Tag Archives: satyagraha

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.

When Chaplin Met Gandhi educational workshop at Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry School for Girls invited Jim Kenworth to run a When Chaplin Met Gandhi drama workshop at their prestigious Mulberry Youth Conference recently.

Over a decade ago, a group of students concerned about growing tensions around the world and in Britain following September 11th, launched our Youth Conference. The conference has gained a reputation for its challenging discussion and powerful speakers through which students consider the means of becoming active in their communities. We have received the Philip Lawrence Award for excellence in citizenship and a prize in the highly commended category in the Anne Frank Awards. This year’s topic was ‘The Power of Voice’. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, and Lucy-Anne Holmes, founder of the No More Page 3 campaign, were confirmed as speakers.

For more information visit: http://www.mulyouth.org/

The play When Gandhi Met Chaplin by Jim Kenworth was performed in Kingsley Hall (where Gandhi stayed in 1931) and other venues in East London in 2012. The participants were both professional actors and young people from schools in the East End of London. An Education Resource Pack inspired by the meeting of the two famous figures has been produced by Jim Kenworth and the Royal Docks Trust, with some help from the Gandhi Foundation.

You can read more details and access further resources by clicking: http://gandhifoundation.org/2013/11/04/when-chaplin-met-gandhi-school-resource-pack/

A World of Limited Resources – The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013 by Natasha Lewis

The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.


The Gandhi Foundation Summer Gathering 2013

Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.

The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.

After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!

The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.


The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule;  Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.

Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.

Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale. 
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.

The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.


Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.

On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.

On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.

Book Review – What Gandhi Says about Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage by Norman Finkelstein

What Gandhi Says about Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage

Norman G Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein at Suffolk University in Massachusetts 2005 by Miguel de Icaza

Norman Finkelstein at Suffolk University in Massachusetts 2005 by Miguel de Icaza

OR Books: New York and London 2012 pp100


Reviewed by Antony Copley

Thinking through how a nonviolent protest might free the West Bank from Israeli occupation led the author to take a close look at Gandhi’s own writings to see just what he did say about nonviolence. One of his complaints is that Gandhi scholars in fact rarely do take a close look at the Collected Works, though surely this is transparently unfair in the case of Anthony Parel and, indeed, our own editor, George Paxton. As one would expect of a close friend of Noam Chomsky a razor-sharp intelligence is brought to bear on those writings. Finkelstein has written extensively on the Israel-Palestine conflict and maybe predictably his major critique of Gandhi’s ideas lies in their ineffectiveness for dealing with Hitler and the Holocaust. But this is a highly sophisticated analysis and is far more ambivalent in the ways it looks at such questions as Gandhi’s consistency and at the psychology underlying these ideas, other historical conflicts, above all the freedom struggle, and this is a measured recommendation for a nonviolent approach at the time of the Arab spring and the Occupy movement.

It is easy enough for Finkelstein to expose Gandhi’s inconsistencies. Gandhi wrote of the hobgoblin of consistency and the author concedes that, for all the apparent contradictions, there were underlying core beliefs: “he probably never consciously lied. ” (p20 ). Finkelstein sees a fatal weakness in Gandhi’s reliance on intuition,his inner voice, and though I don’t wholly see the logic of his conclusion, sees this as bound to lead to authoritarianism: “to doubt Gandhi was to doubt God.” (p23) But then he corrects himself and sees Gandhi’s ideas as less abstract and incoherent and open to rational explication.

The most worrying inconsistency is the way Gandhi wavers between nonviolence and the need in certain circumstances to resort to violence. In some ways the whole play between nonviolence and violence could be recast in terms of courage versus cowardice. Gandhi surely rightly saw it as the highest form of courage to meet violence with nonviolence, even a readiness to die. Finkelstein sees Gandhi taking this to an extreme and encouraging a positive cult of death, almost revelling in the number of those who might lose their lives, say in a communal conflict with Muslims. Nothing was so shameful in his eyes than cowardice. Better to resort to violence than to be cowardly. To quote Finkelstein: “Gandhi’s Collected Works are filled with, on the one hand, scalding condemnations of ersatz nonviolence, and on the other, exhortations to violence if the only other option is craven retreat.” (p35) Gandhi is seen as almost sharing Nietzsche’s contempt for Christian passivity, its turning the other cheek.

Oddly the reason for such concern is staring us in the face. Gandhi’s was surely a response to an imperialist rhetoric which spoke of the lack of manliness, the effeminacy of Indians. The Raj here had the Bengalis in mind in contrast to the Indian martial races. Here was one way the Raj met the challenge of a nationalist movement initially inspired by the Bengalis. In many ways Gandhi had bought into the martial values of the Rajputs. Evidently the charge of effeminacy stung Gandhi and possibly he overcompensated. Of course there are more complex psychoanalytic explorations possible and Gandhi’s complex attitudes to sexuality, evidenced in brahmacharya, inevitably exposes him to such enquiry.

Finkelstein’s real concern is to test the effectiveness of nonviolence. The example he takes is the plight of European Jews in the Holocaust. Gandhi was obviously not alone in floundering before such crimes against humanity. Might he yet appeal to Hitler’s good nature ? Might mass nonviolent passive resistance by the Jews work on the conscience of the Nazis ? Finkelsteins’s argument is that the coercive power of satyagraha, its capacity to change minds, cannot work against a mind set such as the Nazi. They were impervious to such moral pressure. There is no evidence that the sight of millions of Jews being led to the crematoria ‘like lambs to the slaughter house’ had the slightest affect on the conscience of the Nazis. Noncooperation simply would not work in this case. He concludes, somewhat ambiguously, that Gandhi’s own unique moral force could prevail and “this was his great personal triumph, but also his great political failure. The tactic had no generalised value.” (p57) Gandhi himself, to quote his own words, believed “human nature in its essence is open and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love.” (quoted p69) Finkelstein does not share this optimism. At this juncture he chooses not to explore the alternative tactic of violent Jewish resistance, both in the camps and ghettoes, a violence of course played up today by Israel itself, gripped by a rhetoric of survival. Nor does he mention Gandhi’s Jewish friends, Polak and Kallenbach, and Kallenbach’s failure to win Gandhi over in the 1930s to a more militant stand.

But then Finkelstein proceeds, along different lines, to try and explain how in fact a coercive nonviolent strategy does work. It is of course controversial to see nonviolence as morally coercive, which Gandhi always denied, for it seems in flat contradiction to its moral nature. A Gandhian strategy will only work, it is argued, if there is some susceptibility in the opponent either to its moral case or, just as probably, to a sense of its being in its own self interest. Finkelstein puts this well: “the thrust of his campaign was clearly to energize a latently sympathetic public via selfsuffering.” (pp61-2) Gandhi might prevail in a temperance campaign, for the Indian public saw the ravages of alcohol, but not against gambling, for here the Indian public were far too committed to gambling for any campaign to work. And of course the classic campaign was the nonviolent freedom struggle itself. But here once again Finkelstein takes a controversial line. He does not believe that it was ‘love power’ that persuaded the British to leave. There was no successful appeal to their moral conscience. Gandhi himself realised that the way to get the British to leave was to make India ungovernable and hence unprofitable. It was not a case of melting British hearts: “instead he set out to coerce them, albeit non-violently, into submission.” “It was not the power of love but the juggernaut of power that cleared the path to India’s independence.” (p78) Of course this is to overlook metropolitan British moral disquiet at the Amritsar massacre and the Christian conscience of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin.

This short, incisive work has to be taken very seriously. In the end Finkelstein, however ambiguous his whole interpretation, seems to come down on Gandhi’s side. He looks at the world today and decides on balance a nonviolent struggle leads to less loss of life than a violent. (cf the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt compared to what happened in Libya.) But does it set the bar of courage too high ? Is it necessarily more ethical than a violent struggle ? (Obviously here he has the Second World War in mind). But he proceeds: “but what can be said with confidence is that the results of violent resistance have at best been mixed.” So just how far will a nonviolent struggle take us ? He argues: “the further along it gets nonviolently, the more likely it is that the new world will be a better one.” (pp79-81)

Finkelstein’s interpretation of the limitations of Gandhism confronting Nazism reminds me of Ernest Gellner’s critique of moral relativism. Confronted by Nazism one has no alternative but to believe in an absolute right and wrong. You cannot in anyway qualify Hitlerism. And the debateover the need for fearlessness, Gandhi’s belief that could the British overcometheir fear of loss of Empire they would happily surrender, reminds me of Aung San Suu Kyi’s belief that could the Army in Burma lose its fear of the loss of power, they would come into line with more progressive policies. It is in Burma that the Gandhian ideal is currently being put most critically to the test.

Antony Copley is Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Publications available from The Gandhi Foundation


‘The Happiness Manual’ Gandhian Ways of Living
by Prof. Narinder Kapur, £5 + £1 p+p

click on the link for further information about this publication:

Simply Gandhi by Mark Hoda, 17pp £1.50

Muriel Lester, Gandhi and Kingsley Hall by David Maxwell, 16pp £3.50

Frontier Gandhi: Abdul Ghaffar Khan by Shireen Shah, 28pp £3

The Life of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, 49pp £2

The Conquest of Violence by Bart de Ligt, £5

All Men Are Brothers by M K Gandhi, 251pp £4

The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi ed. by Prabhu & Rao, 589 pp HB £7

Quotes of Gandhi ed. by S Bhalla, 224pp HB £7

My Religion by M K Gandhi, 166pp £3

Truth is God by M K Gandhi, 159pp £3

My Nonviolence by M K Gandhi, 373pp £5

Gandhi in Anecdotes by Ravindra Varma, 188pp HB £5

Mahatma Gandhi: A Biography by B R Nanda, 542pp £12

Gandhi the Man by Eknath Easwaran (illustrated), 184pp £10

Gandhi Wields the Weapon of Moral Power by Gene Sharp, 316pp £5

Sonja Schlesin: Gandhi’s South African Secretary by G Paxton, 101pp £7.50

Meditations on Gandhi: A Ravindra Varma Festschrift, 227pp HB £15

The United Nations and its Future edited by Vijay Mehta, 274pp £10

Gandhi’s Outstanding Leadership by P A Nazareth £12

Gandhi and the Contemporary World (Collection of essays), 421pp PB £5, HB £7 – special offer

Please add 25% for postage within UK.

For postage overseas, please contact George Paxton at the e-mail address below.

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Conflict Resolution: From Gandhi to Galtung By Anupma Kaushik

Mahatma Gandhi

Mahatma Gandhi

Peace can be defined as a two sided concept. On the one hand it implies absence of violence and on the other the presence of positive, harmonious, cooperative relationships. These two aspects are referred to as negative and positive peace. Johan Galtung clarifies that peace research is based on the assumption that peace is as consensual a value as health. He further states that interdisciplinary and multilevel approaches are needed for peace research besides adoption of symmetry. Peace research needs to draw from all corners of the world and in order to understand an issue the researcher needs to see it from either side but the solution should not be based on the assumptions of one party alone. No party should be allowed to prevail over the other. Solutions should be found from which both parties might benefit. Findings should be symmetrically available. Peace research should be open in all its phases, never clandestine, never classified. Galtung also opines that for peace research most modern techniques of empirical study should be used. Data should be collected, processed, analysed and systematised into theories so as to provide a deeper understanding of the nature of conflict and that of peace. Last but not the least is the relevance of research. Research should help in the realization of peace. A researcher should not stop by ending a research project with policy implication but should get involved in concrete action by making propaganda among intellectuals and the public; persuading the establishment into action and challenging the monopoly of decision makers.1 Thus the scope of peace research is very wide. It covers the efforts for understanding of conditions that may prevent violence and also steps necessary for creation of conditions for furtherance of harmonious relations.2

Peace research recognizes that people as people are not always peace loving. Often governments are prodded on by an angry nation but more commonly governments share their nation’s  idiosyncrasies and they even find it useful to play them up in order to have backing for their rule and policies. In other words irrational nationalism is deeply enshrined in people’s feelings about themselves and other people.3 In order to eliminate conflicts ways are to be devised to prevent misconceptions.4

Conflict consists of three components: incompatibility, action and actors. It is a situation in which a minimum of two actors strive to acquire at the same moment in time an available set of scarce resources. Examples of extreme conflicts are war, systematic repression, sexual and domestic violence, totalitarianism and genocide. In conflict both the parties want to win but that often is not possible or does not resolve the conflict completely and permanently.

Conflict Resolution is a social situation where the armed conflicting parties in a voluntary agreement resolve to peacefully live with and/or dissolve their basic incompatibilities and henceforth cease to use arms against one another. Thus conflict is transformed from violent to non-violent behaviour by the parties. In theory there are seven distinct ways in which the parties can live with or dissolve their incompatibility. First, a party may change its goal i.e. its priorities. The second way is when parties stick to their goals but find a point at which resources can be divided. The third way is horse trading in which one side has all of its demands met on one issue while the other has all of its goals met on another issue. The fourth way is shared control. The fifth way is to leave control to somebody else and the sixth way is resorting to arbitration or other legal procedures that the parties can accept. The seventh way is that the issue can be left till later or even to oblivion.5

There are certain conflict catalysts which can be divided into positive and negative. Positive catalysts are creative. They promote but streamline the conflict and create a healthy atmosphere for communication, understanding and cooperation for reconciliation whereas negative catalysts activate the conflict, format it, bring a bad taste to it. They substantiate the conflict and escalate it to an irrepressible stage, to the point of liquidating the parties. Negative catalysts are fear, force, bad language, exaggeration, secrecy, distrust, prejudice and adding new conflict issues. Positive catalysts are fearlessness, faith, love of opponent, empathy, morality, openness, introspection, confining to conflict points, readiness to compromise, voluntary initiation of dialogue.6

In analyses of conflicts, an analysis of incompatibility is necessary i.e. identification of conflicting interests, positions and needs of the parties. Then conflict strategies are to be analysed through which parties aim at reducing the influence of the other side and enhancing the influence of its own side. The behaviour of the other side is watched carefully. A positive announcement must be followed by positive steps otherwise the former is regarded as propaganda and the later as the reality. Once there is shift in behaviour a dynamic development may follow and build momentum. The parties may search for compatible positions and finding them will attempt to create new structures via which these can be expressed. Spoilers may be dealt with carefully for they will attempt to shift the conflict back to upper level.7

In civil wars and intra-state conflicts concerned parties will have a longer shared history of conflict and cooperation. The dividing lines can be ideological, economic, social, ethnic or racial. Here the most important issues are: first, to construct a social and political system that gives reasonable social and political space to all groups. The second is the issue of security as the one party that wins acts against the other. Thus it is important to end violence in a way that it removes this security dilemma. Without the parties being secure, subjectively and objectively, peace is unlikely to be sustainable. Democracy can be a solution here as it gives a way to handle the participation of parties in a society after a violent conflict and to give space to a host of actors who have previously been suppressed or excluded from having influence. Democracy also gives choices apart from winning and perishing such as winning but not gaining complete dominance; being strong enough to play a role; having some strength which can be enough to prevent undesirable developments or losing but still keeping a position in society. But for this to be a reality three conditions are important. First, the winner must be committed to respecting the rights of the loser and make a come back. In other words defeat with security. Secondly, the state should not be seen to belong to any of the parties, and thirdly, a neutral peace keeping force. Reconstruction of society on principles of inclusion is also necessary for example to solve the problem of refugees. This signifies that the extreme condition that gave rise to the flight has been removed. Human rights’ provisions and international connections are also important.8

There can be territorial solutions within a state in the form of self determination, autonomy and federalism. In self-administration devolution of power takes place from the centre to local level. Autonomy is given by the centre and is subject to policy changes by the centre. It can be of weaker or stronger type. Autonomy can also be guaranteed by outside actors not just subject to policy of the centre. Federalism is created for many units with uniform constitution and the central government is composed of constituent units.9 These are useful especially in cases where minority groups are regionally clustered. Self-control of regional groups over their internal affairs allows the protection of dignity, identity and cultures by placing minority groups on an equal footing with the rest of the national security.10 These go a long way in building positive peace where exploitation is minimized or eliminated and there is neither overt violence nor structural violence. For structural violence is built into the very structure of social, cultural and economic institutions and is more indirect and insidious than observable physical violence. It denies people important rights such as economic well being; social, political and sexual inequality; a sense of personal fulfilment and self worth. Thus positive peace-building implies establishment of non-exploitative social structure i.e. something that does not currently exist.11 This also implies that structures and institutions need to be created that are capable of ensuring human rights and managing the effects of democratization and liberalization.12 In other words positive peace cannot exist without human rights.

Gandhian Approach to Conflict Resolution

The people who established peace studies in the west – Johan Galtung and Kenneth Boulding were admirers of Gandhi.13 However in the west peace studies have taken a very different path to that of Gandhi. Probably the reason was that Gandhian peace demands a great deal of sacrifice from the practitioner. He calls it satyagraha i.e. ‘adherence to truth’ and truth and non-violence are the main planks of satyagraha. A person who resolves to adhere to truth cannot remain silent at the sight of violence which is negative of truth. Truth functions in the form of nonviolence or love. While the lover of truth ought to oppose violence such an opposition would mean ‘fight the evil’ while ‘love the evil doer’. It is a dynamic soul force based on the concept of self-suffering. As there are many forms of injustices there are many forms of satyagraha too such as non-cooperation, civil disobedience, fasting, hijrat, hartal, picketing, boycott, and renunciation of titles, honours and positions.14

Dr Anupma Kaushik is Associate Professor in Political Science, Banasthali University

Rajasthan kaushikanupma@yahoo.co.in


1- J. Galtung, ‘Peace Research: Past Experiences and Future Perspectives’ in Radhakrishna (ed), Peace Research for Peace Action, Gandhi Peace Foundation, Indian Council of Peace Research, Sahitya Kendra Printers, New Delhi, 1972, pp- 13- 31.

2- Mahendra Kumar, Current Peace Research and India, Gandhian Institute of Studies, Varanasi, 1968, p- 9.

3- Gunnar Myrdal, ‘Peace Research and Peace Movement’, Ghanshyam Pardesai (ed), Contemporary Peace Research, Radiant Publishers, New Delhi, 1982, p- 30.

4- Ghanshyam Pardesai, Contemporary Peace Research, Radiant Publishers, New Delhi, 1982, p- 4.

5- Peter Wallensteen, Understanding Conflict Resolution, Sage Publication, London, 2007, pp- 3- 51.

6- Pooja Katariya, Conflict Resolution, Deep and Deep, Delhi, 2007, pp- 68- 73.

7- Peter Wallensteen, Understanding Conflict Resolution, Sage Publication, London, 2007, pp- 54- 56.

8- Ibid, pp- 121- 152.

9- Ibid, pp- 171- 172.

10- Ho- Won Jeong, Peace and Conflict Studies: An Introduction, Ashgate, USA, 2006, p- 235.

11- David P. Barsh and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies, Sage Publication, New Delhi, 2002, pp- 6- 8.

12- Roland Paris, At War’s End, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2004, p- ix.

13- Negeen Zinovieff, ‘Ancient Wisdom’, The Gandhi Way, No 96, Summer 2008, Glasgow.

14- Pooja Katariya, Conflict Resolution, Deep and Deep, Delhi, 2007, pp- 68- 73.


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.


Gloomy Thoughts on India Today By Antony Copley

Gloomy Thoughts on India Today by Antony Copley

These reflections are prompted by attending the Gandhi Foundation Award ceremony in the House of Lords of the Gandhi International Peace Award for 2011 to Binayak Sen and Bulu Iman and a seminar given by two very bright graduate students of the University of Kent on the writings and film making of Arundhati Roy. Biographical details on the two recipients can be seen in the Gandhi Foundation Peace Award article on this website and their two acceptance speeches will also be published shortly, so this is no attempt to summarise what they had to say. But it filled me with a real sense of gloom about where India today is heading.

It was very moving to find oneself in the same room as Binayak Sen. It was something of a miracle that he was present at all to receive his prize, only by being let out of prison on bail and having his passport returned at a very late stage. Binayak Sen is a doctor and specialist paediatrician and he began by telling us that surveys on malnutrition, based on body mass indices, show that India is in fact in the grip of famine. Sen’s struggle for civil rights is well known. He ended his talk by telling us the Indian government is currently drawing up legislation in which almost all forms of dissent will now be branded as sedition. Such was the charge brought against him for his own active engagement in the struggle for adivasi rights and one that led to a sentence of life imprisonment.

Bulu Iman delivered a searing indictment against the current economic development of India with its rampant capitalism riding rough shod over the economic and cultural life of the tribal population. He opened up an apocalyptic vision of India’s own economic self destruction. All this ties into the consequences of climate change. None has done more than Bulu Iman to memorialise the remarkable culture of the forest people. We were recently provided with a brilliant photographic record of this culture at an exhibition of photographs by Robert Wallis in the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, conveying a horrifying sense of the threat from the coal-mining and mining of other minerals to the very survival of this culture. Talking to Bulu Iman afterwards he left me with a disturbing sense that, in fact, the battle for survival has been lost. He sees the materials in his Sanskriti Museum, Hazaribagh as time capsules. How can any culture of this fragile kind survive the destruction of its village life, with huge roads ploughing through the forest destroying all in their way? At least a third of the tribal population in the forest areas of eastern and central India have already been dispossessed and driven into urban slums.

Felix Padel, historian of the tribal struggle and vital intermediary between The Gandhi Foundation and the two recipients, endorsed their findings. If anything, he sees the situation as even more dire.

No-one has more vividly described this human catastrophe overwhelming the forest population than Arundhati Roy. I learnt that her imagery always refers back to the holocaust of the partition. Initially, I could see how this imagery would work for the disaster that has struck Kashmir and the horrors of communal violence in Gujerat in 2003 but I was less certain of its relevance to the tribal tragedy. But then it was explained to me that their forced dispossession precisely echoes those images of long lines of migrants on the move during the massive migrations of the partition years.

Has the India of its founding fathers really come to this? Was there some fatal flaw in Nehru’s vision for change, a paternalist concern towards the vulnerable in Indian society that could turn dictatorial? Did that visionary sense of rapid development with its power stations and dams in fact presage the rampant capitalism on view today? It was Nehru himself who laid the foundation stone 5 April 1961 of the Sardar Sarovar, the scheme for some 3000 dams on the River Narmada. The forest people were drawn into a Nehruvian development project. Of course it is tempting to place the blame for the exploitation of the forests on the Raj and its Forest laws of 1878 and it is true that much of its timber was set aside for exploitation- think of the amount of wood needed fort the Indian railways. But the colonial regime did set aside protected areas and sought to shore up the way of life of the forest people. It is also worth recalling that originally these were plains people but driven into the forest by aggressive agrarian castes. But independence seemed to release even great depredation of the tribal economies. In the eight provinces of Bihar that were in 2000 to become the state of  Jharkand, far more mineral wealth was being extracted and exported than development aid was being invested. Did it only need Narisimha Rao’s Congress government’s liberalisation of state controls over the economy in 1993 to release globalisation in all its exploitative greed? For decades India was the world’s most exciting prospect of a developing economy and yet did we foresee Shining India as its outcome? Bulu Imam for one was sceptical if there be any life left in any earlier visionary outlook.

Of course it is distastefully possible to be dismissive of the chances for survival in today’s economic imperatives of such vulnerable communities as the forest peoples. If you adopt a historically determinist approach, then so called primitive or backward communities simply have to give way to `progress’. At best, you offer the communities some share in the profits of the mining revolution. It was argued in that seminar on Arundhati Roy that the newly enriched Indian middle class have no sense that the forest people are worth protecting-they simply stand in the way of the making of wealth. It helps to understand such indifference if we realise the staggering profits that will be made from the mining of minerals in the forests. Maybe the forest people are themselves –or so it is sometimes argued- morally obliged to accept that they have no option but to share this wealth.

But of course there are very strong counter arguments. In the tribal way of life we are given an example of a sustainable economy, one that respects nature, and is just the example of sustainability we need if we are to stave off the disastrous consequences of climate change. Bianca Jagger, inter alia Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Trustee of the Amazon Charitable Trust, in her intervention at the Award ceremony pleaded for new paradigm on development. There has to be a development plan that accommodates the needs of such vulnerable societies. Not everyone knows that Parliament now has an All Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples. The LibDem MP, Martin Forwood, its founder and Chairman, attended the ceremony. He reminded us of the threat from the Maoists. And clearly there are alternatives models for development than industrial capitalism. More radically, we need to abandon the concept of growth for one of sustainability.

So is there any prospect of checking this invasion of the tribal lands in its track? We have to live in hope. Ilina Sen agreed with me as we said farewell in the corridors of the House of Lords. Without hope we are lost. I do not myself give up hope that the progressive ideals incarnated in the Indian Constitution, the democratic political vision of Nehru, the role of a free press in independent India, have wholly disappeared. At least one Minister of Forests tried to rein in the corporation, Vedanta and delay the mining of bauxite in Chhattisgarh. If the political class are too hand in glove with the capitalists then we have to fall back on dissent from India’s intelligentsia. Aruna Roy, distinguished journalist of the Times of India, put faith in such dissent. Admittedly, if Binayak Sen’s fears over changing the laws on sedition are accurate, then there is a momentous struggle to be waged. Will university students, amongst others, stand up for Civil Rights?

Where does this leave the Gandhians? In an earlier struggle, the Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save the Narmada Movement), under the inspired leadership of Medha Petkar, a Gandhian movement went some way to check the flooding of the river by the dams and the destruction of its riverside tribal culture. And it may well be asked, why did this cultural vandalism not cause as much shock as that of the vandalism of the Babri Masjid mosque in 1992? In 1993 the World Bank withdrew funding, embarrassed by the wonderfully named Monsoon satyagrahas, with Gandhian activists ready to expose themselves to the rising waters, in the practice of jal samparan, sacrifice in water. The whole issue was referred to the Supreme Court. But it has to be acknowledged that in the end it came out on the side of the dam. In its judgement, `it became necessary to harvest the river for the larger good.’ There was to be rather more good fortune in a Gandhian protest against the Maheshwar Hydroelectric Scheme in Madya Pradesh, a protest linked to the NAPM, the National Advancement of People’s Movement, set up in 1996.Yet we were told at the award ceremony when the women of Tamil Nadu protested against a nuclear power station all 5000 were arrested. Has the iron entered the soul in current Indian policy making?

So can a Gandhian protest influence the outcome in the current struggle in eastern and central India? Few people are aware of the scale of the conflict today. Has the freedom of the press been stifled? Are people just indifferent? To deal with the conflict both the police and increasingly the Indian army are heavily engaged. Quite who carries out reprisals against the tribal villages is unclear to me though I was told in the seminar that Hindu communal nationalists are heavily involved. They hold the tribal peoples, who of course lie outside the caste system, in contempt. Many tribals have joined the Maoist led revolt, driven out of their villages, outraged at the violation of their women. But what do the Maoists,or Naxalites as they are alternatively known, want? Have they a vision which in the long run saves the economies of the forest peoples? It does not fit with Marxist notions of economic development. Admittedly Marx, at the end of his life, came to see in such simple communities the very ideal of the communist society he was envisioning. Might today’s Indian Maoists do the same? It seems far more probable that the Maoists see themselves as engaged in a power struggle with the Indian state and have but opportunistically seized on this social unrest. The majority of the forest people find themselves in the crossfire of a civil war between the Indian army and the Maoists. Is there scope for non-violent satyagraha? So Bhikhu Parekh argued for at the end of the Award ceremony. Arundhati Roy feels that up against the violence of the State there is little prospect for a Gandhian solution and wonders if there is a non-violent alternative to the violence of the Maoists. Bulu Iman, a committed Gandhian, is equally pessimistic. In his view a satyagraha can only impact if your opponent has a moral susceptibility to injustice and he feels that such receptivity, one that existed with the likes of a Christian Lord Irwin of the British Raj or a Smuts in South Africa, does not exist in to today’s India. It makes one fear that a committed Gandhian like Binayak Sen may yet be disappointed in his life’s struggle. But again, one must not give up hope.

Eastern and Central India is not the only locale for struggles by tribal people. It also rages in North East India, Kerala, and on every other continent. These are not saintly movements. Up against the threat from globalisation several have retreated into exclusivist and xenophobic autonomous movements .Their political future would be better served were they to seek out more pluralist solutions. Such tribal people are at risk world wide. In the Award ceremony much was made of the role of international capital, the City of London, host to most of the Corporations financing the mining of tribal areas, a particular villain. The threat to the forest economies is clearly a part of globalisation. The tribal people stand in its way. Their communitarian values and ideals of a sustainable economy may yet be the inspiration to save us all from the consequences of unchecked growth. Their struggle is one that concerns us all.

 Antony Copley
Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Books consulted, Alf Gunvald Nilsen Dispossession and Resistance in India : The river and the rage Routledge 2010, Ed Daniel J Rycoft and Sangeeta Dasgupta The Politics of Belonging in India: Becoming Adivasi Routledge 2011,Arundhati Roy Broken Republic Hamish Hamilton 2011


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