A tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 154th birth anniversary
VedabhyasKundu & Munazah Shah
Perhaps never before has there been so much speculation about the future as there is today. Will our world always be one of violence? Will there always be poverty, starvation, misery? Will we have a firmer and wide belief in religion, or will the world be godless? If there is to be a great change in society, how will that change be wrought? By war, or revolution? Or will it come peacefully? Different men give different answers to these questions, each man drawing the plan of tomorrow’s world as he hopes and wishes it to be. I answer not only out of belief but out of conviction. The world of tomorrow will be, must be, a society based on non-violence. That is the first law; out of it all other blessings will flow. It may seem a distant goal, an impractical Utopia. But it is not in the least unobtainable, since it can be worked for here and now. An individual can adopt the way of life of the future-the non-violent way-without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can do it, cannot whole groups of individuals? Whole nations? Men often hesitate to make a beginning because they feel that the objective cannot be achieved in its entirety. This attitude of mind is precisely our greatest obstacle to progress-an obstacle that each man, if he only wills it, can clear away.- Mahatma Gandhi, The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi
As we celebrate the 154th birth anniversary of the apostle of peace, Mahatma Gandhi on October 2 as the International Day of Nonviolence, this question posed by the Mahatma remains extraordinarily relevant as we find ourselves in a whirlpool of conflicts, poverty and misery around the world. We find ourselves in the midst of both intra-state and inter-state conflicts as people around the world grapple for answers to end these cycle of violence which are not only taking heavy toll on the lives of people, but destroying economies and livelihood. It is in this context that the Mahatma’s mantra to practice nonviolence and adopt a nonviolent way of life becomes significant. Our aim should be to strive to use nonviolence to bring an end to these conflicts. To fructify such endeavoursshould be to promote deep and genuine dialogues among conflicting parties.
In fact keeping in mind the essence of dialogues for resolution of conflicts, the United Nations in its Resolution 77/32 on December 6, 2022 declared 2023 as the International Year of Dialogue as a Guarantee for Peace. The aim would be to promote initiatives and interventions for ‘mobilizing the efforts of the international community to promote peace and trust among nations based on, inter alia, political dialogue, negotiations, mutual understanding and cooperation, in order to build sustainable peace, solidarity and harmony’. This is what Mahatma Gandhi was telling all his life –the need for dialogue as a nonviolent action, the need for mutual respect and mutual understanding.
Today our conversation is a tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 154th birth anniversary and the need to encourage genuine dialogue at all levels-whether individual, in families, in institutions, in our societies and between nations.
Munazah Shah : Vedabhyas, if you read the resolution of the United Nations which underlines the significance of dialogues, it stresses on how “dialogue contributes to combining the efforts of the international community in consolidating the traditions of peaceful and trust-based coexistence among the peoples of the world, restoring the values, attitudes and traditions of maintaining and promoting peace and the comprehensive establishment of a culture of peace and trust in international relations.” The Resolution also underlines, “Dialogue as a valuable tool in conflict resolution and prevention can help to ease tensions, resolve disputes, overcome dividing lines and contribute to a culture of peace and non-violence, people-to-people contacts and reconciliation.” It is in this context, we should make all efforts to encourage dialogues at all level so that we can promote harmonious coexistence and contribute towards a culture of peace and nonviolence. This was the dream of our Bapu.
Vedabhyas : The UN Resolution reiterates on why dialogues must be pursued to not only avoid conflicts but also a powerful tool to resolve conflicts. Munazah, in the complex world we find ourselves today where disputes and conflicts across institutions are a regular concern, encouraging dialogues should be the primary goal of every institutions- be it families, schools, colleges, other institutions, societies and nation states. But the contrary seems to be happening. Munazah, don’t you thinkthere seems to dialogue deficit- we seem to be detached from each other, we are apathetic about the concerns of others and social ties seems to be on the decline? Here I am reminded of the eminent peace scholar, DrDaisaku Ikeda who said, “While we share different values, how far can we expand a common ground for all humanity through true dialogue? The important thing is how we can use the power of dialogue to bring the world closer together and raise humanity to a new eminence. In the present highly complex world of overlapping hatreds, contradictory interests, and conflict, even attempting to do such things may seem like an idealism that will only take us in circles. But . . . I am someone who believes that a magnificent and very real challenge as we seek world peace is to allow the civilization of dialogue to flower in the twenty-first century.”
Munazah Shah : You are correct, Vedabhyas. There definitely seems to be dialogue deficit in the world. In the first place, we must understand the aim of any dialogue- to my mind it is to engage diverse and divided communities in a constructive conversation in order to break down stereotypes and rebuild trust. Also I think the intended result of dialogues is that participants gain an understanding of others’ ways of feeling, thinking and expressing themselves, which then develops empathy towards each other and allows them to bring about change. Vedabhyas as we have seen in our different conversations, dialogue is definitely a process that involves peoples from different walks of life in a community gathered together to foster understanding and share information on issues of importance to them. Here Vedabhyas, given your understanding of the Gandhian praxis, what do you think are the essential features of Gandhian principles of dialogue?
Vedabhyas Kundu : Munazah, here I would like to quote Senior Gandhian, Prof N Radhakrishnan with whom I had the privilege and honour to have a dialogue for my book, Conversations on Peace and Nonviolence: Drawing Connections with 16 Global Experts. In this conversation, ProfRadhakrishnan stressed on how Mahatma Gandhi ‘used the medium of dialogue with consummate dexterity and skill’. Here for the readers, I think it would be pertinent to reproduce the perspectives of ProfRadhakrishnan on the Gandhian way to dialogue from my book.
The journals and newspapers Gandhi edited both in South Africa and India were essentially channels of communication for him with the readers. Gandhi invited questions and answers, and even published the views and articles against him in his own journals which were run on ethical and moral grounds, and were mostly in the form of dialogue. The two books by Gandhi that give the most valuable basic details of his life and work are My Experiments with Truth (an autobiography) and Hind Swaraj, a small treatise that attracted enormous hostile criticism besides being banned by the British for the “seditious views it contained.” It was significant that when it was reissued after several years, Gandhi did not change a single word. The Hind Swaraj is in the form of a dialogue between an editor and a reader. The dialogue raised several issues of contemporary relevance, such as an alternative vision for the industrial-urban society of India, the deepening civilizational crisis, the escalation of violence, problems of marginalization, strategies of nonviolent resistance, development with justice and peace, peaceful co-existence of different religions et cetera. In this book, Gandhi also introduces his famous distinction between religion as organization and religion as ethics and spiritually. He stresses that, underlying all organized religions, there is a universal ethics and spiritually, which teaches the unconditional love of God and one’s neighbour. At the same time, religion as organization serves as a convenient means of maintaining a certain type of pre-political identity. Every organized religion is able to get a certain amount of legitimacy. It follows that organized religions ought to practise tolerance towards each other. Hind Swaraj thus convincingly argues that there are good religious reasons for practicing tolerance….. It is significant that Gandhi also viewed dialogue and the shared understanding that might result from it as one of the most powerful human actions for promoting an authentic culture of peace and conflict reduction techniques. His work and struggle for human rights and peace in South Africa for 21 years and the unprecedented mass upheaval through nonviolent mass agitation and constructive work for national freedom of India which lasted 32 years offer very valuable lessons to humanity in the context of growing conflicts that bedevil most of the countries and societies today. It may also be remembered that the strategies Gandhi evolved were mostly based on his profound understanding of the power of dialogue that according to him was much more than two individuals talking to each other in an attempt to understand each other or sort out outstanding differences of opinion. The dialogues of masters such as Socrates and Plato in ancient times offered precious insights into the complex nature of what constitutes human behavior vis-à-vis human aspiration, which many later visionaries and social activists interpreted in the light of the evolving socio-political scenario. Honest attempts were made by many evangelists of dialogue to the collective treasures of acknowledging differences, discovering our common humanity, and achieving a new understanding as the basis for mutual cooperation. It is this precious jewel of heart-to-heart dialogue that makes dialogue as the potent and productive weapon in the arsenal of nonviolent peace builders.
Munazah Shah : Vedabhyas, this is an insightful understanding of Mahatma Gandhi and the power of dialogues.With the Gandhian framework in mind, for a greater global understanding , cohesion, and a nonviolent world we need to encourage dialogues across cultures, groups, ethnicities, faiths etc. Vedabhyas, I strongly believe that it is time that each one of us learn on how to live together as in a world of increasing diversity it has become one of the serious challenges of our time. More than ever before due to the proliferation of information technologies, we are in greater contact with groups with different beliefs and attitudes more than ever before. As all their cultures are different, it is imperative that we make serious efforts to ensure positive and genuine interactions across differences. If we do not encourage genuine dialogues, we will end up entrapped in a world of negative stereotypes, misunderstanding and become judgmental. This will lead towards conflict and violence. So, the world definitely needs the Gandhian principles of dialogue to be assimilated for better intercultural understanding and interactions.
Vedabhyas Kundu : Definitely, the Gandhian principles are critical to follow more than ever before in a pluricultural but an increasingly polarized world. Munazah, to my mind the escalation of conflicts in different parts of the world probably is a pointer to the fact that aspirations of many individuals for a pluralistic and tolerant society may not be sufficient reason to ensure a culture of peace and nonviolence. It needs revisiting of existing strategies and innovative strategies. I think Mahatma Gandhi gives us the answer to bringing in that innovation and creativity in dialogues.We must remember what the Mahatma had said, “Hatred, [some people argue] cannot be turned into love. Those who believed in violence will naturally use it by saying, “Kill your enemy, injure him and his property wherever you can, whether openly or secretly as necessity requires.” The result will be deeper hatred and counter hatred and vengeance let loose on both sides.” (Harijan, 24-2, 1946). Mahatma believed in the essential unity of human beings. He said, “God has so ordered this world that no one can keep his goodness or badness exclusively to himself. The whole world is like the human body with its various members. Pain in one member is felt in the whole body. Rot in one part must inevitably poison the whole system. (Harijan, 26-5-1946) This is the spirit with which we must promote dialogues.
What we learn from the Mahatma is how dialogues can be powerful strategies for not only individual transformation and but also social transformation. When we are engaged in genuine dialogue, we are learning from each other with humility. So from the Gandhian principles of truth, nonviolence, love, compassion and justice, we learn to enter into dialogues that mutually enriching leading to enhancement of our personhood, engaging with each other at the deepest level, overcome the possible divisions that exist between those who are in conflict which distinguishes between ‘us’ vs ‘them’.
Munazah, I think we should encourage people to delve further into how the life and message of Mahatma Gandhi encourages genuine dialogues and the way to love and peace.
To conclude, in this world that is hungering for nonviolent settlement of disputes, we firmly believe that deep, heart-to-heart dialogues draw conflicting parties towards a safe space of conversation and realization that confrontation is no answer; instead, expressions of love and compassion are the only panacea to solve any disputes. We believe that it is only through heart-to-heart dialogues we can promote loving-kindness in the world. We also feel that the first step to practice deep and genuine dialogues has to start at the individual level and then at the family level. Only then we can go on to engage in dialogues at institutional levels, in communities, and finally at the global level.
To conclude, let us share this apt quote of Bapu which can be the central pillar of all dialogues:
Having flung aside the sword, there is nothing except the cup of love which I can offer to those who oppose me. It is by offering that cup that I except to draw them close to me. I cannot think of permanent enmity between man and man, and believing as I do in the theory of rebirth, I live in the hope that, if not in this birth, in some other birth, I shall be able to hug all humanity in friendly embrace. (Young India, 2-4-1931)
(Vedabhyas Kundu is Programme Officer, Gandhi Smriti and DarshanSamiti, New Delhi)
(Munazah Shah is a broadcast journalist. She has keen interest and researching on Gandhian nonviolent communication)