His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama inaugurates the Hind Swaraj Centenary Commemoration International Conference at Surajkund, Haryana on November 22, 2009 by lighting a lamp. Dr Niru Vora (Convener, HSCC), Shri Rajiv Vora (Chairman, Swaraj Peeth Trust) and Prof UR Annanthamurty next to him
(Photos: Pankaj Mistry/www.pankajfineart.com)
Hind Swaraj Centenary Commemoration International Conference: A Unique Global Event of Our Time:
The first ever global Gandhian network has emerged which has its roots in India. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the most respected voice of humanity’s conscience today has accepted its leadership. The network fills the void, as there has been an absence of credible Gandhian voice and presence internationally. People from Lebanon, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Palestine, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, Nepal, and Burma have been joined in this effort by people from Italy, Tibet, America, Jordan and India. More than 100 leaders representing over 50 initiatives and organisations from 15 countries with a completely unified voice for nonviolent action against violence and oppression, gathered for the first time in Surajkund, Delhi for four days from November 19, 2009, on the occasion of the Centenary of Mahatma Gandhi’s root text Hind Swaraj – written in 1909 to define the meaning of freedom and the purpose of struggle in the light of civilisational aggression by what is known as modern civilisation of the West.
They formed a global movement based on the Gandhian principles of Swaraj called the Global Gandhian Movement for Swaraj (GMS). His Holiness the Dalai Lama was present to receive the Global Action Plan from the group. They have taken on the challenge of violence, confronting it not only through the methods of nonviolence, but through the vision of Hind Swaraj where nonviolence and Satyagraha are the means to achieve self-rule , the highest form of cultural democracy. This Gathering made the distinction between unqualified nonviolence and nonviolence that is qualified by Swaraj. Action plan is guided by this distinction typical of the vision in Hind Swaraj and therefore building Swaraj awareness is at the centre of its purpose. This is important to keep in mind because experience informs us that actions not informed by the vision of Swaraj or Truth invariably become incorporated in the service of modern civilisation, so called.
The assembly appealed to His Holiness, whom they said walked in the footsteps of Gandhi, having Swaraj as the ideal of the struggle of his people and nonviolence as the creed – to be their ‘friend, philosopher, guide, teacher and leader’. To a jubilant standing ovation, His Holiness the Dalai Lama accepted this role by saying “I will serve you, I will help you from now on, I will become your leader – it is a great honour!”
“This was a historical moment” said Dr Niru Vora, Convener of the Hind Swaraj Centenary Conference.
This global movement has the mandate of Gandhians and internationally renowned leaders. Prof Samdhong Rinpoche, Chairman of Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee constituted by Swaraj Peeth along with other members like, Prof Ashish Nandy, Prof DL Sheth, Prof Parthanath Murkerji, and Prof UR Ananthamurthy has brought this effort to life. The conference was inaugurated by Smt Ela Bhatt, Founding Chairperson of SEWA while Dr Kapila Vatsyayan chaired the special session on ‘Exploring Swaraj in Asian Conflict Zones’. Its final day was honoured by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel Peace Laureate and proceedings on this day were chaired by Prof UR Ananthamurthy, educationist and an acclaimed literary figure of India. The appeal session was chaired by Achan Sulak Sivaraksa from Thailand, a veteran voice of Asian civil society and a leading Gandhian and founder of International Network of Engaged Budhists. The Conference, initiated and organised by Dr Niru Vora and Shri Rajiv Vora of Swaraj Peeth Trust, comprised prominent leaders of the Gandhian movement and those who have devoted their whole lives to understanding and practicing the principles of Swaraj and nonviolence through Hind Swaraj, like:
Smt Ela Bhatt, Prof UR Ananthamurty, Prof Ashish Nandy, Sri Kanti Bhai Shah, Shri Himanshu Kumar, Shri PV Raj Gopal, Dr Vandana Shiva, Shri Natawar Thakkar, Shivandbhai, Mrs Sarala bahen Jha, Sri Lavanam, Dr Ashok Vaidya ShriGVPrasad, Dr Claude Alvares, Prof Mathai from India; Prof Anthony Parel – Canada; Prof Minoru Kasai and Ms Hiromi Bakshi– Japan; Shri SM Mohmmad Idris – Malaysia; Dr Tint Swe – Burma; Shri Samy Awad – Palestine; Shri Farrukh S Goindi and Shri Kasheef Hamid – Pakistan; Shri Fadi Abi Allam – Lebanon; Dr Vinya Ariyaratne – Sri Lanka; Prof Anna Alomes and Prof Ralph Summy – Australia; Prof Douglas Allen, Kieth May, Dena Marriam and Prof Sushil Mittal – USA; and Martina Pignatti Morano – Italy among many others.
These are all ‘doers and thinkers’ representing a unified, coherent and action oriented voice, neither idle thinkers nor reasonless activists. The Movement is already working to hold its first training session for young people involved in social transformation in areas of conflict. The GMS has decided to intervene in the violence in the tribal region of Chattisgarh in India in December 2009.
In May 2010, 30 activists (drawn from an intended pool of 100), 10 each from Iraq, Palestine and Tibet for strengthening nonviolent movements for Swaraj in their respective areas will be trained in the philosophy and methods of Swaraj to stimulate nonviolent action for promotion of justice and change in their societies at a grass roots level. All participants from over 50 organisations from 15 countries will support each other and work together to create peace in this troubled world.
His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama being presented a traditional Indian shawl by Dr Niru Vora (Convener, HSCC) and Prof UR Annanthamurty during the Hind Swaraj Centenary Commemoration International Conference at Surajkund, Haryana on November 22, 2009.
(Photo: Pankaj Mistry/www.pankajfineart.com)
Convenor – Barh Mukti Abhiyan
There is an episode in Mahabharata. Patriarch Bhishma, while lying over the bed of arrows awaiting his death, used to give sermons to the Pandavas every evening on the various aspects of governing the state. Once Yudhishthir asked him about different kinds of treaties a king could enter into with other kings. Bhishma told him that a king should make a careful study of the rival king. If he is weak then asking for a treaty is his concern and the treaty could be entered into on one’s own terms. If the other side is equal in strength, then the king must ascertain weak points of the other party and find a suitable time to remind him of one’s strength time and again so that the other side does not take things for granted. While dealing with a side that is much stronger Bhishma narrates a story of the ocean and his wives, the rivers, to Yudhishthir.
He said that once the ocean called all his wives and said, “Rivers! I notice that during floods you all get filled up to the brim and uproot big trees and carry them with their roots and branches but the willow is never seen in your flow. The willow is a very thin and insignificant plant. It has no strength of its own and grows all along your banks. Still, you are not able to bring it to me. Do you avoid the plant or has it done some good to you (that you favour it)? I want to know (from you) why this plant does not leave your banks and come here.”
The Ganga replied, “O Lord of Rivers! The big trees because of their arrogance, do not bow before the might of our flow. They get destroyed owing to their confronting nature and have to leave their places, but because the willow is not like them, it bows before the swift currents and when the river subsides it is back in its place. It judges the times and behaves accordingly; it is always in our grips and is never unruly. There is no trace of arrogance in it and that is why it doesn’t have to leave its place. The plants, trees and creepers which bow before the might of winds, and rivers and raise their heads only when they subside, are never destroyed…”
Bhishma said, “… when a learned king judges that the opponent is more powerful, he should behave like a willow and must bow before him. The wisdom lies there.” Bhishma was sermonizing treaties but gave a very important and one of the first lessons in dealing with rivers citing the example of willows.
The arrogance of scientists and engineers in controlling nature has created more problems than it has solved. We keep on hearing about flood resistant houses, flood resistant crops, flood proofing and so on. Why can’t we have flood tolerant, houses and flood tolerant crops? Why should modern technology treat everything as its enemy? Why don’t we ever try to convert flood water into a resource rather than a liability? We have had this in our tradition but who bothers about the tradition? The moment one talks of traditions, one is charged of taking the society back to primitive days. Talking about traditions means showing the red rag to development bull.
Much is talked about floods and the resulting havoc that the rivers play with the life of the people in the basin but we rarely try to look into the traditional ways of dealing with our rivers and living in harmony with them. Needless to say that civilization grew along the rivers and if the rivers and their devastating effect, the floods, have been much of a problem, the population and the population density in places like Rajasthan would have been much higher. Misuse of natural resources has, however, led to the destruction of civilizations too.
The Mithila Tradition of Dealing With Rivers
On the banks of the Balan River, in Jhanjharpur block of Madhubani district in Bihar, there used to be a village called Partapur. The village had one big and three small tanks in it. The bigger tank was located at a higher elevation and linked to the Balan River by a drain. The entry point of the drain near the river was blocked by mud. As the water level of the Balan was raised during the rainy season, the villagers would open the drain and the top layer water of the river would gush towards the main tank. After the main tank was filled, the river water would be diverted towards the smaller tanks for filling. Once all the tanks were filled, the inlet to the drain near the river would be closed only to be opened next year.
The tanks had a water spread area of about 14 hectares and the village agricultural area was about 100 hectares. Thus, there was enough water in the tanks to provide supplementary irrigation to the Rabi crop of pulses and oil seeds as well as to meet their daily needs. These tanks never dried up and this meant that the open wells located along the lower periphery of the village too would never dry up. There was strict adherence to the rule that the well water would only be used for drinking water purposes. Moreover, the villagers had their own traditional variety of paddy seeds which could tolerate prolonged submergence up to 1.2 to 1.6 meters. The river being free to spill over a vast area would never rise beyond these levels. Thus the villagers would have paddy, plenty of fish in the river tanks, pulses and oil seeds. No wonder, the floods in Balan were eagerly awaited.
The river would spill 5 to 6 times during the monsoon and irrigate the fields along with the nutrients carried by its waters. The paddy and fish would grow together; and if there is any dry spell the fish could swim into the series of ponds and the tank water could also be used for irrigation in case of extreme emergencies. This is just an example. Almost every village of Mithila has had some arrangement of irrigation and ensuring its agriculture. The tradition never tried to block the flow of a river.
Mithila is known for its Paan (betel leaves), Makhaan (Gorga nut) and tanks. Tradition has it that all the sources of water, be it tanks or wells or any other such source; it is cleaned even today on the Viashakh Sankranti (middle of April) every year in Mithila as a ritual and it is referred to as Joor Shital. Many fairs are organized along the banks of the rivers almost round the year. Normal floods are a welcome event and this is occasion is celebrated with gaiety. Modern scientific and technical interventions have turned welcome floods of the rivers into a disaster and unless that mindset changes, the rivers will continue to play havoc with the lives of the people.
Recent floods in the Kosi basin (2008) are a living example of ill treating the river. The arrogance to tame the river was given a fitting reply by the river for the eighth time on the 18th August 2008. It is reminded here that the Kosi embankments had breached earlier also on seven occasions, twice in Nepal and five times in the Indian portion. Kusaha breach was the only incident when the embankment had breached upstream of the Kosi Barrage. This breach had affected nearly 3.3 million people with more than half of them living in 3.4 lakh houses that had either slumped down or were washed away in the flood that followed the breach at Kusaha. The flood waters had spread over 3.68 lakh hectares of land. Never before in the known history of the Kosi, 527 persons were killed (there are nearly 3700 persons still missing) in a single year. What an illusory protection the embankments gave to the people on their countryside? The river was now flowing through a new course that was its path in 1870s.
Bengal’s Traditions Were Not Lagging Behind
When the British took over the reigns of the country; they carefully studied the Yamuna Canal built by Feroze Shah Tughlaq in the 14th Century. Enhancing India’s food production was not the priority of the British. They had their eyes firmly fixed on the revenue that canal irrigation could generate in future. They further studied the Ganga Basin and concluded that if this basin were made flood-free, they could levy a tax for providing this protection. Afterwards, the flood protected area would need irrigation and canals providing it would generate more revenue. And so they planned it both ways. There approach was leading only towards profits and not the welfare of the people.
They built the embankments along the rivers in the Ganga Brahmaputra basin and also strengthened the existing embankments; but the outcome of this effort was not very encouraging for them. Nevertheless, in order to keep the issue of taming the rivers alive, they kept on referring rivers like the Kosi as the ‘Sorrow of Bihar’ and the Damodar as the ‘Sorrow of Bengal’ etc. Rivers are often referred to as mothers. Mahabharata calls the rivers as the mothers of the world. It is intriguing how a mother could be a source of sadness. It is the difference of culture that that induces one to rate rivers as ‘sorrow’. It is also interesting to note that the people of any basin in the flood prone area, while narrating the horrifying stories of the floods, address the rivers as ‘mothers’.
A train service was started in India on the April 16, 1853 between Mumbai and Thane. It reached east India after one year when the first train was flagged off between Ranigunj and Howrah on the August 15, 1854. This railway line was exposed to the floods in the Damodar and hence construction of embankments was begun along this river in 1855. These embankments were quite high and sturdy. The British wanted them to be waterproof and strong enough and to be unbreachable.
After constructing embankments along the Damodar, the British constructed the Eden Canal also. The Railway line itself was an embankment. The Grand Trunk Road connecting Calcutta to Delhi was also raised and strengthened. All these structures ran parallel to each other and cut the drainage line almost at right angles. The drainage mechanism of the area was thoroughly disrupted due to these structures. As far as flood control was concerned, they worsened the situation. Commenting on these structures constructed one after the other, a British engineer, William Wilcox, wrote, “These five satanic chains imprisoned the River Damodar and pushed the entire happy and prosperous area between Burdwan and Hooghly into abyss of poverty and malaria.”
Following the construction of embankments along the Damodar, the natural tanks and lakes in surrounding countryside started dying unnatural death as they all got filled up aquatic weeds. Moreover, the fertility of the land started diminishing and droughts and famines began showing their ugly faces. In 1861, within just one year of the completion of the railway line, malaria spread like as an epidemic in Burdwan and the entire area was subject to great hardships.”
There was no mechanism of railway through the railway line and water started stagnating around it. Although there was no effective treatment of malaria in those days, the Government, nevertheless, had to open charitable dispensaries in Burdwan, in order to fight the epidemic. And in 1859 itself, the Government was compelled to demolish the right embankment of the Damodar over a length of about 32 kilometers to restore fertility of soil. The situation became normal only by 1863.”
Following the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857, the extension of railway lines and roads had in any case become important for the colonial rulers. Extension of railways played havoc with forests as it consumed wood not only in sleepers but also as fuel in engines. Coal came to be used much later in railways. Reckless use wood denuded all the forests in terai area and floods became unmanageable.
The British, however, learnt the Damodar lesson a hard way. The villagers in the basin used to construct a very low height bund along the Damodar just to be used as a path way in normal season. As the rainy season started, they used to broad cast paddy seeds in their fields and it would take nearly three weeks for the seedlings to be ready for transplanting. Mosquitoes would also breed in the fields simultaneously and their larvae would get matured in nearly three weeks. This was also the time for the river to rise and once that happened, the villagers would breach the bunds en masse and all the river water would rush towards the fields. This essentially was the top layer of the river water which is known to carry the fertilizing silt. Along with river water fingerlings of fishes would also travel to wherever the flood water would go. These fingerlings being carnivorous would eat all the larvae of the mosquitoes and there were little chances of any malaria being spread. The river normally spilled 5 to 6 times in the season and that was the kind of irrigation needed for the paddy crop. To take care of any prolonged dry spell, every family had a pond in front of his house to give shelter to the fishes and provide for irrigation.
The British happened to learn the intricacies of the indigenous system only after they had destroyed it. Not only did they destroy the harmony which the farmers of the Damodar basin were living in with the river, they also had destroyed the famous Aahar / Paine system of Bihar simply because they could not device means to assess the irrigation from Sone Canals if the water of the canal was diverted into Aahars.
Forests Play the Crucial Role of Conservation Forests have suffered the same fate as rivers and only a lip service is being provided to restore them. Wild life conservationists have picked up slogan which essentially is derived from Mahabharata. In the Udyog Parva of the epic, Vedvyasa says,
“ Na syat Vanamrite vyaghraan Vyaghra na syurite vanamIt implies that without tigers the forests cannot be saved and without tigers the forests cannot survive. This is because the tigers save the forests and the vice versa.
Vanam hi rakshate vyaghrairvyaghryarn rakshati Kaananam.”
There are directions in scriptures about plucking the fruits also from the tree. It is said,
“ Vanaspater pakwani phalani prachinoti yah
Sa napnoti rasam tebhyo beejam chaasya vinashyati
Yastu pakwamupa dyatte kale parinatam phalam
Phalam rasam sa labhate beejachchaiva phalam punah.”
Udyog Parva of Mahabharata, verses 15 and 16 of chapter 34.
He, who plucks unripe fruits from the tree, not only deprives himself of the juice of the fruit but also destroys the seed of it. But he who enjoys the ripe fruit gets the juice of it and the seed provides him with the fruit time and again.
Not only the unripe fruits but leaves are also barred from being mishandled. It is said,
“Yasya chaadrasya vrikshasya sheetachchhayam samashrayetShould one stay under the shadow of a tree blooming with green leaves, one should not think of destroying even a leaf of that tree remembering the goodness of the tree that it provided the shadow at one time. It needs protection from him.
Na tasya parnah druhyet poorva vritta manusmaram.”
Will those looting the forest wealth and those trying to protect the same try to look back into traditional wisdom of our ancestors.
Hills were worshipped on the same lines
It is interesting to note that while responding to the salutations of the younger generation, the elders used to bless them by saying that as long as the kingdom of forests, rivers and hills lasts on the earth, your name, fame and honor would remain intact.
Market Forces and Consumerism
There are two kinds of approaches towards our natural resources. One, to assume that nature has got enough for every one’s needs and should be exploited to that end. Two, the nature has got enough for every one’s needs but not enough for anyone’s greed. The latter was a famous saying of Gandhi Ji. The difference in approach signifies the difference of cultures. Exploiting nature cannot be one way traffic. If one is extracting something from it, it is expected that the same is returned to the nature in some form or the other. That would form the basis of sustenance. A British engineer, FC Hirst had once said in early twentieth century that arresting rivers is like throwing gloves at nature, an insult that the river is not likely to leave unavanged. Same thing holds for forests and hills to. When exploited beyond repairs, they will also not keep quite. They will avenge their destruction in some form or the other. How this happens is not exactly known.
Tradition bestows divinity on our rivers, forests and hills that no other culture provides and yet, we are dealing them with contempt. This is the time to act and restore their pride.
Dinesh Kumar Mishra
Convenor – Barh Mukti Abhiyan
6-B Rajiv Nagar
Participants in this Conference are engaged in the practice of nonviolence that is envisioned in Mahatma Gandhi's Hind Swaraj, and therefore nonviolence to us is a path for realizing Swaraj, self-rule and the highest form of cultural democracy. It is vital for this gathering to make the distinction between unqualified nonviolence and nonviolence that is qualified by Swaraj. The Action Plan is guided by this distinction typical of the vision in Hind Swaraj; and therefore everything depends on the state of Swaraj awareness. This has been important to keep in mind while undertaking this action plan because our experience informs us that actions uninformed by the vision of Swaraj or Truth invariably get incorporated in the service of modern civilization so called.
The participants in this Centenary Conference represent:
- Those who are engaged in creating Swaraj awareness through teaching, research, writing or through intellectual, scholarly and academic work;
- Those how are engaged in dialogue on nonviolence in regions and situations of violence and conflict;
- Those who are engaged in programs of nonviolence; peace with justice;
- Those who represent nonviolent movements through the means of Satyagraha and struggle; or, through the means of constructive actions.
- Those who are engaged with more than one of the above or all of the above.
This gathering of more than a hundred practitioners of nonviolence as philosophy of life represent about fifty such initiatives in the areas of four major categories of violence; namely, direct and explicit violence; structural violence; violence to nature and nature's fury; civilizational conflicts and confrontations. This is a gathering fairly representative and inclusive of humanity’s engagement against thought, institution and practice of violence and injustice world over.
We met here in Surajkund, NCR Delhi from 19 to 22 November 2009 to commemorate the centenary of Hind Swaraj, reviewing our experiences of nonviolence of past decades on the basis of our understanding of Hind Swaraj, creating an action plan to walk on the path of Swaraj.
How do we create and strengthen network, actions and movements among us? How do we connect with each other and with others committed to Gandhian nonviolence? How do we help organize forces of nonviolence?
We are all here for one reason. On the surface, we are many individuals and groups from all around the world. We are scattered. Exactly one hundred years after the gift of Hind Swaraj, the many scattered gather here, for the first time. We are people who work for peace, freedom and justice. We are involved in struggles, and committed to Swaraj. Together we have, for the first time, raised a global Gandhian voice and created a network of people and organizations committed to the ideals of nonviolent social order. We join together in this network as the Global Gandhian Movement for Swaraj.
In order to achieve a response to these concerns we developed a common action plan that we will implement as a network.
Commitments for Joint Action
Participants from 13 countries including the host country, India, representing an extensive range of organizations, have committed to act together in initiatives that strive for Swaraj at various levels. Our joint action will gradually shape the identity of the movement and allow us to produce a long-term plan. We request, value and encourage the participation of women, minorities, tribals and marginalized groups in all our actions.
Building the movement
Swaraj Peeth will continue to facilitate the coordination of this movement.
- We encourage experiments in truth, justice and nonviolence that transform our personal lives and our work, helping us to mobilize for direct action, especially with the youth.
- Young people all over the world take responsibilities in conflict resolution, but working in hugely violent and tiring conditions they are very often driven to take up violence. We believe that by engaging young people in the Gandhian practice of nonviolence, youth frustration and disappointment could be channelized into more constructive energy.
- Therefore during the centenary year we commit to begin the training of one hundred young people from different communities and countries on Gandhian practice of nonviolence and the ideals of Swaraj. We will support young people who are already active in different conflict zones and working in the fields of education, environment and development.
- We plan to maintain a strong bond with these trained youngsters who will be working at the grassroots and take leadership. We will continue to follow their footsteps in various trying social and political struggles, and where needed the Global Gandhian Movement for Swaraj will offer support.
- Share and merge available materials on Hind Swaraj in a common repository and make it freely available throughout the world, thereby building a resource centre for Hind Swaraj.
- Translate Hind Swaraj into different languages. Translations in Urdu, Tibetan and Japanese have already been produced in the past years by members of this movement.
- Produce a handbook on Swaraj, and an explanatory document of the same for young people of different countries and cultures.
- Stimulate academic research within the Swaraj framework.
Social and political action
- Announce to other members of the movement nonviolent actions that each of us is organizing and take the leadership in gathering forces to increase joint participation in each action. This will provide mutual solidarity and nonviolent protection to activists who are threatened and face repression.
- Exchange information regarding the real beneficiaries of war and other forms of violence that affect us, making it available to the public, connecting direct and structural violence, and analyzing conflicts in the perspective of Swaraj.
- Encourage economic platforms of exchange not based on greed and materialism, reducing over-consumption, encouraging localized peoples' production, engaging through nonviolent resistance and boycotts with corporate business to induce a change of the dominant economic model.
- Support inter-religious experiences and practices that lead to respect, and mutual understanding.
- Support movements all over the world through workshops and exchange of ideas, to develop their own vision of Swaraj based on local history, culture, religion and politics.
- Work against environmental violence - including mining, deforestation, river destruction, and pollution - produced by modern development, for a sustainable environment, reducing waste and recycling.
- Support people’s struggle starting with the tribals and marginalized, for rights on their ancestral land and protection of indigenous culture.
Swaraj is a process of finding peace with justice. This action plan is a small collective step that we have committed to take as a journey to explore possibilities of working together as a global network of nonviolent agents of change. As we take our first step with this action plan we are humbled that we have achieved not only coming together as a fellowship of Hind Swaraj, but found deep bonding among ourselves.
Burmese Member of Parliament
Like in many other countries, the people of Burma went through difference struggles against different bad rulers: the terrible Kings, the British colonizer, the Fascist Japanese occupier, corrupt civilian governments, the authoritarian one-party Burmese Socialist Program Party (BSPP) rule and the dictatorial military (SLORC and SPDC) regimes.
Struggle during colonial era
The British who ruled more than a hundred years successfully used extreme harsh measures to conquer and suppress the armed rebellion by means of warfare and maximum punishment e.g. the rebellious peasant leader Saya San (1876-1931) was hanged.
But British found difficult to contain unarmed resistance. In retrospect, the people of Burma learned that under the British rule, not like under military control, they could have the benefit of the limited space for anti-government campaigns. The colony government allowed some associations to form. E.g. the literary organization, the Nagani (Red Dragon) publishing house (1937) was exceptionally successful to educate and organize the people for patriotism and freedom.
Therefore there appeared organizations of different classes of people:
- Young Men's Buddhist Associations (YMBA) in 1906,
- Suriya newspaper in 1911,
- The Oil Field workers strike in 1915,
- Yenan-Chaung BOC clerks strike in 1917,
- Burmese Women (Kumari) in 1919,
- Monks (Sangha Samaghi) in 1919,
- General Council of Burmese Associations (GCBA) 1920,
- University students strike in 1920,
- Saya San Movement or the Farmers‟ Revolution in 1930,
- Dobama Asiayone (We the Burman Association) 1930,
- Rangoon University Students Union (RUSU) (Ta-Ka-Tha) in 1931,
- All Burma Students Union (ABSU) in 1935-36,
- No-footwear in the pagodas strike (1936)
- Nagani (Red Dragon) publishing house (1937)
- British Oil Corporation (BOC) Strike or 1300 Revolution in 1938
- The Own Rule or Swaraj (Ko-Min-Ko-Chin) 1939,
- East Asia Youth Association in 1942,
- Thang-Dabin movement in 1946,
- All Workers strike in 1946,
The struggle for independence was more or less the same as those of other colonized countries like India. Almost certainly Gandhi and the struggle of the people of Indian subcontinent was the nearest and the most appropriate for the people of Burma to imitate. Moreover Buddhist teaching of universal love and unconditional passion prevailed for centuries, the nonviolence practice was readily applied in Burma.
When the first student martyr Aung Gyaw was beaten to death on 20 December 1938, the entire country was being able to mobilize and it was one of the reasons British had to return home. However there is no sign of military returning to barracks although the number of death was more than a hundred during the monk-led protest in 2007 and the number of death and disappearance was 3 to 10 thousands during the nationwide uprising in 1988.
The most remarkable nonviolent method during the independence struggle in Burma was creation of “Thakhin” sir name. “Thakhin” stands for the opposite to slave because Burmese leaders effectively used terming of colonized subjects as slaves. So Aung San, the national hero and the founder of independent Burma became Thakhin Aung San. The first and the last democratically elected Prime Minister was called Thakhin Nu. Even the communist leaders were also named Thakhin Than Tun and Thakhin Soe. There were also women Thakhins.
It has to observe that not only the Burma Independence Army (BIA) and Burma Defense Army (BDA) but also the political negotiation and the nonviolent resistance of the people made British to ultimately grant freedom.
The struggle under own rules
Freed Burma unfortunately went through a devastating civil war waged between the White and the Red Communists and the government in power. Likewise discontentment by ethnic nationalities gave birth to armed insurgency. Those were years of the Cold War. In addition opium plantation, heroin purification and drug trading are a good resource for armed insurgency. The UN and America try to eradicate narcotic business. But as long as responsible government is in power it is near impossible to do so. The Burmese governments tried to suppress all kinds of armed resistance by the might of army. That made army as a troublesome stakeholder of the nation. Though it has taken five decades, use of army could not finish the resistance by the ethnic peoples. Till today all ethnic nationalities are holding arms.
The current regime fabricated ceasefire agreements with them. Now as their new constitution does not permit more than an army the junta is trying to transform the ethnic armed groups into border guards. That does not go smoothly and the end of armed resistance either.
So it can be observed that:
- It is not Military might that can contain ethnic resistance but (1) the ending of Cold War paved the way to finish off communist armed revolt and (2) because the ethnic groups defected from communist control and established own armies.
- Although armed resistance can be finished when resources are terminated, nonviolent movement which rely mainly on unarmed manpower and dynamic leadership providing that the leader is free to lead.
- Therefore the military regime is strategically indirectly helping drug business and holding Aung San Suu Kyi under detention.
Ne Win’s method
The restricted laws do not allow any citizen to possess even a knife longer than pencil sharpener. The intelligent apparatus is effectively used. Thanks to poverty as people are easily recruited as informers, spies and moles posted everywhere, teashops, markets, offices, workplaces and elsewhere. There was no union of students or workers by any means. Intellectuals, artists, writers and poets are also not allowed to organize. The farmers and workers are grouped under the leadership of the party. All they have to do was to clap after long pre-written speeches. The ethnic nationalities are instructed to wear magnificent traditional dresses to applaud the speeches of party leaders. Therefore all activities against the authorities are categorized underground mostly known as UG.
Ne Win's regime kept in check all nonviolent activities by means of:
- Martial law and strict rules,
- Effective and extensive use of intelligent apparatus, and
- Letting no space for ordinary people.
The courageous efforts by the students against military rule have been written in a special history book. It was clandestinely published and the author Aung Tun was arrested and imprisoned. (Aung Tun was among the 7,114 prisoners released in 2009. Aung Tun, age 42, arrested in February 1998, was released on September 18 from Tharyawaddy prison, Pegu division. Aung Tun, a central executive member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions, is known for his book on the "History of Burmese Students' Movement” in 2007. It is a collection of records of past student leaders and movements and includes secret documents of student organizations. In 1999, he was honored with a Hellman/Hammett grant and was made an honorary member of PEN Centers in Norway, Canberra, Australia and Canada respectively.)
The chronological movements mostly involved by the students are:
- In 1951, the All Burma Federation of Students' Union (ABFSU) was formed by joining the All Burma Students' Union (ABSU), the Rangoon University Students' Union and the Rangoon District Students' Union
- In October, 1956, 26 students were imprisoned and 256 students were expelled
- In 1958, the 10th Anniversary of the Internal Peace Strike
- On 5th July, 1962, a strike at the Dutch Embassy was carried out by three big unions.
- On 7 July, 1962, at 1:00 p.m. the Students' Union held a meeting. In the evening at about 5:30 p.m. two army trucks arrived. In Mandalay Hall alone more than 17 students died and over a hundred students died
- On 8 July, 1962, at dawn the Union Building was destroyed by dynamite
- 1969: The uprising of the South East Asia Peninsular (SEAP) Games
- 1970: The Golden Jubilee of the Rangoon University
- 1974: Burma Workers' Strike
- In December, 1974, U Thant's (former General-Secretary of the United Nations) Funeral
- 1976: The birthday of the Peace initiative leader Thakhin Ko Daw Hmaing
- In June, 1974, there was a Burma Workers' Strike.
- On 23 March, 1976, the centenary celebrations of the birthday of the famous national writer and winner of the Starlin Peace Prize Thakhin Ko Daw Hmaing were held
- June, 1976 Tin Maung Oo, a student from the Rangoon Arts & Science University (RASU) was hanged in Insein Prison
The nationwide uprising which is called as four Eights (8888) movement has been known by the world. That was purely of nonviolence. The participants were from all walks of life and it was spontaneous and widespread. It was near to gain freedom. Before 8-8-88, there were relatively smaller nonviolent activities.
On 13 March, 1988, there was a students' uprising in the Rangoon Institute of Technology (RIT) campus On March 16, 1988, the Red Bridge Uprising
On 21 June the Myaynigone (Western Rangoon) Uprising But the military brutally crushed down. One of the methods the military used was implantation of violent doers among the demonstrators. Those implants mixed with genuine unarmed protesters and beheaded some protesters claiming as spies. That contamination disgraced the peaceful protest and general population went away. However it could bring down three successive presidents. Moreover the movement could give birth of a leader to lead the unfinished nonviolent struggle. It was nobody else Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
The coup leaders announced that 8888 uprising won't happen again. Being the army, the generals laid out combat strategy and plan to defeat the peoples‟ nonviolent movement. As the students were at the forefront, the Universities and Colleges are divided into small school campuses. The teachers, administrators, even the traffic police are instructed not to annoy the students. So a student can violate traffic rule and will pass all exams. The quality of education went down. Then the highly respected monks are placed under the strict non-religious rules. All monks have to hold the IDs like all other civilians. All travelers have to report to local
authorities. Otherwise both the guest and the host will be punished.
The space for nonviolent movement is extremely unfavorable in Burma. There is no civil society of any sort at all. Even a library cannot be opened as a private manner. The tuition classes are used to enlighten the students and consequently tuition teachers have to go jail. Underdevelopment is not to the advantage of mass movement as communication and transportation are so poor. A couple of cities are only focal spots where organizers could set off the movement. So when all big towns are put under control, there is no chance of organizing any anti-government activities. The general population is purposely made poor so that they won't have time for thinking of politics because they are busy to work for petite dinner after a cheap lunch.
After abolishing of the constitution, the military regimes rule with martial law and decrees. The coup leader General Saw Maung deliberately admitted that martial law meant no law. Restricted laws check everything suspicious activities. The punishment measures are not corresponding with breach of laws and orders. E.g. the elected parliamentarians are imprisoned for 25 years, the student leaders are sentenced to 54 years and the ethnic Shan leaders are punished for 94 to 106 years in jail.
Monks and the Saffron Revolution
In September 2008, all TV screens around the world showed saffron-led Buddhist monks marching peacefully on the streets of Burma.
- The sparkle of Current protest
- 15-8-07: The military regime suddenly increased petrol prices to $105 per liter
- 19-8-07: The '88 Generation Students walked down the streets in Rangoon
- 21-8-07: The '88 Generation student leaders are detained
- 22-8-07: Marching took place in Rangoon and many towns
- 5-9-07: The regime made a mistake in Pakokku by manhandling the monks
- 6-8-07: Police Emergency was declared 17-9-07: Ultimatum was given by monks and the authorities are given 8days to comply with
- Official apology to the monks
- Bringing down the fuel and commodity prices
- Release Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all detainees
- National reconciliation
- 18-9-07: Monks strike started and they chanted Metta Sutta (Unconditional kindness)
- 21-9-07: Day 4 - Public joined Monks
- 22-9-07: Day 5 - Bare-foot monks marched in the Monsoon flood
- 23-9-07: Day 6 - Under curfew 20,000 monks marched
- 24-9-07: Day 7 - The “D” Day 100,000 protesters marching through Rangoon
- 25-9-07: Day 8 - International response British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, US, EU, His Holiness the Dalai Lama
- 26-9-07: Day 9 - The 1st day of killing 5 sons of Buddha were killed at the feet of Shwedagon Pagoda
- 27-9-07: Day 10 – The 2nd day of killing
- Monasteries were ransacked and monks' blood left - Blood for Metta
- A Japanese photographer was shot dead trying to show the real picture of Burma - Kenji Nagai kept his camera rolling before he died - Life for true picture
- But the monks didn't lose heart - The chant of Love
- May all beings always well and happy!
- May they be free from danger and enmity!
- May they live peacefully
Despite the brutal and vicious crackdown that has resulted in the killing of an estimated 200 demonstrators and 3,000 arrests including about 1,400 monks and nuns, more than 200 NLD members including 15 MP-Elects, the undercurrent of dissent is still very much alive in Burma. That mass demonstrations will have a lasting impact on Burma.
The present days
Burmese people inside the country are assisted by those living outside. In exile there is Political Defiance Committee (PDC) in Thailand and the Committee for Nonviolent Action for Burma (CNAB) in India, which is a founding member of the Nonviolence Peace-force. We have series of trainings of nonviolence. They published materials and secretly imported into Burma. Their colleagues inside the country have to risk for distribution of materials.
Every day 60-80% of people are listening to Burmese language radios. Thanks to BBC from London, VOA from Washington, DC, Radio Free Asia (RFA) also from Washington, DC and Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) from Norway. Nowadays, though radio interviews, the people are talking openly all unjust and unfair news exposing violations of rights, corruptions, maltreatments, wrong doings and etc.
The censorship is 100% in Burma. All newspapers, radio and TV are under total control of the regime. The private journals and magazines have to undergo a long process of censor clearance. When the American high level delegation visited and met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi last week, the regime instructed to print not only Daw Aung San Suu Kyi's photo but also the military PM's. Then all journals which printed her photo ran out of the copies.
Those who tried nonviolent political activities and imprisoned are categorized as the political prisoners in Burma. The world seemed happy of the release of 7,114 prisoners in September this year. But there were only 126 political prisoners among them and remain a total of 2,168 political prisoners. This is an overall increase of 49 in comparison to last month's figure of 2,119. Since the 2007 September Saffron Revolution, a total of 1,156 activists have been arrested and are still in detention. These include:
- Monks = 246
- Members of Parliament = 12
- Students = 284
- Women = 179
- NLD members = 435
- Members of the Human Rights Defenders and Promoters network = 34
- Ethnic nationalities = 207
- Cyclone Nargis volunteers = 21
- Teachers = 26
- Media activists = 46
- Lawyers = 12
NLD - The National League for Democracy
The National League for Democracy (NLD), the party of Aung San Suu Kyi is the sole focal point for all nonviolent activities. All activists whether NLD member or not work around NLD. They are:
- The Human Rights Defenders and Promoters, which was founded in 2002 to raise awareness among the people about their rights and also help forced labor victims and child soldiers conspicuously recruited by the army
- HIV-AIDS group (Phyu Phyu Thin is a Burmese HIV/AIDS woman activist and supporter of the National League for Democracy. On May 21, 2007, she was arrested and held for more than a month.)
- Tuesday prayers group composed of NLD women members (Aung San Suu Kyi is Tuesday born)
- The Committee Representing Peoples' Parliament (CRPP), which is a group of duly elected in 1990 election
- The United Nationalities Association (UNA) which is composed of genuine ethnic parties of 1990 election
- Monks formed entire country, upper and lower Burma and etc.
- Students also formed as University-wide and upper and lower Burma and etc.
- Funeral services
- Cyclone relief volunteers and etc.
The NLD believes that national problems must and will be resolved through political negotiations. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Sunday, July 16, 2000 in the Washington Post, wrote, “We are committed to nonviolent political activities that will lay a foundation for a healthy democratic state, and we take all possible measures to establish the necessity for the rule of law.”
Sadly it seems none of the nonviolent methods is effective in Burma. There is no visible anti-government activity inside Burma. But the people really want freedom and there are possibilities of movement based on nonviolence. The people though feeble to rise up or come out, have enough experiences and the regime is difficult to suppress them by use of force. The neighbors want, whether democratic or not, stable Burma. The western nations want to see Burma democratic and respect human rights. The generals desperately need sanctions lifted which will be possible when there is real progress with involvement of Aung San Suu Kyi and ethnic peoples. Aung San Suu Kyi's role has been recognized even by the generals who spoke to the Americans recently.
Dr. Tint Swe
Burmese Member of Parliament (NLD)
F-15, Vikas Puri
New Delhi 110018
Email: drswe01 [at] gmail [dot] com
As Martin Luther King said: “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. We may ignore him at our peril”. One of Gandhiji’s most important contributions is Hind Swaraj, and we have come to celebrate “100 Years of Hind Swaraj”.
Gandhi went beyond all limiting and destructive forces of violence and thought of eliminating the force of other states and keeping order and justice through nonviolent methods.
In this Centenary Year of Gandhiji’s Hind Swaraj we are here because the forces of violence are united, while the forces of nonviolence are dispersed. We need to reverse this equation and find the way out for lasting and genuine peace.
In spite of diverse methods we must have a common program to make our efforts more visible and effective in the future. We must have collaboration and cooperation with an understanding of the larger picture because we will be faced with more challenging situations to come.
The constructive work program and presence of the nonviolence force can be registered in the minds of decision-makers and individuals who are perpetrating violence unnecessarily for small purposes. We have inflicted violence on all living creatures and destroyed the environment. If this continues, this small planet Earth, within decades, may become unlivable. It is necessary to become self-grounded. Violence does not support this, it is destructive and we will have to create a new civilization.
Gandhi had warned us that the resource-hungry, consumerist model rests on war and creates ecological disasters. It is this dual threat of conflicts between people and violence against nature that can destroy civilization.
There cannot be peace while unreasonable lifestyles that require control and destruction of environmental resources and destruction ecological balance continues. While structurally in-built injustice and poverty remain, no peace is possible until domination of the weak by the powerful, is brought under restraint and transformed.
Lasting peace cannot obtain without disarmament by those who are maintaining their war industry. We need to think of the ceiling, of which Mahatma Gandhi talks in Hind Swaraj, that must be exercised on so called progress; on science and technology of war, violence and of time and labour saving devices, and on consumption standards. Ceilings must also be exercised on the growth of cities and mega cities and on destruction of and cannibalization of environmentally sound and time tested science and technology. Such technologies and economic and social structures still survive in many nations. In order to avert ecological disaster, the question of life styles is the core issue which is not given its due, because it is believed that modern science can save us from the problems it has created and that it has the answer.
On the question of Human Rights protection and violations, powerful nations have always adopted double standards. Therefore a third force needs to be created so that justice is done in such cases; and, nations should feel secure from destabilizing and exploitative military and political interventions The Gandhian fraternity must speak up and act against violation of human rights, irrespective of where it happens. The message should be that global Gandhian movement will not remain silent when human rights are violated.
This Gandhian fraternity all over the world should raise its voice to create public awareness for nuclear military powers to take responsibility for the reduction of nuclear military force. Of similar importance is the issue of reduction in carbon emission. Both of these issues are such that no one should wait for the other to take the first step. If there is competition in matters of economic progress, it is much better to have competition among nations in a matter that dispels the cloud of impending global disaster. Democratic and peace loving nations should take the initiative. It will be a refreshing change to have a competition for those who can produce the maximum benefit for humanity.
It is time that every nation for its own liberation from various forms of violence as a victim, perpetrator or collaborator should write its own text of Swaraj. People talk of Capitalism and of Socialism as if these two or their variables were the only paths for human destiny. It is time to introduce the philosophy of Swaraj and the programme for Swaraj Awareness. Hind Swaraj suggests from the very beginning the methods for raising public awareness disaffection for what is wrong and affection for what is good.
We have an irresistible opportunity to embrace transformation of not only the self, but all levels of existence. The inspirational life of Gandhiji was about action…and may we also be inspired by one of his most famous quotes:
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It is a privilege to speak at the celebration of a text that opened for me the door to Gandhian thinking: Hind Swaraj (Indian Home Rule), the preparation of the constructive programme for a people that wanted to rule themselves, and bring an end to oppressive foreign occupation. I will speak today of Middle-Eastern movements who struggle for liberty and justice, who deal with cruel occupations, and to whom my Italian association is offering solidarity. Their cause is apparently far from our life but in fact Middle-East has been dramatically hurt by Western colonialism, neocolonialism and militarism, hence Western citizens of conscience have the duty to intervene to oppose the crimes of their governments and bring responsible solidarity to local people who work for change and self-determination.
I bring you today some good news from Middle East, indeed while US and Israeli leaders worry about the possibility that Iran acquires the atomic bomb, something very different and very important is happening: Palestinian and Iraqi civil society groups are working hard in their offices, homes and backyards to rediscover the fomula of the weapon they once had... Nonviolence, the “moral atomic bomb” (as the Italian journalist Tiziano Terzani used to say). I will not speak in the name of Iraqi and Palestinian activists, but I will argue that international solidarity is fundamental for their success and that the teachings of Hind Swaraj could have a great impact to empower their action. This may help to pay back – at least morally – the political debt that the international community has towards Middle-Eastern people.
In Iraq civil society succumbed to military power and dictatorship in the last decades, and people are used to see political change happening through military coups. The last one, in 2003, was led by foreign powers and brought massive destruction, but people decided not to stay in their homes or just wait for better times. They took advantage of the new space that opened up to create again a lively civil society: thousands of human rights group, women groups, students associations, reviews, media organizations and workers' unions have been founded. The problem is that many of them are funded and manipulated by Iraqi political parties to gain votes and strenghten their constituences. Many others implement a foreign agenda, mostly with USA funding. The good news is that a third way exists, indeed somebody is trying to build threads that unite independent civil society organizations, and a powerful thread to pull people together has been the word NonViolence (LaOnf in Arabic).
The Iraqi Nonviolent Group LaOnf started to exist after some Iraqi human rights activists, during the 2005 World Social Forum, knew about the theory and practice of active nonviolence. They immediately decided to organize training programmes for Iraqi organizations, asking for the support of European anti-war associations, to promote nonviolent strategies of social and political transformation. After experiencing the dramatic effects of the circles of violence, they were convinced that a radical alternative was needed and had to come through collective action. The first participants in these programmes organized the first nonviolent campaign in May 2006, the Iraqi Week of Nonviolence, which was then repeated in 2007 and 2008. A national movement was gradually built, with local groups in all 18 governatorates of Iraq, a democratic decision-making mechanism and an elected national board. They promote the culture of active citizenship through nonviolent action, they campaign against political, sectarian and family violence, they argue against occupation and influence of foreign states in Iraqi affairs, and they defend the culture of voluntary work and independence in civil society. In their campaign of 2008 to prevent electoral violence, 179 organizations and 290 single activists where engaged in actions on the ground all over the country.
This movement just managed to organize in Erbil (Iraqi Kurdistan) on 6-8 November 2009 the First Iraqi Nonviolence Forum, that gathered about 120 Iraqi activists from all provinces and an international delegation of other 20 activists from Italy, Spain, Germany, France, USA. LaOnf called for the participation of all those who belive in nonviolence as the only tool to build an independent, democratic and peaceful Iraq. I report here the Forum's Ethics, as formulated by the Iraqi organizing committee:
- Our Forum is built on the principles of cooperation and voluntary work, we reject overspending and unjustified disbursement of funds, we focus instead on content for the success of the forum and will provide simple and basic arrangements for logistics.
- Participants in our forum should refuse war, occupation and sectarian violence; believe in nonviolence as an option for change and people's expression; defend this practice and protect its diffusion in Iraq through all nonviolent methods of struggle, against any attempt to block them through repression.
- The Forum aims to promote another image of civil society, built on the fight against internal corruption, based on voluntary and no-profit work, providing services and assistance at the lowest possible cost, taking people's initiative as the basic resource for action, refusing to trade the suffering of vulnerable groups, not making profits through facades of voluntary and humanitarian work.
The forum aims to give a strong impetus for alternative nonviolent change in Iraq, as opposed to the usual approaches that try to keep and enforce peace by increasing militarization and limiting freedoms, and those which present violence as the only tool for resistance and change. These approaches are widespread, despite the heavy price paid by the Iraqi people for such violence and despite the serious threat brought by violence on Iraq's unity and national identity. In this situation, we work with a growing hope to end the US occupation, with the aim of building real and full sovereignty of Iraqi. We face the challenge of strong interference by some neighbouring countries, the evident political crisis, and not enough attention to dialogue, partnership, cooperation to find solutions to outstanding problems. We have to deal with widespread unemployment, poverty and political obstacles inhibiting laws which could regulate the economy on a national basis, support development and guarantee redistribution to all Iraqis of profits coming from natural resources of their country (e.g. strengthening national companies and the rights of Iraqi workers).
We are holding this forum with the commitment to contribute to the achievement of tangible progress in peace and security, to the delivery of essential services for the Iraqi people, to the fight against corruption;
being aware of the challenges faced by the Iraqi civil society, due to attempts by some to control freedom of expression, assembly and association with the pretext of security concerns;
seeing in the next legislative elections a chance for achieving positive change through nonviolent means, an important mechanism of expression of people's will to change, which must allow everyone to promote her/his ideas;
for the freedom of assembly and to find community-based solutions. The success of the forum shows the importance of this group, that is nationally rooted but looks for exchange of experiences with international nonviolent movements that share the same ethics. And it is my convinction that a very fruitful exchange could take place on the notion of Swaraj with Indian and Asian movements, so here I call for your cooperation! Gandhi in 1009 was asking to the Indian reader of this book: “Let us suppose that the English have retired. What will you do then?” And this is exactly the question Iraqis are posing themselves now that the withdrawal of US troops may become a reality. The history of the Indian movement for home rule, its spiritual and political dimensions, its attempt to join forces of the “extremists” and the “moderates” to build a new country, to nationalize strategic economic sectors, to understand democracy as much more than parliamentary democracy, would bring inspiration and material for discussion to the Iraqi activists. Like the Gandhian movement did, the Iraqi Laonf movement accepts the possibility of unrest once the occupying troops leave, and is ready to campaign in their communities to de-escalate violence, while if the Obama administration doesn't keep the promise Laonf will campaign for immediate and total withdrawal of occupying forces. But the main concern of the Iraqi civil society today is how to build internal cohesion and defend people's rights. The government is becoming more and more authoritarian, is violating freedom of expression and freedom of association, and strong action needs to be taken to reverse this worrying trend. Both students and workers unions have seats in the newly elected national board of Laonf, and they are ready to continue campaigning.
Besides the Iraqi movement, let me mention another Middle-Eastern population that is struggling mainly through nonviolent resistance against a cruel occupation: the Palestinians. Popular committees of rural villages organize corageous nonviolent demonstrations against the Apartheid Wall, with the precious help of Israeli and international activists that try to protect Palestinians with their own bodies from repression of the Israeli army. An international struggle that has its victims, but is a frontier of the global justice movement. Young peace activists tragically pay with their sacrifice the crimes of the last colonialist state in the region. Moreover, since 2005 the Palestinian civil society produced a collective and unitary call to the international community for a comprehensive campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel. Given the failure of simbolic protest and peacebuilding/peacemaking initiatives, this campaign is now the frontier of international solidarity to Palestinian and Israeli people who truly seek for a just peace. Quoting the appeal of the Palestinian civil society:
In light of Israel's persistent violations of international law; and
Given that, since 1948, hundreds of UN resolutions have condemned Israel's colonial and discriminatory policies as illegal and called for immediate, adequate and effective remedies; and
Given that all forms of international intervention and peace-making have until now failed to convince or force Israel to comply with humanitarian law, to respect fundamental human rights and to end its occupation and oppression of the people of Palestine; and
In view of the fact that people of conscience in the international community have historically shouldered the moral responsibility to fight injustice, as exemplified in the struggle to abolish apartheid in South Africa through diverse forms of boycott, divestment and sanctions; and
Inspired by the struggle of South Africans against apartheid and in the spirit of international solidarity, moral consistency and resistance to injustice and oppression;
We, representatives of Palestinian civil society, call upon international civil society organizations and people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel similar to those applied to South Africa in the apartheid era. We appeal to you to pressure your respective states to impose embargoes and sanctions against Israel. We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace.
Here again, international activists who implement the campaign in their countries could learn important insights from the Indian movement of Swaraj, and the attitude Gandhi had when calling for boycotts. The BDS campaign, being endorsed by international civil society groups, will not crush the economy of Israel (mainly based on high-tech and military exports), but it can have a tremendous impact on the moral image that Israel promotes of itself around the world. In order to deconstruct the image of Israel as a democracy that respects human rights, and in order to avoid accusations of antisemitism by Sionist propaganda, the BDS campaigns needs to keep extremely high standards of morality and nonviolent language. Expressions of rage against the State of Israel will be accused of having an antisemite tone. Wishes for revenge and restitution of what the Palestinians have suffered may be accused of complicity with the Palestinian armed resistance and a wish to destroy the State of Israel. All this will not help the cause of justice. Hence a high level of self-control must be achieved by those who know the situation of Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories and Gaza, and feel strong indignation for the conduct of the Israeli army. Everything we need to ask the international community is non-cooperation with a country that violated the highest number of UN resolutions, without ever incurring in any sanctions. Divesting from its economy, not buying its products, suspending cooperation agreements with its institutions is the simplest way to stop business-as-usual and start pointing at the issues at stake: the occupation, the apartheid, the right of return for refugees.
If the international civil society continues to support the BDS campaign, and learns effective nonviolent ways to spread the message to more people, this will encourage Palestinians to take the most difficult decision: apply the boycott in the occupied territories, in spite of their total dependence on the Israeli economy, accepting self-sacrifice to promote self-sufficiency as a strategy for resistance like their father and mothers did in the First Palestinian Intifada. To conclude on this, I am strongly convinced that promoting Nonviolent Resistance as Self-Rule in Middle East is a fundamental challenge, but one that local civil society can only take with a strong support of the international solidarity group, and of the global Swaraj movement. We should all feel that these conflicts concern us too, as we did all over the world in 2003 when we marched against the war in Iraq. One march is not enough to stop a war, let's pay attention to what Middle-Eastern civil society is asking for and answer the call!
For more info on the Iraqi Nonviolent Group:
To endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign on Israel:
Hind Swaraj – Gandhi’s Manifesto of Non-violence, Civilisation and Forms of Violence: A 21st Century Agenda for Non-violence
Surajkund, Delhi, November 19-22, 2009
(Photo: Friends of Tibet)
(Photo: Friends of Tibet)
The four-day conference scheduled at the Hotel Rajhans, Surajkund, Delhi will bring together more than hundred visionaries, scholar-activists, practitioners of non-violence, activists and some of the best minds and teachers in the field of Gandhian thought. Instead of usual reading of papers, this congregation of people with variety of very valuable experiences, insights and foresights will review their own understanding of Hind Swaraj / Gandhian non-violence and will look at the successes, failures, limitations and challenges of various encounters with violence. What sort of vision has inspired each such attempt and what methods have been employed, discovered or innovated.
On the basis of this the Assembly will explore the possibilities and formulate a Global Action Plan to be presented to His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama on November 22, 2009 with collective request to take the leadership of a global campaign for Non-violence and Swaraj. Swaraj Peeth believes it could be no more appropriate than the guidance and leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the effort as Tibetan struggle under his leadership highlights the ideals of culture of non-violence or Self-rule, Swaraj (‘Rang-wang’ in Tibetan) that Gandhi defined as the ‘central purpose’ of his struggle. In the post-Gandhi era, HH the Dalai Lama symbolises in him and in the struggle of universal quest for non-violence, justice and peace.
In brief the conference aims at highlighting the efficacy and universality of the Gandhian vision of swaraj and methods of non-violence. Thus the conference will also try to bring in the center of debate how this vision could be translated into action under different conditions, situations and areas.
Background: “Hind Swaraj”, an unassuming book by Mahatma Gandhi holds a special place as a root text or Manifesto from among his entire corpus of work. The book is the essence of his life-long experiment with truth and it gives the correct diagnosis of the problem of humanity in modern times, the causes of it and also the effective remedy for it. Gandhi usually doesn’t care for consistency as he is always on the journey of experimentation of the truth but he did not find anything he mentioned in this book that needs to be revised even after more than two decades. It goes to show that the book carried matured findings of his persistent enquiries into the truth of human destiny.
Mahatma Gandhi wrote this book on his way from London to South Africa onboard SS Kildonan Castle between November 13-22, 1909, which means, the year 2009-2010 would be the Centenary Year of this great book. Hence many organisations and individuals who believe in truth and non-violence have engaged themselves to commemorate the Centenary of this wonderful work in various ways including academic deliberation and social interaction.
Swaraj Peeth undertook to commemorate the Centenary of Hind Swaraj since 2001. It has since then engaged in series of public dialogues on Hind Swaraj such as Swaraj Dialogue, Hind Swaraj study camps and discourses, and, building a community-based voluntary, non-violent social force – Gandhi Shanti Sena. Due to large number of participants from Muslim community, Swaraj Peeth brought out on the occasion of the Centenary of the Birth of Satyagraha, September 11, 2006, the first-ever Urdu translation of Hind Swaraj. Swaraj Peeth was first to initiate, since 2003 the public commemoration of September 11, ‘9/11’, as birthday of Satyagraha (Sept 11, 1906, Johannesburg, South Africa). An Urdu edition of the Hind Swaraj for people involved with Swaraj dialogue in Pakistan is also ready to be released.
HSCC Committee: Prof Samdhong Rinpoche (Chairman), Janab Saiyid Hamid,
Prof UR Ananthamurthy, Prof DL Sheth, Prof Partha Nath Mukherjee, Prof Ashish Nandy, Shri Anil Bordia, Dr Varsha Das, Shri Rajiv Vora, Dr Niru Vora (Convener)
Driving Directions for the Venue
View Driving directions for the venue in a larger map
Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj challenged me to re-examine everything I believed in; it did shake and dismantle my civilisational moorings. The first thing that struck me deep when I first read the book was the definition Gandhi gave to swaraj, swaraj as self-control. For Gandhi self-control meant control of all the physical and psychological constituents of the individual. In other words it suggests attaining mastery over one’s mind and senses. Thus, swaraj becomes self-mastery; in fact, it is nothing short of self-mastery. Gandhi takes it beyond and suggests that it is a kind of inner illumination and is thus conducive to self-realisation. These are, obviously, the inner dimensions of swaraj.
Of course, Gandhi was aware of and shared the popular (political) meaning of swaraj as home-rule i.e., self-government. The second half of the title of the book attests to it. But he was of the opinion that sans the inner/personal swaraj of individual citizens, political swaraj would be a mirage, and sometimes even counter- productive. He also argued that political swaraj was directly proportional to personal swaraj. His logic was simple. As he believed in the oneness of life one person’s swaraj would naturally contribute to the swaraj of others and thus the personal and the political would converge and become indivisible. So, in the Gandhian paradigm there is no dichotomy or contradiction between the personal and the political. In the absence of inner equilibrium (read self-control) there cannot be external or outer balance. (This, of course, is a great lesson in political theory, but least understood and cunningly ignored by politicians.)
For Gandhi the individual who has attained or sincerely tries to attain such self-mastery (and inner illumination) is a satyagrahi, though in the Hind Swaraj he uses the term ‘passive resister’ for satyagrahi. (According to Gandhi Socrates and Jesus were satyagrahis.) The similarity between Gandhi’s satyagrahi and Gita’s sthitaprajnah (person of steadfast /balanced wisdom) is especially noteworthy. Gandhi suggested that those who wanted to become a passive resister or satyagrahi, should observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness. We must note that while suggesting these disciplines/observances Gandhi was very cautious, modest and realistic. Note his words: “After a great deal of experience it seems to me that those who want to become passive resisters for the service of the country have to observe perfect chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth, and cultivate fearlessness”.(H.S.p.73.) All the expressions in this statement are suggestive and significant. He speaks on the basis of experience; it was experience that convinced him of the need and efficacy of the observances mentioned. He says quite modestly: ‘it seems to me’; it is not purported to be an absolute statement. These observances are meant to equip the passive resister to become capable of serving one’s country properly and not to enable him/her for just self-realisation. Note that service is the motto.
It is obvious that swaraj is the result of sadhana, persistent perseverance. Gandhi knew that human mind is the abode of conflicting emotions and impulses and that human beings were capable of both selfishness and selflessness. According to him, human nature is a mixture of both good and evil; there is the divine and the brute in man. But Gandhi is of the firm conviction that human nature is essentially, basically, good and nonviolent. He believed that every human being is endowed with the potential to realise the divine within oneself. It is here that the sadhana he felt essential for the attainment of swaraj both in its individual and collective sense becomes relevant.
Gandhi believed that only that civilisation is true which helped human beings to attain swaraj. Recall his definition of civilisation: “Civilisation is that mode of conduct which pointed out to man the path of duty. Performance of duty and observance of morality are convertible terms. To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and passions. So doing, we know ourselves.” In other words, true civilisation must promote the higher and nobler inclinations and emotions in the human self and help human beings to develop morally and spiritually towards swaraj. The civilisation which distracted human beings from this goal of self mastery and self illumination (i.e., swaraj) was dangerous and therefore, to be shunned, argued Gandhi. According to him, modern western civilisation ignored the higher and nobler dimensions of the human person and tried only to strengthen the lower and baser emotions like sensual gratification and selfishness. This civilisation, grounded in the values of greed, competition, self-aggrandisement, and hedonism would neither add an inch to the moral growth of the human individuals nor help them to attain self-control which is the master-key to swaraj.
To understand Gandhi’s meaning of swaraj is not difficult; but internalising the values it sets forth and translating them into practice are truly problematic and challenging.
The major forces that obstruct a person’s advance towards swaraj are internal, though external factors also do create formidable barriers. And therefore, from the Gandhian perspective, the struggle for swaraj is fundamentally internal/personal. There exists a brute within every human self exerting its pulls and pressures continually and quite forcefully and to tame it is the major challenge confronting one who aspires for swaraj. There are negative emotions like anger, hate, the will to harm and hurt, and even to kill. There is the will to power, to dominate and control, to conquer and subdue, to avenge and annihilate. The question is how to subdue and overcome such negative impulses which are sometimes felt to be overwhelming and uncontrollable? The four observances that Gandhi proposed in Hind Swaraj – observe chastity, adopt poverty, follow truth and cultivate fearlessness -- are crucial in empowering a person both in combating the baser impulses and emotions and achieving self-control. Later, when he started the Ashram experiment the observances were increased to eleven vows, well-known as ekadasa vrtas. No doubt, the practice of the above observances is extremely difficult; but it is not impossible. This has been borne out, not only by Gandhi, but by many ordinary people, so-called.
Gandhi and his Ashram community adopted the vows on the basis of a consensus and followed them accordingly. However, it is obvious that there might have been differences both in the perception and the practice of the vows by the inmates of the Ashram. For Gandhi “to do at any cost something that one ought to do constituted a vow” but he was never a literalist. He clarified to the reluctant and the perplexed that taking a vow did not mean that one was able to observe it from the very beginning; it only meant a constant and honest effort in thought, word and deed with a view to its fulfilment. This is, certainly, a reassuring invitation to any one who would like to try to attain self-control leading to swaraj. It allows sufficient elbow-room for one to experiment, commit mistakes, learn from and correct them. At least I felt so, and started my personal ascesis.
It is in this context that I would like add a personal note based on my experiments and experiences. I will give two examples.
I was prone to intense and almost explosive anger, the firework of the brute within. Gandhi and Hind Swaraj challenged me here. I realised that unless I learned to control my anger neither will I be able to be a good teacher (the vocation I chose for myself) nor a public servant nor will I advance even an inch toward swaraj and nonviolence. My first staggering steps toward swaraj and nonviolence, therefore, should comprise of a well-thought out plan for anger management. I was told that Gandhi had advised one of his grandsons, who too had anger problem, to maintain an Anger Journal and write a detailed and candid account of the day’s anger episodes, obviously for subsequent reading and correctional reflection. No doubt, this is a very effective method. I decided to fight my anger and I did it adopting different techniques. One of my successful techniques was what I would call ‘replacement’. For me replacement in anger management is the act of replacing the offender with a person I love most. When I imagine that the offender is my younger brother or my best friend, I experience a transformation; I feel positive changes occurring in my body chemistry, and anger, which could be one of the most dehumanising of emotions, subsides and vanishes fast. The brute is brought down to its feet; I (re)gain control over myself. I feel reassured and confident and capable of forgiving. This method, I believe, is in tune with the spirit of the observance suggested by Gandhi in Hind Swaraj and it has stood me in good stead.
The second one relates to simplicity which is synonymous with Gandhian poverty. (It is important to reiterate here that Gandhi never extolled poverty; in fact he launched poverty alleviation programmes as he believed that poverty was demeaning and dehumanising. It is equally important to understand the basic difference between inherited or imposed poverty and voluntary poverty) It is easy to grasp how difficult it is to practice simplicity in the contemporary culture whose hall mark is conspicuous consumption. But today there is a growing awareness of the crucial significance of simplicity even in the highly industrialised countries of the west, though this awareness is mostly confined to the cognitive level and does not get translated into practice. I could grasp from Hind Swaraj that simplicity is not a mere virtue to be upheld by morally inclined persons, but an essential part of one’s whole way of living and looking at things. In other words, it has to become a constituent of one’s world-view, particularly its praxis.
Gandhi, as a practical idealist knew how difficult the practice of simplicity would be. People may not be able to bring about changes in their consumption pattern and life style all of a sudden. So, later, he gave a practical suggestion that people should attempt voluntary and progressive reduction of wants, leading to simplicity. There shall be no external compulsion; compulsion shall be from within oneself. This is obviously what ‘voluntary’ signifies. And reduction of material things and gadgets need not be too drastic or sweeping; one has to cope with it and it requires time for this. That was why Gandhi suggested ‘progressive reduction’.
This has been my lodestar in guiding my life style. One of my down to earth practices in terms of buying is to ask a final question before taking the final decision to buy any article: Do I really need it? Can I do without it? I buy only if the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. I do not claim to have arrived any where near Gandhian simplicity. I confess that I possess superfluous articles; but the joy and sense of fulfilment I derive from the attempt to limit my wants and reduce my needs and thus curtail my consumption is a reward in itself.
I have similar positive experiences particularly in matters relating to the observances of the control of the palate, sarvadharma samsbhav, swadeshi and fearlessness. Inspired primarily by Gandhi’s experiments in dietetics and his views on modern medicine I became a vegetarian by choice and started regulating my diet on the basis of the suggestions he gave in his famous monograph Key to Health. And when treatment becomes necessary Naturopathy is my first choice. Gandhi’s critique of parliamentary democracy strengthened and hastened my resolve to give up power-centred parliamentary politics and to engage in people-centred politics and mobilisation which alone will empower the common people and help them in attaining real swaraj. (In the area of politics and voluntary work I consider Jaya Prakash Narayan’s monograph From Socialism to Sarvodaya as a sequel to Hind Swaraj.) The insights on education I acquired from Hind Swaraj have served me as the moral and intellectual anchor in my career as a teacher. The theory of history introduced by Gandhi (in Chapter xvii) has helped me in acquiring a peace/nonviolence perspective and a peoples’ perspective of history; it has also helped in conceptualising an alternative historiography, although I am not a historian in any sense.
In short, I can vouch that Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj is one of the three books that have influenced me most, the other two being the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita.
A word as an epilogue also seems to be in place here. Hind Swaraj may appear to some as all war and no peace; particularly a no- holds-barred war on modernity. Some have characterised it as very conservative book as it extols, in glowing terms, the foundational values of ancient Indian civilisation. This is the result of an inappropriate reading. Gandhi never accepted anything uncritically. He was critical of both modernity and tradition. Remember that Gandhi had requested us to read the book through his eyes and if we do so the whole image would change. Gandhi used to be a flexible person, and open to human frailties; he always provided enough space for compromises without diluting the core principles. So there is obviously no need to be inhibited or repulsed by the views expounded in the book. As Gandhi pointed out they should be taken as the ideal towards which one can progress.
Department of Philosophy, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469 U.S.A.
For the past fifty years, nonviolent peace and justice activism, shaped by the formative influences of the philosophy and practice of Mahatma Gandhi and often expressed most clearly and strongly in Hind Swaraj, has greatly defined my life. Such nonviolent activist “experiments with truth” reach back to the Civil Rights Movement in the South of the U.S.A. and include the Vietnam/Indochina Antiwar Movement, the Women’s Rights Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement, environmental struggles, and more recent antiwar activism focusing on the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War. I had intended to provide four, very diverse illustrations: the Vietnam Center struggle at Southern Illinois University illustrating resistance to the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, the response to 9/11 terrorism and especially to the post-9/11 terrorism, my nonviolent civil disobedience illustrating a response to the U.S. war on Iraq, and our Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine illustrating successes and difficulties in organizing and maintaining peace and justice groups. Because of my unexpectedly detailed formulations, I’ll restrict my presentation in this paper to the first two illustrations. In describing some of the vision and methods or approaches in each illustration, especially as related to Gandhian nonviolence and Hind Swaraj, I shall include some assessment of the considerable strengths and successes, as well as the limitations and failures, of these experiments with truth.
The Struggle Against the Vietnam Center at Southern Illinois University: Resisting the Modern Military-Industrial-Academic Complex
My first full-time academic position, 1967-1972, was with the Department of Philosophy at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, U.S.A. In 1969, some of us were shocked to learn that SIU had received a huge grant from the State Department’s Agency for International Development to establish a Center for Vietnamese Studies and Programs. As with all peace and justice understanding and practice, our reaction was structured by our past and present contexts in which some of us had devoted years to antiwar efforts to end the Indochina/Vietnam War and hence were motivated to question Washington’s economic, political, and military intentions and objectives. We quickly became more concerned as we learned that the key individuals who gave SIU the funds, appeared on our campus, and even assumed academic positions at our university were some of the same key individuals who had gotten the U.S. involved in and helped to plan the Vietnam War and who had been identified with the previous, infamous, Michigan State University project in Vietnam. We grew even more alarmed when we studied the contract to establish the Vietnam Center, read hundreds of pages of correspondence and internal minutes of the Center’s meetings, and acquired a tremendous amount of background information.
It became evident that the Vietnam Center at SIU was primarily intended to become a useful part of the U.S. war effort and especially part of plans for victorious postwar reconstruction to achieve Washington’s objectives. This included plans for SIU to provide retraining of U.S. military veterans to be sent back to Vietnam, planning Vietnam’s police and security apparatus, planning Vietnam’s educational system, providing resources and expertise for technological development and agricultural projects, etc. Whether seemingly benign or blatantly militaristic and coercive, such intensions and objectives were violent and often similar to British formulations justifying the Raj and the economic and political domination of India. Indeed, as with the British colonial rule, there was an assumed ideological justification that many Vietnamese were not only hostile and dangerous to U.S. interests, but that they were generally backwards, irrational, immoral, undeveloped, and uncivilized. What Washington and the Vietnam Center were doing was thus good for the Vietnamese, civilizing them, whether they appreciated it or not.
What ensued, without providing details, were five years of exposure, education, organizing, resistance, and diverse forms of mobilization and struggle. This became one of the most intense and effective antiwar struggles at any U.S. campus, and it became the major university antiwar issue in Asian Studies. Articles and books were written on the Vietnam Center struggle; numerous antiwar students and other activists met, organized, marched, demonstrated, were arrested, and had their lives and careers dramatically changed; and the objectives of Washington and SIU were completely thwarted through the anti-Vietnam Center antiwar struggles.
Looking back, and now greatly informed by Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, it is evident, as it was in the late 1960s and 1970s, that we experienced two, diametrically opposed conceptions of civilization with their contrasting visions and methods. On the one hand, the Vietnam Center clearly illustrated what Gandhi labeled Modern Civilization. Such a modern vision was highly materialistic with the emphasis on money, power, economic and political control and domination. It expressed a theory and worldview of adversarial relations in which “the enemy” had to be pacified, controlled, and often destroyed in order to achieve our objectives. Such a vision utilizes a modern instrumentalist view of reason and technology and other resources including nature. As means to achieve ends, the ends are separated from the means, and any means are justified that are effective for achieving the desired ends. In this regard, planners at SIU repeatedly emphasized how the university should position itself as useful and hence appreciated by those with external sources of funds and power, and the Vietnam Center could provide such means to achieve U.S. war and postwar ends or objectives in Vietnam. In short, SIU with its Vietnam Center could function as a valuable part of what Senator William Fulbright, developing President Dwight Eisenhower’s warning, labeled as the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex.
In this regard, this modern vision and approach did emphasize interconnections, interlocking integral relations, but not as in Gandhi’s holistic, relational vision. Instead we were presented with top-down, highly concentrated and centralized, interconnected structures of power, coercion, and domination in which the Vietnam Center would not question the vision or means, but would instead be a small but useful and rewarded contributor to the anti-Gandhian ends of control, exploitation, and domination.
What was evident was that this modern vision with its methods or means was lacking in morality, which was never an essential part of the university’s calculations. Let Washington, big corporations, and the military define the ends; we’ll show that we can provide the technology and other useful means. Ethical analyses of the vision and ends, the means, and the means-ends relations are irrelevant and would only complicate our useful contribution to those with power. After all, just as the British did not fund Indian civil servants and police so that they could resist the Raj, those with power did not fund the university so that it would then critique and possibly resist their militaristic, neo-colonial, and imperialistic war policies and postwar objectives.
Indeed, it became evident that true education, leading to deeper analysis and understanding, was also not part of this modern vision. It turned out, for example, that SIU had previously had two big government contracts in the 1960s for work in Vietnam through its College to Education. Although 50 professors were involved, not one had ever written an article or book about Vietnam. Revealing was the fact that the Director of Vietnam Center was a professor who did not speak Vietnamese and had published nothing on Vietnam. An appropriate vision of education was not a priority.
In most general educational terms, the university, its Vietnam Center, its students and technology and other resources were viewed in corporatized terms of commodities, as a good investment, as means that could further the war and postwar objectives. There was no concern with Gandhi’s central educational concerns of Hind Swaraj of the need for character building, for an ethical foundation, for self-control and the development of selfless service, courage, fearlessness, and other virtues. From Gandhi’s perspective, what the Vietnam Center, in its role as part of the socialized education of Modern Civilization, was perpetuating were multiple dimensions and structures of educational violence. For Gandhi, such an education that was not grounded in dharma would have represented a dangerous and destructive educational failure. Indeed, regardless of academic degrees, professional status, and financial benefits of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, in Gandhi’s vision and approach, the professors, students, and administrators who identified with the Vietnam Center were not truly educated and were not truly civilized human beings.
The Vietnam Center and its major funding source, the Agency for International Development, constantly emphasized “development” for Vietnam. For Gandhi in Hindu Swaraj, this illustrates the modern, narrow, reductionistic, violent conception of materialistic development. The more you produce, the faster you produce, the larger the economy, the more technology and displacement of labor, the more you consume, etc., are the criteria used to determine more advanced development, as essential for a more developed civilization and mode of conduct. Gandhi rejects this and contrasts this modern conception of economic development with real development, which has an ethical basis and is grounded in dharma and swaraj. This fuller, qualitatively different conception of real development does not worship and sets limits on the quantity and speed of production, sets limits on uncontrolled self-indulgent consumption, and accepts the introduction of new technology only if it leads to greater well-being, freedom from suffering, and moral and spiritual development. For Gandhi, unlike the developmental conception of Vietnam Center as part of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, real development, grounded in the commitment to truth and nonviolence, is the basis for real intellectual, economic, social, cultural, educational, and moral development.
In gradually developing our vision and methods, it became evident that we offered a radical critique of and resistance to this dominant view of Modern Civilization. It is not as if many of us were deeply aware of Gandhiji’s contrasting formulation of civilization in Hind Swaraj, and we would have rejected some of his theory. Nevertheless, there are remarkable similarities between what emerged through our experiments with truth and what Gandhi expressed.
Although we only gradually developed a new language for our vision and methods for confronting the Vietnam Center issues, several of us finally presented our position as an anti-imperialist, anti-neocolonial, democratic struggle for self-determination free from economic class exploitation, racism, and other forms of oppression. My vision and methods were defined by my commitment to nonviolence. My practice of nonviolence in the Civil Rights Movement and my teaching of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s philosophy shaped much of this. I was also influenced by my limited knowledge of Gandhi’s philosophy and methods. However, not everyone involved in the antiwar movement in general and the antiwar Vietnam Center struggle in particular shared my vision and approach. All of us active in this particular antiwar struggle shared a commitment to some vision of peace, justice, self-determination, and a transformed world that would be much less violent. However, we were a diverse, pluralistic, inclusivistic resistance, and there were always active participants who believed that violent resistance, by Vietnamese and by those in the U.S., was sometimes necessary, justified, and even admirable.
Without providing details, suffice it to indicate that as part of our contrasting vision, we tried many diverse methods and approaches. Some were mild, reformist, and expressed within the dominant structures of the status quo. Others were at a heightened level of resistance, took considerable personal risk, and challenged the status quo. These methods included many hundreds of hours of weekly and daily meetings, extensive research, formulating and distributing informational literature, discussion groups, educational teach-ins, local and national and international conferences, publication of letters and articles and books, media work, rallies and other demonstrations, boycotts and other forms of noncooperation, dramatic exposures and interventions, creative artistic and theatrical resistance, and nonviolent civil disobedience. The fact that we could organize not only around an unjust destructive U.S. Vietnam War but also direct our focus to a specific visible manifestation of this on our campus allowed us to continue an intense struggle of resistance for years after antiwar efforts had dissipated at most other universities. It was powerful and effective to assert that our university was committed to the vision and methods of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, that SIU was complicit with the death and destruction of Vietnamese and Americans, and that we could make a significant difference in resisting the plans of the Vietnam Center, saving lives, alleviating suffering, and transforming our university.
In general, few of us in this antiwar movement or in the Vietnam Center struggle had a developed vision of swaraj. Looking back, it’s clear that some of us had glimpses or insights into swaraj, but not a broad and deep vision and approach. Most of the thousands who participated in our anti-Vietnam Center struggles did share a simple moral imperative: the Vietnam War is wrong and our university is wrong in supporting this immoral war and postwar commitment. For Gandhi, such simple moral insights are essential in providing an ethical foundation for our philosophy and methods for realizing our vision. However, this by itself is not sufficient for bringing about a new world of transformative nonviolent relations that are centered on a vision of swaraj.
The Vietnam Center struggle illustrates, in microcosmic form, a much larger situation that Gandhi certainly confronted but that has developed and increasingly dominated all of life, from the individual to the global, since his lifetime. Gandhi gradually gained a deep understanding of the functioning, dependencies, and domination of the Raj in an unjust and exploitative British Empire. His emphasis on the spinning wheel and his campaigns focusing on independence with regard to salt and cloth brought out the essential dimension of swadeshi as part of swaraj. However, in our dramatically transformed globalized world, there are fewer and fewer examples of self- sufficiency and independence. As illustrated by the modern Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, we live in a globalized world of corporate, industrial, financial, media, and informational relations of interconnected, concentrated structures of power that determine what we eat, what we wear, what jobs are available, how we are socialized, what our sources of information and recreation are, and, in short, all aspects of our lives with little sense of independence, self-sufficiency, or meaningful swaraj. The Vietnam Center struggle, while centered at SIU in Carbondale, Illinois, necessarily involved the challenge of understanding and resisting larger relations that encompassed new state, national, and international structural relations of economic, political, military, and cultural power and domination.
This brings me to an assessment of some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Vietnam Center struggle. In order to understand why the Vietnam Center was established at SIU, its vision, and its methods and objectives, we had to analyze how the university had become increasingly corporatized and education increasingly commodified in radically anti-Gandhian ways. The Vietnam Center, as an illustration of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex of Modern Civilization, had to be understood as large, well funded, highly bureaucratic, and intended to provide the means for ends defined by those with power outside the university. What this also meant was that the bureaucratic functioning of the Vietnam Center was usually predictable, and this could be transformed into a strength in organizing our resistance.
In this regard, we had to analyze our contrasting strengths and weaknesses. We lacked the forces of Modern Civilization defined by money, capital, technology, and those with power at our institution. What we had were all kinds of potential alternatives based on labor-intensive mobilization and resistance, grassroots relations, moral fervor, courage, and creativity. Without the top-down, status quo relations of power, we were far less predictable. In many ways, this was reminiscent of Gandhi’s approach in which the British and even his allies in the Indian National Congress, with their assumed modern bureaucratic ways of relating, were continually startled and frustrated by his creative unpredictability. Our evolving alternative vision and methods consisted of open-ended experiments with truth in which we attempted to integrate theory with practice. The focus was local but also had an “Oceanic” dimension with necessary state, national, and international mutual interacting relations.
Multileveled, creative, alternative methods included marches, demonstrations, sit-ins, the willingness to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience and to be arrested, expelled from the university, and fired from one’s academic position. They included extensive research, publications, media work, the distribution of informational literature, and the organization of remarkable conferences. They included working with the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars to organize an extremely effective boycott of SIU in which scholars were educated about the Vietnam Center, were encouraged not to accept tainted money or be complicit in any way with the Center, and were confronted and exposed if they identified with the Center. They included organizing a “Vietnamese Invasion of Carbondale” in which antiwar Vietnamese courageously came to SIU to oppose the Vietnam Center, and they included all kinds of alternative cultural programs of resistance consisting of art, poetry, music, and theatrical presentations.
In the short term, the struggle to expose and resist the Vietnam Center was incredibly successful. It was one of the most effective antiwar struggles at any university. SIU’s Vietnam Center never achieved its vision and any of its objectives as outlined in its initial contract, endless committee work and planning sessions, and its increasing preoccupation with how to counter our unexpectedly effective resistance. The Center, which was finally forced to move off campus, never organized its planned conferences, never received acceptability among scholars of Vietnam and Asia, never succeeded in implementing its plans as part of the U.S. war effort, and, with the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, never received the multi-million dollar contracts for postwar reconstruction. Of course, the major reason for the Center’s ineffectiveness was the resistance, courage, and sacrifice of the Vietnamese because the Center’s vision and methods presumed a U.S. victory in Vietnam. The strength of the growing U.S. antiwar movement was also a major influence. However, the resistance against the Vietnam Center would not have been so successful without the essential dedication, perseverance, and effectiveness of the local antiwar struggle.
At the same time, it must be acknowledged that the antiwar struggle against the Vietnam Center also revealed serious weaknesses, and this was most evident in the general lack of a long-term sustained antiwar and anti-imperialist commitment. There had not been a widespread, deeper, peace and justice analysis, transformation of consciousness, and commitment, and when the war in Vietnam formally ended in 1975, most scholars, students, and other antiwar activists went back to business as usual. It should be remembered that in terms of the vision and methods of Hind Swaraj, Gandhi himself faced limits in controlling even his so-called followers, and he experienced failures in satyagraha campaigns. Short-term successes were often followed by defeats, and Gandhi himself often attributed these to his miscalculations in not recognizing weaknesses in his followers, the determined and often violent and unethical responses of those opposing his vision and methods, and the difficulty and complexity of specific contextualized struggles. However, when compared with Gandhi, our antiwar anti-Center movement showed severe limits in overall training, preparation, and levels of consciousness. We had a dedicated core, but we were not in a position to require that most of the diverse antiwar forces agree to Gandhi-like vows or accept strict disciplined methods of Gandhian nonviolence.
In this regard, antiwar activists had many mixed motives. Most had a strong desire to act, to make a difference, to end the war, to resist the university’s complicity. Motivated by simple antiwar slogans and appeals to conscience, this by itself was not sufficiently transformative to bring about long-term change. In addition, many of the young people were motivated by an admirable imagination, a desire to imagine peace and embrace an alternative vision of what a university and a true education could be, but when the hard reality of modern power relations confronted them, and the war and the Vietnam Center withstood their often utopian vision and approach, they frequently withdrew and became passive and cynical.
In addition, weaknesses can be related to certain excesses of the 1960s and 1970s, that defined the lifestyles of students and other antiwar activists, continue to this day, and are at odds with Gandhi’s analysis of swaraj. Often as a reaction to previous, rigid, oppressive socialization, a view of liberation emerged as freedom from all restrictions and restraints, whether defined by authoritarian economic and political powers, institutions, and structures, social and religious prohibitions, academic rules, or traditional ethical norms. Self-determination often meant that “if it feels good, do it,” and freedom often meant “doing your own thing.” Excessive indulgence of all kinds became a virtue. What this meant was that such self-indulgent, unrestrained excesses by individuals, even with a sincere antiwar, anti-Vietnam Center commitment, provided obstacles in organizing a unified, disciplined, perseverant, responsible struggle. By way of contrast, Gandhi submits that true freedom, liberation, self-rule, and independence are possible only when we control our passions, limit our self-indulgences, and live lives of selfless service informed by an ethical commitment to dharma.
Finally, although our antiwar and anti-Vietnam Center movement was overwhelmingly nonviolent in its vision and methods, this was also limited and revealed weaknesses. As with most of Gandhi’s followers, but without his influential authority, many participants were willing to accept nonviolence on pragmatic grounds, but not as an absolute creed or philosophy. Some believed in the need for methods of violent resistance, and we had examples of violent language with personal verbal attacks, rock throwing, and violent retaliation against police and other violent oppositional forces. Some romanticized spontaneity and violent individuals and struggles in the name of some higher purpose. In short, we sometimes could not control the violent reactions of antiwar anti-Center individuals, or of occasional unknown provocateurs, and this weakness clearly limited the development of a disciplined, long-term, sustainable nonviolent movement.
However, I cannot overemphasize that we should not equate this violence with the violent vision and methods of the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex as illustrated by the Vietnam/Indochina War and SIU’s Vietnam Center. Some of this violence was physical and overt, not only in the death of 3 million Vietnamese, but also as manifested on our campus. At one point, in May 1970 before SIU was finally shut down and students sent home, there were 1,200 armed National Guard stationed at SIU, with tanks and other military vehicles on campus and armed guards stationed outside classrooms. In many confrontations, students and others were tear-gassed, beat up, arrested, and severely punished. Classrooms and meetings were infiltrated with spies, and agent provocateurs were used to incite violence and foment division in the antiwar anti-Center struggle. But most of the violence was indirect, structural, and pervasive. The Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, with the role of SIU’s Vietnam Center, was inherently violent. It revealed multidimensional violence with its methods and structural objectives of domination and control: restructuring Vietnam’s educational and legal system, restructuring Vietnam’s economic and agricultural system and technological relations, planning Vietnam’s police and security apparatus, and so forth. And these methods of restructuring and planning were meant to meet the needs of and be rewarded by the power elite, as evidenced in their status quo, dominant, violent vision and methods.
Compared to this dominant modern vision and approach, the antiwar struggle against the Vietnam Center was overwhelmingly nonviolent and effective. It revealed strengths, related to Hind Swaraj and relevant today, while also exposing limits and weaknesses.
The Response to the 9/11 Terrorism and the Post-9/11 Terrorism
On 11 September 2001, armed terrorists hijacked civilian airplanes and crashed two planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City (symbolic of economic power), a third plane into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia (the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, symbolic of military power), and a fourth plane was downed in the fields of rural Pennsylvania. Approximately, 3,000 people were killed. U.S. citizens were shocked, even traumatized. They had felt terrorism was something that happened in places like India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Middle East, Japan, and parts of Europe, but not in the U.S.A.
The immediate reaction in the U.S. was surprisingly constructive: courageous heroism, grief, compassion, selfless service, solidarity, and a sense of national unity transcending divisive differences. This was accompanied overwhelmingly by international concern, compassion, solidarity, and pro-American feelings.
Unfortunately, this reaction was quickly hijacked by those with power in Washington who saw 9/11 as an opportunity to impose their anti-Gandhi agenda. Appeals to understandable fear and insecurity became motivating factors. In Manichean ways, the world was divided into a rigid black and white dichotomy, the forces of evil (them) versus the forces of good (us). You are either with us or with the terrorists. In simplistic, ethnocentric, violent terms, we were repeatedly told that “9/11 has changed everything,” and we now live in a radically changed post-9/11 world. Such a reaction to 9/11 terrorism was now used to justify violence and war, the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War, the suspension of legal and Constitutional rights, the use of torture and illegal surveillance, and other repressive measures. If you opposed the violence, wars, and other repressive actions of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush Administration, you were unpatriotic, hated the U.S., and supported or provided assistance to the terrorists. In Gandhi’s terms in Hind Swaraj, appeals to brute forces that exist within all of us as part of our lower nature overwhelmed appeals to love force or soul force that constitute our higher, truly human, ethical and spiritual nature.
In responding to 9/11 terrorism and U.S. so-called counter-terrorism, which was in reality another form of even greater terrorism, many of us learned from Gandhi’s analysis in Hind Swaraj. First, unlike Bush and his allies, Gandhi did not simply stereotype and dismiss the Extremists, including violent anarchists and others terrorists, as “the enemy” and as “evil.” Gandhi started with the assumption and conviction that all of us have the potential for good and that what unites us as human beings is more fundamental than what divides us. Gandhi was interested in trying to empathize with and understand why individual Indian expatriates—who were often intelligent, driven by moral considerations, capable of self-sacrifice and death, and patriotic in their desire for an India independent of foreign domination—would turn to violence and terrorism. He was interested in establishing a dialogue with them with the hope of showing them that their approach was pragmatically inadequate and self-defeating and morally and spiritually indefensible. He attempted to show them that they were replicating the violent features of Modern Civilization that had enslaved India. In this sense, as I submitted in talks and publications, George Bush and Osama bin Laden were much more alike, oppositionally defining and reinforcing each other’s violent vision and approach, than either was to Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi would have made both of them very uncomfortable.
Second, and more significantly, Gandhi provided us with a post-9/11 way of broadening and deepening our understanding of and response to violence and terrorism. The explicit acts of 9/11 certainly illustrated direct, explicit, violent terrorism. But with Gandhi’s vision, methods, and analysis, I was able to broaden and deepen my approach to include the many other dimensions of violent terrorism and the structural violent terrorism of the status quo. Indeed, even our theory and approach to war should not be restricted to killing, injuring, and other direct, explicit violence. The fact that there may be a surfacial calm, peace, and nonviolence does not mean that an unjust situation is not violent and that violent forces are not at war. There are many economic, political, psychological, cultural, religious, and educational forces that express complex, often indirect, multidimensional and structural violence, and these express devastating ways of waging war that kill and destroy the lives of many millions of human beings.
With this broader and deeper conception of violence and terrorism, we could address corporate and other forms of economic terrorism, military terrorism, psychological and cultural terrorism, state and political terrorism, religious and educational terrorism, and so forth. We could talk about “normal” poverty and other humanly caused and hence avoidable suffering as involving the structural violence and terror of the unjust status quo. In Gandhian ways, we argued that massive U.S. violence after 9/11 trapped us in endless, causal, escalating cycles of violence, terror, and insecurity. We could talk about the need for real security, which went beyond protection against the violent acts of 9/11 and other individual terrorism, and meant raising consciousness about and resisting growing economic inequality, concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few, lack of well-paid meaningful work, lack of adequate affordable health care and education, and lack of the means for real self-determination of one’s life. And we could talk about how inaction, passivity, and acceptance of the status quo meant that one was complicit with and responsible for the relational world of this deepened and broadened conception of violence and terrorism. In short, an active commitment to swaraj is essential for real security from violence and terrorism.
During the past eight years, this has led to an evolving, post-9/11, peace and justice vision with many nonviolent methods. Starting in early October of 2001, we organized a weekly vigil by the Federal Building in Bangor, Maine, and this has continued every week for eight years. Peace and justice activists hold signs with such messages as “Honk for Peace,” “End the War in Iraq,” “Support the Troops, Bring Them Home,” “No War in Afghanistan,” and “Health Care, Not Warfare.” Some participants hold quotations from Gandhi. At first, in the violent and intolerant post-9/11 atmosphere, responses by motorists and others were mixed. Now they are overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
Especially remarkable have been our ACTs (Active Community Teach-ins), starting with one several months after 9/11 on “Real Security.” Political candidates and others were invited to listen to the testimony of representatives of diverse groups focusing on war and peace, human rights, workers’ rights, sexism, domestic violence, racism, homelessness, poverty, problems of veterans, environmental crises, etc., as to what real security would mean to them. These different presentations addressed the different dimensions and structures of violence and terror that are obstacles to real security. Recently, as evidenced during the economic meltdown, scandals, and widespread, suffering, we’ve noticed that some politicians and others with power have begun to talk about a broader conception of real security, violence, and terror (as in the terror of foreclosures and being evicted from your house or the terror of not being able to afford desperately needed health care).
A particularly moving event, organized several times, involved a solemn gathering in which participants for hours alternately read the names of individual dead Iraqi civilians and individual dead U.S. soldiers to mark the death and suffering of the Iraq War. After each name was read, we rang a Tibetan bell and made a mark on a very long banner that was finally covered with the death marks. While this was taking place below, small delegations visited the offices of our Congresspersons above, asking them to work to end the violence and terror the U.S. government, military, private contractors, and oil and other corporate interests had inflicted on Iraq.
As part of our daily lives, many of us attended meetings, did research, arranged speakers and movies and discussions, wrote letters and editorials, did extensive media work with the mainstream media as well as with our alternative media, organized rallies and marches, and organized acts and campaigns of noncooperation. In extreme cases, the latter involved some of us in well-planned and publicized acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.
Reminiscent of Gandhi’s struggle for communal harmony in South Africa and in India, we had to counter the post-911 anti-Muslim stereotypes (Muslims as terrorists), racism, and religious intolerance and violence. Working whenever possible with nonviolent, ethical, humanistic Muslims, we had to emphasize the need for tolerance and mutual respect in combating violence and terror. It was imperative to show that anti-Muslim stereotyping and violence were not exclusively or primarily “a Muslim problem.” They were primarily a problem for the majority who were not Muslim and either perpetuated the hatred and violence or, far more often, were decent human beings who remained silent and were thus complicit with and part of the problem.
As with Gandhi, we had successes but also failures confronting the diverse forms of religious violence. First, and most seriously, there are Christian and other religious forces, as well as nonreligious forces, that ideologically, politically, and religiously promote anti-Muslim feelings, policies, and actions. To them, Islam and its followers really are “the enemy.” This may take the form of a violent “clash of civilizations” or a violent religious vision with violent methods in which Muslims are viewed as sinful, evil, dangerous deniers of the religious truth.
Second, a minority of Muslims does believe in violent jihad and engages in acts of terrorism. Every time Al Qaeda or some other violent Islamic group engages in terrorism or issues a violent proclamation, there are those who will exploit this in promoting anti-Muslim feelings and policies and who will use this to justify their position that in our post-9/11 world only an overwhelmingly violent response can protect us.
Third, there are far more devout Muslims who have ethical principles, are not violent, and do not support terrorism. However, they do not share Gandhi’s vision or methods regarding their own religion and their relations with other religions. They are religiously very conservative, often taking a fundamentalist approach, and they believe that they have the absolute, exclusive truth. They do not agree with Gandhi that all religions are at their foundation the same, that different organized religions represent different relative paths to the truth, that all scriptures are imperfect, and that religions can learn from each other. Of course, these Muslims should not be victimized by anti-Muslim reactions and policies, and they have the right to feel safe and practice their religion. However, they often resist any Gandhian appeal to become involved with others in combating religious violence on the basis of, tolerance, mutual respect, and shared open-ended experiments with truth.
With regard to Mahatma Gandhi and his vision and methods in Hind Swaraj, I often had to counter a common stereotype: that the nonviolent Gandhi, whether you admire him or despise him, is completely separate from contemporary concerns about terrorism. In combating terrorism, Gandhi’s philosophy and methods are completely irrelevant, at best, or complicit and part of the problem, at worst, since he opposes the necessary violent means for dealing with terrorists. This was the same view taken by many Indians after the 26/11 Mumbai terrorism.
In terms of our antiwar, peace, and justice work, some of us have been able to show that the nonviolent Gandhi, in confronting diverse forms of violence and terror, is often highly nuanced, complex, flexible, and insightfully relevant. In some cases, he even writes of “killing as ahimsa” and the necessity for violent force as part of a relevant, relative, contextualized nonviolence. But in dealing with terrorism, we must always uphold Gandhi’s vision and ideals of nonviolence, so that the adoption of violent means is always a last resort, is the least violent option possible, is never moral, and is always tragic, should never be glorified, and is an indication of human failure. We should then take preventative means to transform the conditions that gave rise to such violence.
In such an approach, justified by Gandhi’s complex analysis, I have submitted that Gandhi would have favored active physical forceful intervention, even killing if necessary, to stop the 9/11 or 26/11 terrorists as they were about to slaughter so many innocent civilians. Such a Gandhi, countering the stereotype that he would simply, naively, and ineffectively always give the terrorists flowers or tell them to kill him, regardless of the intentions and circumstances and results, makes for a more complex and relevant Gandhi when dealing with violence, terrorism, and other contemporary issues.
This counters the common view, at first surprisingly shared by many devotees of the Mahatma as well as the most virulent anti-Gandhi critics, that he offers us some rigid absolute vision, philosophy, and theory of the truth; that he offers some absolute blueprint of ethical and spiritual reality that we then supposed to mechanically or deterministically apply. It’s as if Gandhi gave us some Gandhian recipe which, when simply and accurately applied, automatically produces a perfectly nonviolent meal. For some dogmatic Gandhians, who view the larger-than-life Mahatma as a saint and often produce hagiographies, the true Gandhi vision and approach means rejecting most of the modern world with its violent Modern Civilization, and this, in my view, renders such a Gandhi marginal, ineffective, and largely irrelevant when struggling with post-9/11 terrorism and other contemporary crises. Severe critics, also embracing such a conceptions of a rigid, dogmatic, Gandhi vision and method, agree that such a Gandhian blueprint rejects most of the modern world and is thus irrelevant for dealing with contemporary violence and terrorism, but not because Gandhi is too good for the world.
In my work on 9/11 and post-9/11 terrorism and other contemporary issues, I have maintained that this is a false interpretation of Gandhi, his vision, and his approach. It ignores the fact that Gandhi was always engaged in dynamic open-ended experiments with truth, in which he repeatedly learned from his failed experiments and often modified his analysis and application. It ignores the dialectical relational nature of Gandhi’s vision and methods in which he had absolute ideals but maintained that we live in an imperfect world moving from one relative truth to greater relative truth with only temporary glimpses of the absolute. It ignores that Gandhi, on the one hand, had little patience with abstract and detached theory that was not put into practice in ways that transformed our selves and our relations to others and to nature and led to greater swaraj; and, on the other hand, also rejected approaches that dismissed theory or vision and detached and glorified spontaneity, action, and practice without the need for rational analysis, deeper understanding, and hence informed practice. In short, such common approaches to Gandhi and his vision and methods misinterpret or ignore how Gandhi, while upholding his philosophy of truth and nonviolence, struggled with understanding and applying his ideals and values to actual contextualized practice. Such a nuanced, complex, imperfect, dynamic, presently relevant and future oriented Gandhi is indeed insightful and indispensable when dealing with post-9/11 terrorism and violence.
The growing strength and successes of our nonviolent response to 9/11 terrorism and the post-911 reactions of greater violence and terror were considerable and continue to this day. With little funds and limited access to and control of powerful modern technology, we had a profound influence on shaping public opinion in resisting the fear, insecurity, violence, and terror of Washington’s political, military, and big corporate policies. As I’ve tried to emphasize at various gatherings, the antiwar forces, with their resistance and alternative vision and approach, may not be given much credit by those with power. However, Barack Obama would not have been elected President without the post-9/11 seven years of daily meetings, letter writing, vigils, demonstrations, marches, and other actions that created the evolved context of an unpopular President Bush, an unpopular war, unpopular economic and political policies, the feeling that we were less secure, and a strong desire for dramatic change, cooperation, and diplomatic and other nonviolent means to resolve conflicts. As Gandhi stated in Hind Swaraj, all significant change always comes from a dedicated, concerned minority challenging the status quo.
Of course, our nonviolent responses to 9/11 and ensuing violence and terrorism also revealed limited successes and clear failures. Although there is a widespread feeling about the oppressive nature of concentrated corporate, state, and military power and a lack of what Gandhi meant by true swaraj, we do not have some unifying vision or philosophy and we do not have agreement on methods, objectives, and means-ends relations. There is little sense of a unified, disciplined, dedicated, transformative, nonviolent movement. There is a core of dedicated nonviolent activists, but most who identify with peace and nonviolence do not make this a center of their lives.
It is easy for most of those who have responded nonviolently to the 9/11 terrorism and the post-9/11 terrorism to become discouraged, passive, and cynical. This happened when the predictable U.S. bombing and invasion of Iraq took place in March 2003. Most who had worked hard to prevent the war felt that they had failed. This happens every time a terrorist action or proclamation by Al Qaeda or some other group is exploited by those with power to justify and further their violent and terrorist policies. This happens when those with some political and economic power verbally oppose the violent and terrorist polices of the structural status quo and then make their compromises or are funded by and support the powerful economic, political, and military interests. This primarily happens when individuals, often feeling alienated and insecure, attempt to resist or just think about resisting the policies of multi-billion dollar interests and structures of power. The problems of violence and terror are so great that such individuals feel impotent, hopeless, and discount as impossible engaging in a post-9/11 nonviolent movement with effective nonviolent methods.
This condition of alienation, passivity, and cynicism is exacerbated and reinforced by the fact that those with power use that power to define what is possible in relating to terrorism and other forms of violence. This leads not only to an impoverishment of the imagination, of what is truly possible, but also to a top-down system of rewarding acquiescence and punishing resistance.
Finally, this condition among most post-9/11 students and other antiwar activists that contributed to limited successes and some failures can be related to the fact that most of participants had directly experienced, alienation, suffering, and impotence in confronting dominant power structures, but they had not experienced the power of nonviolent activism. In many ways, they had experienced the power of love force, soul force, compassion, and selfless service in their personal lives, but they had not been socialized to experience how the dedicated, disciplined, dynamic process of nonviolent, antiwar, peace and justice activism can overcome the brute forces of violence and terror, be empowering, and transform alienation into a meaningful life.
Gandhi, of course, had little patience with such self-defeating reactions that perpetuate the violence and terrorism. Violence and terrorism in all of their forms could not continue without our acceptance and complicity. Even one individual can make a huge difference. And when individuals work together cooperatively and lovingly and truthfully, motivated by a shared nonviolent vision and disciplined nonviolent methods, they can make an even greater difference in working for swaraj free from violence, fear, and terror. It is such an approach that has limited our sense of failure and helped us to strengthen our commitment to nonviolent resistance and transformation.