Gandhism in Responding to Conflicts


Before initiating discussion pertaining to conflict resolution and Gandhism, we must first firmly keep in mind that Gandhism revolves around non-violence; Gandhism maintains its existence through non-violence and cannot stray from its domain.

Non-Violence: A Natural and Active Value

Non-violence is a natural and living value; it is the law of life. Although non-violence has been present within man from the moment of his emergence on earth, its manifestation started from the moment human beings became absorbed with thoughts of their safety. Those human beings, according to Mahatma Gandhi, were Rishis; and they were great scientists, because they discovered the law of non-violence in the midst of violence” and due to this very invention, “…they were greater geniuses than Newton. They were themselves greater warriors than Wellington. Having themselves known the use of arms they realized their uselessness, and [after this realization they] taught the weary world that its salvation lay not through violence but through non-violence.”

Non-violence is an active force and a weapon of the brave; it has nothing to do with cowardice. It does not mean meek submission to the will of the evildoer; in Mahatma Gandhi’s eyes, “it means pitting of one’s whole soul against the will of the tyrant.”

Being the law of life, an active force and a weapon of the brave, on-violence accords solutions to every problem, big or small, at all levels, in all places at all times, present or future. It transforms conflicts [having originated in violence] into cooperation [a chief feature of non-violence] and brings all parties in dispute to a win-win situation. Within this benevolent and welfaristic solution, one can neither claim to be victorious nor can the other feel defeated.

Inevitability of Disputes and Conflicts

Having acknowledged Gandhism and its affiliation with non-violence, we should also note that disputes are inevitable in human society. Conflicts, however, temporary immature, have occurred amongst people through all ages.

My native village [Kakrauli in Muzaffar Nagar district in Northern India] has inhabitants belonging to different Castes, Sub-castes, religious-communities, races and sects. Kakrauli is an old and historical village, which is to some extent comparable to Jacksonville, a southern city in the United States, whose history is typical of race relations for the region and time, along with its neighbor St.Augustine, the oldest city in America. As I understand it, Jacksonville’s approximately one million inhabitants represent Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. Whites and blacks both reside here, as well as Hispanics and Asians. Hence, Jacksonville is a microcosm of the world.

As a child, I witnessed many disputes with their resultant clashes occurring time and again between two persons or groups in my village. Though it happened rarely, sometimes the disputes between these groups escalated into a serious threat to the peace of the entire village by taking a communal color, in which so many villagers would get injured and the matter would be brought to the local police. In most of these cases, the warring groups would lose their belligerence overnight. The parties involved would allow their tempers to cool, whereupon they would reach a mutually agreed-upon compromise. The compromise was brought about either by the involved parties themselves or through the efforts of respected fellow inhabitants of the village.

With the passing of time, I heard about brawls and quarrels of a serious nature amongst groups within neighboring villages, as well as between the villages themselves. I witnessed the amicable settlement of disputes between the two individuals or groups by the same method mentioned previously. In most of the cases where the disputes involved two villages, five chosen members from each village would sit and go over the entire problem and in due course strike a mutually agreed upon resolution. In some instances, villages would take their disputes to the court in hopes of a victory in their favor. But in a country like India, the court cases would carry on for days, months and even years. Parties involved in these disputes would tire of the legal process, which would naturally lead them into a process of dialogue. During the course of dialogue, they would reach the conclusion that a court would not be helpful a tall, as the court’s decision would not be in line with their wishes.

I grew up. From radio, magazines, and newspapers I grew to learn of disputes over boundaries and the sharing of river water amongst the provinces of my own country. Although these disputes were quite different in nature from the ones that arose between individuals, groups or villages, the solution to all these conflicts would be reached through the process of dialogue or negotiation. Furthermore, I found that nations involved in disputes and wars would ultimately arrive at compromise and treaties after passing through the process of dialogue and negotiation.

I have gone through the pages of world history where I can clearly observe that this process of dialogue and negotiation is an old method to resolve problems, settle disputes, transform conflicts and end wars. Gandhism is in complete agreement with this method; furthermore, it adds a new dimension according to the demands of time and space by making it more comprehensive and adaptable. Gandhism is also particularly significant to Jacksonville, the largest city in the continental United States, where people of different faiths and customs reside; where a new leadership has emerged, but where old black-white relations have remained tense with the added difficulty of newer arrivals, Asians, Hispanics, etc.

Gandhism and Conflict Resolution

Gandhism generally accepts the inevitability of disputes and conflicts at different levels and in various walks of life; it calls upon people to resolve or transform these conflicts amicably through a non-violent method. Non-violence is a value permanently present in human nature as well as the basis of the conduction of society’s activities. Individual and collective introspection are indispensable in understanding disputes. To go to the root of the problem it is the first step of the process that leads to the resolution and transformation of conflict, and ultimately it leads to the establishment of a fearless and peaceful order.

After introspection and going to the root cause of the dispute, the dialogue and negotiation process begins, during which the involved parties are accorded full opportunities to present their viewpoint. Manya time this proves to be the final step, the resolution of which might be:

  • An individual, group, or party found guilty is asked to express regret, which, if accepted willingly, the problem or dispute is resolved; conflict is transformed and;

  • The guilty, besides expressing regret is asked to compensate the aggrieved, and if it is accepted, dispute is resolved permanently.
  • Now, if the clash is of a fierce nature involving grievous injuries or the killing of persons, and the matter reaches police, it too can be resolved through the same process, irregardless of the time it takes for introspection [to reach the root cause of the dispute], dialogue, negotiations, or arbitration.

    This is the simplest non-violent Gandhian way of resolving disputes or transforming conflicts at the individual or community level. It can also be applied to the solution of problems at the national and international level, as I have urged in my various lectures on this subject, especially during my time in Florida.

    The Gandhian way, being the simplest way, may be deemed to be rough or inferior. However, it is in fact more significant today because of its belief in human unity, which when realized and accepted, brings the state of confrontation down to the lowest level.

    Today, in spite of competition in every walk of life and at every level, people with their different customs, faiths and traditions are living with a continuously increasing spirit of cooperation. Due to development, literacy and an awakening consciousness, people around the world are growing closer day-by-day. So many among them have realized that the state of isolation cannot be helpful at all as we proceed on the path of progress, and that cooperation in all walks of life has become a necessity. This is why; people in large numbers are now fully capable of understanding and accepting the reality of human unity.

    Role of NGO’S and Educational Institutions

    Also, when people in larger numbers have known the reality of human unity, it is easier for men to resolve disputes and transform conflict through non-violent means even within the domain of established law and order. Moreover, educational institutions, non-government organizations and those concerned with human welfare can play vital roles in increasing the spirit of cooperation amongst the masses. They can impart the message of Sara Dharma Sambhaava, which according to Mahatma Gandhi, “is necessary for harmony among the people belonging to different faiths or communities.”

    This is especially true for a city like Jacksonville, where the literacy rates are satisfactory, making it possible for institutions to achieve their goal for the common cause.

    Educational institutions in particular can motivate people to realize that through conflicts nothing can be achieved permanently. For, it is only within the state of cooperation that development is feasible, and if a hurdle occurs on the way to progress, it can be removed through non-violent means. Furthermore, if there is loss of wealth, property or people during the course of conflict, it is a loss to humanity as a whole.

    These are the days of globalization. Everything seems to be connected now in one way or the other. At all levels and in all spheres, dependency on each other has increased so much that no one can think of living in a state of isolation. Therefore, many youth of the day acknowledge this reality. To quote one such youth who also happened to be a student of mine in Spain in 2001:

    “We can see that we live in a globalized world, no one can remain isolated from each other or unaffected by changes, so it is important to develop a sprit of mutual cooperation as well as of tolerance together with the spirit of nationality and understanding.”

    In such a situation, it is easier to make the people realize the importance and significance of non-violence and activities related to it. I am confident that educational institutions will come forward to accomplish this task of utmost importance.

    The Gandhian approach in theory and in practice is before us as a guideline. Apart from adopting it in syllabi in our schools, colleges and universities, as well as to every extent possible in our regional and national circumstances, we can apply it in our daily routines individually as well as collectively. Gandhism is based upon the old rule of non-violence. In it is the call for highest morality in the form of “returning well for evil.”

    It stimulates the acceptance of reality of the oneness of all and rejects the very idea of the so-called clash of civilizations. Furthermore, it inspires self-sacrifice as the Mahatma himself said:

    “There are so many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no cause that I am prepared to kill for.” The Gandhian way is welfaristic, all-timely, and as mentioned already, brings all parties in dispute to a win-win situation. It doesn’t create a permanent solution to a dispute, in which one can claim to be victorious and the other feel defeated; rather within Gandhism, both parties feel satisfied.

    Dr. Ravindra Kumar is an eminent writer, Indologist, political scientist and a former vice chancellor of Meerut University, India, who authored and edited over 100 works on great personalities like Mahatma Gandhi and on various social-cultural issues.