The Land of ‘Ahimsa’: From Kapilavastu To Shaheen Bagh

I have nothing new to teach the world. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills. All I have done is experiment in both, on as vast a scale as I could.

Mahatma Gandhi

India, the land of Gandhi, is undergoing a crucial phase in this era. When we study and explore the rich Indian History, one thing that has been a constant and predominant feature of this nation is its dynamism. The cultural influx from various continents across centuries has weaved the complex character of Indianness. Yet, India has its fundamental roots as one of the most ancient civilisations of the world intact. What has made India sustain its identity and culture, even after various invasions from and cultural intermingling with various countries and civilisations? The answer lies in the thread of tolerance and non-violence that has its deep roots in our ancient scriptures and values, which has been running in the veins of the Indian culture, generation after generation.

On the eve of the death anniversary of Gandhi the Mahatma, who gave the world the message of ahimsa, and won the battle of freedom against a powerful dynasty without raising a single weapon we should take a brief pause and try to understand the relevance of non-violence (ahimsa) in the present scenario. 

Most of us have heard the story of Prince Siddhartha, wherein he saves a wounded swan from his cousin Devadatta’s arrow and nurses the wounds. When the question arises to whom does the swan belong, it is rightfully given to Siddhartha by the King, stating that the saviour is always greater than the one who kills. Thus, the value of love, compassion and non-violence is ingrained in our tales and fables, one of the formidable parts of our culture. Later on, the peace-loving Siddhartha goes on to become Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. So, when we look at history, non-violence has always been an integral part of our culture. Gandhiji simply resurrected these principles and applied them in daily life as well as the political battles he was fighting. 

Prince Siddhartha, later known as Gautam Buddha, left his home at the age of 29 years to live a life of an ascetic. Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

India stood nowhere in comparison to the British Empire, in terms of military power and technology. Yet, we fought our freedom struggle with utmost dignity and became an independent nation without a bloodbath (the independence struggle was guided by principles of Satyagraha and non-violence, while the Partition ended up deviating from these principles and turned violent).

The message that Gandhiji propagated through non-violence inspired many great leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. They studied the Gandhian principle and implemented it in their fight against racism and inequality in their respective countries. Wars are destructive and the quantum of loss is greater than the victory. Humanity loses not only property and life in wars, but also crucial time. We have seen how many years the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki took to rebuild themselves from the deadly nuclear bomb attack. 

In today’s era, when religious fanatics are taking precedence over political thinkers, and terrorism has emerged as the biggest threat to humanity, non-violence seems to be losing the battle. When every powerful nation has the capacity to launch nuclear weapons at the press of a button, , the principles of non-violence have become even more significant and a necessity of the time.

Ahimsa is a practice that purifies the thought process and gives clarity to the mind. India is one of the most powerful nations in the Southeast Asia region. Yet, it has mostly maintained peace and cooperation with its neighbouring countries, because the basic principle of Indian polity lies in non-violence. No one can deny the fact that we stand as an independent nation, only because the war of freedom was won with the most peaceful weapon of non-violence by Mahatma Gandhi.

Today, when the students are being treated violently as they protest against the policies of the current government, the methods of non-violence and satyagrahas are being re-evolved, albeit with some contemporary changes. The Shaheen Bagh protest, which has been going on for  48 days now, shows that Indians still believe in the peaceful and non-violent method of protest. Hope is not lost in the land of Gandhi, which carried non-violence in its history and culture since time immemorial.

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