October begins with Gandhi Jayanthi, the birthday of the Father of the Nation, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi more popularly revered globally as Mahatma Gandhi. He was called the Mahatma – the great soul – for the principles by which he lived his life and shaped the freedom movement of India .
One such principle, rather tool, that he introduced in India’s struggle for freedom was Ahimsa, which not only proved successful for India but also inspired freedom struggles around the world. It is a wonder how Ahimsa or non violence could secure India freedom from the colonial rule of the British!
The British Empire was the most powerful force of the world in the 1920s and 1930s. So wide spread was its powerful reach that the British had the arrogance to state, “The Sun never sets in the British Empire.”
By 1950s all this changed drastically when India started using Ahimsa as a powerful tool to unseat the British power. All the strength and power of the British, were no match for the joint will of the people of India. The mightiest power of the world started losing one colony after another.
Himsa / hinsa means “to hurt others willfully, physically and mentally”. The English word “heinous” seems to have its etymological roots in the word hinsa / himsa. Ahimsa means “to not hurt others willfully, physically and mentally.” Ahimsa, the thought of not to hurt any other creature, is innate to the Indian civilization. Mahatma Gandhi started and inspired the use of Ahimsa as a tool to fight colonialism in several countries in 1930s and 1940s.
The beacon in the field of science in the 20th and 21st century, by far was Albert Einstein. Similarly, the beacon for promoting a humanitarian approach to justice and freedom could well be Mahatma Gandhi.
The statues built worldwide in the honour of Mahatma Gandhi are a standing testimony to the popularity and acceptability of his views and practices rooted in ahimsa or non-violence. One can see Mahatma Gandhi statues from Canada, in the North West of the world map to New Zealand in the South East.
The non-violent struggle started and shaped by Gandhi ji inspired many countries to follow suit.
Solidarity Movement, Poland
The fight against communism in Poland was fought on the principle of Non Violence and Ahimsa by the Solidarity Movement led by Lech Walesa.
Communism had its vice grip on half of the world then. After leading Poland through a non violent struggle against communism, Lech Walesa led the reconstruction of a non communist Poland. This Solidarity movement led to the fast demise of communism in Eastern Europe over the next decade. Lech Walesa received Noble Peace Prize for having led a peaceful movement during turbulent times.
Ruminating on the movement, Lech Walesa said, “Only non-violence can lead the world to a new world of lasting peace and enduring friendship.” Lech Walesa, a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi further went on to say, “We didn’t succeed when we tried to fight with arms, but we won when we adopted non-violence. I am a disciple of Mahatma Gandhi.” “Truly the whole world should be a disciple of Gandhi.”
Non Co-operation in South Africa
Mahatma Gandhi as a young barrister at law in 1920s had questioned the despicable apartheid system prevailing in South Africa. He launched his non-cooperation movement, the path of Satyagraha and the torch of protests lit by him in South Africa was carried forward by. Nelson Mandela. Mandela was incarcerated in jail for 27 years. Under his leadership based on the absolute faith in the the soft power of Ahimsa as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, apartheid was successfully ousted from South Africa.
Martin Luther King in America
In 1960s, Martin Luther King Junior led the Afro-Americans of America to freedom from slavery, both in deed and in thought, to a period of equality for one and all. He has shared that the Ahimsa principle of Mahatma Gandhi inspired him to take the non violent route to struggle for justice.
Rev. Jesse Jackson, an American Civil Rights activist while delivering the Gandhi Memorial Lecture in 2008 said,
“Dr King and Gandhi were drum majors and dreamers
who marched to a different beat, and heard a different sound.
Dreamers most often are change agents, sometimes called misfits.
Dreamers are politicians with a new vision,
a new capacity to connect with exquisite timing.
They are the stuff of which change is made.
This master teacher and the master student–Gandhi and King —
they changed the world in life,
and even more powerfully in death.”
John Lewis, Congressman of Georgia, USA, while referring to Dr. King says, “Dr. King picked up Gandhi’s teaching and message. And if it hadn’t been for this message, America would have probably been more like South Africa, Lebanon, Northern Ireland. It would probably have been a much more divided nation.”
Antiquity of Ahimsa
While people immediately associate Ahimsa, non violence with Mahatma Gandhi, Gandhi ji in his autobiography, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth”, says “There is nothing new about ahimsa. It is as old as the hills.”
The concept of Ahimsa finds a mention in the Vedas, Sastras, Smritis, Bhagvad Gita, Srimad Bhagavatam and many ancient texts in indigenous Indian languages.
Atharva Veda defines Ahimsa as, “Ahimsa is not causing pain to any living being at any time through the actions of one’s mind, speech or body.”
Ahimsa is mentioned as the foremost Dharma, knowledge and penance in the great epic Mahabharatha.
In people’s minds, Mahabharatha immediately conjures up thoughts of the mighty Kurukshetra War. We find that even in a scenario of imminent battle, the value of Ahimsa is extolled in Shanthi Parva, the chapter on peace in Mahabharata.
Ahimsa, a difficult path to tread
While the idea of Ahimsa is noble, by no stretch of imagination is it an easy path to tread. Mahatma Gandhi in his own words says,
Recurrent effectiveness of Ahimsa
The power of Ahimsa has had recurrent and positive impact right through the ages not only in India but across the globe and shall continue to be so in whenever the hand of oppression rises.
– D.K.Hari and D.K.Hema Hari, Founders, Bharath Gyan