Ethics/Nonkilling/Leadership/Mahatma Gandhi

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Gandhi, 1944.
  • This Course is based mainly on Professor N. Radhakrishnan's (Indian Council of Gandhian Studies) paper Nonkilling Leadership Lessons from Gandhi prepared for the First Global Nonkilling Leadership Forum, Mu Ryang Sa Buddhist Temple, Honolulu, Hawai‛i, November 1-4, 2007. The Course is part of the Program on Nonkilling Leadership Development at the School of Nonkilling Studies.


Lesson 1. Power of Satyagraha[edit]

The series of training programs in non-violence that this writer has been organizing in various parts of India and the 100 Special Satyagraha lectures and discussions which I have been privileged to lead in India and abroad in order to understand the Contempo-rary Relevance of Satyagraha and the need for developing and organizing sustained training in nonviolence, offered me very valuable leadership lessons from Gandhi.

  • While the training programs in nonviolence were living experiences the spe-cial lectures and discussions were intellectual encounters with a cross section of people. The emphasis at both these exercises (the training in nonviolence and special Satyagraha lectures) was to help the participants discover how Gandhi demonstrated from his life the power of Satyagraha.
  • We learnt from Gandhi that Satyagraha is action and before one resorts to Satyagraha, one has to become a “Satyagrahi.” In Gandhian Satyagraha, it is never the numbers that count; it is always the quality and dedication, more so when the forces of violence are uppermost.
  • It is often forgotten that it is never the intention of a Satyagrahi to embarrass the wrong-doer. The appeal is never to his fear, it is always to his heart.
  • The Satyagrahi’s object is to convert, not to coerce the wrong-doer. He should avoid artificiality in all his doings. He acts naturally and from inward conviction.

The qualifications Gandhi prescribed for every Satyagrahi are very important in all circumstances, particularly the following five points:

  • He must have a living faith in God, for he is his only Rock.
  • He must believe in truth and nonviolence as his creed and therefore have faith in the inherent goodness of human nature, which he expects to evoke by his truth and love expressed through his suffering.
  • He must be leading a chaste life and be ready and willing for the sake of his cause to give up his life and his possessions.
  • He must carry out with a willing heart all the rules of discipline as may be laid down from time to time.
  • He should carry out the jail rules unless they are specially devised to hurt his self-respect.

Thus Satyagraha to Gandhi was a “surgery of the soul” and not a political expedi-ency. Training in nonviolence should also lead to this creative awakening.

Lesson 2. Complementary nature of duties and rights of citizens[edit]

It is Gandhi’s concern for the poor and his own apprehension that any alienation between the masses and the rulers would generate unhealthy tendencies that would retard social jus-tice that one sees in this well-thought-out advice of Gandhi. It also shows that Gandhi’s humanism was not skin-deep and he was convinced that any system that fails to take care of the basic necessities of the people will be a sin to society in particular and humanity in general. A system that fails to feed the starving millions will symbolize only falsehood. To a hungry man God appears only in the form of bread, he reminded his countrymen.

In the schemes of things Gandhi visualized, all are supposed to be partners and mutually supportive and dependent. The trusteeship idea, an extension of Sarvodaya mooted by Gandhi, has not been properly understood and implemented. It envisages the willingness on the part of those who have extra wealth to take care of the less privi-leged on the basis of the awareness that wealth like the other natural resources does not belong to any particular individual. All have equal right over all that nature possesses. Those who have excess of what others don’t have should feel that they have to play the role of the custodians of society.

For Gandhi, rights and duties are complementary and a citizen who is not conscious of his duties has no right to think of his rights. Similarly, Gandhi believed, “There can be no Ram Raj in the present state of iniquitous inequalities in which only a few roll in riches, while the masses do not get even enough to eat.” Does this Gandhian passion for social justice remain a far cry? No one knows. The ruler, in the modern context the state, like Lord Ram, Gandhi’s ideal King is Custodian of not only the physical domain of the peo-ple but also an inspirer of his people to higher realms of spiritual attainments.

Lesson 3. The relevance of the seven social sins Gandhi identified[edit]

It may be useful here to remember in this context the advice Gandhi gave to the new rulers of India, which is now known as Gandhi’s Talisman. Gandhi advised:

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test: Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen and ask yourself if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain any-thing by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.


The visionary and practical nature of most of the Gandhian formulations for social change are revealed in the manner in which Gandhi reproduced in his journal seven sins which a reader had sent him as a note. They are: Politics without Principles, Wealth without Work, Pleasure without Conscience, Knowledge without Character, Commerce without Moral-ity, Science without Humanity and Worship without Sacrifice.

Even a school child will laugh derisively today if anyone mentions any of these qualities. Such is the alarming level to which our public and moral lives have degener-ated. And the Gandhian vision of Ram Rajya by which he meant a classless and just so-ciety has acquired political and religious overtones also and has been reduced to the level of a political debate mostly of academic interest.

Lesson 4. From National Campaign towards a Violence-Free Society (Himsamukth Samaj)[edit]

Gandhian Leadership lessons were best revealed in the massive and ambitious national campaigns launched four years ago under the combined auspices of several Gandhian organizations, Voluntary organizations and Universities in India. The Himsamukth Samaj (Violence-Free Society) initiative sought to encourage discussions: ­

  • To bring about a thorough social change for the establishment of a nonvio-lent social order as Gandhi dreamt.
  • Expose the evil intentions of the anti-social elements that prosper very often on violence, death and destruction.
  • Co-ordinate the activities of youth who are involved in various social works for the establishment of an ideal social order.
  • To be vigilant against narrow communal/political/ regional interests.
  • To organize awareness-creation campaigns against anti-social elements.
  • Every time, everywhere, there have been appropriate and motivated agencies, individuals and social groups working against violence and promoting good-will among people.
  • On the basis of the information gathered and insights received from various quarters, it is intended to prepare comprehensive work reports to which the attention of the authorities is to be drawn.
  • To ensure the co-operation of various organizations and Government ma-chinery to ensure a tension-free society which will be possible only if social justice is ensured, and discrimination of all sorts and exploitation ended.
  • To make effective propaganda to recognize violence and tensions dangerous to progress and well-being of the society.
  • To ensure a violence-free society, ensure co-operation of young men and women who will be prepared to join any initiative, provided they are properly motivated.

Former President of India Shri R. Venkitaraman is the Chief Patron of this campaign while Dr. N. Radhakrishnan is the National Convener and Chief Campaigner of this on-going campaign. The campaign has led:

  1. To the successful enlisting of over 168,000 families committed to nonvio-lence as part of a multi-tier people’s campaign against violence, intolerance, and injustice. The focus of this phase was to recognize the importance of families and encourage them to embrace nonviolence as the guiding principle in their life. This was emphasized on the basis of the disturbing manner in which the family as an institution is disintegrating and dialogue as a sustaining force is becoming scarce.
  2. To the special programs of National Conferences, Regional and State level discussions and special 100 Satyagraha Centenary Lectures, held in India and abroad as part of the Satyagraha Centenary Programs
  3. To the efforts that were made to involve Universities and higher learning to develop peace education programs and involve student communities in con-flict management initiatives.
  4. To work out the details of 100 Community Peace Centres (CPC) as a joint initiative of Indira Gandhi National Open University and the Indian Council of Gandhian Studies and launch them on October 2, 2007 with a view to: linking communities with educational institutions; inculcating values in children and youth; bringing academics and activists together; developing conflict-free zones, and contributing to sustainable development.

Though some of these initiatives brought together a large number of Gandhian Ac-tivists, Educators, Human Rights Activists, Scientists, Technocrats, National Leaders, and Political Activists, the Organizers feel that they have to go a long way in order to make it a truly National Movement which will address the basic problem of violence and encourage people to explore the Gandhian option for development. The enormity of the manifestations and power of violence in our society is such that only a Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave or J.P. Narayan could galvanize and sensitize people in large numbers to effectively counter the forces that are responsible for much of the violence the nation witnesses in its daily life.

Terror and violence are spreading like a cancer threatening the very existence of the nation. The State despite all the measures it has been taking seems to be under heavy pres-sure. The sheer size of the nation and the deep penetration made by the forces of violence and terror send shock waves all around. Innocent citizens are blown up and the heartless perpetrators of violence are rejoicing. While all this is happening, the citizens who are caught up in the cross-fires remain fear-struck and helpless expressing just indignation.

In such a situation, can the citizens remain unconcerned, leaving protection of civil-ians and their properties to law-enforcing authorities of the State? Should not the citi-zens also join the efforts of law-enforcing and protection of lives of innocent citizens? The public also has a big role to play in an emergency. We are in such an emergency that terror and violence have assumed such shape that national, massive and well-orchestrated initiatives need to be undertaken in the wake of the emerging and frighten-ing situation in the country and elsewhere.

Violence—leading to killing of all kinds, destruction of properties, harming nature’s balance and leading to a variety of unhealthy trends—needs to be checked. Gandhian Satyagraha and lessons learnt from it are very valuable antidotes.