AHIMSA (अहिंसा)

“Nonviolence is a weapon of the strong.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“[Nonviolence is effective if] practiced by those who could easily resort to force if they chose.”

 – D. A. Clarke

Gandhi Jayanti – birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi –  02 October, is also the International Day of Non-violence (Ahimsa).

Ahimsa – abstention from violence to achieve an outcome –

is an ancient philosophy. The word ‘Ahimsa ‘ was coined by Mahavira (599 –527 BCE), the twenty-fourth tirthankara of the Jain religion, and he and his disciples followed it.

Gandhi revolutionized Ahimsa: from a personal practice, into a “unique weapon” of social and political change.

Ahimsa is a choice of no harm and least harm. It is not pacifism, nor passive acceptance of oppression.  It uses  non violent means – “education and persuasion, mass noncooperation, civil disobedience, nonviolent direct action, and social, political, cultural and economic forms of intervention” –  to defeat oppression.

Ahimsa  was Tolstoy and Gandhi’s philosophy. But Gandhi was the man of action: he used Ahimsa to end the British rule in India. Gandhi’s methods were adopted by Martin Luther King to win civil rights for African Americans;  were adopted by Václav Havel to overthrow the Communist government in Czechoslovakia in 1989 (the “Velvet Revolution“); and are used by labor, peace, environment, women and other movements

Civil and political power rests on people’s cooperation and consent; if these are withdrawn, the ‘power’ tumbles. Ahimsa creates a movement which effects change even if the status-quo-its are not won over. Protest, noncooperation and intervention are the three main Ahimsa methods. Gene Sharp, a political scientist, has described 198 such methods.

The much touted ‘Separate the deed from the doer, eg, terror from terrorist,’ is a product of Ahimsa  philosophy. We should condemn and oppose the deed, not the doer.

The critique of Gandhian Ahimsa  is that it assumes that the adversary will have compassion and sense of justice even when he has everything to lose. That it ignores: the right to defend oneself if being brutalized, ie, the right of self-defence; that violence cannot be ruled out if no other option remains; that it can be argued that violence is a “morally [permissible] instrument of social change;” that it can only succeed with “a free press and the right of assembly.”

On balanced though, Ahimsa is desirable because it is “the politics of ordinary people.”


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