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Ahmisa (Non-Violence), Gandhi and Global Citizenship Education (GCED)

by Mame Omar Diop, Head of Education, UNESCO New Delhi, Satya Bhushan, Assistant Professor, National Council of Educational Research and Training and Varada Mohan Nikalje, Professor, National Council of Educational Research and Training. 


To read the published version in the SCOONEWS click here


Globally, youth must be empowered to be resilient to violence, and to become citizens of the world. Human rights violations, conflicts between countries and escalating intolerance has to be combated. In a globally connected and interdependent world, education needs to focus on not merely cognitive knowledge, but encompass communication skills and create belongingness with humanity as a whole. Global Citizenship Education (GCED) fosters these values. 


In India, the freedom struggle, spearheaded by Mahatma Gandhi, opposed colonialism and its human rights violation through the unique concept of Ahimsa or non-violence. This was implemented through Satyagraha --holding on to the truth by non-violent resistance to evil, by refusing to submit to the wrong. 


The word Ahimsa  (Sanskrit:ahiṃsā, Pāli: avihiṃsā) means 'not to injure' and 'compassion'. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm; a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this, i.e. cause no injury, do no harm. Ahimsa is also referred to as nonviolence, and it applies to all living beings—including all animals—in ancient Indian religions.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi successfully promoted the principle of Ahimsa to all spheres of life, in particular to politics. His non-violent resistance movement was revolutionary; it was for the first time that ahimsa was used as a political weapon to influence the oppressors. It had an immense impact on India, impressed public opinion in Western countries, and influenced several 20th century leaders of various civil and political rights movements such as Nelson Mandela and the American civil rights movement's Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Bevel. 


In Gandhi's thought, Ahimsa precludes not only the act of inflicting a physical injury, but also mental states like evil thoughts and hatred, unkind behaviour such as harsh words, dishonesty and lying, all of which he saw as manifestations of violence incompatible with Ahimsa. Gandhi believed Ahimsa to be a creative energy force, encompassing all interactions leading one's self to find Satya, "Divine Truth".


Gandhi and Global Citizenship


For Gandhi, patriotism was the same as humanity. As he put it, “Through the realization of the freedom of India, I hope to realize and carry on the mission of the brotherhood of man. The concept of my patriotism is consistent with the broadest good of humanity at large.” (Young India 4-4-1929)

Indeed, one of the challenges that the world faces today is the challenge of transforming the pervasiveness of violence in all its forms into that of a culture of peace; a peace that goes beyond mere absence of war, to include living with justice and compassion, human rights and responsibilities and celebration of diversity. Gandhi’s peaceful, unconventional, non-violent strategy to bring about Independence to India from British colonialism, and his work beyond independence, is akin to the principles of Global Citizenship that is now recognized the world over. Gandhi once stated “It is impossible for one to be an internationalist without being a nationalist. It is not nationalism that is evil it is the narrowness, selfishness and exclusiveness which is evil.” (Young India 18-6-1925).


Gandhi himself did not discuss citizenship extensively although his plan for Basic Education or Nai Talim aimed at developing moral citizens for an independent India. He thought of himself as a citizen of the world. Gandhi wrote, “I learnt from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights to be deserved and preserved came from duty well done. Thus, the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship of the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of man and woman and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed.”


The role of education in preventing violent extremism and de-radicalizing young people has only recently gained global acceptance. An important step in this direction was the launch, in December 2015, of the UN Secretary-General’s Plan of Action to Prevent Violent Extremism, which recognizes the importance of quality education to address the drivers of this phenomenon. The United Nations Security Council also emphasized this point in its Resolutions 21789  and 2250, which notably highlights the need for “quality education for peace that equips youth with the ability to engage constructively in civic structures and inclusive political processes” and called on “all relevant actors to consider instituting mechanisms to promote a culture of peace, tolerance, intercultural and interreligious dialogue that involve youth and discourage their participation in acts of violence, terrorism, xenophobia, and all forms of discrimination.” 


This is possible notably through Global Citizenship Education (GCED), which seeks to nurture a sense of belonging to a common humanity as well as genuine respect for all. GCED is an emerging approach to education that focuses on developing learners’ knowledge, skills, values and attitudes in view of their active participation in the peaceful and sustainable development of their societies. GCED is about instilling respect for human rights, social justice, gender equality and environmental sustainability, which are fundamental values that help raise the defences of peace against violent extremism.


Mahatma Gandhi is indisputably India’s gift to the world; the pursuit of peace through the practice of truth (satyagraha), nonviolence (ahinsa), compassion and kindness is his gift to humanity. Though the centrality of education, like nonviolence, is almost conclusive, the type of education that is necessary for peace is what has never been addressed in any serious manner. There is a need for education not as the usual intellectual exercise of regurgitation but a journey through self – of building peace first with the self, before the society. 


 He believed that one has to be rooted in one’s own culture to understand the other. “Gandhi’s intercultural approach to the ideas of civilization and citizenship is a form of cosmopolitanism that refrains from monolithic moralizing and gestures instead towards a comfort with difference, alterity, and otherness”. (Jahanbegloo, 2017). Gandhi said: “I believe that if one man gains spiritually, the whole world gains with him and, if one man falls, the whole world falls to that extent” (Young India, 1924:398). He recognized the interdependence of humanity and the need to identify with the whole of humanity.


In a weekly newspaper Harijan that he published, Gandhi wrote: “I am deeply interested in the efforts of the United Nations Economic, Social and Cultural Organization to secure peace through educational and cultural activities. I fully appreciate that real security and lasting peace cannot be secured so long as extreme inequalities in education and culture exist as they do among the nations of the world. Light must be carried even to the remotest homes in the less fortunate countries which are in comparative darkness and I think that, in this cause, the nations which are economically and educationally advanced have a special responsibility.” (Harijan, 16-11-1947, pp. 412-13).


The Relevance of Gandhi Today


People generally think that we should work to promote the happiness of the majority of mankind;, in particular, they talk of ‘the greater good of the greater number’. Further, happiness is equated with physical happiness and economic prosperity.  Gandhi was of the firm belief that such a pursuit breaks the law of morality. When in doubt about one’s duty, or course of action, Gandhi offers a solution: “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 anything 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.” (Miething, 2019)


This, in a nutshell, is a message at once eternal and contemporary.