Dialogue  October-December, 2010, Volume 12 No. 2

What can we do then?

Kanti Shah

1. Why this blind faith in violence?

A novel search is under way in the field of social science. Can the force of love and nonviolence be the guiding force in the affairs of society? The search underway is how our problems can be resolved using nonviolence. The quest is whether human beings can live with one another in cooperation and collaboration with each other. Violence is the biggest curse of humanity and how we can free ourselves from its clutches is the quest.

We live in an age when humankind has lost its faith in violence. That resort to the force of arms and to hatred does not permanently solve problems is being realised, but it is also true that faith in nonviolence as an alternative is still not established. How the force of love can be used to fulfil our . ends, remains untested and unproven. There has only been a glimpse of the force of love and nonviolence. Only concrete efforts to solve society’s problems through love and nonviolence can help establish humanity’s confidence in the power of nonviolence. The few experiments conducted thus far however half-baked and half-hearted do give rise to some hope. Only persistence with these experiments will help advance the invention of nonviolence in the field of social science.

Vinoba often said, ‘People are still not convinced that nonviolence is efficacious in social affairs. They smugly trust violent means. But why such blind faith in violence, I ask? What great promise does it hold? Has it ever permanently solved any problem? Why resort to the same violent means though it never produced desired results? Why such blind faith in violence?

‘And I say let go off that blind faith awhile and consider whether something is not fundamentally wrong with violence as repeated attempts have led to no positive results. Why not give nonviolence a try? Minutely observe its results. Consider whether there is a shortcoming in its practice or whether it lacked adequate skill, and conduct more experiments, if necessary, for its development and refinement. There is nothing to lose by these experiments as millions have been spent after the application of violence. Heavens will not fall if some effort is expended on the experiment of nonviolence. It is the pressing need of the day.

Recognising this urgency, the search for nonviolence would have to continue untiringly. It is certain that humankind is in search of a new path and many people are engaged in experiments towards that goal. They are not all organised or coordinated efforts. Yet, a fair amount has been accomplished at a conceptual level and in terms of a vision towards a humane, nonviolent social order. And a collective social pursuit towards that is indeed developing across the world.

2. The budding new sprouts of nonviolence

Enlightened thinkers across the world have presented before us what the post-modern individual informed by a synthesis of science and spirituality would be like and the adaptations called for to progress on the path of human welfare. They have enumerated the fundamental changes that will have to be made in the socially established sciences and theories, parameters and values, thinking and attitudes, beliefs and life-styles. A unique, balanced philosophy is developing in every field. We therefore now have a new all-embracing world-vision and life-vision disseminating around the world. To that extent, the moment of understanding seems to have arrived.

The unique and healthful streams of thought can be enumerated as follows:

Conscious and harmonious order of the universe

1. Human life and the universe we live in are not a machine but a whole, indivisible, dynamic and vibrant entity. The universe evolves as a living organism.

2. Life cannot be fathomed only by reason, intellect and sensory perceptions. Reductionism cannot fully explain the mysteries of life and the universe. They can only be viewed as a mosaic of the intricate interconnections between the different constituents of a vital unit. That is the one way to imbibe it, and that is how the universal order can be understood in its totality.

3. The animate universe is characterised by interdependent symbiosis. Mutual interdependence, cooperation, interconnectedness is its fundamental characteristic. Nothing has a standalone existence. There is competition but it usually exists in the larger context of cooperation in order that the superstructure maintains its equilibrium. Nature brooks neither superiority nor domination. It has variegated mutually interdependent and harmonious relationships.

The potential for the full blossoming of the human self

4. Human beings are an integral part of the universal order. The materialist philosophy founded on the principles of competition, conflict, avarice, selfishness as a fundamental element of human nature is wholly erroneous, spurious and without any scientific basis. It is a totally perverted view of human nature. Human nature has been painted as such to justify the capitalist-materialist philosophy. The perverse materialist order in turn reinforces the baser human instincts reducing the human being to further degradation. Humanistic psychology has shed light on the basic goodness of human nature and on the limitless possibility of developing its sublime potentialities. That should enable the full blossoming of human nature.

5. The idea that creature comforts and consumerism are the raison d’etre of human existence is erroneous. Experience also shows that such hedonism and consumerism bring no joy or peace. The fact is that only by transcending one’s physical needs does one try to fulfil human needs. Giving, sharing, sacrifice give joy and make life meaningful. Nourishment is a need not only of the body but also that of the mind-heart- soul. Human beings must emotionally relate to nature, fellow beings and the world at large. They are the psycho-spiritual needs of the human being.

Holistic view of life in its entirety

6. The relationship of human beings to Nature cannot be defined by conflict. That man is at war with nature, and he must establish his dominance over it and exploit it best as he can, is a wholly childish, arrogant and self-destructive attitude. Human beings have to live in harmony with nature. Deepening knowledge of ecology, environment gradually teaches us sanity.

7. That science has no truck with morality, moral and human values, is entirely fallacious. Science that is bereft of morality can only invite destruction. Human and moral values will have to be established in every aspect of human life.

8.  Economic considerations dominate today’s industrial civilisation. Profit and ever increasing production have been the main goals. Gross national product, growth rate and other misleading concepts rule the roost. There is a dire need for a new humanistic economics. There will have to be a fundamental change in the definition of development and progress.

Overcoming some superstitions

9. The wasteful and extravagant lifestyles of the industrially advanced countries will have to be renounced. Abuse of energy and goods has to be stopped forthwith. The blind and superstitious imitation of the wasteful lifestyle under the delusion of modernity has to be overcome.

10. Escaping from the clutches of a blind faith in market forces has to be a priority. Human beings ought to be freed - as far as possible - from the stranglehold of the market. A new self-reliant and mutually interdependent order ought to be put in place. A new work-ethic and order where human creativity is encouraged will have to be promoted.

11. The superstition, that only the massive, expensive and complicated technologies are scientific, has to be abandoned. Technology will need to be tailored to serve the kind of society human beings desire rather than it being the other way round. We have to rid ourselves of technology that alienates the human being from his/her roots, makes him/her a cog in the machine and totally subservient to the market. So also technology that pollutes and destroys nature. What is needed is a new humanistic technology.

12. The superstitious faith in urbanisation and centralised order has to be got rid of. The trend is towards a decentralised order. To stall the uprooting of people and their migration into cities, decentralised modern technology and conveniences have to be provided in villages.

The need for a new set up

13. The current education-factories need to be overhauled. Education has to be related to work, social needs and life.

14. The idea of the nation-state, and sovereign nations is unlikely to survive. The demands for local autonomy are rising all around. National governments are unable to deal with the complexity and the localised nature of problems. Many problems, on the other hand, transcend national boundaries. Thus a novel balance has to be struck between local autonomy and a globalised order.

15. The formal structure of the massive administrative establishment will need to be fundamentally altered. Voluntary groups ought to take progressively greater initiative. People must necessarily play a more direct part in the democratic process.

16. The evil effects of pesticides and fertilisers are more and more obvious. It is coming to be accepted more and more that agricultural practices would have to be in consonance with the cycle of nature. Organic farming is becoming popular. More needs to be done to bolster this process.

17. Every obstacle to the process of establishing unity among various sections of society would have to be rooted out. Distinctions and discrimination based on religion, caste, creed, language will have to be got rid of.

The turning of the tide

The currents described above signify the most modern global trends. They are radically different from the current materialist philosophy. The seed-like elements of a novel life-vision are of a piece with the writings of Hind Swaraj and Gandhi's life-values. They have now evolved an all-embracing, holistic and multi-dimensional philosophy. It is a vision seeking the exaltation of all, hence it is appropriately termed the Sarvodaya philosophy.

The vision /philosophy leads humanity towards a nonviolent social order. That is the vision of the coming age at a time when the tide is turning.

It must be clarified that these trends and thoughts have not yet gained acceptance among the masses, but they have received reasonably  wide propagation. While the current social structure still conforms to the old beliefs, there is wide agreement amongst the best thinkers and philosophers on the way forward. the sarvodaya philosophy can be the bedrock of a new humanistic nonviolent social order.

Sarvodaya believes that the new trends and thoughts referred to above will go from strength to strength and humanity will build a new society on its strong foundation. That will be the Sarvodaya society.      

3. Five-fold task before us

Very individual who desires to cultivate and advance the cause of nonviolence must commit himself/herself to the following five-fold duties:

(I)  The first and foremost task is the widespread and continual propagation of the philosophy and mass education. It is ultimately a philosophical battle - establishing a humanistic philosophy in place of    the current materialist philosophy, reaching out to the deprived and marginalized sections of society, building public opinion in favour of the changing values, and inspiring people to implement new ideas in individual and social life. To undertake the above tasks one has to be adequately trained and prepared, work on developing and refining thought and philosophy as well as grasping its finer points, develop the skill and ability to reach out to, and convince all sections of society using all forms of media.

A forceful challenge to the existing philosophy has to be mounted at least on the following fronts:

          l   Extravagant and self-indulgent life-styles, insatiable gluttony and unlimited consumerism.

          l   The warped perception that equates happiness and wellbeing to mammon-worship and pursuit of wealth, as well as the selfish rat-race and cut-throat competition.

          l   The perverse model of development that serves the luxury needs of the wealthy at the cost of the poor and deprived, a model that widens the gulf between the rich and the poor.

          l   Indiscriminate industrialisation that uproots people and destroys the rural fabric as well as the blind rush for technology that harms human relations.

          l   Developmentalism that shatters the ecological balance, poisons the air, water and soil and promotes exploitation of natural resources in a way that endangers the survival of future generations.

          l   Over-centralisation and mindless urbanization that renders human-beings worthless and redundant.

          l   Self-seeking corrupt politics and the tendency on the part of the state to spread its tentacles in the guise of welfare.

  l   Narrow sectarianism and fanaticism of orthodox religious groups and bloodthirsty violence.

          l   The illusory attraction of globalization that seeks to convert the entire world into a market.

Our message, as outlined above, ought to be propagated through discussions, debates, public contacts, training camps, conferences and the media. There can be no holding , hesitation, reservation or lethargy. Only an unrelenting campaign can displace the existing destructive philosophy.

(II) The second most important thing is putting precept into practice. An ounce of practice is worth more than a tonne of theory. To what extent are the principles we preach reflected in our own life? While propagating that today’s civilization sacrifices morality in the interest of wealth one cannot overlook morality in one’s owndealings. One ought to practise what one preaches. Honesty, sincerity are the sine qua non of change.

Gandhi was someone who had begun to completely transform himself the morning after he read Ruskin’s book on an overnight train. His message, therefore, can only be propagated through one’s practice.

Gandhi puts this across very convincingly in Hind Swaraj: ‘It is not to be conceived that all men will do all things at one time .... What a few may do, others will copy; and the movement will grow .... You and I need not wait until we can carry others with us ..... It is an idle excuse to say that we shall do a thing when the others also do it. We should do what we know to be right, and others will do it when they see the way.’

(III) The third task is to experiment. Gandhi was a champion experimenter of truth. A nonviolent social order calls for innumerable experiments. Only thinking would not suffice. It would have to be backed by action and experiments. Being opposed to the ‘monster of machines’ one would have to provide alternatives based on humane technology. Likewise with organic agriculture. It would be incumbent on each one to have a field of experimentation where each has his/her ear to the ground and is able to put their philosophy into action as social scientists. It would also be important to share one’s experiences and learnings with others on a regular basis.

(IV) The fourth task is to create a worldwide comradeship. Thousands of individuals, groups, communities, organisations are rebelling against modern civilization and are engaged in the search for alternatives. They are receptive to new ideas and perform all manner of experiments in their quest for answers. Yet, these efforts are largely scattered. There ought to be comradeship and collaboration among them. Manubhai Pancholi often said, truth prevails, but it is only organised truth that prevails. All these forces ought to put in place a live, vibrant, vigorous and organised camaraderie so as to present a strong human front, that is a most urgent need.

Fritjof Capra, a leading light in the movement for alternatives says: ‘A new society will emerge from a revolt against the society’s prevailing dominant values.’

And such a fellowship is emerging. In 1999, during the World Trade Organization negotiations at Seattle, approximately 50,000 volunteers representing over 700 voluntary organizations from around the world organized peaceful and nonviolent protests. It had neither a central figure leading it nor was it coordinated by a regimental organization. The protest was entirely peaceful providing an excellent example of shared responsibility and collective leadership. These protesters represented tens of millions of people who believe that the current style of globalisa~ion bodes ill for humanity.

This was followed by the establishment of the ‘International Seattle Coalition’ which culminated in the formation of a ‘World Social Forum’ in 2001. Over 700 voluntary organizations from 79 countries have participated in this forum. It is a loose and flexible platform that organizes conventions around the world participated in by tens of thousands of people. It would not be too fanciful to describe these as a modern version of the Kumbha mela (massive religious fair held at the holy confluence of rivers once in twelve years at the four holiest places in India)! Their motto is ‘Another world is possible.’ It is the call of the human soul. It is a revolt against a civilization that perennially entraps human beings in the hell-fire of violence. This world does not have to be like this. It does no credit to humanity. Human society necessarily has to be different. The emerging global fellowship does not necessarily have a clear alternative vision. We in India are in a position to provide that vision. The search for a new world order based on love and nonviolence that began with Hind Swaraj, over the century that has elapsed has evolved into the Sarvodaya philosophy. It can provide the blueprint for ‘another’ and ‘different’ new world. Such a blueprint is absolutely necessary in our worldwide quest today. It can be the lodestar, compass, to guide the emerging fellowship for ‘Another World’. It can also be the link between the various constituents. That is the greatest and most invaluable relevance of Hind Swaraj today.

(V) Considerable spade work has been done in another area in the last hundred years. A vision of the nonviolent process involved in bringing to fruition an idea has now emerged. Vinoba termed it as ‘people’s power,’i.e., a force against violence, and distinct from the force of the state. Only an active and vibrant people’s power would be able to found this new culture from scratch. That is a monumental task.

Toffler has pertinently observed, ‘The new civilization will not come about by changing the persons who rule or by debates amongst the so-called leaders of thought. It will require thousands of experiments at different levels, in different theatres spread over many decades. The energies of the entire society shall have to be mobilized. It is incumbent upon us to bring this to the notice of the public at large. Only by succeeding in doing so we will be able to generate a source of energy that will transform the society. It requires to be emphasized that the entire civil society shall have to get involved in this romantic transformation of the society,”

It will not be possible to tap this energy only along the main expressways. The remote rocky and dusty foot-paths will have to be trudged. The common people will have to be reached and it would be necessary to identify with them and awaken them. Resistance would have to be initiated and satyagraha undertaken occasionally to fight the wrong. That is the fifth task.

This would be the five-fold path for those desiring to bring to reality Hind Swaraj. Dhirendra Majumdar often said, ‘As thousands of sages dedicated themselves to the cause of founding a new culture in the age of the Upanishads, thousands will similarly have to dedicate themselves to the founding of a new culture today.'

4. We shell overcome someday!

It is true that the existing materialist philosophy still rules the roost. The alternative Sarvodaya philosophy, that challenges it, is more relevant today than ever before. Those receptive to its ideas are but a minority. History is replete with instances where the majority has been proven wrong and the minority vindicated. All fundamental changes have been ushered in by a small persevering dedicated minority against the resistance of the majority.

It would help to remember Margaret Mead’s observation: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever does.' 

‘Another World is Possible’. That would be ‘A Beautiful World,’ Gandhi and Vinoba would add, in place of what Ralf Borsodi calledugly civilization: A world where humanity would blossom to its fullest. We must hold the faith that it is bound to happen in the course of human evolution.

Erich Fromm wrote, ‘Faith is not a weak form of belief or knowledge. Faith is the conviction about the not yet proven, the knowledge of the real possibility, the awareness of pregnancy. It is based on the faculty of knowledge and comprehension, which penetrates the surface and sees the kernel. Faith is not prediction of the future: it is the vision of the present in the state of pregnancy.”

Only such faith can be a driving force. Vaclav Havel, a litterateur, former president of the Czech Republic and an active participant in the movement for ‘Another World,’ reiterates this faith saying, ‘The kind of hope that I often think about.... I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world. Either we have hope within us or we don’t. It is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation .... Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out,”   

Arnold Toynbee, the great historian observed, ‘Looking at the record of our humanity one is driven to pessimism. History tells us that man is prone to repeating his mistakes; keeps quarrelling with his fellow human beings and is very slow to learn from experience. But when I look at the human evolution, I become an incurable optimist. Evolution points out how the cave-man whose existence was solely governed by his never-ending search for animals to hunt has attained such a high state of civilized behaviour! In the final analysis it is a matter of the scale you adopt to interpret history. It took the cave-man 30,000 years to adopt agriculture as a source for his sustenance. Adopt a wider perspective:

Hind Swaraj is not just a book. It is a milestone in the journey of human revolution and evolution. It heralds the coming of a New Age. This is just the beginning of that New Age.


Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati