Nonviolent action as a phrase was first explained explicitly by Gandhi. The term is a political technique that has been applied since 494 BC when it was adopted by Plebeians of Rome to seek redress for their grievances. Since then, the technique has been applied in almost every part of the world by different groups of people.
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One of the most well-known and successful nonviolent mass action occurred in Austria-Hungary in 1850-67as Hungarians campaigned for their independence. The United States of America also achieved their independence through nonviolent action.Gandhi’s nonviolent philosophy supports the use of nonviolent action actions to achieve social as well as political change.
Gandhi defined nonviolent action as use of diverse methods which includes various forms of persuasion, education, nonviolent direct action, as well as, mass noncooperation intended to campaign for social change. It also involves the use of various political, social, economic as well as cultural means of intervention to seek social change.
Gandhi defined nonviolent passive resistance as a course adopted by the oppressed in the societyto oppose a government or certain legislations by expressing their dissatisfaction with the course of action taken by use of civil disobedience, noncooperation as well as other nonviolent methods such as protests, economic boycotts among others (Lawall and Mack 2). He defined non-cooperation as protest against unwitting as well as unwilling participation in wickedness (Lawall and Mack 2).
It involves deliberatepull outfrom the affairs of the government so as to express popular discord, and as result, cause discomfort in the government. He also described civil disobedience as educating people to make them aware of state happenings and therefore be able to join in fighting for just courses while obeying just laws ((Lawall and Mack 2).
Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolent passive resistance has been applied in numerous situations across the globe; however, the question remains as to whether it is still practical in the contemporary society. I believe it is very practical and the most democratic way of expressing dissatisfaction withunjust systems, infringing legislations, economic crimes such as corruption in a system of governance, as well as, conducts of those in the government.
In Gandhi’s opinion, democracy in the society can only be achieved through nonviolence (Ganguli 4). His ideal democratic society is where “service to the weakest” is priotised (Ganguli 6). A society should value the welfare of everyone in it and therefore actions which interfere with others in the society should be avoided. Gandhi says that forms of nonviolent passive resistance should not be viewed as lack of patriotism to the nation, but as call for social change.
In the recent times, various forms of passive resistance such as street demonstrations, strikesas well as other forms of economic protests to express dissatisfaction with government undertakings. These forms of nonviolent passive resistance have been successful in most cases throughout the world.
Gandhi was of the opinion that such acts should “benefit all in the true sense” (Ganguli 5). This means that violent passive resistance would be justified, and as a result, attract popular support from others in the society if the course of the nonviolent resistance is well intentioned.
For example, the recent demonstrations and protests in Egypt and Tunisia early this year by pro-democracy citizens were very successful. The protests and demonstrations gained much support from citizens in the country and the international community forcing the regimes that they were protesting against to leave power.
Ben Ali of Tunisia who had ruled 23 years was forced out office after 29 days of protests dubbed Jasmine Revolution. Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who had ruled for 30 years was also forced to resign after three weeks of protest.
These movements were driven by the need for democracy as well as the need to put an end to the economic crimes that were being committed by the autocratic regimes in the respective countries. For example, former president, Hosni Mubarak was accused of corruption scandals and for amassing wealth ranging between $3billion and $40billion from public funds during his 30 years of rule (Sherwell 2).
Mubarak resigned and the military council took over to guide the transition to an elected civil government that would guarantee a democratic free nation (Sherwell 6-7).Lord Malloch-Brown, who is a former UK Labour foreign minister,supported the protestors in Egypt saying that when people acquire wealth more than what they should have earned while in office, they should be forced out (SHerwell 20).
Gandhi also believed that civil disobedience movement such as the pro-democracy movement protests witnessed in Tunisia and Egypt should be applied in “corrupt tyrannical state” (Purabi 6).Gandhi referred to such like actions as violation of just laws (Purabi 6).
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The major factor that led to the success of these demonstrations and protests in Egypt and Tunisia was the consistent pressure the protestors put on the government (and the former presidents). In both countries, the protestors stayed day and night, breaking only to go for prayers and sometimes to get something to eat. To make the presidents better understand their seriousness, they sometimes fasted.
Gandhi believed that anybody fighting for a just course must endure self-suffering (Ganguli 7). According to him, nonviolent resistance should not be born of cowardice as that is not genuine nonviolent resistance. He believed that people would only achieve justice if they can overcome all types of fear including the fear of death just like it happened in Egypt and Tunisia. In the two countries, the protests persisted despite the killing of some protestors by the military and police forces.
What would make nonviolent passive resistance even more practical in the contemporary society is the level of information technology in today’s society. Access to information and channels of information have increased tremendously and are more available in today’s world. The internet, social networks and mobile phones have improved access to and dissemination of information making it easy to enlighten people on social injustices in systems and governments, and to mobilize people to protests.
In Gandhi’s view, civil disobedience involved educating people to make them understand the wrongs in the system or government (Lawall and Mack 3). Pro-democracy groups in both countries exploited these forms of media especially social networks to educate the people and mobilize them to protests. This was a major contributor to the success of the protests.
Evidence from the success of the protests and demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia prove that nonviolent passive resistance is still practical in today’s society. Gandhi talked of persistently fighting for the course fearlessly as long as the course is the truth so as to be able to achieve success. However, while nonviolently fighting against injustices, it is important to obey the just laws.
Ganguli, Burke.Gandhi’s Social Philosophy: Perspective and Relevance. New Delhi: National Gandhi Museum and Radha Publications, 2000. Print.
Lawall, Sarah and Mack, Maynard. Anthology of world literature: The 20th century, 2nd ed., vol. F. London: W. W. Norton & Co Inc., 2001. Print.
Purabi, Roy. Gandhi’s social-political philosophy: The efficacy of non-violent resistance. Washington DC: The Council for research in Values and Philosophy,2006. Print.
Sherwell, Philip. Egypt:Hosni Mubarak used last 18 days in power to secure his fortune. The Telegraph, 12 February, 2011. Web.