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Efficacy of Ahimsa (Non Violence) And The Age Old Debate

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By Shashank:

Nonviolence is a philosophy which advocates the use of peaceful means, not force, to bring about various political or social changes. The recent nationwide protests by Anna Hazare and company against corruption, and the government’s hysterical response, have once again revealed the efficacy of the non-violent movements. The fact that the sheer determination of a 74 year old frail Gandhian has brought the world’s biggest democracy to legislate a bill, which couldn’t be passed for the past 64 years since our independence, shows the power of the methods adopted.


Firstly, let’s have a look at what really makes non-violence such a powerful form of protest. On the face of it, violence seems to be the superior technique for resolving disputes, as it has obvious and tangible strategies and weapons. Non-violence is not only difficult to visualize, but also fails to provide with any instant feeling of success or gratification.

However, the fundamental problem with a violent protest is that after sometime the campaign loses its perspective, and the conflicting party’s only remaining interests are in victory, vengeance and self-defense. The human sentiment is lost in the heat of the battle, and the morality and ethics take a back seat. This can be seen in the numerous wars waged by US in the Middle East, as well as in the so called ‘Arab Spring’, were immense humanitarian damages have taken place and were gory crime scenes are order of the day.

Various luminary ideologues of non-violence, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, decided to avoid being drawn into this vicious cycle by refusing to take part in a violent confrontation. Non-violence, thus, breaks the cycle of violence and counter-violence and always leaves the possibility of a dialogue open. It is also the most likely to produce a constructive outcome, one based on consensus rather than based on the path of ‘my way’ or ‘no way’.

Many benighted bigots consider non-violence to be ‘cowardly’ and lacking in courage and conviction. However far from being timid, an act of non-violence requires tremendous courage, self-belief, as well as the willingness to endure pain and maybe even death. These acts of self-abnegation require much more audacity than the meaningless carnage of people, where everyone suffers. An act of non-violence greatly reduces the moral legitimacy of those who indulge in violent confrontation. This loss in legitimacy ultimately leads to revolution and the victory of mankind.

The successes of non-violent methods depend upon strong moral principles as well as a sound communication network. People can’t be expected to endorse anything that they are not even aware of. So the activists need to publicize, through various electronic as well as other mediums, their motives as well as what they stand for. As can be seen in the current anti-corruption crusade, the civil society group led by Anna Hazare has successfully managed to mobilize the public opinion in favour of its campaign, by the effective use of media.

There are numerous kinds of non-violent resistances and struggles, each having its own advantages. However the three main categories are: non-violent protest and persuasion (mildest), non-cooperation, and non-violent intervention (strongest). Non-violent persuasion involves taking out peaceful processions, organizing marches or vigils- anything which demonstrates peaceful opposition to a policy or law. Such protests can currently be seen throughout India, with the middle class coming out in millions to mark their anger against the rampant corruption present everywhere, especially in government offices.

The second category of non-violence, and the most common one is non-cooperation. It involves deliberate withdrawal of cooperation with the person, activity or organization against with we are engaged in a conflict with. This method includes strikes, boycotts or the refusal to go to work in order to protest against the working conditions. The non-cooperation moment started by Mahatma Gandhi had played a significant role in the expulsion of British Empire from India.

The strongest form of non-violent protest is intervention. This is done to interrupt the daily proceedings of the opponent and involves blockage of roads, railway tracks or ‘sit in’ in front of the official buildings against whom we are protesting. This also incorporates the much in news ‘fasts unto death’, undertaken by many civil society actives in recent years. All these forms of protests are effective, because they diminish the legitimacy and power of the opponent.

The aim of non-violence should not be coercion, but persuasion and conversion of the opponent. Success through non-violent actions is achieved through three main ways. Firstly, accommodation results when though the opponent doesn’t agree with the activists view point, it decides to accede to some of the demands in order to suppress the revolt. Secondly, non-violent coercion results when despite the opponent’s wish to subdue the protest, it couldn’t do so because of the loss of power or support. Thirdly, conversion results when the opponent has experienced a change of heart, and wants to fulfill the demands of the peaceful protestors.

The idea of non-violence is based upon the acceptance of suffering. By accepting, rather than inflicting pain, the activist puts the opponent in a moral dilemma, which requires a choice rather than a retaliatory action. In the process, both the protestor as well as the opponent is enlightened. The sufferer is morally enriched by not compromising with his fundamental principles, whereas the opponent gets a chance to reconsider his views on the contentious issue, and reflect on its merits.

Nonviolence doesn’t aim to change the opponent’s behavior directly; rather it aims to change the opponent’s values, which in turn will lead to a change in behavior. Thus it goes beyond merely redressing the immediate grievance that has surfaced as conflict, and aims to resolve the anxiety and suspicion that may be the underlying sources of the conflict. Ultimately it works because it seeks to deal with the cause, rather than only the symptoms of the conflict.

In a nutshell, good ends can never come out of bad means, so there should be no threat or coercion in a dispute. Non-violence provides the disempowered with accessible ‘artillery’ with which to alter the power relationship. It should not merely be used as a mean for achieving the end, but a moral imperative or a way of life. It is good not only because it works, but also because it is right.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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