October starts with Gandhi Jayanthi, the birthday of the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi more popularly known world over as Mahatma Gandhi or the Mahatma – “the great soul”.
He was called the great soul for the principles by which he lived his life and shaped the freedom movement of India and her large population.
In a world of eye for an eye, there exists a more peaceful variant of expression as adopted by Mahatma Gandhi – Ahimsa. Ahimsa is a soft power but collectively a powerful power for the 21st century – proof lies in the success of Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi used Ahimsa as a new tool against colonial rulers who did not know how to react to it, an act which proved successful for India.
Mahatma Gandhi extolling the values of Ahimsa
How was this possible? Ahimsa is non violence. How could Ahimsa have secured India, freedom from the British?
The British Empire was the most powerful of the world in the 1920s and 1930s. So wide spread was its powerful reach that the British had the arrogance to state,
“The Sun never sets in the British Empire”.
Wide Spread Power of British Empire
All this changed within the next few decades. The mightiest power of the world by 1950s started losing one colony after another. Where did this strength to decolonize come from?
All the strength and power of the British, were no match for the joint will of the people of India.
How was this Ahimsa such a powerful tool to unseat the British power from across the face of the world?
What is this Ahimsa?
Himsa, hinsa means “to hurt others willfully, physically and mentally”. The English word “heinous” seems to have its etymological roots in the word hinsa, himsa.
Ahimsa means “to not hurt others willfully, physically and mentally.” In other words, Ahimsa is Non Violence in thought and deed.
The beacon in the field of science in the 20th and 21st century, by far was Albert Einstein.
Similarly, the beacon for promoting a humanitarian approach could well be Mahatma Gandhi.
Albert Einstein and Mahatma Gandhi, thought providers for 20th and 21st century
The popularity and acceptability of Gandhi’s views, practices can be seen in the simple fact that, in the world, on the face of this earth, it is Mahatma Gandhi’s statue that stands as the most popular leader of humanism. His statues can be seen from Canada, in the North West of the world map to New Zealand in the South East.
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Saskatoon Saskatchewan, Canada
Statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Wellington Railway Station, New Zealand
There have been many from other countries who have been inspired by the Non Violent Struggle of Gandhi.
Solidarity Movement, Poland
Mahatma Gandhi used Ahimsa as a tool to fight colonialism in 1930s and 1940s.
While many today may see the tool of Ahimsa as outdated, the fight against communism in Poland was fought on the principle of Non Violence and Ahimsa by the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa.
Lech Walesa, the former President of Poland
Emblem of Solidarity Movement
Communism had its vice grip on half of the world then. After leading Poland through a Non Violent struggle against communism, Lech Walesa led the reconstruction of a non communist Poland. This Solidarity movement led to the fast demise of communism in Eastern Europe over the next decade. Lech Walesa received Noble Peace Price for having led a peaceful movement during turbulent times.
Ruminating on the movement, Lech Walesa expressed that,
“Only non-violence can lead the world to a new world of lasting peace and enduring friendship.”
Lech Walesa, a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi further went on to say,
“We didn’t succeed when we tried to fight with arms, but we won when we adopted non-violence. I am a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.”
“Truly the whole world should be a disciple of Gandhi.”
Non Co-operation in South Africa
South Africa carried on the despicable policy of apartheid, apartness, well into modern times in the 1980s. Mahatma Gandhi as a young barrister at law in 1920s had questioned the prevailing apartheid law system of South Africa by launching his non-cooperation movement, the path of Satyagraha.
Nelson Mandela who carried forth the torch of protests lit by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, was incarcerated in jail for 27 years. It was the will of the leaders, the hope of the people and their absolute faith that apartheid policy can be overcome only by the soft power of Ahimsa as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, which served successfully, as the beacon during their struggle for ousting apartheid from South Africa.
Nelson Mandela in a Prison Outfit
Martin Luther King in America
In 1960s, Martin Luther King Junior led the Afro-Americans of America to freedom from slavery, both in deed and in thought, to a period of equality for one and all. He has also expressed in his works that he took the non violent struggle route drawing inspiration from the Ahimsa policy of Mahatma Gandhi.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American Civil Rights activist while delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture in 2008, speaking about Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi said,
Rev. Jesse Jackson alongside statue of Mahatma Gandhi
John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia, USA, while referring to Dr. King as ‘one of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced’ says,
“Dr. King picked up Gandhi’s teaching and message.
And if it hadn’t been for this message, America would have probably been more like South Africa, Lebanon, Northern Ireland. It would probably have been a much more divided nation.”
It is this Non Violent Movement of Civil Rights, inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Ahimsa that has held a super power like America together as recently as in 1960s.
Antiquity of Ahimsa
Ahimsa, the thought of not to hurt any other creature, is innate to the Indian civilization.
While people immediately associate Ahimsa, non violence with Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi in his autobiography, “My Experiments with Truth”, says
“There is nothing new about ahimsa. It is as old as the hills.”
Autobiography – My Experiments with Truth
The concept of Ahimsa is mentioned in the Veda, Sastra, Smriti, Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and many ancient texts in local languages.
Atharva Veda defines Ahimsa as
“Ahimsa is not causing pain to any living being at any time through the actions of one’s mind, speech or body.”
Ahimsa is mentioned as the foremost Dharma, knowledge and penance in Mahabharatha.
When we say Mahabharatha, people immediately think of the Kurukshetra War. Even in this scenario of imminent battle, the value of Ahimsa is extolled in Shanthi Parva, the chapter on peace.
Mahavira and Buddha also spoke about and practiced Ahimsa
Ahimsa, a difficult path to tread
While the idea of Ahimsa is noble, by no stretch of imagination is it an easy path to tread. Mahatma Gandhi in his own words says,
Recurrent effectiveness of Ahimsa
The power of Ahimsa thus has had its recurrent effect not just in India, but in different parts of the world repeatedly.
The Ahimsa movement which had its effectiveness in the 1930s and 1940s in India, led to the cascading effect of dismantling colonialism the world over.
The equal rights for Afro-Americans, that was fought in 1960 in America, under the leadership of Martin Luther King Junior, also had non violence as its basic tool to fight the unequal policy of the land then.
The non violent resistance movement of solidarity in Poland following the principle of Mahatma Gandhi started the dismantling process of communism in the 70s and 80s in Eastern Europe.
In South Africa, the apartheid, the apartness policy was torn apart by the non co-operation movement again inspired by Gandhi’s Ahimsaprinciples.
Ahimsa has had its positive impact right through the ages not only in India but across the globe to this day and shall do so in future too whenever the hand of oppression rises.
D.K. Hari and D. K. Hema Hari are authors, research collators and founders of Bharath Gyan. They may be contacted on email@example.com and followed on twitter on @bharathgyan or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/Bharathgyan.