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Was this Gandhi’s worst decision? By George Paxton

Gandhi in the Boer War

Gandhi in the Boer War

2014 has been chosen by the British Government to commemorate the start of the Great War. The idea strikes me as very odd, unless its aim is to encourage a determined effort to avoid war in the future. But there is little sign of that in the everyday business of government. However the commemoration does give opponents of war the opportunity to present their different approaches and peace organisations are attempting to do that this year. [See www.noglory.org for some events planned]

But what about Gandhi and WWI ? Let’s start with Gandhi’s first experience of war, namely the Anglo-Boer War. Although critical of the treatment of Indians by the white South Africans, he believed at this stage in his development that the influence of the British Empire was generally benign. So, although sympathetic to the Boers, he offered to form an ambulance corps of Indian volunteers to serve in the British army. The corps was 1,100 strong and for 6 weeks it served in the battlefield removing the wounded to field hospitals. Gandhi also felt that this support would improve the standing of the Indians in the eyes of the British. In 1906 fighting broke out between Zulus and the British and this time Gandhi gathered a smaller corps to serve with the British under his command as a sergeant-major. The corps in fact helped to treat Zulus who had either been flogged as a punishment or were ‘friendlies’ who had been shot by mistake. In both cases Gandhi believed that as the SA Indians accepted the protection of the British Empire they should be prepared to defend it when it was under threat.

Leaving South Africa in 1914 for the last time Gandhi called in at London before returning to India but the European war broke out just two days before the ship reached port and so once more he felt called on to establish an ambulance unit, this time made up of Indians in Britain, including many students. Gandhi’s health was poor during his stay but the corps was able to give aid to wounded Indians when they started to arrive from the front although they were not given permission to go to France. In all three cases the Indians led by Gandhi were non-combatants but his actions were now criticised by some of his colleagues and friends. His close friends and colleagues Henry Polak and his wife Millie Graham Polak objected to this support for the war as being inconsistent with ahimsa. Olive Schreiner, the South African writer who knew Gandhi wrote to him saying that she had been “struck to the heart … with sorrow to see that you … had offered to serve the English government in this evil war in any way they might demand of you. Surely you, who would not take up arms even in the cause of your own oppressed people cannot be willing to shed blood in this wicked cause.” [Olive Schreiner by Ruth First and Ann Scott]

The issue of participation in war was to arise more dramatically when he was back in India. The war was not going well for the Allies early in 1918 and the Viceroy hoped to recruit more Indians for the war in Europe. For this purpose he convened a War Conference to which prominent Indians were invited. At first Gandhi thought of boycotting it but then decided to attend. He was persuaded to support recruitment. The argument put forward on the previous occasions still stood. Gandhi always greatly admired bravery – perhaps having been a timid child had something to do with that – and he perceived soldiers as displaying bravery. But he also thought that by supporting Britain now it could lead to the politicians taking a more generous attitude to Indian political aspirations after the war.

Gandhi then threw himself into a recruiting campaign in the Kheda district of Gujarat, significant because only a few months earlier he had launched an anti-tax campaign there. But the villagers could see more clearly than Gandhi. The contradiction in the votary of nonviolence recruiting for a war that had already led to the slaughter of tens of millions of human beings was clear to them and they refused to join up. Not only that but villagers did not greet Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel who accompanied him, nor feed them nor provide carts for the journey and so the recruiters often had to walk 20 miles a day. Gandhi now experienced non-cooperation used against himself. His actions were also once again opposed by friends and colleagues including C F Andrews.

The physical and mental strain on Gandhi led to a severe illness that was to last for months. It is clear that there was serious conflict in his mind and Erik Erikson the psychoanalyst attributes his physical collapse at least in part to a nervous breakdown at this time.

By the following year the war had ended but the Government had decided to pass the Rowlatt Acts which were perceived by Indians as oppressive, the very opposite of what Gandhi had expected following his support for the Government. So he launched the first all-India satyagraha and when a peaceful crowd in Amritsar were massacred by the Army his hope for a generous attitude by the Government was finally shattered.

Over the next decade or so Gandhi’s past attitude to war continued to puzzle Western pacifists and some like the noted Dutch pacifist Bart de Ligt and the Russian Vladimir Tchertkov, Tolstoy’s former secretary, argued with him through correspondence. Gandhi gave the reasons for his participation that he had given at the time, reasons that did not satisfy his correspondents. However Gandhi spoke and wrote increasingly strongly against war during the rest of his life. There was still occasional room for confusion over his positions as, although he would not participate in war himself, he knew that most people did not share his belief in nonviolence and so he believed there were circumstances when such people should fight. On the other hand in the 1930s and 40s he advocated only nonviolent resistance against the forces of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. As on other issues Gandhi could be inconsistent, or at least apparently so. But certainly he believed that satyagraha was universally applicable and that was the direction in which humankind should move and ultimately war should be completely replaced by nonviolent action and the willingness to suffer rather than kill.

Below are some quotations from Gandhi which reveal something of his evolving views over the last 30 years of his life, although this did not follow a straight unwavering line but rather a clear direction.

I hear and read many charges of inconsistency about myself.
…. Not only did I offer my services at the time of the Zulu revolt but before that, at the time of the Boer War, and not only did I raise recruits in India during the late war, but I raised an ambulance corps in 1914 in London. If, therefore, I have sinned the cup of my sins is full to the brim. I lost no occasion of serving the Government at all times. Two questions presented themselves to me during all those crises. What was my duty as a citizen of the Empire as I then believed myself to be, and what was my duty as an out-and-out believer in the religion of Ahimsa – nonviolence?
… Under Swaraj of my dream there is no necessity for arms at all. But I do not expect that dream to materialise in its fulness as a result of the present effort. Young India 17/11/1921

I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest causes. Young India 11/12/1924

I should be against compulsory military training in every case and even under a national Government. Young India 24/9/1925

I do justify entire nonviolence, and consider it possible in relation between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not “a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness”. On the contrary, the nonviolence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. Young India 8/10/1925

By enlisting men for ambulance work in South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong as it is today; and I could not then have, and would not have, shouldered a rifle. Young India 5/11/1925

…. But that still does not solve the riddle. If there was a national Government, whilst I should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or society nonviolent by compulsion.
… But the light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through truth and nonviolence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act nonviolence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form. Young India 13/9/1928

I would not yield to anyone in my detestation of war. Young India 7/2/1929

Czechoslovakia has a lesson for me and us in India. The Czechs could not have done anything else when they found themselves deserted by their two powerful allies. And yet I have the hardihood to say that, if they had known the use of nonviolence as a weapon for the defence of national honour, they would have faced the whole might of Germany with that of Italy thrown in. They would have spared England and France the humiliation of suing for a peace which was no peace; and to save their honour they would have died to a man without shedding the blood of the robber. I must refuse to think that such heroism, or call it restraint, is beyond human nature. Human nature will only find itself when it fully realises that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal. Harijan 8/10/1938

I do not think that the sufferings of Pastor Niemoeller and others have been in vain. They have preserved their self-respect intact. They have proved that their faith was equal to any suffering. That they have not proved sufficient for melting Herr Hitler’s heart merely shows that it is made of harder stuff than stone. But the hardest metal yields to sufficient heat. Even so must the hardest heart melt before sufficiency of the heat of nonviolence. And there is no limit to the capacity of nonviolence to generate heat.
… Herr Hitler is but one man enjoying no more than the average span of life. He would be a spent force, if he had not the backing of his people. I do not despair of his responding to human suffering even though caused by him. But I must refuse to believe that the Germans as a nation have no heart or markedly less than the other nations of the earth. They will some day or other rebel against their own adored hero. If he does not wake up betimes. And when he or they do, we shall find that the sufferings of the Pastor and his fellow-workers had not a little to do with the awakening. Harijan 7/1/1939

My personal reaction towards this war is one of greater horror than ever before. I was not so disconsolate before as I am today. But the greater horror would prevent me today from becoming the self-appointed recruiting sergeant that I had become during the last war. Harijan 30/9/1939

As against this imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: “You need not make your scientific preparation for destruction. We will meet your violence with nonviolence. You will, therefore be able to destroy our nonviolent army without tanks, battle ships and airships”. It may be retorted that the only difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he gained after a bloody fight. Exactly. The history of Europe would then have been written differently. Possession might (but only might) have been then taken under nonviolent resistance., as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold barbarities. Under nonviolence only those would have been killed who had trained themselves to be killed, if need be, but without killing anyone and without bearing malice towards anybody. I dare say that in that case Europe would have added several inches to its moral stature. And in the end I expect it is the moral worth that will count. All else is dross. Harijan 22/6/1940

Japan is knocking at our gates. What are we to do in a nonviolent way ? If we were a free country, things could be done nonviolently to prevent the Japanese from entering the country. As it is, nonviolent resistance could commence the moment they effected a landing. Thus nonviolent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone to steal their country. But if a Japanese has missed his way and was dying of thirst and sought help as a human being, a nonviolent resister, who may not regard anyone as his enemy, would give water to the thirsty one. Suppose the Japanese compel resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance. It is conceivable that they will exterminate all resisters. The underlying belief in such nonviolent resistance is that the aggressor will, in time, be mentally and even physically tired of killing nonviolent resisters. He will begin to search what this new (for him) force is which refuses co-operation without seeking to hurt, and will probably desist from further slaughter. But the resisters may find that the Japanese are utterly heartless and that they do not care how many they kill. The nonviolent resisters will have won the day inasmuch as they will have preferred extermination to submission. Harijan 12/4/1942

George Paxton is a Trustee of the Gandhi Foundation, Editor of the Gandhi Way and an author of several books on Gandhi.

The London Pacifism and Nonviolence Discussion Group

 

london pacifismThe London Pacifism and Nonviolence Discussion Group met recently to discuss Personal Motivations for Pacifism. Future meetings include:

Tuesday 9th September to discuss Nonviolence and Identity

Your thoughts on these topics are welcome, in advance and (especially) on the day.

The group meets on the second Tuesday each month, at 7pm (until around 9pm)
at Housmans Bookshop, 5 Caledonian Road, Kings Cross, London N1.
Nearest tube: Kings Cross

Please try to arrive promptly by 7pm.

Everyone with an interest in pacifism and nonviolence is welcome.

Future discussions include:

Tuesday 14th October to discuss Gandhi and Nonviolence.

For more information about the meetings: http://londonpacifismnonviolence.wordpress.com

London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence – a view of the last discussion by Robert Fisher

London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence

The London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence met recently to discuss The Current condition of Women, Feminism and Gandhi. This is a forum to discuss Gandhi and the relevance of his ideals, especially nonviolence, in the contemporary world. Anyone who has an opinion on the subject or has read about Gandhi and wants to share their thoughts is welcome to join. Details of the next discussion forum will be posted on the Gandhi Foundation website, Facebook and Twitter.

GF London Discussion Forum

I came away from this meeting with a number of thoughts on the subject of violence against women which I have set out below in context with some other factors I see at play in this rather complex area and the environment in which we live. That is not to say violence in any form against women is acceptable.

In order for me to put things into perspective I would prefer to adopt a gender-neutral approach to the subject and consider violence against the person rather than against a man or a woman, albeit in the subject of the rape of women, this is a particularly disturbing crime.

The thing that became very apparent to me, were the economic factors in the equation and in particular the commodification of both men and women in an economic system that places a monitory value on all things, dependent on the various attributes that are assigned to it (him or her). “Conflict minerals” and the rape of women to secure control over mined resources and images of very attractive women being used by corporate institutions to enhance & market their particular brand of electronic device, derived from these same Conflict minerals.

I hope & believe these electronic devices will eventually help protect vulnerable communities and individuals everywhere from all types of harm and particularly the types atrocities we see happening in the Congo now & in other places around the world, which will I hope eventually pass.

I also recall the comment made by the (academic) whose name I do not recall, who sat next to me at meetup and who stated that corruption was endemic throughout Indian society.

Corruption being the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.

In a competitive open market economy the incentive for those in power to maintain unfair advantage over those under their control can only exist for a limited period of time, especially in a world where all are connected by a computer device of one sort or another.

The empowerment of all strata of humanity being achieved through online learning and education is just one factor to consider in this connected global society.

It is the responsibility of the strong & powerful to help protect the weak and vulnerable in society and in this respect I see the all-pervasive concept of mutual self-interest being of fundamental importance.

Further to the subject of the rape of women, it is important that our criminal justice system is fit for purpose in dealing with these matters and from what I heard at meetup, it is not. As I have already mentioned I am working with others to develop a number of legal and financial services, which will help address some of the issues raised above but for the time being I must bide my time.

You work in compliance and you will know the incidents of bribery and corruption within banking and other corporate sectors around the globe. Others who sat at the table at meetup had many of the skills and knowledge necessary to help develop some of the systems needed to address these challenges.

 By Robert Fisher

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.

Susan Denton-Brown

Susan Denton-Brown

Susan Denton-Brown

Susan Denton-Brown who was Chairperson of the Gandhi Foundation in 2009 sadly died on 28 January 2014.
Her career was teaching Religious Studies in schools. From 2010 she was Chair of the British Friends of Neve Shalom Wahatal Salam (http:/www.oasisofpeaceuk.org), a village where Arabs and Jews live together peacefully and the children are educated in both languages.

Current Chair of the Gandhi Foundation, Mark Hoda, recalls her work preparing a pack on Gandhi for use in schools:

Susan was rightly very proud of this piece of work, which she researched and wrote at Oxford University, through a Farmington Fellowship. Susan also worked with my father and Father Joe Collela to roll out “Dealing With Conflict” teaching packs based on her work with the Neve Shalon project to all schools in this country.

My personal memories of Susan will be that she worked tirelessly and passionately to teach children about nonviolent conflict resolution through both her career and her voluntary work. She was a selfless person with a huge, warm heart, and her hospitality was unrivalled!

Trudy Lewis, friend of Susan, Gandhi Foundation member and one of the organisers of the Summer Gathering said:

There are many adjectives I could use to describe Susan – capable, fiercely intelligent, loving, spiritually deep, a force to be reckoned with and, in essence, an immensely gifted human being.

For information about the teaching resources that Susan created:

A free educational resource pack on Gandhi, designed for school teachers (UK KS3&4), is available in the form of an Adobe PDF file by emailing farmington@hmc.ox.ac.uk and quoting ref. TT186 or click here. Written by Susan, previous Chair of The Gandhi Foundation executive committee, and previously Head of Religious Studies at Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, the resource pack includes six modules which focus on the following aspects of Gandhi’s life and work:

1. Identity
2. Non-violent protest
3. Conflict transformation and mediation
4. Equity in community
5. Environmental issues
6. Exploring spirituality

Each module suggests relevant clips from the movie Gandhi by Richard Attenborough, and then presents a series of exercises for groups and the whole class.

Susan also worked with Mark Hoda’s father, Surur Hoda and Father Joe Collela to roll out “Dealing With Conflict” teaching packs based on her work with the Neve Shalon project to all schools in this country – www.history.org.uk/resources/secondary_news_168.html

 

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

Jeremy Corbyn with The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

Jeremy Corbyn with The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award 2013

The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award for 2013 was awarded to Jeremy Corbyn, MP Islington North on 26th November 2013 at Portcullis House.

Thank you to all who attended

You can read Jeremy Corbyn’s speech by clicking here
You can also view photographs of the event by scrolling down the right hand column of our homepage to reach the Photo Gallery

The Trustees of The Gandhi Foundation agreed to offer him our International Peace Award in recognition of his consistent efforts over a 30 year Parliamentary career to uphold the Gandhian values of social justice and non‐violence. Besides being a popular and hard‐working constituency MP he has made time to speak and write extensively in support of human rights at home and world‐wide. His committed opposition to neocolonial wars and to nuclear weapons has repeatedly shown the lack of truth in the arguments of those who have opposed him.

http://www.jeremycorbyn.org.uk/

http://www.stopwar.org.uk/

Religions for Peace Youth Network’s seminar on Nuclear Disarmament in Vienna

Group photos of attendees at  the seminar

Attendees at the seminar

Leaders of 25 youth faith organizations– Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Zoroastrian – from all over Europe, member organizations of European Interfaith Youth Network, met in Vienna at the end of November for three days of interfaith youth summit and training on humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons. Young religious and interfaith leaders pledged multi-religious cooperation for nuclear disarmament.

The Gandhi Foundation supported this event.

To read the report from the seminar click on the link:  Report from EIYN Training Vienna

Father Alec Reid – 2008 Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award recipient

Father Alec Reid

Father Alec Reid

Sadly Father Alec Reid, who received The Gandhi Foundation International Peace Award in 2008 along with Rev. Harold Good, died on 22nd November 2013 aged 82 years. His role in the disarmament process in Northern Ireland, the victory of non-violence over violence, and the bringing together of the Catholic and Protestant communities with Rev. Harold Good were significant milestones on the road to peace. You can read an account of the 2008 award and speeches by clicking:

http://gandhifoundation.org/2008/10/30/2008-peace-award-annual-lecture-harold-good-alec-reid/

The Daily Telegraph obituary can be read here:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/obituaries/10468267/Father-Alec-Reid-Obituary.html

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