The UN seems to be busy in October. Following hot on the heels of our discussions on World Rivers Day and yesterday’s World Habitat Day, today features another UN observance, the International Day of Non-Violence.
October 2nd is the commemoration of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi, whose philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience paved the way for Indian independence and inspired movements for non-violence, civil rights and freedom across the world. A most suitable date, therefore, to be declared International Day of Non-Violence by the UN General Assembly in 2007. The aim of the day is to promote and disseminate the message of non-violence in different ways, including through education and public awareness. It reaffirms “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence”.
Non-violence, or non-violent resistance, as it is also known, is about achieving social or political change without resorting to physical violence. It is a form of social struggle that has been successfully adopted by groups the world over in social justice campaigns, and has rightfully been referred to as ‘the politics of ordinary people’. In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, “the foundation for non-violence will be built by people: teachers and faith leaders, parents and community voices, business people and grass-roots groups”.
The three main categories of non-violent action are:
- protest and persuasion, including marches and vigils;
- non-cooperation; and
- non-violent intervention, such as blockades and occupations.
Non-violence thus does not imply a lack of action. It is a very active instigator of change, only achieved without violence, and this is what gives it such power. The Occupy Wall Street movement we discussed recently would be a good recent example of citizen-led non-violent resistance.
In celebration of this day, perhaps the most succinct and profound statement comes from the great Gandhi himself:
“There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.”