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“I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect to arrive.”

Archive for February 2008

Non-violence and Satyagraha

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Dr. Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Non-violence, in his 9 June 2002 lecture at the University of Puerto Rico, is said to have shared the following story with his audience. It is about non-violence, the awesome power it wrests, and its pervasive nature – it can be put to great use in almost every conceivable situation in life. It seems surreal but true. Here goes.

I was 16 years old and living with my parents at the institute my grandfather had founded 18 miles outside of Durban, South Africa, in the middle of the sugar plantations. We were deep in the country and had no neighbors, so my two sisters and I would always look forward to going to town to visit friends or go to the movies.

One day, my father asked me to drive him to town for an all-day conference, and I jumped at the chance. Since I was going to town, my mother gave me a list of groceries she needed and, since I had all day in town, my father ask me to take care of several pending chores, such as getting the car serviced. When I dropped my father off that morning, he said, ‘I will meet you here at 5:00 p.m., and we will go home together.’

After hurriedly completing my chores, I went straight to the nearest movie theatre. I got so engrossed in a John Wayne double-feature that I forgot the time. It was 5:30 before I remembered. By the time I ran to the garage and got the car and hurried to where my father was waiting for me, it was almost 6:00.

He anxiously asked me, ‘Why were you late?’ I was so ashamed of telling him I was watching a John Wayne western movie that I said, ‘The car wasn’t ready, so I had to wait, ‘not realizing that he had already called the garage. When he caught me in the lie, he said: ‘There’s something wrong in the way I brought you up that didn’t give you the confidence to tell me the truth. In order to figure out where I went wrong with you, I’m going to walk home 18 miles and think about it.’

So, dressed in his suit and dress shoes, he began to walk home in the dark on mostly unpaved, unlit roads. I couldn’t leave him, so for five-and-a-half hours I drove behind him, watching my father go through this agony for a stupid lie that I uttered.

I decided then and there that I was never going to lie again. I often think about that episode and wonder, if he had punished me the way we punish our children, whether I would have learned a lesson at all. I don’t think so. I would have suffered the punishment and gone on doing the same thing. But this single non-violent action was so powerful that it is still as if it happened yesterday. That is the power of non-violence.

Non-violence and Satyagraha are perhaps the two most phenomenal concepts that mankind was educated with in the 20th century. Personally, I would rate them as being more phenomenal than Gandhi himself. Till recently, I had always found myself very precariously placed as to my actual belief in these concepts. I didn’t think they had enough power to make any effect, yet I didn’t have the heart to give up on them. I’m sure that a lot of us would have experienced similar feelings.

However, there arose a situation last May, in which the passengers (I was one of them) of a Goa-Bangalore bus were subjected to oppression by the travel company. The situation required that we stand up for ourselves, and so we decided to do. But how exactly would we stand up for ourselves and fight, we didn’t quite know. Sub-consciously, I began thinking that non-violent demonstration was the way to go about it. Another passenger, a dude named Ajay Singhi, had also been thinking the same. The two of us managed to convince four others about the idea. Gradually, the idea spread to all passengers, and they were up to it. We all reached the travel company’s office together. There, we actually sat in a non-violent, noiseless “dharna”. We told the manager about our grievances, and insisted on not moving from there unless justice prevailed. Needless to say, we succeeded.

Later, after most of the passengers had left, the manager of the travel company’s office was to admit the following to Ajay and me: the fact that our protest was non-violent and silent had injured, and moved, them immensely. While we were protesting, the travel company had begun making covert preparations to bring in a few “security personnel”, in case we chose to get violent. And let’s face it. If we had got violent, we would have lost hands down. But non-violent protest is what won us the battle. Couple it with the fact that our protest was silent too. We didn’t create a furore about it. Not even the people in the neighbouring shop knew that there was a protest going on here. The manager said that they actually got scared of the way we were protesting. He also went on to say that beyond a point, it had become impossible for them look us in the eye!

And that is when the power of non-violence and Satyagraha struck me. Little else has had such a profound impact on me.

The crux of the matter is this: A protest, really, is an appeal for justice and truth. People who have a clear conscience, and thus have a strong case to demand justice for, are the only ones who can resort to non-violence. It is an act that requires courage, as Gandhi put it. It requires courage because the appeal for justice here is not to a court of law, but to the conscience of another man. It works. Big time.

Written by Anyone

February 21, 2008 at 3:35 pm