The Relevance of Gandhian Satyagraha in the 21st Century

We are today passing through an extremely critical and controversial phase of terrorism. The climate of terrorist violence is explosive. Terrorism is being used everywhere either with enthusiasm or with fear. In recent years, we have witnessed terrorist violence affecting almost all countries. Even the so called advanced, affluent nations suffer from the menace of terrorist violence. There are two fundamental causes for this global phenomenon. Firstly, the tremendous advancement in science and technology has helped the arms industry to produce massive quantities of lethal weapons and the same weapons are being purchased by different terrorist organizations on a global level. It is a known fact that the USA provides the world with the largest quantity of weapons and many terrorist organizations are using them to execute their satanic designs.

Secondly, it is due to the lack of human relations. Today, people are divided not only on economic basis but also on national, regional and religious basis. The development of science and technology has made it possible to unite the world through technological globalization. But this technological globalization does not influence in any way the mental make up of the individual. As the noted Indian poet Nissim Ezekiel observed, “We use one another for the satisfaction of our needs if not for the advancement of our interest in a spirit of manufactured cordiality.” We do not know the difference between the-needs and the interests and we perceive these goals in confusion, without sense of spontaneity in exhibiting cordiality. Man still thinks that the belongs to a particular group, community, religion, region and nation.

Preciselv because of this, he confuses the manufactured cordiality for spontanity. Present day politics has also failed to reconstruct the socio-economic life and has only added to the confusion and despair. The decline of human relations or of public spirit in politics has opened ways for political degeneration. Indian politics is no exception to this The result is that the problems of terrorist violence are more inter-connected, more complex and more pressing than mankind has had to solve before. Thinkers are making proposals and organizations are working on combating terrorist violence, but the solution is not yet in sight. It has become one of the paradoxes of the 21st century that, on the one hand, the establishment of peace has become a matter of greatest importance for the survival of human civilization, while, on the other, traditional instruments of preserving peace have become less effective.

Mahatma Gandhi was unique in this modern world to advocate non-violent methods for solving social, economic, political and religious problems. It is in this context that we have to examine the efficacy of Satyagraha- a non-violent technique that Gandhiji had tried as a weapon of warfare without weapons. There have been number of times, however, when, one or the other aspect of Gandhiji’s non-violent technique has been questioned and its validity and its practicability doubted. This essay tries to show that the technique of non-violence as advocated by Gandhiji is the most effective and the least expensive method of solving social, economic, political and religious problems. Firstly, I shall detail how the strategies of violence and terrorism to bring about social, political and economic changes have now become obsolete. Secondly, I shall try to explain Satyagraha and its different forms and show how Sanagraha can be used as a powerful method of direct action in contemporary politics. This will also establish the effectiveness of Siyagraha as a device for fighting destructive ways and violent conflicts.

Violence and Terrorism

Terrorism can be both individual as well as State sponsored. In recent times, religious fundamentalism has assumed dangerous proportions though it has always existed in one form or the other. Racism, which yields violence, has become a device to assume important positions in public life, not only in India and Muslim countries but even in the USA. Religious fundamentalism is one of the handiest instruments of the terrorists. The situation demands that non-violent techniques as a means of social change are put into practice immediately.

Gandhiji held that violence was wrong as a matter of principle. He maintained that it is the duty of every one to resist it. But the manner of resistance to violence, is profoundly significant in the Gandhian technique. Resistance to violence by counter violence is obviously wrong. A wrong cannot be righted by another wrong. The addition of another wrong does not diminish but adds to the evil already in existence. So violence must first be resisted by persuasion and when persuasion fails, it must be resisted non-violently. Critics very often fail to understand that non-violent resistance of the Gandhian type is also a ‘force’ which is different from violence. The two words ‘violence’ and ‘force’ are often used interchangeably so that we fail to understand that force need not always be violent. To Gandhiji, non-violent resistance is a force that counters the force that is violent. Gandhiji would have nothing to do with the organized violence of the Government or with the unorganized violence of the people. He would prefer to be crushed between the two. For him, popular violence is as much an obstruction in our path as State sponsored violence. Indeed, he could combat the latter more successfully than the former. For one thing, in combating popular violence we should not have the same support as in the case of State violence. Gandhiji was bold enough to say that violence was the creed of no religion, where non-violence in most cases was obligatory to all. He objected to violence because when it appears to do good, the good was only temporary. The evil it brought about was permanent.

Gandhiji had no faith in terrorist violence. It was an unshakable faith with him that a cause suffers exactly to the extent it is supported by terrorist violence. If one man kills another who obstructs him, he may experience a sense of false security. But the security will be short lived. Here the view of Gandhiji is not to kill the man or men who obstruct him, but to discover the cause that impels them to obstruct him and deal with it. Gandhiji did not believe in armed risings, for him they were a remedy worse than the disease sought to be cured. They were a token of the spirit of revenge and impatience and anger. Terrorist violence could never do any good in the long run.’ Gandhiji did not deny credit to revolutionary heroism and sacrifice. But heroism and sacrifice for a bad cause are so much waste of splendid energy and they hurt the good cause by drawing away attention from it.’ Gandhiji said, “I am not ashamed to stand erect before the heroic and self-sacrificing revolutionary because I am able to pit an equal measure of non-violent men’s (Satyagrahi’s) heroism and sacrifice untarnished by the blood of the innocent. Self-sacrifice of one innocent man is a million time more potent than the sacrifice of a million men who die in the act of killing others.”‘ He also observed that “at the back of the policy of terrorism is the assumption that terrorism if applied in a sufficient measure will produce the desired result, namely, bend the adversary to the tyrant’s will. But supposing people make up their mind that they will never do the tyrant’s will, nor retaliate with tyrant’s own methods, the tyrant will not find it worth his while to go on with his terrorism.”4

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