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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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Definition and Principles of Nonviolent Action

By definition, nonviolent action cannot occur except by the replacement of passivity and submissiveness with activity, challenge and struggle. Obviouisly, however, important distinctions must be made within the category of action. A dichotomy into violent or nonviolent is too simple. Therefore, let us set up a rough typology of six major classes of the forms of action in conflicts, one of them, nonviolent action. This classification includes :



  1. Simple verbal persuation and related behaviour, such as conciliation;
  2. peaceful institutional procedures backed bythreat or use of sanctions;
  3. physical violence against persons;
  4. physical violence against persons plus matrial destruction ;
  5. material destruction only; and
  6. the technique of nonviolent action.

It is also important to see why and how nonviolent action as a technique differs from milder peaceful responses to conflicts, such as conciliation, verbal appeals to the opponent, compromise and negotiation.

These responses may or may not be used with nonvilent action, but hey should not be identified with the nonviolent technique as such. Conciliation and appeals are likely to consist of rational or emotional verbal efforts to bring about an opponentís agreement to something, while nonviolent action is not verbal--it consists of social, economic and political activity of special types. Nonviolent action is a means of combat, as is war. It involves the matching of forces and the waging of "battles" requires wise strategy and tactics, and demands of its "soldiers" courage, discipline and sacrifice. nonviolent action is overwhelmingly a group or mass action.

Nonviolent action is usually extraconstitutional : that is--it does not rely upon established institutional procedures of the State, whether parliamentary or nonparliamentary. Nonviolent action may involve:



  • acts of omission --people refusing to perform acts they usually perform.
  • acts of commission--people perform acts which they usually do not perform, may be forbidden by law or regulation to perform.
  • a combination of acts of omission and acts of commission.

In nonviolent action there are three broad classes of methods:



  • Use of mainly symbolic actions intended to persuade the opponent or to express the groupís disapproval and dissent, the behaviour may be called nonviolent protest and persuation,e.g. marches, parades and vigils.
  • Acts by withdrawal or withholdig of social, economic, or political cooperation--behaviour may be described as non-cooperation, e.g. boycotts and strikes.
  • Acts largely of direct intervention, e.g. sit-ins, nonviolent obstruction, nonviolent invasionand parallel government.

When successful nonviolent action produces change in one of three broad ways, which we call mechanisms of change :



  • conversion: the opponent finallly come around to a new point of view in which he positively accepts their aims.
  • accommodation: the opponent chooses to grant demands and to adjust to the new situation which has been produced without changing his viewpoint.
  • coercion: change is achieved against the opponentís will and without his agreement--he no longer has control.

As the example cited earlier in Jawhar, the aim of the nonviolent action is for conversion of heart, as it is the only long lasting solution to oppression women. Here as Gandhiji has so often said--spiritual power, soul forces is the only way this can be achieved--hating the sin but loving the sinner.

To a degree which has never been adequately appreciated, the nonviolent technique operates by producing power changes. Both the relative power and the absolute power of each of the contending groups aresubject to constant and rapid alteraions. (--See box below for some forms of Nonviolent action.) As seen in the box, the method of economic non-cooperation includes all types of boycotts, by consumers, workers and producers, middlemen, or by owners and management, by holders of financial resources, and action by governments.

See Appendix 2 for the method of nonviolent intervention vlassified into psychological, physical, social, economic and political intervention. Woven into all these methods is the spiritual force of suffering.

The Rationale of Self-suffering

All of Nonviolent Action requires sufering--to win and to conver the opponent to your views and aims. Gandhi said, "Reason has to be strengthened by suffering and suffering opens the eyes of understanding--if you want something really important to be done you must not merely satisfy reason, you must also move the heart. The appeal of reason is more to the head, but the penetratin of the heart comes from suffering. It opens up the inner understanding of man."

Suffering acts as shock treatment. For suffering to lead to conversion, the opponent must experience feelings of identification with the nonviolent group. This leads to a new perception of a common quality between the two groups. Suffering by people who have demonstrated their bravery, openness, honesty, goodwill and nonviolent determination is far more likely to produce a significant sympathetic response..

Suffering being positively desired by resisters becomes an armour against the tyrant rather than a weapon in his hands. Suffering in nonviolent action is not deliberately courted, but nether is itavoided. Suffering should not be sought for its own sake nor for masochistic purposes. This is not real affliction and suffering unless the event that has seized and uprooted a life attacks it, directly or indirectly, in all its parts, social psychological and physical. Suffering offers a prime opportunity for spiritual instrumentality. Suffering is an apprenticeship for our training and for our purification. A powerful example is the activistís suffering in the Jawhar incident.

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