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Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order: The Gandhian Model of Nonviolent Social Order

Published: 16.06.2015

*Originally printed in Gandhi Marg, 1990.

The violence around and its solution

The modern life the world over is becoming increasingly characterized by the lack of concern or feeling for others, alienation, restlessness, anger, pugnacity, hatred, aggression, and by the absence of inner and outer peace and happiness. All the well-meaning and thoughtful people now agree that the human civilization is facing the crisis of survival itself, and they are extremely worried about this. The affiliation is so widespread and common that no category is free from it. The individuals, families, communities, nations, the poor, the rich, the humans, the animals, and the Nature are all striken by this curse of violence.

The suicides, fratricides, the cases of people torturing, assaulting, raping, and killing other people including one's own closest relatives, street gang wars, terrorist massacres, communal homicides, wars between nations, destruction of environment, ecology, and nature, extinction of the spaces and species of flora and fauna are but only a few glaring examples of the present violent state of human society.

It is not that some of these things did not exist in the pre-historical and historical eras. But the scale of human tragedy was miniscule then while it is colossal now; many of these things were an exception then rather than a rule as now. Further, the argument that they existed in the past also is no justification for their continued existence now. If nothing can be done about violence because it has always existed, what meaning can we attach to our claim regarding the Ascent or Evolution of Man? It appears that there has been actually a descent rather than an ascent of man in the recent past. The phenomenal growth of science, technology, incomes, and wealth, i.e., the whole material advancement which has taken place during the past three centuries, and on which the modern man prides himself so much, has resulted in the growth rather than a decline in the physical and subtle violence at all levels.

The United States is the industrialized world's most violent country today. Apart from building-up of the most-armed state, there has been a phenomenal increase in the possession of firearms by the civilian population in the USA. It is estimated that private citizens there now own more than 20 crores of handguns, rifles, and shotguns, i.e., the per capita "consumption" of firearms in the USA has already reached a very high level.[1] It is alarming that the cult of violence is rapidly spreading among the children and in the schools. It is again estimated that at least 2.5 million American teenagers or about 21 percent of young Americans registered in high schools carry guns, knives, razors, and clubs to schools.[2] There has been an unprecedented increase in the scale of fatal shootings and gun-related injuries in US schools in the recent past.

Johny Ray Youngblood, a Senior Pastor at St. Paul Community Church in New York, has very recently pointed out that a "24-hour virus" of violent death is hitting the American schools, that the American cities have become the scene of mindless killings, that about three million crimes are occurring on or near school campuses every year, and that kids with guns are setting off an arms race of their own across the country. A study by the American Psychological Association has estimated that the number of murders committed by juveniles will quadruple by the end of the 1990s because of child abuse, drug abuse, and poverty.[3]

As in other spheres, the developing countries are frantically trying to catch up with America in the field of violence also. In India, traditionally a nation of peace-loving people, literally thousands and thousands of people are now being killed every year in communal riots, terrorist massacres, caste-wars, bride burning criminal murders, and internecine violence. It is estimated that 40 million people have been killed in more than 125 wars in the Third World. The countless number of people are being killed every year in all the countries as a result of state violence and state terrorism in the name of socialism, removal of poverty, development, and even peace.

This, admittedly, is not the whole of reality. There are still multitudes of people who very much believe in and crave for peaceful and brotherly ways of living. There have also been some hopeful developments recently such as the unification of Germanys, the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the loosening of the stranglehold of despotic, autocratic, dictatorial communist regimes in many countries. The failure of communism, however, is being used for drawing wrong lessons. The thinking is fast degenerating into the celebration once again of the already failed gods of marketism, individualism, self-interest, commercialism, consumerism, and the pursuit of profit, money and greed. If this is not stopped by embracing a different and new world-view which would revolutionize and turn the world in a new direction, the marketism is bound to recreate the vicious cycle of exploitation, injustice, inequity, poverty, neocolonialism, and wars.

The judicial approach, anti-crime laws, drafting of new constitutions, and changes from the parliamentary system to the presidential system and vice versa, will not accomplish much. What we need now is an alternative model or world-view or philosophy which is complete, holistic, and redeeming. Gandhi has given us such an alternative world-view. In fact, it is a misnomer to call it an alternative model because it is really the only model today which can arrest the suicidal forces and consolidate the forces of sanity. It is the only model which can create a nonviolent or peaceful social order because it embodies the flowering or blossoming of the spiritual heritage of the whole humanity or it is the quintessence of all spiritual teachings of mankind.

Further, the Gandhian model alone has integrated the organizational and ethical aspects of the social system. The capitalist and communist (socialist) models emphasize the need for changing primarily the structure or organization of the society. In respect of values, either they harness the lowly, transient, and ephemeral values or they believe that a change in the structure will automatically bring about a suitable change in values. In the Gandhian model, on the contrary, a change in man is the foundation of a change in structure, and both of these types of changes, through the process of circular and interactive causation or through mutual reinforcement or symbiotic development, create a just, equitous, nonviolent, stable, and sustainable social order. A change in man is basic to a change in society in this model.


Vrata means a vow, promise, resolve, religious act of devotion or austerity, law, rule, and ordinance, and an ethical principle. The following dwadash or twelve such vratas form the basis of the Gandhian nonviolent social order:

(1) Ahimsa (nonviolence); (2) satya (truth); (3) asteya (non-stealing); (4) brahmacharya (celibacy, self-restraint, chastity, continence); (5) asangraha (non-accumulation) or aparigraha (non-possession); (6) sharirshrama (physical or manual work, or bread-labour); (7) aswad (control of the palate); (8) bhayavarjanam or abhaya (fearlessness); (9) sarvadharma samatva or sarvadharma samabhava (equal or identical love for all religions); (10) swadeshi (love for one's country); (11) sparshabhavana (abujuring untoucha-bility); and (12) aninda (non-criticism).

Of these, only the first five vratas were mentioned in the ancient Indian religious texts, and they were prescribed for attaining the personal goals of chitta-shuddhi (purification of mind), spiritual progress, and the emancipation or liberation of the self or soul. Gandhi added the next six vratas after taking into account the demands of modern times and the contemporary conditions in India. He had made the recitation of eleven vratas compulsory during the daily morning and evening prayers in his ashrams or abodes of social workers. In fact, he regarded the observance of these vratas as necessary not only for the ashramites but also for every-body in the ordinary business of life; he saw in them the only means for the liberation of both the individual self and the social self. The last vrata (twelfth) was added by Vinoba Bhave who is affectionately known throughout India only as Vinoba and who is regarded as the truest follower of Gandhi.

The observance of these twelve vratas can lay the foundation of a nonviolent social order because they can eliminate the inner or psychic sources of agitation, excitement, emotion, provocation, irritation, and violence, or they can effectively control the urge or craving for money, wealth, power, fame, and carnal desires. The basic prerequisite for a nonviolent society is the peace within the individuals; the peace without is possible only when the peace within reigns. Man cannot be an instrument of peace unless he is at peace with himself. The dwadash vratas help man to achieve this peace within himself and thereby help in creating a peaceful social system.

For example, the free play of greed makes people compulsive competitors which create exploitative and conflicting relationships between them. Certain vratas control the greed in man; they equip him to unhinge himself from the pursuit of material acquisitions, and to concentrate on service, sacrifice, altruism, and other spiritual values or motivations. They also instil in him the respect for the "will to live" in other beings. All this tends to eliminate man's violence against all living beings and the Nature.

An in-depth discussion of the meaning of each of these vratas is too big a subject to be handled here.[4] We intend to discuss them only briefly so as to enable the reader to see their relevance for the nonviolent social order.

The first of these vratas is ahimsa or nonviolence itself. It means non-killing or non-injury at the physical as well as mental levels. It connotes that we should not only not cause pain, sorrow, injury, and death to other beings but also that we should love them. To abjure aggressive as well as self-protective violence and to be compassionate towards others are parts of ahimsa. Gandhi used to say that Ahimsa means Universal Love, and that love is the fundamental law of our being. He practiced and taught others to practise the following progressive law of nonviolence given by Christ: "Forgive others. Love each other as I love thee. Love thy neighbour as thyself. Love enemy."

Gandhi gave the utmost importance to satya or truth as the basis of life at all levels. He had sub-titled his autobiography as the "Experiments with Truth," and he remained a life-long seeker of truth. He believed that the truth alone holds together and sustains the universe, and that it alone wins. He made a prophetic contribution to the extension of the meaning of truth by saying that God Is Truth and Truth Is God. This truth ought to be the beacon light of the life of the universe. Man must be prepared to lay down even his life for upholding the truth. Any kind of untruth, secrecy, prevarication, diplomacy, and dissemblance would ultimately destroy theJndividual and society.

Asteya means much more than non-stealing or the absence of theft in the common sense of these terms. That one should not use various things including the necessities of life without really participating in the process of their production, that one should not pay others less than the right wages, that one should not expect to receive services from others at cheap rates, and that one should not take or receive something from others without giving something in return, are all included in asteya. Any act of consumption or enjoyment without some sacrifice is tantamount to stealing. Asteya is very much necessary to create an equitable, non-exploitative, and just social order.

Brahmacharya or continence in its ultimate sense denotes that life-style which helps the individual to attain Brahman (God). It encompasses many things: that one should not covet women other than one's own wife, nay, one should regard other women as one's mothers or sisters, that the married person should desire his wife only for procreation, that one should lead a life of self-restraint in all spheres, and that one should endeavour to attain a full control over all the senses and desires. The relevance of this vrata for nonviolent social order is too obvious to need an collaboration.

Aparigraha or non-possession and asangraha or non-accumula-tion stress the value of minimization of wants, simplicity of life, and voluntary poverty. Like birds and animals, man also need not and ought not accumulate material things including the necessities of life. These vratas solve man's hamletian dilemma or confusion about "to have or not to have." They are direct answers to the problems of disparities, exploitation, and violence in the modern acquisitive, accumulating, achieving, possessive, and materialistic societies.

Sharirashram or bread labour means that absolutely everyone must undertake manual or physical work of some kind or other at least a few hours everyday. Everyone has an entitlement to his daily bread only by the sweat of his brow. The basis of this is that the bodily labour is the only natural means of the daily upkeep of the body. The separation between the intellectual (mental) work and the manual work, and the culture of superiority of the former over the latter are artificial and harmful developments. Both of these types of work can be more effective, productive, and enjoyable only if there is a balanced mix of them everyday. Gandhi regarded bread labour as an effective means of self-restraint and egalitarianism.

Aswad or the control of the palate is though necessary for the successful observance of many other vratas, particularly brahmacharya, and for the success in sadhana, i.e., efforts towards self-realization or self-liberation. The saying in India is, Aharshudhow Sattwashuddhi, i.e., purity of diet leads to the purity or uprightness of nature (essence). The utmost discretion in respect of why, what, how and how much one eats and drinks is essential in life. Aswad vrata reminds us that one should eat to keep body and mind healthy, and not to gratify the palate; that one eats to live, and not lives to eat. It has revolutionary implications for solving the problems of hunger and violence against the animal kingdom.

Abhaya or fearlessness is also an essential quality for the establishment and success of a nonviolent social order. The indomitable human spirit and the freedom from fear of anything including death are basic to an ethical lifestyle. In the Gandhian social order, a truly fearless human being would not lift an arm to strike anyone for self-protection or for protecting others. He would achieve these things through soul force.

Sarvadharma samanatva or sarvadharma sambhava means equal affection and love, and not merely equal respect and tolerance as under secularism, for all religions, faiths, beliefs, creeds, sects and panthas. It teaches us that each religion is incomplete in some sense and yet each one is true; that behind some conceptual and external differences, there is a basic unity among all the religions in the world; and that they lead us to the same goal. We must learn to see the merits and correct the demerits of all religions includig our own religion. This would transform the blind love into an enlightened and satvik (pure, virtuous) love for one's own religion, and would nurture the universal or cosmic or chatholic vision of man. It must be noted that the Gandhian vision of sarvadharma sambhava is entirely different from the ideology of secularism. While the former will certainly eliminate communal violence, the latter is altogether incapable of achieving such a result.[5]

Sparshabhavana means touchability or the absence of untouchability. At a certain juncture in history, the Hindu social order came to be striken with the curse of untouchability; it rendered even the touch of the body and shadow of a person from the "lower" castes a matter of defilement and tabbo for the person belonging to the "upper" castes. The "lower-caste" people came to be forbidden from visiting and praying inside the Hindu temples. The practitioner of sparashabhavana would renounce the feelings of untouchability and superiority-inferiority in respect of different social groups and professions. He would regard everyone as his equal and brother.

Though invented in the context of the Hindu society and the typical communal problems in India, sarvadharma sambhava and sparashabhavana have far wider relevance and applications. They constitute a solution to similar problems in other societies because basically they teach equality between man and man. They lay the foundation of a truly democratic, liberal, egalitarian, and peaceful social order. Through these vratas, Gandhi taught the whole world that the injustice and violence against the labour, the poor, the women, the Negroes, the scheduled castes and tribes, and other religious communities can be eliminated only by becoming compassionate towards them, and not by arousing the passions of castes, classes, sexes, races, and religions.

Swadeshi literally would mean love or preference for things of one's own country. In its wider sense, it denoted many goals such as self-sufficiency and self-reliance at the local level, living according to swadharma, i.e., one's own duty or prescribed course of conduct, living according to the traditions and customs of one's own country or community, using one's own language and dress, and preferring commodities produced in one's own country and locality. It, however, does not mean chauvinism; it denotes a balance between patriotism and universalism. Swadeshi means "working locally but thinking globally." It is a limiting principle of a day-to-day living in the ordinary business of life; it teaches that things, traditions, and ethics from near ought to be dear to us.

Aninda or non-criticism, strictly speaking, is included in ahimsa, but Vinoba felt that it is necessary to add it as an explicit or separate vrata in order to overcome a specific weakness in human nature. Aninda means not seeing fault or defects or vices of others, and not blaming or criticizing others fortheir faults. It also means recognizing, appreciating, and concentrating on the merits or virtues of others, and inducing others to become better by magnifying their virtues. The basis of this vrata is that since I am also full of defects, I do not have a moral right to criticize others for their defects, and that defects are of the body and not of the soul, and, therefore, they are not of the individual. Aninda also means concentrating on one's own virtues rather than defects. The observance of this vrata would result in an all-round Gun Vikas, i.e., the flourishing of virtues in all human beings, and this would spread peace and happiness in the society.

Organizational Principles

The socio-politico-economic organization in the Gandhian model is such that it would nurture the ethical principles discussed so far. A few major concepts in such an organization are discussed below. The first one relates to the role of the state or nation-state in the life of the society. At the absolute level, Gandhi believed in the complete withering away of the state or'the statelessness or the spiritual anarchy. He regarded the state as an embodiment of organized violence, and, therefore, the freedom from the state is a basic necessity of a non-violent social order. The withering away of the state is possible through the enlightened self-rule of self-control or swarajya by each individual.

However, practical and realistic as he was, Gandhi had realized that such a stateless society would take quite some time to materialize. Therefore, he advocated the minimum state as the immediate goal. "That government is the best which governs the least", he used to say. For this, argues in favour of decentralizing political and economic functions, administration, activities, responsibilities, and powers at the panchayat or village level.

In such a social order, a village or a group of villages, interlinked with upper levels of administration in a manner of oceanic circles, would be the basic unit of organization of economic activity and government administration. The villages would be largely self-sufficient and self-reliant in all spheres of village life, and all the decisions-political, economic, social, judicial-would be taken by the village panchayats (assemblies) in which all the villagers would participate directly or in a face-to-face manner. The decisions would be taken unanimously or by consensus rather than by majority. In short, the Gramswarajya, i.e., the decentralized and directly participative (and not representative) democratic structure with self-reliant, self-sufficient, and interdependent village republics as its constituents defines the organizational content of the Gandhian model. The Gandhian state would be truly of the people, by the people, and for the people. Anyone could readily discern the peace-potential of such a social order.

The question of ownership, management and use of property, or the question of equitable distribution of income, consumption, and wealth has been dealt with by Gandhi in a fundamentally different manner than in both the capitalist and communist (socialist) models. His concept of trusteeship, which has been called a theory of Gandhian socialism, contains a revolutionary alternative to the models just mentioned.[6] The only nonviolent way to achieve socialism is for everyone to become non-possessive and non-attached, and to use whatever he/she possesses as a trustee for the benefit of others, particularly the poorest.

The fundamental principles of trusteeship as approved by Gandhi are as follows.[7]

1. Trusteeship provides a means of transforming the present capitalist order of society into an equalitarian one. It gives no quarter to capitalism, but gives the present owning-class a chance of reforming itself. It is based on the faith that human nature is never beyond redemption.

2. It does not recognize any right of private ownership of property except so far as it may be permitted by society for its own welfare.

3. It does not exclude legislative regulation of the ownership and use of wealth.

4. Thus, under state-regulated trusteeship, an individual will not be free to hold or use his wealth for selfish satisfaction or in disregard of the interest of society.

5. Just as it is proposed to fix a decent minimum living wage, even so a limit should be fixed for the maximum income that could be allowed to any person in society. The difference between such minimum and maximum incomes should be reasonable and equitable and variable from time to time, so much so that the tendency would be towards obliteration of the difference.

6. Under the Gandhan economic order, the character of production will be determined by social necessity and not by personal whim or greed.

Thus trusteeship destroys capitalism without expropriating the expropriators and without beheading the capitalists. It, along with decentralization, destroys both private capitalism and state capitalism and thereby it eliminates both the covert and overt violence of these systems.

Technology is another aspect of the social order which determines its violent or nonviolent nature. The modern, huge, high, big, sophisticated, complicated, centralized, and mass-production-oriented technology is progenitive and supportive of a violent society. There is ample evidence to show that modern technology has been destructive of environment, ecology, and nature and that it is capable of being abused by the Establishment for suppressing, oppressing, subjugating, and annihilating the masses.

Gandhi therefore advocated that it is only the simple, small, decentralized technology which is consistent with the conducive to a nonviolent social order. Such a technology is also known as "the appropriate technology" or "the technology on a human scale" or "the technology with a human face." Some of the other characteristics of such a technology are: it is labour-intensive and capital-saving; it is oriented towards production by masses; it generates full employment; it gives the worker a joy of creation and, therefore, helps to solve the problem of alienation; and it offers modes or processes of production which are not resource-intensive, energy-intensive, and centralized.[8]

Gandhi believed that man is capable of perfection, and that to attain perfection is his destiny. However, he knew that man is not yet perfect. He believed that in the long run, there would not be a need for any external means to establish the truth of justice. But he recognized that in the short run, there would arise a need from time to time to fight injustice, suppression, and slavery. He, therefore, invented and successfully practiced a new method of fighting injustice, namely Satyagraha or insistence on truth. Satyagraha does not inflict pain or sacrifice on others. It does not kill others. It, when used by the totally fearless and loving person who is prepared to undergo any suffering and sacrifice including death, can change the heart of even the cruelest bully, exploiter, tyrant, and despot. Satyagraha is called a soul force. Its less perfect forms are known as civil disobedience, passive resistance, unarmed resistance, and nonviolent resistance.

Gandhi invented this technique in South Africa and perfected it during the Indian freedom struggle. He used it successfully individually and collectively for resolving many issues and conflicts including India's political independence and communal conflagration. A number of people including Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy of India, have testified that where the whole Indian army and police force failed, Gandhi, the one-man army without any arm, the sentinel and apostle of nonviolence, succeeded in quelling the communal riots which engulfed India around the time of the transfer of power.


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Title: Non-violence Relative Economics And A New Social Order
Publisher: Jain Vishwa Bharati University, Ladnun, India
Editors: Prof. B.R. Dugar, Dr. Samani Satya Prajna, Dr. Samani Ritu Prajna
Edition: First Edition, 2008

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Abhaya
  2. Ahimsa
  3. Ahmedabad
  4. Anger
  5. Aparigraha
  6. Asteya
  7. Body
  8. Bombay
  9. Brahmacharya
  10. Brahman
  11. Celibacy
  12. Consumerism
  13. Delhi
  14. Ecology
  15. Environment
  16. Fear
  17. Fearlessness
  18. Gandhi
  19. Greed
  20. Gun
  21. Krishna
  22. L.M. Bhole
  23. New Delhi
  24. Nonviolence
  25. Sadhana
  26. Samatva
  27. Sambhava
  28. Sangh
  29. Sarva
  30. Satya
  31. Science
  32. Seva
  33. Soul
  34. Swadeshi
  35. Swaraj
  36. Tolerance
  37. Varanasi
  38. Vidya
  39. Vinoba Bhave
  40. Violence
  41. Vrata
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