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The Contemporary Relevance of Gandhism: Non-Violence and Satyagraha

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1. Introduction

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly known as Bapu or the father of the nation was not only a great political leader but also a radical social reformer Gandhism is a set of ideas that depicts the inspiration, vision, and the life work of M.K. Gandhi. It is especially connected with his contributions to the notion of non-violent resistance. Mahatma Gandhi is one of those great and exemplary people in history whose work has not only proved to be extraordinary during his existence but their relevance and pertinence have still remained intact even after his exit from this world.

Gandhi’s concept of non-violence played a major role in the Indian Independence movement. He firmly believed that an individual should always speak the truth and should never harm another person. Truth and non-violence are regarded as the two pillars stay of Gandhism. The prime objective of this research paper is to find out whether these two pillars of Gandhism, i.e. non-violence and Satyagraha have relevance in the contemporary world.

According to the critics of the Political ideology of Gandhism, the Gandhian notion of non-violence and satyagraha has no relevance in today’s world. According to them, non-violence has become obsolete. In today’s world, where there is a threat of the end of our life due to warfare, a pertinent question arises whether the concept of non-violence is relevant today. The answer is yes.

We have witnessed two world wars. What was the result? Millions of people lost their lives. M.k. Gandhi rightly said that an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. If everyone resorts to violence to attain his or her goal, no one will end up living on this planet. We notice so many crimes being committed in today’s world because people do not follow the notion of non-violence. Gandhi’s concept of non-violence is the need of the hour. Although the teachings and principles and Gandhiji are not as relevant as they were in the past, it can never be outdated. Gandhism influences us and will continue to influence us and it will be wrong to assume that the principles of Gandhi like non-violence and truth have no value in today’s modern world.

2. Two pillars of Gandhism

A. Non-Violence

Ahimsa is the most important notion of Gandhi’s perspective. Ahimsa or non-violence basically refers to the use of peaceful means and not force to bring about a political or social change. M.K. Gandhi, who is regarded as the founder father of the concept of nonviolence, spread the notion of ahimsa through his literary work and movement, and this has inspired many activists of ahimsa. 2 October, the day when Gandhi was born is not only commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti but also as the International Day of Nonviolence all around the world.

Ahimsa when translated to English means nonviolence however it means something more than physical violence. According to Gandhi, Ahimsa translates to love. Ahimsa means absolute nonviolence. Ahimsa is regarded as the supreme duty in Hinduism, Jainism, and other religious traditions. In ancient India, people followed the concept of ‘Ahimsa Parmo Dharma’ which means, that non-violence is supreme conduct.

Gandhiji was immensely influenced by Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy, a great Russian writer was of the opinion that nonviolence involved not only the negative attitude of freedom from anger or hate but also the positive attitude of love for all persons. According to Gandhi, Ahimsa in its negative aspect involves doing no injury to any being either physically or mentally. This means that a person should not only avoid committing any physical injury to another person but he or she should also avoid bearing any towards him.

Gandhi was against violence because according to him it spreads hatred. He believed that the perpetrators of violence, whom he referred to as criminals, are a result of social disintegration. According to Gandhi, violence is not a natural tendency of humans. It is something that a person learns through experience. According to many people, non-violence is the weapon of the week people. However, according to Gandhiji, ahimsa or non-violence is the weapon of the brave and strong and not of the cowardly. Non-violence and cowardice do not go together just like fire and water.

When the Britishers were ruling India, Gandhi had promised the Indians that British violence will be defeated by our non-violence and he will not resort to violence. He set a practical example of non-violence when he led the march to the seashore in 1930 to defy the ban on making salt by the Indians. This ban was imposed by the British colonial rulers which was sought to be unjust by Gandhi and his followers.

B. Satyagraha

Satyagraha is a compound of two Sanskrit words Satya, meaning truth, and agrapha, meaning, “firm grasping”. Therefore, Satyagraha literally means holding onto truth, however, non-violently. Gandhi’s satyagraha played a pertinent role in the Indian Independence struggle against British rule. He also deployed satyagraha during his struggles in South Africa for the rights of the Indians. Ever since protestors have adopted satyagraha to find out the truth. satyagraha played a significant role in the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr., in the United States and has spawned a continuing legacy in South Asia itself.

Those who practice Satygaraha are called satyagraha. The Satyagrahis aim to achieve correct insight into the real nature of an evil situation by observing nonviolence of the mind, by seeking truth in a spirit of peace and love, and by undergoing a rigorous process of self-scrutiny. In so doing, the truth of the satyagrahi encounter in absolute.[footnoteRef:1] [1: Matt Stefon, “ Satyagraha,” Encyclopaedia Brittanica, accessed 6th Feb 2019, https://www.britannica.com/topic/satyagraha-philosophy]

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Truth, Nonviolence, and self-suffering are called the pillars of Satyagraha. The notion of Gandhi’s non-violence is based on these pillars of Satyagraha. It is pertinent to note ahimsa and satyagraha are closely related. Quite often, satyagraha is used to refer to the entire concept of nonviolence.

Gandhi said: “It is perhaps clear from the foregoing, that without ahinsa it is not possible to seek and find Truth. Ahimsa and Truth are so intertwined that it is practically impossible to disentangle and separate them. They are like the two sides of a coin, or rather of a smooth unstamped metallic disk. Nevertheless, ahimsa is the means; Truth is the end. Means to be means must always be within our reach, and so ahimsa is our supreme duty.”[footnoteRef:2] [2: Arvind Sharma, “Truth And Violence”, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, accessed 6th Feb 2013, https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/truth_nonvio.htm]

3. Relevance

Gandhism is relevant today and will be relevant for centuries to come. After Gandhiji’s death, Jawaharlal Nehru rightly said, “The light is gone and yet it will shine for a thousand years”. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had come to visit India in 1959, he was asked a question during a press conference in Delhi: Where is Gandhi today? His reply to this cynical question was Gandhi is inevitable and if humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable.

In the present world, when most of the countries are facing numerous kinds of internal and external crises, non-violence is the need of the hour. Some may say that non-violence is the weapon of the weak. However, this is not true. Non-violence is the weapon of brave and strong persons.

According to many people, the Gandhian notion of non-violence has become obsolete today and they believe that Gandhism is only limited to course books and has no pertinence in this 21st century. According to the critics, Gandhism is an ideology, which has no practical use. However, this is not true. Though the concept of non-violence may not be as relevant, it is the only hope to keep the human race going. Also, it is the only solution through which one can achieve his/her goal.

The prime example of the relevance of the concept of non-violence in the present world is Anna Hazare’s protest against corruption at the Government level. We witnessed how people of different age groups supported Anna Hazare by joining him in the protest and coming out to the streets by wearing the ‘Gandhian topi.’

When anything gruesome happens, there is always a debate on how violence can be prevented. However, it’s become the way with countries to respond to violence with more violence. If the practice of non-violence is adopted by everyone, our world will become a paradise. The advantages of nonviolence are tremendous. If all the counties around the world and their citizen adopt the notion of non-violence in their thinking, actions, etc. we will be able to notice immense growth at every level of human life. It will lead to the progress of rational and non-aggressive ways of solving issues.

Nowadays, countries spend huge amounts of money on arms and ammunition. However, if we adopt the concept of non-violence, the nations would not have to spend time, energy, money, and skills to research and development of sophisticated arms and tools for warfare. Instead on spending such huge amounts on weapons, the government will be able to spend it on the well-being of the citizens. So much of the workforce will not be required to protect each nook and cranny of the land, air, and water demarcated by every nation and local group. Most importantly, lives will not be lost due to violent activities. People will not be killed, maimed, or wounded and families will not be broken or displaced due to the threat to their lives and loss of lives in violent events.

It is true that non-violence does not work in every situation. There can be instances where we should choose violence for a good cause. For instance, we can end terrorism with Non-violence, since terrorists do not have any logical or humanity-based reason behind their activity. However, when we want to bring about any political or social change, we should always try to adopt the practice of non-violence. Though non-violence and violence, both, are pertinent depending on the circumstance, nonviolence should always be given preference over violence as will help to create the way for a peaceful world.

4. Conclusion

Gandhi’s concept of truth and non-violence can never be obsolete irrespective what the critics of this ideology say or believe. The political ideology of Gandhism has always worked. History proves that those who followed the concept of non-violence brought victory in their life. Therefore, everyone needs to follow the two pillars of Gandhism in order to make a peaceful world.

Violence has never resolved any issue, but only created further conflicts. It’s only the path of ahimsa that can survive all the upheavals and yet emerge strong. War is sometimes justified and sometimes not but the relevance of the Gandhian principle of non-violence has always prevailed.

The two pillars of Gandhism worked when Martin Luther King Jr. led the civil rights movements for the rights of African Americans. It played a significant role when Nelson Mandela rallied the South Africthereans against Apartheid. Further, the two pillars of Gandhism has worked every time people have protested in non-violent ways for the enforcement of their right. It has worked every single time when people have used non-violent ways to get their voices heard.

5. References

  1. Arvind Sharma, “Truth And Violence”, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Accessed March 6, 2019. https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/truth_nonvio.htm
  2. Beeraka, Sonali. “Gandhi and Gandhism.” Indian Folk. September 23, 2017. Accessed Match 5, 2019. https://www.indianfolk.com/criticism-gandhi-gandhism/
  3. Brahma Kumaris, “Relevance of Non-violence in Today’s Times.” Speaking Tree. May 07, 2018. Accessed March 5, 2019. https://www.speakingtree.in/blog/relevance-of-non-violence-in-today-s-times
  4. Dubey, Siddarth. ‘Relevance of Gandhian Principles.’ Jammu Kashmir Latest News | Tourism | Breaking News J&K. October 01, 2015. Accessed March 6, 2019. http://www.dailyexcelsior.com/relevance-of-gandhian-principles/.
  5. Matt Stefon, “ Satyagraha,” Encyclopaedia Brittanica, accessed February 6, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/satyagraha-philosophy

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