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THE BANYAN TREE: VOLUME II : BRINGING CHANGE - A FUTURE PERSPECTIVE ON CREATIVE HEALTH NONVIOLENT ACTION
( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Transformend Nonconformists

We must be obedient to the spirit not the letter of the law. The spirit of the law is primarily an internal law. The external laws needed, but they must be in conformity with the internal law. If a law is hurtful to the general welfare, it should not be observed. A law that has no respect for human life a nd rights holds no force. We owe obedience to God rather than man in our catalysing action for justice. In this case if we donít keep an unjust law, disobedience is far more pleasing to God. St. Augustine says an unjust law is no law at all. Any law that uplifts hyuman personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

Holy Disobedience, or responsible disobedience is a very tricky concept that must be based on right conscience. Transformed nonconformists go against a law or precept on moral grounds-a sense of moral indignation and duty--because it blocks justice being done to the poor. Transformed nonconformism is a form of social behaviour directed to the change of society.

For nonconformists to be responsible they must be inspired by the Spirit of God, prayerfulness, correct moral perception and correct moral willing. It must be practiced only when the law is unjust-- otherwise we must practice loyal respect for law and authority. It must be used only after all standard means of redress have been tried. Responsible disobedience is always a final resort. Non-conformity, holy disobedience, becomes a virtue, indeed a necesssary and indispensable measure of spiritual self-preservation, in a day when the impulse to conform, to acquiesce, to go along, is used as an instrument to subject man to totalitarian rule and involve them in permanent war.

We will give three examples of transformed nonconformists : Gandhi, A.J. Muste and Martin Luther King, Jr. and then a contemporary example in the Jawahar incident.

M. K. Gandhi

One of themost striking examples of Gandhiís strategies as a transformed nonconformist is in his letter to the British Viceroy, Lord Irwin, which he wrote on March 2,1930. "Dear Friend : Before embarking on civil disobedience and taking the risk I have dreaded to take all these years, I would fain approach you to find a way out. " No harm was to any Englishman, Gandhi continued, although he held british rule to be a curse." As no significant steps toward independence had been taken, there was now no option ", he wrote, " but to carry out the 1928 Indian National Congress decision to declare independence if the British had not acted in that direction by the end of 1929," Gandhi then stated why, as he saw it, the British had not acted : "It seems as clear as daylight that responsible British statesmen donot contemplate any alteration in Brtish policy that might adversely affect Britainís commerce with India or require an impartial and close scrutiny of Britainís transaction with India. "If they didnít move, he would--"setin motion a nonviolent force as well prepared and powerful as the British violent group." The civil disobedience and non-coperation which were contemplated were intended to convert the Briish, he continued. The Plan would include attacking a number of specific injustices which he outlined in the letter. "When these were removed, the way to friendly negotiation will be open. If the British commerce with India is purified of greed, you will have no difficulty in recognizing our independence. " Gandhi then invited the Viceroy" to pave the way for immediate removal of these evils, and thus open the way for a real conference between equals. "If you donít do this, Iíll proceed to disregard the Salt Laws and if you arrest me, tens of thousand are ready, in a disciplined manner, to take up the work after me. I am ready to discuss these points. My letter is not in any way intended as a threat but s a simple and sacred duty peremptory on a civil resister."

A. J. Muste

Another good example is is A. J. Muste, a prophetic figure who was involved in active non-cooperation with every American War in this century, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and all the cold war episodes along the way. He pioneered the appliation of Gandian techniques of nonviolent resisteance and intervention to NorthAmerican social struggles ranging from a major textile strike he helped organise in 1919 to incursions onto nuclear test sites and nuclear weapons bases in the 1950ís and 60ís. Musteís life was a pilgrimage toward a new land of peace, justice and wholeness. His life was in radical opposition to the predominant current of the times. In 1948 Muste became a founding member of Peacemakers, a network of nonviolent activists committed to non-registration for the draft, tax refusal, and active civil disobedience against nuclear weapons and the new" peacetimeí militarism. Muste himself began refusing to pay federal taxes from that year. He dialogued with atomic scientists, many of whom were deeply disturbed at the application their work was taking. The talks resulted in the founding in 1949 of the Society for Social Responsibilityin the Sciences. He raised the issue of nuclear weapons in the churches and educated them on pacifism in the nuclear age. In 1957, at the age of 72, he braved the brutal desert heat to organize a vigil at the Nevada nu lear weapons test site. He and others were arrested. In 1959, he climbed the fence and illegally entered the Strategic Air Command basenea Omaha, Nebraska, and was arrested again. He became involved in stopping a French uclear weapons test in the Algerian Sahara. Although the mission failed, they received extensive internaional press attention. In 1965, during the Vietnam War, he was the central figure in the Fifthe Avenue Peace Parade. About 25,000 people joined the anti-war march. Muste and five others went to Saigon and held a press conference denouncing US involvement in the war. They were arrested and deported . In January 1967, he returned to North Vietnam and witnessd the horrible damage done by the US governmentís indiscriminating bombing. Premier Pham Van Dong and President Ho Chi Minh asked President Lyndon Johnson to come for peace talks to Hanoi. Johnson never answered the letter. This was Musteís last jouney forpeace. Two weeks after returning from Vietnam, he developed an aneurism and died before surgeory could be done. A friend said this was typical of him--he allocated 82 years to living, but only one day to dying!

M.L. King

"In his essay "Self-Reliance" Emerson wrote. "Whosoever would be a man must be a nonconformist." The Apostle Paul reminds us that whosoever would be a Christian must also be a non-conformist. Any Christian who blindly accepts the opinions of the majority and in fear and timidity follows a path of expediency and social approval is a mental and spiritual slave. Mark well these words from the pen of James Russell Lowell :


They are slaves who fear to speak
For the fallen and weak;
They are slaves who will not choose
Hatred,scoffing, and abuse.
Rather than in silence shrink
From the truth they needs must think;
They are slaves who dare not be
In the right with two or three.


".....This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed non-conformists. Our planet teeters on the brink of atomic annihilation; dangerous passions of pride, hatred, and selfishness are enthroned in our lives; truth lies prostrate on the rugged hills of nameless calvaries; and men do reverence before false gods of nationalism and materialism. The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacement adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconformingminority.

"Some years ago Professor Bixler reminded us of the danger of overstressing the well-adjusted life. Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted. We must, of course, be well-adjusted if we are to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities, but there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted. I confess that I never intended to become adjusted to the evils of segregation and the crippling effects of discrimination. Nor will I adjust to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and the corroding effects of narrow sectarianism, to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self defeating effects of physical violence.----

"Honesty impels me to admit that transformed nonconformity, which is always costly and never altogether comfortable, may mean walking through the valley of the shadow of suffering, losing a job, or having a six-year-old daughter say, Ď Daddy, whydo you have to go to jail so much?í But we are gravely mistaken to think that Christianity protects us from the pain and agony of mortal existence. Christianity has always insisted that the cross we bear proceeds the crown we bear. To be a Christian, one must take up his cross, with all of its difficulties and agonosing and tragedy-packed content, and carry it until that very cross leaves its marks upon us and redeems us to that more excellent way which comes only through suffering.---

"We must make a choice. Will we continue to march to the drumbeat of conformity and respectability, or will we, listening to the beat of a more distant drum, move to its echoing sounds? Will we march only to the music of time, or will we, risking criticism and abuse, march to the soul-saving music of eternity? More than ever before we are today challenged by the words of yesterday. ĎBe not conformed to this world : but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.í

Because violence, even death, may result from nonviolent campaigns, the question will be raised as to whether nonviolent activists--who place such an emphasis on peace and reconciliation--are not operating at cross purposes. Martin Luther King answered his critics on many occasions by saying that nonviolence did not create violence, rather that the violence was already present--less visible perhaps--institutionalized form. Non-violent action brings that violence, injustice or hatred to the surface, so that it can be dealt with and overcome. In all conflicts--whether wars of non-violent campaigns--there will be casualties. But nonviolence seeks to break the vicious cycle of violence and to keep the suffering at a minimum, by accepting rather than inflicting it. It attempts to strike out on a new path.

The Jawahar Incident

An example of a contemporary transformed nonconformist is seen in the tribal work done in Jawhar (Thane District), under Kashtakari Sanghatana. A 24 year old social activist was motivating tribals to fight for their rights. In two to three years she was able to form a Mahila Mandals, youth groups, menís agricultural groups, each working on different problemsin the community. This was a sufficient threat to the landlords (belonging to CPM), that they organized a group of men who intervened when she was moving with 30 tribals to a meeting in a village. When the tribals saw the gang of 600 men approaching them in a menacing way, many of them fled for their life, the few who stayed, were badly beaten, and the activist was dragged and raped by four men and molested in a devilish way. Most women would have committed suicide if they had this experience. But this young woman was so inflammed at this injustice - plus the ongoing rape of so many tribal women over the years that she decided to stand up and fight.

She returned to her home, filed a case at the Police Station and went back to the village. She reassured the tribals that she was going to fight this and she went to Bomaby. There she contacted all the oranizations not only in Maharashtra, but also in Gujaratand organized a meeting on Sunday, October 15, 1989 in Jawhar. Over 8,000 people, mostly women, from 30 different organizations came, most of them came by trucks. During this meeting the highlight was her own story. She concentrated on this incident aand said her sufferings from the rape were not the worst, but the indignity of how they afterwards dragged her 10 km. and the whole gang were molesting her and finally forcibly put her in the river to remove all evidence of their evil acts. Then they dragged her to the forest warning her never to return to that village again or worse would happpen to her. The gang were trimphant and rejoiced at having conquered good--convinced that she would never return.

As she fought her way back to her home, she was fired with inner power to fight against this injustice. Each step she took she took she thought of all the sufferings and injustices the tribals have endured over the years and she was determined to stop this evil. She was able to plunge through her own terrible ordeal and touch an inner strength of an overwhelming power for good in the world. This changed hr despair, helplessness and horror into power and hope and courage that good is always stronger than evil.

This two hour meeting produced such mass compassion that as one they pledged themselves to action. Many organizations spoke voicing their solidarity. The demands put forth were for :



  1. Removal of the police inspector, who ignored all the injustices reported.
  2. CID investigation into the mtters.
  3. Justice in all the oppressive actions against the tribals.

The 8,000 left fired with determination to take up action in their own areas. The Bombay social workers held a protest march on October 17. It was organized by the Bombay Association of Trained Social Workers, Nirmala Niketan (College of Social Work), Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and the Alumni Association of the two institutes. The march started at Nirmala Niketan, and went to Mantralaya. The marchers carried posters, shouted slogans and sang songs to make the public aware of the injustices. They gave out leaflets on the issue to the general public. Their demands were for :



  • Public condemnation of such acts.
  • Social boycott of the culprits.
  • Prompt action by the police.
  • CID inquiry.
  • Political parties to ensure responsible behaviour and not allow terror tactics.

The group were determined to put a stop to this horror and pledged themselves to take all possible steps that this would not happen again. A favourtie slogan was :


Goli, lathi, khaenge
Phir bhi age badhenge
Nari sharir par athya char nahi sahenge,
Nahin sahenge
(Bullets and sticks you will get
But still we will go ahead together.
The injustices to womenís bodies
We wonít tolerte, we wonít tolerate.)





Some Principles of Nonviolent Life and Actions



  1. The first principle of nonviolence is NONCOOPERATION with evil. This is a significant challenge to our lifestyle and attitues.
  2. The sacredness and interrelatedness of all life, and the inviolability of human life and rights. All possible pains must be taken to avoid any loss of human life, and to minimise the risk of physical violence. The spirit of nonviolence is one of tenderness and nurturing towards all Being.
  3. Integrity of ends and emans. Gandhi insised that the ends do not justify the means, that the fruit of actions are already present in the means and spirit that produce them.
  4. People have absolute value, property only relative value. It is justifiable under some circumstances to destroymaterial propertywhen and inthe measure that doing so is for.the sake of the survival, human rights, and essential well-being of people.
  5. The issue should be clear in nonviolent campaign, and the relationship of nonviolent actions to that issue should be clear to those engaged in it, as well as demonstrable to others. Nonviolence is committed to open and ongoing clarification of the issues, and also to self- crticism with regard to oneís stance towards them.
  6. Any risk of violence or damage should be proportionate to the gravity of the issues towards which they are directed, and estimated as less than the risk of damage to persons or property that would result from taking no action at all, or other action.
  7. Actions should not be escalated more than necessary. Nonviolent strategy implies using the least threatening means first (e.g. non-cooperation, dialogue, legal and political means, consciousness-raising efforts such as legal demonstrations,media, etc.) before those which involve civil disobedience and/or the risk of the occurrence of some violence. Actions involving voluntary danger to life and limb are a last recourse.
  8. Respect for opponents. Love for enemies. Genuinely nonviolent actions are motivated by love and hope not only for the oppressed, bu also for the oppressor. They do not seek to defeat or humiliate the opposition but to win them to the truth,by the Truth.
  9. The goal of non violent actions is the manifestation of truth, through the spiritual power intrinsic to it. It is not the achievement of partisan power.
  10. The spiritual power of the Truth witnessed to in nonviolent actions will be proportionate to the transparency of the witness to it This transparency is profoundly related to integrity of life style and the quality of Truth and Love of the heart from which the life and actions spring.
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