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Mahatma Gandhi and Nonkilling Vision


Mahatma Gandhi saw his humanist approach to politics transcending the notion of a nation-state. To him and many Indian leaders, the good governance that provided equal opportunity to everyone in making their livelihood with dignity and respect was key. What was the grounding of the Gandhian experiment, six decades after India’s Independence, was now being reflected in subterranean undercurrents around the world toward the end of the 20th Century. Aspirations demanding the Universal Rights of Man were enshrined in UN and UNESCO charters.

The UN declaration that the first decade of the 21st Century’s be devoted to building a “Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for Children of the World” (2000) was a path breaking initiative in this direction. It exhorted the Gandhian vision that violence and wars were not necessary and the ‘Right to Live’ was a fundamental right. Principle 13 of the Nobel Peace Laureates Charter for a World Without Violence (2008) called for a killing-free world “in which everyone has the right not to be killed and responsibility not to kill others.” Political success and the notion of war were no longer seen just in terms of how many wars a nation could win or how much weaponry a nation had amassed.

The concern was now also about people, civilian casualties, and how to prevent the deaths of men, women, and children from deliberate killing. Further, most conflicts now resulted from local issues - as 7000 cultures worldwide coped in their own ways with the technological and material onslaught of unevenly distributed wealth and knowledge. Even some military generals from NATO countries accepted that there were no longer clear-cut military victories like those in the Second World War.

Violence prevention and conflict transformation now required well-resourced institutions for peacebuilding at local, national and global levels. And yet, beyond the UN, in the absence of such an infrastructure of peace, responsibility for peace work fell to ad hoc and ill equipped voluntary organizations. Serious attention was needed from individual governments to provide well-resourced peace education, human and economic rights enforcement. Also, the curbing of arms buildup and, most of all, a trained cadre of peace professionals with skills and expertise in the prevention, mediation and reconciliation of conflicts at home and abroad. National government structures were also needed to recruit, train, and deploy specialized peace professionals - equivalent to tax-payer funded, military professionals.

A Ministry or a Department of Peacebuilding and Disarmament, for example, headed by a Cabinet Minister could enable all the above, and help to balance the advice received by a Head of State from a Minister of Defence and Minister of Foreign Affairs. Similar institutions could be created at local levels to inspire development of peace cities and peace provinces.

The impact of Gandhi’s thinking showed unending creativity for such nonviolent peace structures and actions. Thus, as pointed out by Dr. Dhirendra Sharma, the ancient Indian Vedantic tradition of Ahimsa (to hurt others is to hurt oneself) first found organized, political application in the twentieth century by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa and India, followed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the USA. It was an important tool in post-war decolonization, and was applied more actively in the late 1980s as means for bringing about change in the former Soviet Union by civil society groups under various nonviolent leaders.


By: Balwant (Bill) Bhaneja, Ph.D. retired Canadian diplomat, peace activist, cofounder of Annual Ottawa Peace festival and the Canadian Department of Peace Initiative movement,, excerpted from his book “Quest for Gandhi: A Nonkilling Journey”.

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