Last Friday October 2 Sri Lanka joined the world in celebrating the International Day of Non-violence. It coincided with the birth anniversary of the legendary Mahatma Gandhi, known and admired by billions of people as the Apostle of Non-violence.
In a statement to mark the event, the United Nations says Mahatma Gandhi, who helped lead India to independence, has been the inspiration for non-violent movements for civil rights and social change across the world. Throughout his life, the Mahatma remained committed to his belief in non-violence even under oppressive conditions and in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
The principle behind Mahatma’s actions, which included encouraging massive civil disobedience to British law as with the historic Salt March of 1930, was that “just means lead to just ends”, that is, it is irrational to try to use violence to achieve a peaceful society. He believed that Indians must not use violence or hatred in their fight for freedom from colonialism.
The principle of non-violence -- also known as non-violent resistance -- rejects the use of physical violence to achieve social or political change, the UN says. Often described as “the politics of ordinary people”, this form of social struggle has been adopted by mass populations all over the world in campaigns for social justice.
Professor Gene Sharp, a leading scholar on non-violent resistance, has given an enlightened definition of non-violence. He says, “Nonviolent action is a technique by which people who reject passivity and submission, and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Nonviolent action is not an attempt to avoid or ignore conflict. It is one response to the problem of how to act effectively in politics, especially how to wield powers effectively.”
It is in this light that we need to reflect on the dramatic and dynamic development in the relationship between Sri Lanka and Japan, with the widely publicized and productive visit of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. Among other privileges, the Prime Minister was given the honour of addressing Japan’s parliamentarians including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a committee room of the national diet or parliament, where he received a standing ovation. After talks between the two Prime Ministers and other ministers, it was announced that Japan would provide 45 billion yen (nearly Rs.53 billion) for the extension and development of the Bandaranike International Airport. Speaking after this event, Japan’s premier said the long-standing ties between the two countries were now being given a new orientation. Japan said it would give special assistance to Sri Lanka for trade and investment promotion, national development, peace and national reconciliation. Japan also welcomed and thanked the new Sri Lankan government for its efforts to build a new Sri Lanka by strengthening good governance, democracy and human rights.
The Sri Lankan-Japan relationship is also based on the hallowed principle of non-violence. The foundation was laid on September 8, 1951 when J. R. Jayewardene, the then Finance Minister in the D. S. Senanayake government, addressed the famous St. Francisco conference attended by some 50 countries. He called on the international community to be compassionate towards Japan which lay in ruins in the aftermath of the atom bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The conference was called to work out the compensation that Japan should pay to the victims of its war crimes but Sri Lanka touching the highest dimension of the Buddha Dhamma called for forgiveness and mercy. Sri Lanka said it was not asking for any compensation from Japan for the damages caused by air raids and other attacks. J. R. Jayewardene said, “We do not ask for damages, for we believe in the words of the Great Teacher whose message has ennobled the lives of countless millions in Asia, that, ‘hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love’. It is the message of Gauthama the Buddha, the Great Teacher, the Founder of Buddhism, which spread a wave of humanism through South Asia, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, and also northwards through the Himalayas into Tibet, China, and finally Japan. This bound us together for hundreds of years with a common culture and heritage.”