International Day of Ahimsa and its Relevance
By Saji Varghese
“The unique contribution of Gandhi lies in his pragmatic concern of extending the concept of non-violence from the individual and personal sphere to the social and political domain.”
While India refuses to be a part of voting on UN Security Council resolution condemning the Moscow-backed “illegal” referendums which are based on the violent moves of Moscow in a different territory, the next day marked the celebration of UN International Day of Non-violence . The ten remaining Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution drafted by the US and Albania, while China, India, Brazil and Gabon abstained from voting. The question still remains as to whether these days of observance of non-violence, peace and so on have lost their significance in contemporary times. “The resolution condemns these illegal referenda. It calls on all states to not recognize any altered state of Ukraine. It requires that Russia withdraws troops from Ukraine immediately,” Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council.
The International Day of Non-Violence is observed on 2nd October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the champion of the philosophy and practice of non-violence. According to General Assembly resolution of 15 June 2007, 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”. India’s former Union Minister for Commerce, Textile and Industries, Mr Anand Sharma, said that the wide and diverse sponsorship of the resolution was a reflection of the universal respect for Mahatma Gandhi and of the enduring relevance of his philosophy. Quoting the late leader’s own words, he said: “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”.
In Indian tradition, although ahimsa is a negative term indicating what one should not do (not injuring), it has a positive connotation too because it also involves positive acts of kindness, compassion, affection and love towards others. Moreover, it includes not only physical or bodily non-violence, but also vocal and mental non-violence. Ahimsa implies non-killing. But non-injury is not merely non-killing. In its comprehensive meaning Ahimsa or non-injury means abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought word or deed. Ahimsa is not mere negative non-injury. It is a positive cosmic love. It is the development of a mental attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. Ahimsa is sacrifice; it is forgiveness; it is Shakti (power) also true strength. Only ordinary people think that Ahimsa is not to hurt any living being physically .This is the gross form of ahimsa. The vow of ahimsa is broken even by disliking another person, by hating another person, by abusing another person and by speaking ill of others; by backbiting or vilifying, by harbouring thoughts of hatred, by uttering lies, or by ruining another person in any way whatsoever.
The unique contribution of Gandhi lies in his pragmatic concern of extending the concept of non-violence from the individual and personal sphere to the social and political domain. He gave the traditional non-violence of India a new orientation; he adopted it as a principle and technique for social and political change as well as religious reform. It is because of him that the word non-violence has entered into the vocabulary of politics. He further extended the connotation of its concept from its physical aspect to the mental level of thinking as well. He also further made it a mass movement. For him non-violence was the principle that governed his life in every sphere, domestic, institutional ,economic ,social ,and political dimensions too But it remained eminently personal. It was aimed at attaining peace. It was against evil not against the evildoer. Similarly, asceticism, sacrifice and suffering which, in the Indian tradition, were confined to the private life of an individual were now brought into the public sphere of politics. They became a means not only for self-emancipation but also for social welfare. Suffering became a means for bringing about change in the hearts of those who contradict one’s opinions. Gandhi departed from tradition by teaching others to seek to protect the opponent from harm even at the risk of one’s life. Gandhi was also unique in distinguishing between non-violence as a creed and as a policy as well as between the non-violence of the strong and the weak.
The terms ‘war’ and ‘peace’ have a shared conceptual provenance in modern understanding of politics. The quest for peace has received increasing attention in political and intellectual spheres which may be considered as a basis for international moral policy. This may also be regarded as a natural predilection of human beings who choose to live with a sense of dignity in their social existence. In other words, international diplomacy and the nations all over the world maintain a central role in publicizing human dignity as the basis of human rights as well as for a meaningful foundation for global peace. To have an intriguing dialogue on peace is taken to be a philosophical concern in the 21st century. Wars and conflict are certainly not new in human history. The cliche is universal that violence has escalated and intensified around the world at a horrifying level. The dawn of 21st century gave the impression of fostering a peaceful global family. It is an undeniable fact that humanity has a deep yearning for peace and yet humans live in a world which is marked by discord, dissensions, hatred, violence and war.
The UN charter aspired to become more than a complex institution. It spoke eloquently of the human values to be affirmed by the global community, human rights, universal peace, the dignity and worth of the human person, equal rights of men and women, economic and social advancement of all people and the aspiration for better standards of life in larger freedom for all mankind. The charter was to be the instrumental not only of global governance but of social progress and moral affirmation. Universal respect for human rights remains the unwavering core of our global vision.
A theorist may hold the view that peace can only be brought about by a permanent destruction of all sorts of antagonisms within society. Another may offer a quite different approach insisting that warfare can be ended only through the constructive channelization of instinctually derived tendencies toward aggression. In sum, political realism retains the emphasis of ancient philosophy on the objective causes of both conflict and harmony. The process of human alienation as it is conceived by political realism has its origins in the disassociation of men from his natural ways. In a nutshell, the philosophical problem that we confront here may be summarized in the ethical ideal of nonviolence. Whatever be the normative requirement of the modern theories of conflict resolutions and peace they cannot ignore the vital aspect of non-violence. The observance of such important days of peace and nonviolence are significant as they are a reminder of the fact that the basic nature of humans is not in their efforts to find the differences with others but of the similarities .
More often than not, conflicts negatively transform communities, and the negative transformation floods into different layers of the society. They often lead to situation of violence too. Hard diplomacy at times proves to be a failure between nations, communities etc. Meanwhile, the international peacemaking experience demonstrates that focus at the top level for conflict resolution is inadequate as they lack sufficient moral ideals. It is in this backdrop that the ideal and practice of non-violence gains further significance in the arena of conflict transformation and peacebuilding. Particularly, eastern ideologies and philosophies have now been integrated well into the global notions of peacebuilding .
(The writer teaches at Lady Keane College)