fact that over a billion human beings are now living on an average annual income of less than two hundred dollars! More frightening than this is the revelation that, by 2000 AD, the world population has already crossed the six billion mark. Ecological degradation and the callous manner in which precious non-renewable energy resources are being squandered in the name of progress have started sending shockwaves at least in some sensitive souls.
It is imperative to remember the warning given to humanity of the impending danger by Dr. Daisaku Ikeda (President of Soka Gakkai ) and Josef Derbolav in their dialogue, Search for a New Humanity. The authors argue that further technological progress should be undertaken only after a careful analysis of the present situation and humanity should not allow the condition to go out of its control.
The nagging question is "what is the contribution of the last century to the alleviation of human suffering?" Planners and administrators do not unemployment, absence of basic education facilities, large-scale infant seem to be worried about hunger and diseases, malnutrition, illiteracy, mortality, and dearth of safe drinking water, endured by millions of people who live in those veritable hells called urban slums or shanty towns. Most people do not realize that while the nations of the world spend two billion dollars per day on military preparations, thousands of people are daily starving to death and millions more living on the verge of starvation. Every second, some where in the world a child dies or is permanently scarred by the diseases incumbent on poverty. At the same second, mankind spends $23,000 on enhancing military strength.
The former US President Dwight D. Eisenhower had realized the enormity of the problem. When he addressed the American Society of "Newspaper Editors, on 16 April 1953, he stressed the following:
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children ... This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the color of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron."
Let us know, and constantly remember, the following facts:
Most of the nations are guided by greed, suspicion and intolerance even though faint noises are heard about laudable goals such as a global village, a warless century, and a world without boundaries. Noble sentiments apart, the one question that troubles all those who care for human survival and security is: Should we not envision alternative concepts of the future as against the violent structures that had an unprecedented growth, respectability and to some extent consolidation of its hold on the harassed, threatened and starving humanity?
The present century as a worthy successor to the 20 century continues to be an era of war and violence though the growth of science and technology has reached an all-time high.
The one and only silver lining on the otherwise dark horizon is the belated recognition by the humanity that violence can't be countered by violence and that the answers to the various questions and problems facing humanity could be found only through nonviolence.
Mahatma Gandhi's prophetic assertion in this regard seems to have created appreciative resonances all around:
"We have to make truth and nonviolence, not matters for mere individual practice, but for practice by groups and communities and nations. That at any rate is my dream. I shall live and die in trying to realize it. My faith helps me to discover new truth every day. Ahimsa is the attribute of the soul, and therefore to be practiced by everybody in all affairs of life."
This statement of Gandhi, read along with two other brief messages he gave, one to a journalist and the other to his disciples in the government, reveal the essential Gandhi. To the journalist he said, "My life is my message". To the new rulers of India he gave this unfailing advice:
"Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own destiny?
In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions?"
When ever we discuss peace, we don't forget to mention Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the Holocaust, the World Wars and some of the major and minor conflict zones and killing fields in different parts of the world. But how many of us think even for a moment about the hunger and starvation endured by millions of human beings?
It is desirable that we constantly keep in mind the following unpleasant but crucial facts:
The insane destruction of the World Trade Centre, New York on September 11, besides altering the course of human history, has also revealed how fragile our castles and glass houses of progress are. The deadly efficiency of genocidal weapons to inflict crushing defeat on enemies has also been unmistakably established. Nuclear weapons or war, though they still haunt humanity, are no longer the deadliest deterrents. In human hands any new toy of this scientific era could become deadly and fatal. Hence our perception of peace as the mere absence of war and violence–requires to be reviewed.
Humanity has witnessed several wars and revolutions.
Occasionally it has also seen great changes being effected through gentle and peaceful means.
Gandhi demonstrated the irresistible power of Ahimsa as a political weapon and instrument of liberation. He also emphasized and successfully demonstrated it in his various campaigns both in South Africa during the close of the nineteenth century, and later in India during the early decades of the twentieth century. Since then, it has made its mark on the world and has come to stay as an effective weapon and strategy in the hands of those who believe in the supremacy of soul-force and moral law.
While the general contemporary interest in nonviolence is largely due to Gandhi's relentless fight for the adoption of a nonviolent alternative. It cannot be said that Gandhi is the progenitor of all that goes along with the concept and practice of nonviolence. On the contrary, the history of the idea of nonviolence as a religious or philosophical doctrine can be traced to the ancient Upanishads, the hoary Indian pearls of philosophical insights and Intuition. The Chandogya Upanishad as well as the Chinese Tao- Te-Chim of the sixth century B.C. glorified nonviolence both as personal virtue and as a desirable societal goal. The New Testament of the Bible also upholds the virtue of nonviolence for the edification of mankind. Gauthama Buddha, who was a rebel against the gory and corrupt practices of religion, was an apostle of gentleness, nonviolence and compassion' and he laid the foundation for a modern outlook and emphasized the need for developing social awareness based on respect for all living beings.
Plato had advocated truth and goodness; and he gave a vague sort of advice to overcome evil by good deeds. But with Gandhi (and later with Martin Luther King Jr.) nonviolence became a creative, challenging and eloquent force symbolizing man's inalienable right to live in peace and harmony and to help himself and his fellow beings to reach out towards their Maker.
The tragedy of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the rampant colonial exploitation which was no less dehumanizing than the reality of mass murder, and the capitalist injustice, prevalent all around, has now brought nonviolence to the center stage. Those who apparently control human destiny may still find it as an inconvenient irritant, that would go against their selfish worldly interests, particularly the economics of exploitation that they have developed.
The Gandhian perspectives on nonviolent human transformation is slowly but steadily receiving extensive attention in varying degrees in almost all parts of the world. A considerable number of social activists, freedom fighters, human rights activists, thinkers, political leaders and even to some extent, those to whom acceptance of nonviolence would hurt their national economics, which are based on military hardware, and those who encourage and engineer troubles and conflicts globally so that their armaments could be sold - have demonstrated their conviction that the nonviolent option as advocated by Gandhi needs serious attention. Thanks to this positive development, humanity is assured of a re-examination of the Bismarckian approach of treating war as a wholesome therapy that strengthens human nature, when civilization becomes too soft and frail.
The protagonists of the Bismarckian notion had propagated the obnoxious theory that aggressiveness is healthier than gentleness, waging war invigorates mankind, and it is genuinely positive to be vigorous, and offensive.
At one stroke, Gandhi demolished this myth - though the significance of the Gandhian initiative was not immediately understood all around. Let it be remembered that at first the industrialized West as well as the developing world did not take Gandhi seriously, though they were aware of what he was advocating. At that time, the difference in the cultural context in which Gandhi worked and the difficulty of many leaders to see beyond their noses were important factors which prevented the international community from realizing the supreme importance of the Gandhian strategy. But gradually the situation changed.
Humanity learnt a few lessons from the experience of the World Wars. Thereafter, Martin Luther King proclaimed the efficacy of the Gandhian strategy of nonviolent resistance in these words:
"... The Christian doctrine of Love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence is perhaps, one of the most potent weapons available to the oppressed people in their struggle for freedom."
But, still, the international community took the Gandhian initiative as expounded by Martin Luther King only as a freak development for some more time.
A few major developments stand out as one thinks of nonviolence as an effective strategy not only to counter violence, but to bring about peace in human lives as we gradually glide into the twenty first century.
In all continents, and in almost all countries, several motivated groups of individuals who firmly believe in nonviolence have sprung up. However, it has not yet become as mainstream strategy.
The pace of non-violent collective action along Gandhian lines initiated by Martin Luther King, was continued with conviction and courage by various activists of civil liberty movements all over the world. Kenneth Kaunda, Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela, Ho Chi Min, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Maired Maguire are only a few of the most - illustrious names which come to mind in this context.
The acceptance of Gandhian tactics for nonviolent transformation by "the Greens", notably by Petra Kelly, has led to the propagation of a new dimension of ecological and sustainable developmental model as envisioned by Gandhi to various countries of Eastern Europe. 'The Quakers' then adopted Gandhian nonviolence as their ideology. This was another hopeful sign and it led to a resurgent collective action for justice and freedom in many western nations. The impact of their initiatives notably in the Latin American nations is quite substantial and extensive.
Several motivated scholars who developed strong faith in the efficacy of nonviolence in the service of mankind such as Prof. Glenn D.Paige, Gene Sharp and Johan Galtung through their dedicated efforts and sustained critical interest added new and valuable inputs to the concept and practice of non violence as a strategy for human survival.
Professor Glenn D Paige is one of those scholars, who have been instrumental in bringing into the scene a whole generation of young researchers and peace activists, by offering them, an appropriate framework to understand, scrutinize, and analyze the various aspects of nonviolence. The Herculean efforts of Professor Paige to develop a wholesome critique of Nonviolent Political Science is an important phase of modern history. Professor Paige hasalso made a significant contribution in enthusing several young scholars of international repute to adopt 'non-violent political action' as their area of specialization.
Can Ahimsa, and Sathyagraha be moral counterparts to wars and other violent conflicts that corrode human character and jeopardize human survival? It is claimed by both Western and Indian scholars that Ahimsa and Sathyagraha can be resorted to in any given situation involving injustice. In their view even in those situations where armed resistance is impossible, Sathyagraha and Ahimsa can be resorted to as ultimate instruments of justice. This assertion happens to be partially ambiguous. Horsbough has stated that the prospects of nonviolence in the sphere of international conflict are brighter than what is commonly supposed even though people still believe in the efficacy of Armed Force.
As Gandhi had advocated, and demonstrated, a conscientious effort to make Ahimsa a way of life, and not a curious creed, is the need of the hour. Gandhi says: "Man either progresses towards Ahimsa, or rushes to his Doom". Analyzed against the background of all that the great preachers and prophets of humanity, and votaries of Ahimsa have instructed throughout the centuries, Gandhi's contribution to the cause is most outstanding and crucial. Incredible optimist that he was, Gandhi believed in the essential goodness of all.
As in Gandhi's own time, his concept of nonviolence continues to be diversely understood, interpreted and discussed in different parts of the world. While to some it is an ideal that all men should cherish, to an overwhelming number of others it is a moral principle which can guide thought and action. Many people view it as a policy which can be adopted and made effective only in certain given circumstances. A large number of people all over the world find in it a practical tool which can be used in certain situations according to the capabilities of the user. Some others view it as a technique suggesting one range of actions which may at times be supplemented or even substituted by other techniques as and when the situation demands. Each one of these different interpretations is usually upheld with the support of quotations from Gandhi's own words and citing Gandhi's own actions.
Hubert Humphrey, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Senator Diakno, Johan Galtung, Gene Sharp, Erik Erikson and Prof. Richard Keyes, have found in Gandhi's concept of nonviolence a great opportunity for humanity which enables mankind to take a fresh look at the various problems man has created for man, disregarding the Laws of Nature. France Huthchins and several others find Gandhi's approach towards non-violence as absolutist. To them Gandhi's view of nonviolence explicitly or implicitly includes motive as well as action, so that ahimsa or nonviolence is both psychic and corporal.
Thomas Clark and several others also find great scope for the practical application of the principle of nonviolence. William Robert Miller, James E. Bristor, William Stuart Nelson, A.J. Maste, Ted Duncan, Willock Michael, W. Sonneleitner, and many other scholars and pacifists find in Gandhian non-violence, a force and a method of action that can well become the basis for the twenty-first century man to adopt and practice. Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, SGI President, and one of the most profound thinkers of our time regards Gandhian nonviolence as a potent force and an effective instrument to secure justice and peace.
A cursory glance reveals that during the last six decades since the assassination of Gandhi, a considerable degree of intellectual efforts have gone into the appreciation and understanding of the concept of non-violence in different parts of the world. This ranges from deep sociological analysis of the dimension of the conflict to the policy implications of the Gandhian mode. Many see, in the Gandhian non-violence, clues to ways of dealing with national problems of tensions, conflict, arms race and war. What most of the analysts, critics, followers and admirers have seen in Gandhi, is a 'challenge rather than a stereotype'. It is natural that different levels of perception developed as the Gandhian approach expanded globally. Since Gandhi represented a model value system, it is quite natural that people viewed the Mahatma from different social, political and territorial perspectives. Klaus Scuts, Mayor of Berlin, was categorical in his assertion, "Nonviolence does not mean passivity or political vegetarianism". It is an active attitude, it permits fight for justice ,challenges the opponent to declare himself. The Gandhian concept of nonviolence never visualized surrender to evil or injustice, but pitting of one's soul against the will of the tyrant. The philosophy of soul-force visualizes three kinds of persons. The first category is that of the coward who supinely submits to injustice in order to save his skin; while the second category is that of the brave man who is eager to redeem justice by person, the Sathyagrahi, the believer in and practitioner of nonviolence, who in the fullness of his strength using the Natural force method, forgives the evil doer and attempts to persuade one to adopt right doing through nonviolence and love.
South Africa was the laboratory of Gandhi. The Twenty one years that Gandhi spent in South Africa witnessed Great changes both in his private life and public life. Much of what Gandhi did later in India had been tempered by the South African experiments. Gandhi's ascetic ashram life had its beginning in the Phoenix Ashram in South Africa. Non-violent resistance, simple living, Charkha spinning, non-violent struggles, insistence on simplicity and moderation – all had their origin there. In fact Gandhi had already become a Mahatma in the making by the time he left South Africa for India. His was a heroc struggle, involving several millions of people over a long period.
The votaries of peace and nonviolence all over the world would find it inspiring to realize that the epoch-making changes in South Africa, signalling the extinction of apartheid owe their inspiration to Gandhi's heroic struggles in that country. Nelson Mandela openly acknowledges this truth.
Gandhi who proceeded to South Africa as a lawyer to fight a court case, found on his arrival, a situation highly mortifying and humiliating and too harsh for any human being to tolerate. He was already aware of the inhuman segregation known as untouchability which a section of Indians were enduring back home in his own country. But what Gandhi had to face in South Africa was beyond his understanding. The strange experience of man being segregated in the name of the colour of his skin and getting his basic rights denied came to him as a rude shock. In South Africa millions of the local black population and the Indian settlers (most of them indentured labourers) were languishing in inhuman conditions. Gandhi himself became a victim of this dehumanizing practice not once or twice but several times.
On June 7 of 1893, a few months after his arrival in South Africa, Gandhi while traveling by a train in a first class compartment was thrown out of the train at the Petermauritzburg station. The charge against Gandhi was only that he was black in colour. The Blacks of South Africa were not permitted to travel in the first class compartment. On another occasion Gandhi was denied travel in a coach along with white passengers. Once he was denied hotel accommodation because of his colour. Taking pity on him, a kind individual then offered him accommodation in the hotel on the specific condition that he would not come down to the dining hall, but remain closeted in his own room throughout his stay. On another occasion, he was pushed down by the guards for having walked along a road in the vicinity of the residence of a highly-placed White official. Later Gandhi came to know that the Blacks and the coolies were not allowed to walk along that road. Gandhi also found that the children of the Blacks were not allowed to study in schools along with the white children.
These were only some of the visible symptoms of the dreaded practice of Apartheid which had many more humiliating aspects, the foundations of which were too strongly entrenched and defied all attempts of uprooting. The fact that a satisfactory solution to this vexed issue was finally found in the year 1993 which marked the centenary of the beginning of Gandhi's struggle in South Africa, is a matter of rejoicing for all Gandhian peace activists all over the world.
It is interesting to note how the local Blacks responded to Gandhi. By and large, Gandhi was fighting against the inhuman and discriminatory laws enacted by the Pretoria regime. But he was equally opposing a system that was perpetuating racial discrimination in the name of colour and nationality. The general condition faced by the Blacks in South Africa was not much different from what the Indian settlers were confronting. It would be naive to believe that the Black population was insensitive to what was happening in South Africa under the leadership of Gandhi. Though he was concentrating on the Indian settlers there, the principle he was fighting for had importance far beyond what the Indians in South Africa were endeavouring to secure. But it cannot be claimed that Gandhi had great influence on them when the Gandhian struggle was actually taking place in Natal, Pretoria Mini other places.
The law of nature teaches us that the seeds of change always take time to sprout. In South Africa, the Gandhian variety of non-violent struggle had to wait until Nelson Mandela appeared on the scene. No one can deny that the ANC was considerably influenced by Gandhi. The ANC movement drew strength and vigour largely from the inspiration of Gandhi. The basic question that arises is whether it was the brute force of the white minority which kept the Blacks at bay or whether the Blacks themselves by their own quiet surrender were responsible for their plight.
The fact remains that from their own experiences, they have developed a different notion of non-violence as a creed and a strategy. It was conceived as creative and positive and in their own way the Black majority tried to give it a fair trial. The ANC leadership in general and Nelson Mandela in particular seemed to be familiar with and appreciative of Gandhi's work and the success of his campaign. Mandela's speech after two days of his release from jail on 11 February 1990 was significant, since apart from referring to his indebtedness to Gandhi, he said.
"Another strand in the struggle against oppression began with the formation, right here in Natal, of the Indian Congress founded in 1884, a tradition of extra parliamentary protest that continues with the present. The next decade saw the increasing radicalization of Indian politics under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi... In 1906 - when Bambatha led sections of Africans in a war to abolish the poll tax -our brothers who descended from India, led by Mahatma Gandhi, fought against the oppression of the British Government."
Mandela had quoted a passage from Jawahar Lal Nehru before his arrest :
"There is no easy walkover to freedom anywhere and many of us will have to pass through the shadow again and again before we reach the mountain tops of our desires".
This also indicates that Mandela studied the Gandhian option carefully. Though the release from jail of Mandela and the legalizing of ANC cannot be viewed as concessions, they gave definite indication of the superior wisdom and statesmanship of President De Clerk, which none of his predecessors had displayed. Of course, there were other ground realities which prompted De Clerk to adopt an attitude of reconciliation ignoring the stout opposition from the die-hard whites.
There was resurgence in the people's movement despite the imposition of emergency in 1985 and the banning of the UDF and other organizations. The upsurge of 1989 and the open defiance of the segregation laws, made it practically impossible for De Clark to govern South Africa which had almost become an untouchable among the comity of nations. Further the nation's economy was showing signs of a total collapse following the strikes by COATSU and the mine workers. The sanctions imposed by the international community also shattered the economy. The so-called military supremacy of South Africa proved to be a myth when Angola gave a hard knock; its military might. There were many hurdles to be crossed. Yet there was the silver lining as was revealed from the manner in which both the government and the ANC denounced criminality, and violence. Despite several setbacks, the ANC and the government moved closer. The lifting of emergency except in the Natal Province, also helped large number of refugees to return. The signing of the 'Pretoria Minutes' augured well for the future. "The repeal of discriminatory legislations, the release of political prisoners and the acceptance of the principle of 'one man one vote were very central to the transfer of power and the restoration of peace.
The deep scars of Apartheid and the legacy of distrust, the cynical attempts made by the apologists of Apartheid, the growing internecine war among the Blacks and the stridency of the Neo Nazi groups made the process of change painfully slow. But the final victory as reflected in the triumphal emergence of South Africa as a free democratic nation under Nelson Mandela recreated visions of nonviolence as a matchless life force.
As the dismantling of apartheid proclaimed the humanistic side of nonviolence in political arena, the wisdom shown by Nelson Mandela in the setting up of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission under the leadership of the much-revered Bishop Desmond Tutu revealed unparalleled creative non-violent leadership. Their adherence to nonviolence enabled the new leaders to proclaim firmly that 'there is no future without forgiveness."
In his own way, Martin Luther King( Jr) added new dimensions to Gandhian nonviolence in the nineteen sixties in order to make it an effective instrument of his fight against evil. When the fight derives its strength from the moral and spiritual caliber of the victim and depends on the quality of his suffering, it takes quite a long time to effect what we call the 'change of heart' of the oppressor which is the goal of a non-violent struggle as opposed to 'victory. In an armed conflict, victory is not assured to either of the parties involved. The racial violence which broke out in Los Angeles and some other parts of the USA speaks volumes regarding how fragile our modern civilization is. It is actually an ominous portent and a disturbing reminder of what has been simmering underneath the surging welter of modernity and progress.
These events also reveal how skin-deep is our pretension of adherence to the equality of human beings. It is surprising to see that such racial disturbance should occur in the land of Abraham Lincoln, Thoreau, Emerson, Walt Whitman, Kennedy and Martin Luther King; and that too several decades after the eradication of the demon of racial discrimination. Gandhi warned humanity as early as 1909 when he published his book, "Hind Swaraj", that a civilization bereft of human considerations is 'Satanic'.,br /> Even from his school days Martin Luther King was greatly influenced by the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore it was only natural that he adopted the Gandhian doctrine of nonviolence as the most effective weapon at his command to fight racial segregation in the US. He once said in explaining his philosophy: "I believe in a militant, non-violent approach in which the individual stands up against an unjust system, using sit-ins, legal action, boycotts, votes and everything except violence or hate".
Acknowledging his indebtedness to Gandhi, Dr. King said: "...from my background I gained Christian ideals; from Gandhi I learned my operational technique".
In another context Dr. King acknowledged his debt to Mahatma Gandhi, while explaining the Montgomery bus boycott programme as follows:
"This is a protest of passive resistance depending upon moral and spiritual forces. We will return good for evil. Christ showed us the way and Mahatma Gandhi showed us it could work".
He declared that the American Black will not resort to “more radical ways to gain civil rights", because he has full faith “that he can get justice within the frame work of the democratic set-up."
It is a fact that Gandhi continues to inspire a considerable section of American opinion even today. E. Stanly Jones, himself a renowned pacifist, had this to say about Jesus Christ and Mahatma Gandhi "1 bow to Mahatma Gandhi, but I kneel at the feet of Christ and give him my full and final allegiance." Referring to Mahatma Gandhi, Stanly Jones stated that he (Gandhi) "has taught me more of Christ than perhaps any other man in East or West.”
There are quite a few among the liberal pacifists in the West who found in Gandhi the argument against the inevitability of the deterministic social order propagated by Darwin and Marx. Albert Einstein, Aldous Huxley, Oswald Garrison Villard, Roger Balwin and many others were able to see in Gandhi a reinstatement of the Renaissance faith of the perfectibility of man. In contrast to this school, there was the group of religious pacifists such as A.J.Maste, John Nevin, Haynes Holmens, Norman Thomas who found in Gandhi "a moral equivalent of war".
There may not be a Martin Luther King now in USA; but the number of true votaries of nonviolence both as a political strategy and as a creed has substantially increased. Several internationally famous pacifists such as Johan Galtung, Homer Jack, Dr. Glenn D. Paige, Gene Sharp, Dr. Lou Ann Guanson, Dr. Barnard Laffeyette, Vance Engleman, Dr. Richard Deats, Captain Charles Alphin and Richard N. Nagler are the ardent practitioners, exponents and champions of nonviolence today.
The spilling of blood in both the erstwhile Yugoslavia and former Czechoslovakia and the uncertainties created by the events following the dismemberment of the USSR should be viewed as the inescapable consequence of incongruities engendered by the die-hard communist philosophy which by and large did not care about purity of means in achieving laudable ends. The validity and relevance of the Gandhian insistence on purity of means -something which the communist blocks haalways scoffed at -became obvious now. The Gandhian concept of nonviolence thereafter began to attract the attention of the youth of Czechoslovakia. There arose a general belief that non-violence which is asold as the hills and which is based on the primordial instinct of man to live happily and to let others live comfortably would be an answer to the seething problems of the nation.
Four decades earlier, at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, there was a Gandhian protest efficiently organized by the Czech youth. From the youth the message gradually spread to the elders also. The Czech people also organized extremely significant programmes during the Gandhi centenary. The Speaker of the National Assembly of Czechoslovakia specifically stated in a message that "Gandhi's thought is of special significance". In the crossfire of the dismemberment of the USSR and the vaulting ambition of the selfish political leaders of Czechoslovakia, the helpless people looked up to the Gandhian concept of non-violent social transformation more than ever before. In Yugoslavia also the total collapse of the monolithic communist structure encouraged the people to think of a Gandhian alternative. The USSR, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia - the three main pillars of communism in Europe - faced very serious existential crisis, a crisis that called for a gentle humanitarian touch to get defused. Reports indicate that profound political thinkers and leaders seriously considered the Gandhian alternatives in these countries as means to prevent political extinction and to avoid internecine killings.
There is no doubt that the previous century was a glorious one in terms of man's continued conquest of nature including the outer space. Man has reached the very zenith of material achievements. The rapid technological strides that have changed the life style of man also induced in him a new sense of hope and also in insecurity. The hope lies in his ability to rise like the phoenix reconstruct life from its ruins and the indomitable spirit of 'never to yield'. The insecurity arises from the realization that unless worldly progress is tempered with the elixir of spiritual values humanity will land itself on the desert sands of crass materialism.
In former centuries, Europe had overawed the rest of humanity with its superior military might and an intelligent harnessing of the fruits of Science and Technology. Asia in the meanwhile, was enveloped in spiritual and philosophical pursuits. The appeal of the Buddha, despite the tidal wave of material progress, swept almost the whole of South East Asia while the Indian civilization and the Chinese civilization made feverish attempts to come to terms with the new challenges. The Asian nations were condescendingly described as 'developing' countries while the African region with its infinite natural resources and tremendous manpower was described to be the 'dark' and 'underdeveloped' continent. The fact was that it suited the colonial exploiters to keep it so. It did not escape the notice of the impartial observers that Africa is only a 'sleeping giant' who when awakened will be a formidable force to reckon with. In spite of the hangover of the centuries and the traditional old colonial exploitation which is still hampering the different countries, there is no doubt that the rejuvenated African continent which would be self confident of its inherent strength will tplay a crucial role in the 21 century. Brushing aside these seething problems, Africa and Asia - that have several common features in between -would boldly challenge the West and, as and when this happens, it would mark a new phase in human history.
As Johan Galtung points out Gandhi has become a part of the world political culture and Gandhian thought is bound to influence the progress of the twenty first Century. Even religious and cultural organizations and movements across the world emphasize conscientiously the relevance of Gandhi’s teachings in their strategies. The fast-spreading Soka Gakkai movement under the Presidentship of Dr. Daisaku Ikeda is a wonderful example. Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, an unbelievably energetic and creative leader, has always emphasized the supreme importance of the Gandhian method for achieving world peace. The SGI leadership has also shown remarkable awareness of the value of Gandhian nonviolence as is evident from the thrust the SGI President Dr Ikeda gives to the propagation of Ahimsa as enunciated by Shakyamuni Buddha. Dr Ikeda strongly advocates that a world without war which has become one of the cherished goals of humanity can no longer be treated as a distant dream. A spiritual awakening supported by strong cultural, educational and social movements is the need of the hour.
What kind of basic change, then, are we hoping for? It cannot be anything other than a non-violent, non-exploitative, nonkilling and a just society where no child, no woman, no man will die of hunger, where everyone's self-respect will get prime consideration and where no one will be segregated in the name of caste, class, colour or sex.
Are we just dreaming about an unattainable Utopia? Certainly not. Moreover even if it is a dream, only dreams like this give hope and strength to the human race. The tragedy of the present times is that a large segment of our fellowmen are still denied their dreams, hopes and opportunities of growth.
There can never be peace and happiness on earth if humanity does not address the basic problems that perpetrate inequality. Let us look at the following staggering facts provided by the World Watch Institute (State of the World 2002 New York, 3)
Social justice and human rights have been the two key areas of Gandhi's concern both in South Africa, and India. Gandhi predicted that unless expeditious corrective measures are taken, humanity will see more mega-death weapons proliferating among nations and there will be population explosion, more pollution and poverty, reducing our planet's life-supporting capabilities.
Gandhi insisted that social justice, distributive justice, and community justice have to be woven into the matrix of social, political and community life.
Community justice is based on the dignity and equality of all persons while distributive justice guarantees the right of all men and women to have equal share of essential goods and services, material comforts and social security. Social justice should encourage citizens to engage themselves in the creation of just social and political structures which constitute genuine democracy. Truth will be the guiding principle in all of them.
What Jaime L Cardinal Sin pointed out in the annual lecture series in United Nations University (1985), aptly sums up the frightening scenario:
"Poverty in the third world or anywhere else is an indication of failure. But the subject and agent of this failure are not the poor themselves;rather, they are the victims of this failed human and technical enterprise. The responsible agents of poverty are the rich and the powerful. The agents of poverty are the economic planners who choose to import capitalintensive technologies and whose victims are the jobless industrial workers. The technocrats of poverty are the educators who promoted school systems that are replicas of foreign universities. Their victims are the youth who became alienated from their own people and culture. The merchants of poverty are those unscrupulous industrialists who manipulate fragile economies and destroy their self-reliant foundations. The innumerable victims are the small farmers, fishermen and entrepreneurs whose labour and produce are brought cheaply and whose daily rice depend on market decisions made in Chicago or Geneva. The poor are poorer because they must contend not only with the exploitative powers of local groups, but with those of an international network as well."
Paradoxically, the emerging scenario whose defining characteristics are a kind of mad frenzy and utter contempt to all values, will have only scant regard to what are known today as the seven social sins Gandhi had reproduced in his journal (one of his admirers had categorized and sent them to him) as follows:
Can we afford to ignore these principles if we care for the future of humanity? Can there be peace on earth without the realization of these basic values?
The prayer of Pope John Paul II during his visit to Hiroshima reflects the anguish and agony of present day humanity:
There is no doubt that in this universal prayer the Pope has summarized the philosophy of Peace, Love, and Nonviolence propounded by Mahatma Gandhi The great and indeed mind-boggling question which stares at humanity even after about six decades of the most diabolical crime perpetrated on the human race - namely the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is: Are the bombs hurled over Hiroshima and Nagasaki the last in human history?
There are other questions as well: How is humanity going to tackle the monsters of war, violence, injustice of various types, the grinding poverty widely prevalent in large segments of human populations and what is humanity going to do to arrest the all-time high and fiercely alarming environmental degradation and spread of violence?
When can humanity wake into a period where the killing instinct is kept under bay and our grandchildren will breathe the fresh air of a nonkilling world which will have to be a nonviolence and just world as well.
Gandhi demonstrated that change is possible provided we have the will.
Let me conclude my presentation by expressing my gratitude to all of You for your patient listening.
I dedicate this presentation to a dear well- wisher, inspirer and almost a mentor-like figure, Prof. Glenn D Paige who along with the great Tagore-Gandhi-disciple Dr G. Ramachandran encouraged me considerably to sharpen my understanding of nonviolence and nonkilling.
Thank you all.
Paper on Gandhi presented at the University of Dhaka on 2 October, 2010