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  Nonviolence in Action


Unfinished Work - The March Goes On...
By Rohit Tripathi

Conflict has been an integral part of the human journey. Another aspect of our collective endeavor has been our intellectual curiosity that has stretched our imagination to push ever-new frontiers. We want to go higher than the highest, deeper than the deepest wanting to continually push the envelope of discovery. 75 years ago Mahatma Gandhi went where not many had gone before. He took his ideas of nonviolence and transformed them into a strategy that directly challenged the mightiest in human history. He put into action what philosophers had only talked about: Civil disobedience. And he did it on a mass scale inspiring India's destitute millions. My own grandfather was inspired and has since then been dedicated to the ideals of the Mahatma. The Salt March that set the movement in motion not only transformed an Indian generation but also inspired and continues to inspire millions the world over.

At Young India we have always furthered an embedded approach to understand and affect the world around us. We have forwarded the idea that politics is a tool for democracy to be practiced and that democracy itself reflects the aspirations of an entire people. Thus, to affect political change one must also affect culture. The Salt March and the movement that followed exemplify our thesis. Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi) was always concerned with the quality of independence that India would achieve. An India that was socially regressive and did not address the basic problems affecting its people was, according to Bapu, not ready for independence. He realized the pervasiveness of violence in India's social and economic structures. Nonviolence did not just appeal to him as a great political strategy to move the British, but he also found it necessary to push it on the cultural front in order for the nation to break out of the shackles of self-imposed oppression. The Salt March and the civil disobedience movement that followed saw an enormous upsurge in women's participation in the movement. No single movement can tackle all evils in a society but the civil disobedience movement pushed the social reform agenda into real action. A cultural change had galvanized the politics of a nation and vice a versa.

As we move forward and try to come up with progressive ideas and policies we don't look back at the Salt March and its ideals with a sense of nostalgia but rather with a sense of unfinished work. The most powerful message that I get every time I read Bapu's writing is that empowerment of the common citizen is at the heart of our democratic evolution. Today, movements that further the right to information, decentralized governance, small business development and other similar ideas that give people more control over their own lives are the heart and soul of the nonviolent movement. I feel it is essential to remove social impediments like casteism, religious fanaticism, racism, gender violence and the like, as they are nothing but distractions. Our ultimate battle, however, lies in providing our people with an opportunity to earn a dignified living. When I say our people I don't just mean in India. If equal opportunity is our guiding principle then I believe that, through decentralization of political power, economic empowerment is inevitable. Bapu was once asked about the India of his dreams and he responded by saying that he wanted a nation where every man and woman felt that their efforts were going into creating THEIR own nation. That sense of belonging is bolstered when citizens feel a sense of control over their lives and communities. Strong communities give rise to strong nations. And if we build nations on nonviolent principles (implicitly through democracy) then a more peaceful world order can and will be achieved.

Nonviolence has the ability of magically transforming the impossible into possible. That is because it assumes fearlessness on the parts of its practitioners. And once people are fearless a sense liberation dawns and everything seems possible. Thus as we reduce and hopefully eliminate our reliance on violence (both physical and that inflicted through unfair policies) the nonviolent spirit should guide us to innovative policy that places citizens empowerment front and center. Not much of this agenda can be achieved as long as there is rancor in legislatures across the globe. As our political structures devolve power to entities closer to the people, ideologues in one central location will not hold the aspirations of citizens captive. This is in no way to suggest that national policymaking should be abandoned. It should be less intervening and more facilitating in nature.

I am continually looking for ways to keep the evolution of nonviolence going. Its credentials as an effective strategy for change are validated over and over again, but too often limited to the revolutionary realm alone. Once the revolution is over and governance is needed the principles of cooperation and coordination are abandoned and the slogans of empowerment that get masses aroused for action are all but forgotten. Today I feel our insistence needs to be on nonviolence in governance.

Nonviolence and empowerment go hand in hand. Centralization of political power creates centers of abuse, corruption and violence. A government that wishes to imbibe the nonviolent spirit cannot just pursue a foreign policy that dissuades war but, at a more sophisticated level, it must show its commitment to democracy at home by decentralizing power. Such empowerment as encapsulated in the Panchayati Raj institutions in India or the strengthening of local governments in the United States is the direction in which democracy must proceed. Too often we find statutes that address decentralization at a superficial level leaving ambiguities in the details. Such ambiguities make it impossible to reap the intended benefits of decentralization. Be it homeland security or education standards challenges faced by state and local governments in the United States or tax-collection by Panchayats (village self-government) such practical matters are rarely funded nor are their implementation mechanisms put in place. Additionally, the empowerment of citizens cannot be achieved without access to information. The Right to Information is critical for the success of democracy. Shailesh and Arvind can attest to that fact.

It may take out some of the romanticism for some people but if in the long run we want to leave a legacy then we'll have to sacrifice some style today for a little more substance. I close by joining the millions who across the continents use nonviolence to better their neighborhoods, communities, states and nations. We may be far apart today and our efforts may seem disconnected but all our work is putting together a new whole that will connect us all with the fiber of nonviolence.