Addressing the Present Conflict in India with Intellectual Satyagraha, by Dr. Felix Padel

India, the country synonymous with Gandhi and his concept of Satyagraha or non-violent resistance, is increasingly descending into a state of violent chaos. In addition to periodic cycles of sectarian violence, and armed conflict in the border states in the country’s northeast and northwest, large areas in the ‘tribal belt’ of central India have descended into an escalating civil war, with devastating attacks on villages by militias and security forces and reciprocal attacks by Maoists against agents of state power. There is an urgent need to depolarize the situation and draw back from this cycle of violence.

The cause of conflict lies in deep-rooted patterns of exploitation of India’s Adivasis (indigenous or tribal people). The signing of hundreds of new deals for mining projects around 2005 rapidly increased the exploitation as well as the process of dispossessing tribal communities of their land and resources. Some police experts admit that repeated failures to bring uniformed perpetrators of atrocities to justice are a main cause of tribal recruitment to the Maoist cause. But Maoist ideology is as ruthless in sacrificing lives to achieve set aims as state forces and mining companies are, and every killing of policemen invites mass retaliation on innocent villagers.

Everywhere, Adivasis are fighting a battle against huge odds to protect the natural environment where they have always lived, and do all they can to hang on to their homeland. Generally, their movements are characterized by meticulous non-violence. But when violent repression is unleashed to suppress these movements, a point comes when people despair of legal means, and heed the Maoists’ call to arms.

So among the first prerequisites for peace, is a far wider recognition of India’s indigenous movements, driven by the same ‘village India’ consciousness that inspired Gandhi. Alongside this is a need to recognize that the corporate takeovers, though promoted by local agents, are generally driven by foreign investment masterminded from the world’s capital cities and biggest banks. A recent example, where this consciousness caught fire worldwide and stopped a massive mining project in its tracks, is the successful resistance by Dongria Kond Adivasis against the UK-registered company Vedanta, whose plans to mine bauxite from the summit of a superbly forested sacred mountain, have been stopped after a seven year campaign. Remote Dongria villages in the Niyamgiri range were invaded, and Adivasi leaders harassed, abducted and murdered – a pattern replicated in hundreds of other areas, without the international coverage that helped save Niyamgiri.

It is often said that India has some of the best laws of any country, but that implementation is generally poor. The saving of Niyamgiri reverses this trend. But to stop the slide towards civil war, something else is needed. Villagers need to know they can get justice when atrocities are committed against them, by either side. The ideology of violence and the polarization in ideology need to be defused. This may not happen overnight. The Niyamgiri issue has brought a simmering debate to the foreground between those who believe in rapid growth based on a huge increase in mining the minerals in the mountains, and those who say that the effects of mining and metal factories are already dire on India’s environment and village communities. How can the millions of people already displaced be properly compensated? How can wealth be shared more fairly?

Moves for peace are already in place, via the widely respected grassroots campaigner Swami Agnivesh. Over a week from August to September 2010, India was gripped by a hostage crisis after a major gun battle between police and Maoists left many dead and wounded, with four policemen taken hostage. One was killed when initial demands were not met, the other three released unharmed. These events were said to be in revenge for the killing of the Maoist leader Azad on 2nd July, just as he was apparently trying to negotiate for peace through Agnivesh. Any peace process has to come to terms with this chequered history. There were indications that Azad was tortured and killed in cold blood by security forces, in a ‘false encounter’ that also killed a journalist, so Maoists and Agnivesh are calling for an enquiry into these deaths as a step towards a new peace deal.

How would the Mahatma have tackled this challenge? One answer lies in a new application of Gandhi’s philosophy developed by the Jharkhand activist Bulu Imam in his campaign to save the Karanpura Valley from opencast coal mining. This approach, known as “Intellectual Satyagraha”, aims to influence those in positions of power by appealing to their sense of reason.

The target of this new Satyagraha must now be violence itself, appealing to all sides to refrain from violence and intimidation – leaders of industry, Maoist leaders, and also those in positions of power in state and national government alike. This Satyagraha of the Mind, using modern communication tools such as email and fax that did not exist when the Mahatma was alive, will see the citizens of India and the world challenge anyone who takes up weapons in the pursuit of their aims. The combined intellectual and moral wealth of the world will be available for Intellectual Satyagraha and neither corporate leaders, political leaders, nor the leaders of protest or revolutionary movements, will be able to easily get away with murder any longer.

In this way lies the best hope for India to become the beacon of freedom, democracy and tolerance that Gandhi intended it to be. The Gandhi Foundation asks you to join this campaign. Please sign our petition aimed at Maoist, industry and government leaders. Also, help in the spread of the Intellectual Satyagraha movement by starting local campaigns against those who use violence to further their aims.

Gandhi in London

The story of Mahatma Gandhi is inter-woven with the story of London. His three years as a law student at the Inner Temple (1888-1891) were pivotal in shaping his philosophy.  During this time he also learnt to ballroom dance, became an advocate of vegetarianism, immersed himself in key spiritual texts and developed a passion for Equity Law.

TARA evokes Gandhi’s life in London in the spectacular rotunda of the Temple Church with a company of actors, musicians and dancers. The performance on 2 October, Gandhi’s Birthday, marks the launch of the Gandhi Inner Temple Association.

TARA produces global theatre for local audiences. Positioned between East and West, TARA has pioneered cross-cultural theatre for over three decades. In 2009 the company co-produced Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album with the National Theatre.

Performances of Gandhi in London, October 2010:

2 Oct 6:15pm (Gandhi’s birthday)
5 Oct 6:45pm

Tickets £10
The Temple Church
London, EC4Y 7HL

Book tickets:
020 8333 4457 / tara-arts.com

Tibet: The Gandhi Way – by Anupma Kaushik

Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Tibetan Prime Minister in exile

Tibet represents one of the unresolved problems of the world. On the one hand are the Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama who claim that Tibet was an independent country which was annexed by a stronger neighbour, i.e. China. They also claim that their efforts for finding a solution through peaceful negotiations are not reciprocated by China. They fear that China is pursuing the policy of total assimilation of the Tibetan people and their culture ruthlessly suppressing any opposition and waiting for the demise of the Dalai Lama. They also claim that the Autonomous Tibetan Region (TAR) in China does not enjoy any real autonomy. The Chinese on the other hand claim that Tibet has always been an integral part of China and TAR enjoys real autonomy and the Tibetan people have been benefiting from modern education and economic development since 1950. Any resistance to Chinese authority by Tibetans is termed by Chinese as a revolt by traditional forces.

The strategy of the Tibetans led by the Dalai Lama so far has been to pressurize the Chinese government through the international community to respect human rights of Tibetans and to negotiate with the Dalai Lama on granting meaningful autonomy to TAR. This strategy has failed to produce any positive results. So the question is: how can the Chinese side be persuaded to negotiate a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution which in this case is achievement of meaningful territorial autonomy ? Can China be convinced that a peaceful and mutually acceptable solution will earn it legitimacy and respect in the world? This is highly unlikely. Can the issue be left to the future with the hope that by some chance China may turn into a democratic country and the new democratic leadership will realize that a peaceful approach is the best way forward to the solution of the problem. This too is quite unlikely.

The Tibetan leadership claims that they are pursuing a nonviolent struggle to gain meaningful autonomy but their efforts are clearly not bearing the desired results. Can the Gandhian method show the way forward? The question then is what would Gandhi have done in such a scenario. Truth and nonviolence were the main planks of Gandhi’s method. A person who resolves to adhere to truth cannot remain silent at the sight of violence and injustice. While the lover of truth ought to oppose violence and injustice such an opposition would mean ‘fight the evil’ but ‘love the evil doer’. The lovers of truth or satyagrahis will base their actions on self-suffering using soul force.

What form would it take? What steps can satyagrahis take? Can Tibetan satyagrahis and their friends resort to a boycott of Chinese goods? Will that persuade China to rethink the whole issue or should the Tibetan satyagrahis and their friends try and convince the whole world that only a total boycott of Chinese goods by the whole world can persuade China to rethink the whole issue. But the big question is: will the world listen to satyagrahis? It seems to be a very difficult task taking into consideration the popularity of cheap Chinese products; the large size of the Chinese market; the economic strength of China; the ruthlessness of the Chinese regime and selfishness of human beings and governments.

However, almost the same scenario existed in pre-independence India. When Gandhi talked about these tactics he was ridiculed and criticized by Indians themselves. People doubted his methods and were convinced that they cannot work. However Gandhi walked his talk. He led by example and lived his talk through simple life style; his readiness to face police batons; endure imprisonment and hardships and even face death for his conviction. This inspired a whole nation; people started using Indian goods instead of cheap foreign goods; joined the protest marches; left their jobs and studies; went to jail and even courted death. This included men as well as women; young as well as old; rich as well as poor; urban as well as rural people; and educated as well as illiterate. This inspired Martin Luther King Jr in USA and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. Can it also inspire the Tibetan leadership to engage in satyagraha with single mindedness and then ask their followers and friends inside and outside Tibet to follow.

In the Tibetan case this is the most feasible method as the Gandhian method does not aim at defeating the opponent but forging unity out of division. This is very important as Tibetans will have to live with the Chinese even after they have achieved their aim. The issue then is whether the Tibetans are ready to put their heart and soul in their cause. Are they ready to make the sacrifice and then convince the world to make the smaller sacrifice?

Dr. Anupma Kaushik is a Reader at Banasthali University, Rajasthan, India. She worked for three and half years at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarnath.

Satyagraha Of The Mind – by Bulu Imam

What is Intellectual Satyagraha?

The Satyagraha of the Mind is where the war for truth is sought to be settled in the mind of the aggrieved even before a chance for confrontation arises. Confrontation is where violence, including non-physical violence such as verbal abuse and threats, begins at some point owing to the power of the injustice that must be challenged. Intellectual Satyagraha is a principle of introspection that attempts to pre-empt the confrontational stage altogether with a powerful enough argument to cause realization of error in the offending party. If, however, the offending party refuses to accept its mistake then the argument has to be taken to another arbiter. Thus this type of Satyagraha is totally devoid of violence in any form.

What are the advantages of Intellectual Satyagraha for the present time?

In an age of advanced information and communication, Intellectual Satyagraha may be practiced by millions for any important cause by gathering information and writing to the authorities, and by publishing and disseminating information. The advantage of Intellectual Satyagraha is that it does not provoke the enemy as Physical Satyagraha does. It obviates the need for a violent response such as we saw with the British. Whenever Gandhi performed Satyagraha it meant tremendous tension for the British as well as the Satyagrahis.

What are the roots of Satyagraha in India?

India’s modern society is based  on the western industrial model, and our history and culture taught in schoolrooms is of an industrialized modern nation, with its great achievements in science and philosophy seen from a western stand-point. It is divergent from the historical facts of rural and tribal India, the histories of the untold masses who have toiled and developed themselves in the face of outside attacks, those who have over millennia saved India’s real sovereignty, her cultural identity, her national pride. This India is quite forgotten by the history books (except for epics such as the Ramayana).

The superiority of the western model in which we have indulged is notional and is based on industrial economics and consumerism, the market and its fads and fancies. It does not know of India’s greatest achievements, its various forms of yoga and self realization, its holistic dynamics as a spiritual nation. This side of India we are eager to veil and to destroy lest it upset the market. Gandhi stood for non-violence, which is an expression of this essential spiritual state of India, the nation we have called Mother. He understood this pulse in the people despite their sudden spurts of violence against injustice such as the tribal revolts of the nineteenth century. Gandhi understood the Indian genius for non-violence and it was this which won India’s freedom from British dominance over us for nearly three centuries. He turned physical violence into spiritual physical resistance through Satyagraha.

The violence we see today against law enforcement in India is precisely because the law is unjust and violence rises against injustice. It needs to be channeled into a form of peaceful resistance, and physical resistance even though non-violent is questionable as a technique today against injustice and torture. This is why what is required is the Satyagraha of the Mind. The human spirit ever rebels against injustice and this is a sign of a healthy society. It has to find the correct manner of resistance. It needs a new Gandhian channel, one that will expose the immorality of the corporate take-over of the lands from the nation’s poorest, most defenceless people with the assistance of the government.

What happens if Intellectual Satyagraha does not immediately succeed?

At some point, if the offender does not relent, an outside force must be appealed to but the flame of the campaign for justice must be kept alive from within and for this numerous Satyagrahis may be required. A single person may lead but a single person may not be physically able to fight on all fronts and that is why the greater the number of Satyagrahis the better.

Are there recent examples of Intellectual Satyagraha in India?

Intellectual Satyagraha targets decision-makers behind the scenes, even in far-off countries. One recent example is the campaign by the Adivasis of the Dongria Kondh against Vedanta over the mining of the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa, which brought pressure to bear on the company’s offices in England. I have also myself practiced Intellectual Satyagraha for 23 years against the opencast coal mining of the Upper Damodar Valley in Jharkhand State, and have seen significant successes including mandatory recognition and protection both of wildlife corridors for protected animals such as tiger and elephant, and also of archaeological sites, being required before permission for mining is given. Other successes include the cancellation of a large World Bank loan to Coal India in 2000, and the recent Ministry of Environment decision not to issue coal mining leases in heavily forested areas.

Bulu Imam is the Convener of the Hazaribagh, Jharkhand Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH). He can be reached at:

Email: rch_buluimam@bsnl.in

Website: http://sinclairenvironmental.com/sanskriti/sanskriti.htm

Campaign: http://www.karanpuracampaign.com

Major Victory for Dongria Kondh Adivasis Against Vedanta’s Mining Plans

Adivasi woman from the Kutia Kondh tribal group in Orissa

Jairam Ramesh, India’s Minister for Environment and Forests, has handed a major victory to campaigners working to protect the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa from planned bauxite mining by the British-registered company Vedanta. Activists in the region had faced violence and intimidation from police and armed gangs. The campaign, using which included Intellectual Satyagraha type methods supported by Amnesty International and Survival International, was entirely non-violent.

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