The Violence Behind Non-Violence

Young Gandhi to Mahatma Gandhi
A young boy leads Gandhiji for a walk

Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
-M.K. Gandhi
Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 - 1948)

These were the words of Mahatma Gandhi, whose 142nd birth anniversary, is being "celebrated" today. Mohandas Gandhi is considered the father of the Indian independence movement. He created his concept of satyagraha, a non-violent way of protesting against injustice.

Recently, the Egyptian masses made Hosni Mubarak resign from office through a non-violent movement. The uprising was mainly a campaign of non-violent civil resistance, which featured a series of demonstrations, marches, acts of civil disobedience, and labour strikes.

But what is this non-violence, why does it work, how can powerful people be forced to act through Satyagraha? While the basic premise of a non-violent movement is using no physical force, there might be a hidden element of violence in it. One viewpoint is that the aim of non-violence is to change opinions, to win hearts. Is it really the case in all examples of non-violent movements that we look at? Why did the British leave India? Why did the Indian government seem helpless in front of Anna Hazare's anshan? It was certainly not because of some moral pressure that they felt due to a non-violent movement.

The strength of such movements lies in the numbers. More the number of people supporting it, more is the pressure exerted. But it is not moral pressure, certainly not in the recent case of the Lokpal campaign. It was the threat of violence that did the trick. The pressure comes from the fact that the non-violent movements had the potential of becoming massive violent movements. Gandhiji's and Anna's fasting worked because it posed a threat of creating a law and order situation that nobody in political power had the guts to face. It was like a strong army of rebellious youth, ready to go violent if anything unfortunate happens to their leader.

Thus it seems that while the philosophy of non-violence condemns violence, the effectiveness of a non-violent movement might depend on its potential to become violent, in case the objectives are not met.

Happy Gandhi Jayanti!

“Democracy don't rule the world, You'd better get that in your head; This world is ruled by violence, But I guess that's better left unsaid.
-Bob Dylan

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