Tuesday, October 2 marked the United Nations International Day of Non-Violence. It is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence or Satyagraha.
In a message UN Secretary General António Guterres says Mahatma Gandhi proved that non-violence could change history. “Let us be inspired by his courage and conviction as we continue our work to advance peace, sustainable development and human rights for all of people of the world,” he adds.
The UN says that according to a General Assembly Resolution passed on June 15, 2007, 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.”
Introducing the resolution in the General Assembly on behalf of 140 co-sponsors, India’s External Affairs Deputy Minister 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 the people. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction.” That means non-violence is mightier than thousands of nuclear weapons possessed by nine countries including Mahathma Gandhi’s own country India and its neighbour Pakistan.
Reports say the United States and Russia have nuclear weapons which are thousands of times more powerful than the atom bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.Those weapons were intended to end the war and indeed they did. But ending the war and restoring peace are two different issues. Restoring peace requires non-violence, poverty alleviation through a more equitable distribution of wealth and resources and full-scale participation in the battle against global warming or climate change.
After Mahatma Gandhi the world saw only two figures who rose to that height of noble leadership. They were Martin Luther King junior and South Africa’s legendary Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately in the new millennium we see hardly anyone of that stature in the political field but instead we saw the United States producing a leader like Donald Trump who is known to be impulsive, dangerously unpredictable and inconsistent in a manner that has left the democratic free world without leadership.
In Sri Lanka we have all four major religions, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. All those religious leaders have stressed that violence does not cease by violence but by dialogue and love just as hatred does not cease by hatred but by love and goodwill.
Despite this we have gone through a devastating 26-year civil war, racial riots in 1958, 1977 and 1983 along with youth insurrections in 1971 and in 1987-89. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed or injured in these violent conflicts while millions were displaced or left to languish in varying degrees of degradation, deprivation and destitution.
What happens to all these religious teachings, where did we go wrong and who was responsible? Even today, though in 2015 the coalition Government pledged to bring about reconciliation and a lasting peace through justice and an all-inclusive society, we see certain sections trying to whip up religious or racial tension.
We hope the life-changing and world-changing Gandhi Jayanthi message will become part of the policy of all main parties and their leadership though on both sides mindless extremists may try to create trouble. It would be a wise move to include Mahatma Gandhi’s message in the curriculum of higher grades in schools and in universities so that the youth or the future generations would become aware and act on the power of non-violence.
As the UN says the principle of non-violence — also known as non-violent resistance — rejects the use of physical violence to achieve social or political change. Often described as “the politics of ordinary people”, this form of non-violent social struggle has been adopted by mass populations all over the world in campaigns for social justice.