Gandhi — An immortal symbol of non-violence
“Be the change you want to see in this world.”
In my opinion, these are the most impressionable words spoken by M.K. Gandhi. He truly believed in it, and made the necessary changes in his life to show others that it is possible for a human to do certain things that is considered impossible. Among these, his greatest achievement, in my opinion, is his strict adherence to a non-violent life.
He embodied the essence of non-violence and never hurt anyone through violence. He was willing to be beaten, or to stay hungry but would never do the same to others. His actions not just spoke louder, they yelled out for the whole world to sit up and witness the miracle that he was creating with his life in the 20th century. His practice of non-violence inspired many great world leaders such as Nelson Mandela. By becoming what he wanted the world to be, he is now considered a symbol of non-violence, and could even be exalted to the status of a deity that represents non-violence.
When we think or talk of non-violence, his face comes into our mind. And when we look at Gandhi’s picture, image or caricature, the thought of non-violence comes to our mind. This strong impact that imagery or symbolism can create, helps preserve and practice such difficult acts as non-violence. It also helps that Gandhi’s photo is printed in every rupee note, and many places have been named after Gandhi.
However, this powerful visual image will help only if we believe in non-violence and its usefulness in our daily lives. It is not easy to remain non-violent all our life but it isn’t impossible either because Gandhi did it. His life is a template many of us can follow to practice non-violence. And I’m sure many already do it.
I do believe that non-violence should definitely be your first option in any life situation. But it should never be your only option.
Gandhi’s non-violence methods are inspiring but they have failed on certain occasions, such as dealing softly with British which encouraged the British to continue to rule India and take high taxes and treat Indians worse than dogs. His appeasement of the British didn’t stop people from dying during Bengal Famine. Gandhi and other freedom fighters did the best they could based on what they believed in, and I don’t think even violent means would have won us the political freedom that we feel so proud of today. It was World War 2 and its devastating impact on the Imperial nations that the phase of colonization ended across the world, including India.
I believe it is certainly impractical to remain non-violent all the time and in all situations, and such people shouldn’t be made into a leader during turbulent times when others, such as China and Pakistan, can’t be trusted to reciprocate in non-violence.
Moreover, non-violence is not an answer to all our life’s problems. It can’t be. Hence, the aim should not be to remain non-violent all our lives, but to stay non-violent as long as feasible. And a strong visual imagery of Gandhi, or even his name can certainly help us in this. Such visual cues have been a common practice in many contemporary psychological techniques and ancient pagan and tribal practices, to evoke or reinforce certain sentiments.
I don’t consider Gandhi as the father of India. Because that would mean India is a 100% non-violent nation, which it is not. India is a peace loving and peace preferring nation, that doesn’t mean it is non-violent. We Indians must gain the wisdom in deciding when to use violence and when to stay non-violent. As is mentioned in Gita, one must understand the violence we do through non-violence and the non-violence we ensure through violence. Violence in self-defense can save lives, knowledge and even culture. Non-violence in the same situation can and has eliminated civilizations. As a symbol of violence done to protect something, we can turn to many brave heroes of our nation, such as Netaji, Shivaji, Borphukan, Manikarnika, and many others, but for non-violence, the only symbol we have is Gandhi (yes Buddha is also an option). Let us preserve this symbol and invoke it in our mind and our discussions when we must stay calm and take sensible decisions. Let us not corrupt this name and this image due to dirty politics.
Let us remember the man as the deity of non-violence, and at the same time, study his life to understand the ill-effects of too much non-violence. Only a balanced perspective will help us decide when to offer a rose and when to wield a weapon.