Impact of Gandhiji's 'Non-Violence' on UN Agenda

Posted: 18.08.2007
Updated on: 15.02.2008

The UN General Assembly has unanimously adopted a resolution on June 15, 2007 to declare October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, as the International Day of Non-Violence in recognition of his role in promoting the message of ‘peace through non-violence’ around the world. Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of the Indian Nation, was a great political and spiritual leader, the pioneer of satyagraha, and the practitioner of non-violence. His life-style and approach of non-violence earned him the nickname ‘half-naked fakir’.

The UN resolution was in fact an effect of a suggestion made in an International Conference on “Peace, Non-Violence, and Empowerment: Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century”, held at New Delhi in January 2007. The UN resolution to honour ‘the apostle of humanity and peace’ was unanimously sponsored by all the major countries of the world and the subcontinent of India, including Great Britain against whom Gandhi successfully led an agitation through non-violent satyagraha for India’s independence. The resolution “stresses the need for non-violence, tolerance, full respect for human rights, fundamental freedom for all, democracy, development, mutual understanding and respect for diversity as reinforcement for peace and growth of mankind”.

The resolution is a reflection of the international community’s collective yearning for peace and the recognition of the relevance of Gandhi’s ideals and methods in today’s world which is confronted with violence, terrorism, intolerance, discrimination and exclusiveness.

In his statement, PM Manmohan Singh said that the universal relevance of Gandhiji’s message and gospel of non-violence “is more important today than ever before since nations across the world continue to grapple with the threat of conflict, violence and terrorism”. Gandhi himself stated: “Non violence is the rule of conduct for a society, if it is to live consistently with human dignity and make total progress towards the attainment of peace.” As observed, non-violence is not a value principle alone but a science based on the reality of mankind, society and polity.

Gandhiji derived the idea of non-violence from the principles Ahimsa Paramodharma’ and ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam’ which mean to earn complete freedom from ill-will, anger and hatred, and to nurture love for all. In this line, Gandhiji’s idea of ahimsa entails not just abstaining from all violence but embracing an enemy with love. Ahimsa is the largest love and the greatest charity that implies generally an act not only of not-killing but also abstaining from causing any pain or harm to another living being either by thought, word or deed. To practise ahimsa, one requires the qualities of deliberate self-suffering intended to awaken and convert the soul of the enemy and a harmless mind, mouth and hand; while its opposite himsa means causing injury and harm to others and hence it needs no reference or discussion.

Gandhiji has presented non-violence in a new form and shape before the world. The form of his non-violence is no escape or exile but resistance. He marched forward using non-violence as the best weapon to encounter immorality for morality, inhumanity for humanity and injustice for justice. His objective was to create a society based on the principle of non-violence, where alone man’s freedom would be safe and mankind would be free from repression and tyranny, whereby peaceful social life is ensured.

As practised by Gandhi, non-violence is a total philosophy of life, the realisation of which makes self-purification imperative. It is noted as ‘a bravery of the soul, a warfare of the ascetic and an adventure in love’. It is the moral weapon to replace the man-made weapon. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man. To him truth alone is the objective and hence he says: “Non-violence is truth and truth alone is non-violence.” He observed that since human beings have been created by God in his own image they are to be governed by reason, truth and love rather than by fear and violence. When one is rooted in truth, that very reason will lead him along the path of righteousness. One has to live, and be ready to die for the cause of truth, love, peace and righteousness. This is the essence of the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence.

Gandhiji wanted non-violence as the spirit of life and to fuse it in all social relations - familial, political, economic and educational. In his view, a person who is non-violent at home, with neighbours or in society but has no sympathy and respect towards others is not truly non-violent. It is the quality of non-violence that we love those who hate us, not merely loving those who love us. Man as animal is violent but in his humaneness is non-violent. The philosophy of Gandhian non-violence is a pre-requisite for the total development, including the personality, of a man. The application of non-violence is also relevant both in private and public spheres of life. In the economic field it means a decentralised village economy, in the political field it means a federation of autonomous village republics and in the international field it means avoidance of the use of force and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

The absence of violence brings eternal peace. Peace is visible when there is freedom, equality, justice, good governance, and the enjoyment of human rights. Between the two directions of peace - negative and positive - the former is the total absence of violence, that is, the state has a set of socio-political structures to put down violence and to provide security of life and property of the individual and the communities, while the latter places ‘global justice’ as the central concept of peace stressing on the full enjoyment of the entire range of human rights of all peoples and the sovereignty of nations. The concept non-violence is thus a universal phenomenon covering a wide area of social and political life. Further, its ultimate goal is the harmonious co-existence of all life forms in the universe.

THE Gandhian philosophy of non-violence is best reflected and enshrined in the purpose behind the formation of the United Nations Organisation. The primary concern of this world organisation, born on October 24, 1945, was to bring all nations under one roof to toil for peace and development, based on the principles of justice, human dignity and the well-being of all the people. The UN Charter opens with the following note:

We, the people of the United Nations, determined: to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war and to reaffirm faith in fundamentals human rights…. and for these ends

  1. To practise tolerance and live together in peace with one another as good neighbours;
  2. To unite our strength to maintain international peace and security and
  3. To ensure by the acceptance of principle that armed forces shall not be used….

Despite the fact that the UNO has a strong and broad perspective, it faces many limitations in materialising the objective of global peace, freeing the nations and the people from intolerable violence. However, it continues to play a stellar role in propagating the messages of non-violence and peace through measures like Conventions, Declarations, Treaties, Peace- building and Peace-making etc. The contemporary developments of terrorism, communalism, exclusiveness etc. are the major threats to all that the UN stands for till date such as maintaining world peace, extending the rule of law, respecting human rights, protecting weaker sections, tolerance among the people and nations. Yet the global people and the member-states have a strong faith in the UN bodies for their safety and security.

‘Preventive action’ or ‘Preventive diplomacy’ - the new techniques adopted by the UN General Assembly and member-states for preventing human beings from sufferings caused by violence - constitutes a breakthrough in the direction of peace-building in the Gandhian way. Preventive actions such as Preventive Deployment, Preventive Disarmaments, and Preventive Humanitarian Action are alternative ways to the costly politico-military operations. These measures are to be worked out and applied through the processes of good governance, peace building, protecting human rights and enhancing economic and social developments. In fact these peace techniques of the UN reflect the very spirit of the Gandhian thought of non-violence: tackling the enemy by love-force and soul-force.

In addition to the concrete action plans, the UN also makes efforts in evolving measures to counter violence, aimed at protection of the weaker sections of society such as women, children, minorities, physically disabled, migrants and Dalits and indigenous people. Physical violence, mental torture and violations of their basic rights are common features throughout the world. Consequently, the UN General Assembly was compelled to take corrective measures through Declarations and Conventions. The importance of such measures lies in their being almost identical with the Gandhian principles of non-violence. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was adopted in 1948, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination came into force in 1965, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women took shape in 1979 and the Declaration on the Elimination of all Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination based on Religion or Belief in 1981. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into being in 1984.

The UN General Assembly further went on adopting resolutions calling for popularising certain days as international days for peace, non-violence, tolerance, elimination of certain unhealthy practices etc. These are:

Global Family Day (formerly one day of Peace and Sharing)

January 1

United Nations Day for Women’s Right and International Peace

March 8

International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination

March 21

International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

May 29

International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression

June 4

International Day of Peace

September 21

International Day of Non-Violence

October 2

International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict

November 6

International Day for Mobilisation for the Fight against Terrorism, and Terrorist Movement in the World

November 9

International Day for Tolerance

November 16

International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women

November 25

No doubt, this is the right time when the UN has adopted a resolution to honour and popularise Gandhi and his gospel of ‘non-violence’ in order to counter the ever-growing global terrorism and the increasing violence and violations of rights against nations and the marginalised sections of society. Thanks to the UNO for taking this bold step even at the peak of violent destructions. Let the UNO launch a relentless struggle, a bloodless and fearless revolution against the growing violence worldwide, through this latest resolution to observe the International Day of Non-Violence in the name of the Father of the Indian Nation.

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