Publicado em 23 de novembro de 2006
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Non-violence as a Responsible Message for Peace and Harmony

por Sudha REDDY

Temas largos ligados: Culture of peace . Ethics . Philosophy .


- An uninterrupted chain of devastating violence
- Whose Responsibility?
- How to face our responsibilities?
- For a responsible position based on ethics and wisdom
- Hierarchy and tradition versus individual responsibility?
- Political commitment and responsibility
- Gandhi, non-violence and responsibility
- For an ethical globalization

An uninterrupted chain of devastating violence

Since the Second World War the world has never been really at peace. Not even for the span of a full decade. The unprecedented tragedy of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima can be seen today as the tragic beginning of an uninterrupted chain of devastating violence across the continents. Terror has become the institutionalized facet of violence, to the extent that it conditions the life and the mentalities of at least two third of humanity at the beginning of this third millennium. Violence pervades our societies and our customs from bottom to top, and influences directly the various forms of our culture and entertainments. While more and more seem to be intoxicated by it, the great majority of passive witnesses prefer to practice the policy of the ostrich, having given up inquiring “whose fault it is?”

Whose Responsibility?

Whose fault is it, anyway? After all, you and me, are we not all concerned? If we draw a comprehensive survey of the global situation, extending right from the disastrous ecological condition of our environment to rampant multiform economical, psychological and moral injustices committed to individuals as well as marginalized communities in the name of profit, religion, progress or the politics of globalization, it becomes obvious that humanity – and mostly its representative rulers and decision-makers – has in store an impressive stock of irresponsibility. Facing such a huge amount of irresponsibility, what would be the remedy, or at least the type of paradigm shift that could bring well intended men and women to a constructive round-table from where a practical philosophy for Peace and Harmony in the world could be unanimously worked out?

As for you and I are concerned, the first question is what are the limits in which we actually exert our responsibility? In other words, what is the dimension of our commitment to the Peace and Harmony of humanity and the planet earth on which we thrive? How does each one of us responds to the disproportions and injustices surrounding us everyday?

How to face our responsibilities?

The question of facing one’s responsibilities is not just a matter of observing ethical principles. Finding remedies to the global confusion in which we are all involved can not rest anymore on mere intellectual and academic discourses on the subject: There is an urgent need not only to conceive of a universal Charter of Human Responsibilities acceptable to all irrespective of political, cultural or religious differences, but also to work out together practical means to implement the same. In the efforts to actualize such an agenda, it may be suggested to look for concrete examples of outstanding human beings in recent history who showed the way to the uninterrupted exercise of those responsibilities which give to the human nature its true dignity and excellence. Mahatma Gandhi was such an outstanding human example.

Mahatma Gandhi has been rightly called the Apostle of Non-violence and the Father of the Indian Nation. For most of the countries that have struggled to free their people from the injustices of colonialism he stood as the righteous role-model. Even in the West today he is considered an icon of peace and self-sacrifice. Nearly six decades have elapsed since the Mahatma tragically left this world and the newly independent India to its destiny. He is remembered by the older generations of this country for his exemplar integrity and commitment to truth and freedom. His human moral qualities were tempered into a life dedication to a vision of an India that would remain faithful to what made it different from any other country in the world: a country with a tremendous diversified human and natural richness. The revolutionary and moral genius of Mahatma Gandhi rests on the unprecedented fact that he freed his country – a diversified mosaic of millions of people - from the dominance of the British rule only through the unswerving practice of the philosophy of Non-Violence.

During the recent past, this diversified human and natural richness has become largely endangered, not only in so far India is concerned but more globally on a planetary scale. When compared to the Gandhian view of decentralization of economic and political power, the process of globalization that is taking place since more than a decade seems to usher humanity as a whole in the opposite direction. Prominent statesmen of the main developed countries insidiously rule the international political scene and multi-national corporates control the world economy with an aim to profit at any cost. In both these apparently irretrievable processes there is an undeniable undertone of neo-colonial violence of which the developing countries are, in spite of themselves, becoming helpless partners. If at all we have to think of a continuity to the social and philosophical message of Mahatma Gandhi today, what should be the responsible position of those who claim to be his philosophical and active heirs – both Western and Indian - towards the spreading tide of globalization by which even intelligent decision-makers in developing countries seem to be deluded or even fascinated?

For a responsible position based on ethics and wisdom

In a world in which most of the ethical values are largely discarded the notion of responsibility has once again to be dramatically highlighted, redefined and, in a certain way, decontextualized. The basic meaning of responsibility is the capacity to respond adequately to the physical, psychological, social and spiritual requirements of life in general. This response-ability is one of the foremost privileges of the human being in her or his interaction with his environment. If the world around us goes wrong, the prime cause directly lies in the irresponsible ways we are dealing with it. Be they religious or secular, most of the traditional ethical statements agree to say that humankind is the supervisor of the harmony and prosperity of whatever is created. Yet, this moral and effective privilege cannot adequately function without the appropriate wisdom that goes with it. As it is said “A sage is a rule unto himself”, a really responsible person in a secular context is equal to a sage. India became an independent democracy safe to the relentless disciplined persistence of a sage. Unfortunately, a few years after the sage passed away his wisdom itself became a museum item and Non-Violence a mere subject of research for political academics. Sixty years later, the majority of modern Indians is looking to the West as a model of progress and feels responsible mainly for the financial profit they can secure for themselves and their relatives. Non-Violence as a genuine constructive responsible act or engagement has become largely marginalized.

Hierarchy and tradition versus individual responsibility?

In traditional societies, responsibilities are generally limited by functional levels which very often are structured according to a hierarchical consensus. The individual’s activities and commitments are bound to a fabric of set prescriptions laid down by the community in which he thrives and which provides his identity, or at least that of the social group to which he belongs. The individual can only be responsible for the physical and moral area attributed to him or her by his social and often hereditary limitations. The responsibilities of a shopkeeper do not exceed the preoccupation for his profit and those of the housewife don’t cross the kitchen’s door. The duties and responsibilities are blurred, and it becomes difficult to free the sense of responsibility from the grip of obligation. The caste system of India is an example of this social structure, in which the exercise of human responsibilities related to the good of all are obstructed by the good of the community, the clan or the class, i.e. the caste. When a traditional society is ushered into a process of change, whether from inside or due to external influences, the distribution of duties and responsibilities becomes accordingly more complexified and therefore more problematic. In the context of a traditionally hierarchic society such as the caste system, shifting paradigm to a democratic social contract, responsibilities are supposed to become the concern of one and all. Human responsibilities, when put into action, often imply accepting taking risks as they may even sound revolutionary to conventionally accepted prejudices or conservative patterns of thought and behavior. In the wide moral anesthesia of the last decades, assuming human responsibilities could easily be compared to heroism.

Political commitment and responsibility

Since the end of the Cold War, the predicament of the world conflictual situation is polarized by two opposite tendencies: aggressivity and passivity. The aggressive tendency has taken horrible proportions during the last decade, running into collective massacres, blatant violations of people’s sovereignty, communal animosities, political and religious terrorism, etc. On the other hand we cannot but acknowledge the contrasting tendency of passive resignation, a quasi-resignation to the fatality of the world’s global predicament.

It is a fact that problems are global today; there are epidemic tides of problems spreading like viruses to the farthest reaches of the earth. Unfortunately, the sense of responsibility can hardly be viewed as a collective phenomenon; it mainly concerns the individual. Therefore, human responsibilities should start by being the prerogative of the individual rulers of the nations, as they are elected by the people to be role models of justice, social equity, peace and harmony. In countries where the constitution is still intimately colored by religious dictums, elected representatives of the people take an oath on the Bible or the Koran. In secular nations, it should be expected that the individuals called to assume decision-making offices would take an oath on the Charter of the Human Rights. And in the present political and moral confusion, would it not be legitimate for one and all to expect the rulers of the world to openly declare their human responsibilities as a token of their commitment to the just and peaceful administration of the country or the department they are supposed to lead?

Gandhi, non-violence and responsibility

Gandhi was surely a model of responsibility, in the largest sense of the word. Whenever there was the need to respond to a situation that demanded courage and determination, he did it with authority, wisdom and selflessness; with an extraordinary conviction that truth cannot assert itself without the actual exercise of responsibility. But the most genuine aspect of the way he exerted his responsibility is by never deviating from his engagement to Non-Violence. The upholding of Non-Violence as indissociable from truth was the motor that put his responsibility into motion. Gandhi was not only responsible towards the notion of Dharma; he was also very keen to place responsibility in the hands of “the last person” in so far as the destiny of the country was concerned. Today, fifty years later, the last person still has no voice when it comes to take regional decisions about rural development. Instead the voice is given to vested interests and, more precisely, to neo-colonial vested interests of the developed countries coming to India to exploit manual labor at low cost. With the ideal of the Panchayat Raj(local-self Government), Gandhi knew that it was important to decentralize responsibility, to involve directly the common person with the requirements of the local human and natural environment, with a just distributions of the local resources from which any vernacular citizen is entitled to benefit. He trusted the down-to-earth wisdom of the rural people, knowing that the timeless memory which was behind their daily toil, in their crafts or their agricultural methods, was a safe guaranty for the country to build up its independence at a pace appropriate to its ethos. The first responsibility of the infant democracy into which India was born was to acknowledge the diversity of its cultural heritage and organize progressively this diversity into an interactive fabric freed from levels and distinctions based on castes, creeds and religious dogmas. However, in the present democratic India the ideal of the Panchayat Raj and the implementation of its policy of decentralization is merely focusing an the economic level, while it completely fails to propagate the ethical foundation of non-violence from which it has its origin, leaving the scope for rampant vested power-games and political distortions in many rural communities.

At the time of the Freedom Movement the Gandhian message was at the center of the social, political and philosophical focus of the country. At the center of this message, Non-Violence was the hub, and all the functional areas to be addressed were spokes starting from this hub to reach the target of achievement in a non-aggressive fashion. Very significantly, for the constructive and vital spreading of this social-cum-spiritual message, Gandhi invested a great amount of trust in women, demonstrating his unflinching admiration for the natural and innate wisdom of women, characterized by their uncompromising sense of responsibility.

Today, in the context of globalization the Gandhian message has become largely marginalized, and in most cases ineffective when it comes to proposing alternative answers to the rule of economic and financial might over the voice of the people. In spite of having highly devoted individuals immersed in solving local issues through non-violent methods, in a certain way, the charismatic spirit infused by Gandhi in the Freedom Movement during his lifetime has not been sufficiently carried forward on a national basis by his successors. The values which he cherished for both their practicality and universality have no more impact on the progressive mentality, and women, whom he considered the indispensable life-force of human society’s peaceful and harmonious transformation, still have not the voice and space they deserve, both on the domestic and public platform. The mere acquisition of independence of the country from colonial rule seems to have created the impression among many Indians that the game was won and that freedom and self-determination could be taken for granted. True, India is an immense country with its own variety of local problems, but the great vision of Gandhi has a universal appeal and deserves to be reconsidered not only on a national basis but mostly on the international platform for the sake of the welfare of the entire humanity.

For an ethical globalization

What are the responsibilities involved in the propagation of the philosophy of globalization in so far a non-violent and equitable progress for the people at large has to be considered as a workable objective? And conversely, what is the scope of the irresponsibility already involved in the blind and aggressive implementation of economical, political and cultural globalization? More than ever there is a need to raise the collective awareness regarding the importance of creating official as well as independent interactive networks of role-models among the decision-makers in various disciplines whose wisdom is unquestionable and whose integrity is irreproachable. Responsibility is indissolubly linked to integrity.

In spite of many legitimate reactions and disapprovals, the process of globalization in various domains has realistically to be taken as a matter of fact. However, this does not imply that it should be taken for granted. History has shown humankind that great civilizations have at times decayed almost overnight. Spiritual philosophies tell us that nothing in this world is permanent, and in a world like ours today, in which the notion of time becomes everyday more accelerated, the impermanence of things too gets speeded up. Viewed on the largest possible scale, even the impermanence of our earthly habitat is year after year dramatically precipitated. An increasing number of intelligent and well-informed observers have started warning that, in contra-indication to the growth of globalization, a global collapse is an alternative possibility.

In a recent article of The Hindu, Dylan Evans, a senior lecturer at the University of the West of England, raised the question: “Is it possible that global civilization might collapse within our lifetime or that of our children?” In the article he explains: “…our civilization is global, on the positive side globalization means that when one part of the world gets into trouble, it can appeal to the rest of the world for help….On the negative side, globalization means that when one part of the world gets into trouble, the trouble can quickly been exported. If modern civilization collapses, it will do so everywhere. Everyone now stands or falls together.“. Earnest economical observers argue that the global financial system is already very unstable; financial crises have increased in scale and frequency. This is just to highlight the fact that the optimism of those who orchestrate the progress of globalization only moves on the surface of it. In the deep, a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety is brooding. This uncertainty is largely produced by the growing presence of violence and insecurity across the continents.

The charka, the spinning-wheel epitomizes the entire freedom struggle of India. For Gandhi, this manual tool was a living symbol of meditation in action; it was also a token of the importance of prayer in the most realistic concerns of daily life. The charka is a perfect symbol of integration of the one and the many, of non-violent activity leading to freedom and self-reliance. Similarly, the living example of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence could be taken as the ideal role-model of human responsibilities. The previous century has told us that globalization can also be viewed in the context of freedom struggle. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are the foremost human lighthouses who will leave a positive impact on humanity’s future. These secular sages are the genuine responsible human beings who gave their entire life for the actualization of the highest ideals of justice, peace and harmony between humankind and the world at large.

In a world in which globalization has dramatically become synonymous of violence, injustice and even terror for millions of people, it is urgent to uphold and propagate the spirit of Non-Violence when considering ethical dimension of human responsibilities, both on an individual and collective level. In spite of the significant growth of a great variety of positive initiatives to find remedies to the present predicament of the world, an integral and all-comprehensive holistic and effective wisdom has to emerge from authentic selfless and dedicated dialogues between the concerned actors of the various disciplines involved. To reach this, the nature of further dialogues should not remain confined to mere economical or political considerations of a barely materialistic outlook, but should encompass cultural, aesthetic and even spiritual territories belonging to the perennial values making for an integral awareness of what is supposed to be our “humanness” in the largest sense. In this challenge, the spirit of Non-Violence and the corresponding strategies of its practice would necessarily be a major axis on which to evolve the future dialectics of a mutual and unitive understanding.

Responsibility and the courage to assume it remains at the crux of every contemporary issue, and when there is such an uncompromising message which Gandhi exemplified during his lifetime, it is imperative to keep the flame burning, and continue to nurse its warmth and light till all that is irresponsible and untrue is finally overcome by the constant assertion of Truth, Peace and Harmony.

Bangalore, September 2006


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