Leader of the Indian independence movement Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi said “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” The Mahatma espoused the principle of nonviolence (or ahimsa) in leading the fight for India’s independence. For many, his philosophy of nonviolence and its successful application in the fight for the Republic is the cornerstone of Gandhi’s legacy.
Given that Gandhi is among the most internationally recognised and acclaimed proponents of nonviolence, it is hardly surprising that International Day of Nonviolence is observed on October 2nd to coincide with the Mahatma’s birthdate. The quote prefacing this article was actually used by then-Union Minister of External Affairs Anand Sharma, who introduced the United Nations (UN) General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/271 of June 15th, 2007 on behalf of 140 co-sponsors.
The resolution outlines the observance to be, in the words of the UN, “an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness”. The resolution reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence.””
Nonviolence is the need of the hour on a number of fronts – across and within borders, within communities and in the home. This is for, among other things, the sake of public health. As the World Health Organization (WHO) noted in 2003, “conflict will inevitably cause loss of lives, physical injuries, widespread mental distress, a worsening of existent malnutrition (particularly among children) and outbreaks of communicable diseases.
“Internally displaced and refugee populations are at particular risk. Common, preventable diseases such as diarrhoea, threaten life. Chronic illnesses that can normally be treated lead to severe suffering. The dangers of pregnancy and childbirth are amplified.”
Those words – authored in March 2003 in the nascent stages of the Iraq War – are as apposite now as they were then. Conflict – to which India has been no stranger, both pre- and post-independence – is a substantial risk to human health not only from the immediate risk of death and injury, but the far-reaching ramifications.
“We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed,” Gandhi said. “But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it.” International Day of Nonviolence is an occasion to underscore the importance of working towards that ideal.