Moving Beyond Conflict
The Mahatma Gandhi Centre is devoted to bringing social reforms through self-help and rural democracy. Its activities are targeted beyond the end of the current conflict in the country, and it advocates and is fully committed to non-violence as an instrument to cultivate trust and understanding to bridge divisions based on religious, lingual and class differences and sustain humanity within and outside geographical boundaries. To mark the international assertion on peace and non-violence in the upcoming weeks the Mahatma Gandhi Centre has planned a number of activities beginning with the commemoration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on the 2nd of October. Leading up to these events, the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is pleased to be associated with the Daham Pahna Movement when it dedicates part of its Ve Prasansa (Musical Concert) presentation on the 31st August 2008 at the Sugathadasa indoor stadium to Mahatma Gandhi and his message of peace and non-violence. Recognising the confluence of the ideals between the Mahatma Gandhi Centre and the Daham Pahna Movement for building a peaceful and caring society the Mahatma Gandhi Centre is pleased to issue the following statement to mark the Ve Prasansa presentation on the theme "Towards spiritually Empowered Nation".
Statement issued by the Mahathma Gandhi Centre
At a time when our planet Earth is facing its most cataclysmic ecological destruction, humanity remains marred in a dark age of conflicts and upheavals. Wars of identity, liberation, self determination, religious hegemony and resource grabbing seem to accelerate everywhere unfolding new tragedies which are paid for in lives, blood, tears, and destruction of our planet. There are no winners in this war game the human species has played since the dawn of civilization, and we shall all lose our future unless we unite as a human family to heal and safeguard this planet for our children.
Sri-Lanka is a paradise Island, and at least that is what it was to those who made this country their home and to those who visited it from elsewhere. Spirituality of this country, flavoured by the various religious teachings, has sustained peace and harmony among the diverse ethnicity until the divisive forces worked its way rendering with us a share of the global tragedies.
Human life is sacred, and therefore it should not be violated by hurting or killing. Violence is unethical because it provokes division and resentment, and often creates more problems than it solves leading to a widening cycle of violence and bitterness. Some could argue that a non-violent society is not possible, especially in the current context of rivalry and competition. They say killing is inherent in human nature and defensive killing for survival of self, society and cherished values is a justifiable natural right of everyone. Some even argue that economic scarcity will always predispose to conflict and killing, and values such as freedom and ending structural or psychological violence are more important than non-killing
Is a non-killing society possible? If not, why not? Historically, only a small minority have been killers and "non-killing" is the human nature and has its roots in the spiritual heritage which has provided the humankind the capacity for personal and social transformation. Until the appearance of the weapons of mass destruction man has not specifically designed a weapon to kill fellow humans. Thus, there is no justification to kill or threaten to kill humans if social conditions are such in which every one has a space and opportunity to pursue life goals without fear of oppression and discrimination.
Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela have professed philosophical non-violence which has a more encompassing commitment to non-violent social actions for peace and justice. Non-violence became an embodiment and practice in every aspect of their lives. Power to rule is dependent upon the degree of obedience and cooperation given essentially voluntarily by the people, and therefore, they can also undermine that power by withholding their consent through non-cooperation and strikes. Disobedience is possible only when people overcome their fear and feelings of powerlessness for resistance, including recognition that suffering is part of the struggle for peace and justice.
Gandhian philosophy of non-violence emphasises on the need for converting the opponent to the side of justice or seeking reconciliation with love and truth. On the contrary, there are others who advocate non-violence but take the view that when approaching a conflict, the goal is first to defeat the opponent and then resort to the coercive power of non-violent actions to bring about reconciliation by imposing a solution. Such a solution does not involve respect for the opponent nor does it resolve the underlying conflict, and may even come from vested interests to keep power and profits from the status quo. Advocates of such a philosophy, while accepting the rhetoric of peace, may be resistant to methodological transformation or to deliver the requirements for consolidating a lasting peace.
Every citizen is responsible for every act of his government. When the state has become lawless or corrupt a citizen who barters with such a state shares in its corruption and lawlessness. According to Gandhi there is only one sovereign remedy, an that is, non-violent non-cooperation to bring in the real Swarajya (self-rule) - not by the acquisition of authority by a few but by the acquisition by all of the courage to resist authority when abused.
How relevant today is Gandhian non-violence to bring about social change in the globalising and competitively hostile political world? To many activists Gandhian non-violent approach places too much trust in the ruling elites and their potential for conversion. It ignores or minimizes the importance of interests linked to class or other social status factors in determining people’s political behaviour, and therefore, it is simplistic to rely on for shaping political strategy in a desired fashion. To say non-violence cannot be practiced is also an escape route because it requires soul-searching and willingness to change as individuals and as a nation.
As the saying goes, "rain will have to stop one day and wars will have to end one day". When the guns are silent the true challenge for human conflicts will start. It is when the fighting factions come together to build that ‘dream Nation’ they will realize that threats and violence should not be given a place in it. To truly reconcile the State and the People must become courageously non-violent, and this requires a change of heart. We in this country have the spiritual base to make that change, to forget and forgive, but our spirituality has stagnated and blunted for some time and has to be sharpened realising that we came from the same source and everyone of us has a space. Bring back spirituality in our daily lives and in our dealings is the take-home message today from the Daham Pahna and Mahatma Gandhi Centre. Together, we can make a better tomorrow. When democracy is attained under our spiritual supervision the weakest under it will have the same opportunity as the strongest. In such non-violent societies the soul force must mean everything and the physique must take second place. A nation or group which has made spirituality and non-violence as its final policy cannot be subjected to any form slavery.
M.A. Mohamed Saleem, President Mahathma Gandhi Centre & Arjuna Hulugalle, Board Member