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Non-violence is mightier than the mightiest weapon

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During the nearly 30-year civil war and the two armed insurrections led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan people were killed or injured while an equal number were left in deprivation and destitution, desolation and social degradation. The socio-economic damage caused was incalculable. After the outbreak of the unprecedented covid-19 pandemic and its variants such as the Delta and the fast spreading Omicron, vital sections are staging protests and warning that if their legitimate requests are not met they would resort to a revolt against President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s Government. These groups include farmers, fisherfolk, teachers and principals and they are strongly supported by the Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) the JVP and several civic action groups. Reports indicate that they have widespread popular support because of the unprecedented increase in the cost of living with tens of thousands of families unable to find the means for their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, education and health. We see queues for powered milk, cooking gas and other essential items while bakers say they may not be able to produce our daily bread because of the high price of wheat flour. The main causes are the dollar shortage and the economic crisis. 


It is in such a dangerous and potentially devastating situation that we need to ponder on the principles of non-violence and the need to settle conflicts through dialogue on a win-win basis. This is known to produce what is called synergy--the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.


The United Nations observes the International day of non-violence on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, leader of the Indian independence movement and pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. He is admired as one of the greatest statesmen of all time though Britain’s wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill described him as a half-naked fakir--a Hindu religious ascetic who lives solely on alms.


In a statement the UN insists that we must say no to violence and promote this principle through education and public awareness.  In a resolution passed in 2007, the UN General Assembly 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 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 people. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of people”.


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, Mahatma Gandhi remained committed to his belief in non-violence even under oppressive conditions and in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.The theory behind his 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. 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 gives us an inspiring definition in his publication, The Politics of Nonviolent Action:


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.”

 

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