Exploring Nonviolence: Experiment with Hind Swaraj

When India is leaderless and its institutions rotting and decadent, what is there to inspire our people across all differences and diversities to rise above narrow self interests so that polarization, often violent, of Indian society on the lines of its plurality can be stopped? Can we make some humble experiment?   

Has the modern version of “freedom” and that of “justice” totally erased from Indian mind what Gandhi saw and re-established as its perpetual and uppermost quest — something where, as he points out in Hind Swaraj, “India is soundest at its core”?  Is the conquest of India complete, irreversible and final or, again as Gandhi states about India in 1909 that there are areas untouched by “this demonic civilization”, is there any spot left today where the Indians are not conquered?  What is behind the reality of the lot of unrest, agitation and violence that seems to have engulfed us? Are the aspirations upon which Gandhi awakened India still valid and alive? What is the state of Indian masses’ self awareness finally? Conflicts will always be there, but is there still possibility for nonviolent conflict transformation? Is Hind Swaraj alive? And, can we, with our very humble capacity, rediscover its appeal and power? Long association with Gandhian movement and other political, social and cultural movements and the study of Mahatma Gandhi’s Collected Works made it clear that all these needs to be understood and reviewed in the light of Hind Swaraj

These and such trublling questions lead us to an experiment in  public discourses on Mahatma Gandhi’s root text or manifesto, Hind Swaraj. Hind Swaraj takes one to that India, which is “soundest its it core”! Here is a story of experiencing  ordinary people’s unbelievably enthusiastic response to the message of Hind Swaraj!


Redifining freedom: Harmonizing Liberty and Justice :

This is a story of our experient with Hind Swaraj in order to  rediscover that vision and thought of Gandhiji, which had inspired Indains of all faiths, classes and ages, galvanised entire nation; and above all, transfomed violent miltancy into an epic nonviolent struggle for the revival, reform and empowerment of the best that was in Indian civilization. In his explanation of the vision and idea of Swaraj,  as different from independence, Gandhiji  put before us an image of  India  in which every one, lowliest of the low, could visualise his/her own identity and aspirations. While he stated “ God comes to the hungry in the form of bread”, he did not stop there. The ‘adhibhautic’- satsfaction of the ‘material’ needs –was at the foundation of the ‘adhyatmic’ or the spiritual salvation. Threfore he made it very clear why the ‘rajya’ or the State, the British empire at that time, was demonic. By robbing and pauperizing Indian masses, “by robbing the Indian masses of their economic freedom” Gandhi stated “the demonic rule of the British have robbed them of their spiritual freedom.” According to Leo Tolstoy “This European life is very clean materially, but terribly dirty spiritually.”

Today, India is a nation without a vision- a vision that saw Truth behind the Reality and guided its corporate national activity in a way that Indian civilization could optimise true human freedom. Gandhi saw the loss of awareness and intellectual and spiritual lethargy as the cause of  India’s conquest by a civilization intrinsically incapable of healthy, moral and just life. In seeing through the modern civilization so called, Gandhi touched something innate to the human being; namely, the quest for freedom as a state of being that blossoms in all-round justness and moral conduct. But modern civilization has reinvented the meaning of freedom in order to perpetuate and empower a global order based on injustice, exploitation and domination of the weak by the mighty. The meaning of freedom is severed from its embedding in justice. Subjected to reinterpretation in the justification of a civilization borne of a very narrow and   unrestrained human “rationality” that is destructive and issentially irrational, and legitimizations of modern violent versions of “Survival of the Fittest” that threaten our evolutionary development and survival, the term Freedom is divested of its moral underpinnings and its meaning. Not liberation and freedom from wants, but unrestrained free play of wants is the driving force of the so called modern civilization. Thus justice and liberty are set apart as incompatible goals. In the negation of justice, freedom has been negated. Mahatma Gandhi therefore defines civilization in order to re-establish the meaning of freedom in terms of Swaraj. Truth being the foundation, nonviolence is the only means to attain a truth-bound life.

It was the power of that thought and vision of Hind Swaraj that slumbering India rose as no nation in history had ever risen, became a super power of nonviolence, right at the time when the USA and its European allies were single mindedly pursuing the development of and mastery over Weapons of Mass Destruction; Hydrogen Bomb, after having experimented Atom Bomb “successfully” on an Asian nation.

The builders and users of WMD are also the modern day champions of human liberty. They have appropriated freedom for them at the cost of justice to others; and those who rose against it in the name of justice and equality, inevitably repressed freedom. The human culture struggles for a corrective, but modern civilization is intrinsically incapable of freedom; it is incapable of achieving harmony between true liberty and justice. The licentiousness of the one and the repressiveness of the other are intrinsic to the mother-culture of the both; namely the materialist vision. It has no solution therefore to minimizing human greed and violence. It has no clue as to how to inspire and institutionalize voluntary restraint on human desire and wants.

With a view to providing a more meaningful understanding of Freedom Gandhi re-defines it in terms of Swaraj, “a sacred word, a Vedic word, meaning self-rule and self-restraint, and not freedom from all restraint, which independence often means”. For a person with a nonviolent mindset, freedom means freedom from unrestrained desires and wants. Nonviolence to Gandhi was therefore the means to achieve Swaraj. Today, we are witnessing irrevocable destructive consequences of such ways of life which are being followed in the name of freedom and progress. Gandhi offers in the vision and methods of Swaraj a harmonious, healthy, fearless, just, equalitarian, aesthetic and progressive way of life.

At a time when people are facing the challenges of violence, insecurity, ecological disaster, unsustainability and civilizational conflicts, sanity demands that we seek guidance from the teachings of Gandhi as encapsulated in Hind Swaraj. He suffixed it with “Hind” because he was struggling for India’s freedom, but what he writes in Hind Swaraj is for all seekers of justice and freedom, not only for themselves but for all, and who are desirous of attaining their own Swaraj or liberation.


Exploring the Appeal of Hind Swaraj: Development of nonviolent Conflict Resolution

Does  Hind Swaraj hold the same appeal today, we questioned ourselves. In absence of inspiring national leadership and simiarly in absence of any inspiriting national institution, we believe that we still have a vision and a system of thought which has unbelievably proved its inspirational power. That vision and thought is encapsulated in Hind Swaraj. We must explore and test ourselves also  in the process of bringing Hind Swaraj to common masses. It was more on us and not on Hind Swaraj to prove its appeal. Therefore, sometime in late 90s both of us, Dr. Niru Vora  and  Rajiv Vora,  decided to conduct this experiment by ourselves. We had known Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche, a highly attained lama and scholar, whose faith in Hind Swaraj is so absolute that, according to him,  if he had to make a choice today between Hind Swaraj and ‘Dhammapad’, he would choose Hind Swaraj. We went to him with a request to guide Swaraj Peeth’s work on Hind Swaraj and Chair Hind Swaraj Centenary Committee of Swaraj Peeth. We decided to conduct Hind Swaraj study camps among variety of people and see what response it generates. It was a completely unique, most elevating experience conducting dialogues and dscourses on Hind Swaraj. Story of e few Hind Swaraj study Camp/ discourses is given bellow.

After every Camp most of the participants want to do something positive in the spirit of Hind Swaraj. At this point the idea of community level self reliance in conflict resolution and violence prevention- Shanti Sena – is introduced.  Those who enroll are involved in Shanti Sainink training.

Out of this emerged a concrete programme of empowerment and community’s capacity building — i.e. self relience — in the area of resolving conflicts through nonviolent means. Gandhiji called such a force as Shanti Sena. Swaraj Peeth began initiating dialogues at the grassroots level on the forms and  causes of violence and conflicts  and nonviolent methods of resolving them.  We later called  this dialogue Swaraj Samvad. While experimenting with Hnd Swaraj, Swaraj Peeth has been able to evolve a four-stage process of building Shanti Sena. We also had to bring out th first ever Urdu translation of Hind Swaraj while celebrating the commemorating the Centenary of Satyagraha.

Wherever Swaraj Peeth conducted Swaraj Dialogue, people expressed their concern about the absence of nonpartisan groups in our society that was trusted and respected enough by all and which could mediate without vested interest when conflicts arose.  Conflicts are bound to remain, but if people are incapable of resolving problems through the means of peace and nonviolence, they may develop economically but that can neither add into real prosperity nor can it strengthen democratic fiber. Even with less means family, village, communitiy and a nation can achieve propsperity if there is harmonious unity. Swaraj Dialogue and Gandhi Shanti Sena are  for building social and communal harmony and resolvinmg conflicts through the ways of nonviolence.

Our society is diverse in social, cultural and religious composition. Diversity that enriched our society and nation and provided deeper foundation and sustainability,   often leads today to tenstions and conflicts, social and communal polarisation and disunity even among neighbours. Cultural diversity and pluralisim must be protected  and developed, while disunity must be tackled. This depends on society’s internal capacity to resolve its conflicts through  peaceful and nonviolent means. Democracy grows proportionate to the growth of nonviolence. Social harmony and the capacity to resolve conflicts without violence are fundamental factors in the establishment of a peaceful, developed society and democratic governance. Nearly all the other principal elements of social and economic development, as well as of the democratic system, rest on the ability of individuals to live and work in an environment free of violence, serious tensions, and fear. Therefore Swaraj Peeth has set out to establish Swaraj Dialogue and   Shanti Sena to nonviolentley interven in conflicts and tensions  to prevent  violence and build unity.

The Shanti Sena is a network of community-based civilian peace-building and peace-keeping teams trained to prevent conflicts from becoming violent. If violence does break out, Shanti Sainiks are prepared to serve as nonpartisan mediators, emergency relief workers, and human rights monitors, among other duties.

Since 2002 Swaraj Peeth has been developing the foundations of the Shanti Sena, and since 2004 SP has concentrated in the Western Uttar Pradesh twones of Bijnor, Rampur, Biharigrh. Gandhi Shanti Sainiks in these places have undertaken some successful initiatives to resolve conflicts and tensions in their area; in some cases resolved amicably long standing communal issues and in some other cases they prevented violence.

The appeal of Swarajpeeth’s vision and methods activated people locally through series of public meetings. Out of this emerged a new cadre. they felt that  the purpose and methods were totally different from other actors in the field. People discribed this effort as a movement.   There are teachers, artisans, peasants, small town professionals, shop-keepers, students, socially active people, poets and others who are locally involved.

Most important part of this experiment is development of a four-stage process of raising and training Shanti Sena. In brief they, one leading to the other, are; Swaraj Samvad, Hind Swaraj Study Camp, Pledge of nonviolence, recruitment and training of Gandhi Shanti Sena.