“Be the change you want to see”

The International Day of Non-Violence was recently commemorated on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday on October 2 as declared by the United Nations – a resolution that was moved by India and seconded by South Africa in 2007.
The resolution called on countries throughout the world, governmental and non-governmental organisations and institutions, and individuals to disseminate messages of non-violence and to foster a culture of peace and understanding.
Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence was greatly influenced by the principle of “ahimsa” found in the Bhagvad Gita, and Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in the Bible. Gandhi understood the meaning of the Sanskrit word “ahimsa” to be more than just the absence of overt violence, but to be active love which is the direct opposite of violence. He taught that the active non-violence of Satyagraha can overcome an opponent through suffering in one’s own person. He said that “real suffering bravely borne melts even a heart of stone”.
Satyagraha, and its non-violent action of mass civil disobedience, was to be the weapon that was to bring freedom to India from Colonial rule. In South Africa Satyagraha was used to pressure the government to scrap the need for the registration of Indians, to scrap the £3 tax imposed on free indentured labourers who chose to stay in the country, and to recognize marriages conducted under Indian religious rites.
Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha, which was formulated in 1906, and which means “truth force”, was the weapon of non-violent action that he used in South Africa from 1906 to 1914 to tackle the discriminatory laws and regulations that caused much trauma and suffering for the mainly indentured labourers who were treated like slaves by their colonial masters, and the government of the time. On his return to India in 1915, Gandhi persuaded the Indian Congress to adopt a non-violent approach in the struggle for freedom from colonial rule.
As we commemorate Gandhi’s honour and this day of non-violence, we must be mindful of, and bring attention to the various violent conflicts that are raging unabated especially to the north of our continent, in the Middle East and other parts of the world, where millions of innocent lives have already been lost. We must also bring attention to the violent criminal activity that is happening on our own doorstep, as the latest crime statistics show. The latest spiral of violent and destructive protest action by students and communities is worrying, and disappointing in our democratic order that now makes adequate provision for the concerns and needs of people to be raised.
There is another way of getting our voices heard, and bringing about the change that we desire. Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and others like them have proven that non-violent protest action is effective. We must all take the responsibility of eradicating violence, each of us in our own spaces, in our homes, in our schools and communities, and where we work and play. All of us need to spread the message that peaceful protest against injustice produces effective and positive results in the long run; that physical and sexual assault on women and children is abhorrent and destroys the fabric of our society; that we need to respect people and property, and show love and understanding.
Gandhi believed that all violence committed towards another is violence towards oneself, towards the collective, whole self, and thus self-destructive and counter to the universal law of life, which is love.
In Gandhi’s words, “let us be the change that we want to see in the world”.
David Gengan is the deputy chairperson of the Pietermaritzburg Gandhi Memorial Committee

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