Gandhi and the path of Ahimsa
Vinod Anand
The concept of Ahimsa occupies a central position in Gandhi’s
thoughts. It would not be correct to say that the inspiration behind the
idea of Ahimsa came from Mahatma Gandhi solely, from the spiritual
traditional in India, or from any unified religious tradition for that
matter. The idea is to be found in the teachings of Buddha, Mahavira
and Jesus Christ. However, we find in Gandhi’s thought continuity in
this regard as well as the modification of elements in the idea,
reinforcing its historical relevance in a wholly new perspective.
Similarly significant is Gandhi’s inner search for truth, which Gandhi
called his experiments with truth, in relation to the concept of Ahimsa.
The evolution the idea in Gandhi recognises a deeply humanist
standpoint, quite central to the underlying humanism of Gandhi’s
outlook on life. The idea does occur in the thoughts of some of the
greatest thinkers of the 20
century. However, one has to turn to
Gandhi for further understanding of its significance.
The application of this idea of Ahimsa in the contemporary world of
politics of the 20
century has been much discussed and debated;
however, aspects of its deeper significance are still to be explored.
Significantly, Gandhi’s spiritual convictions pointed at the need and
radical social change. For India, it meant the social transformation of
the caste-based traditional Indian society. Certain immediate social
and political goals too have connected with this need for social
Therefore the non-violence of Gandhi’s thought can be understood
better in the context of India’s social history. Now, this is because in
our history, the forces of violence have a distinct character. There are
deep-rooted social origins behind the manifestations of violence in
Indian society.
Gandhi tried systematically to build up an alternative model of nonviolence; his political understanding also matured through a change in
the historical perspective. Gandhi did not read history of India in the
same way as Tilak and Aurobinda did and the changed perspective was
closely related to his belief in the efficacy of non-violence as a means
of ending the alien rule in India. Gandhi also changed the course of the
freedom struggle substantially by placing Ahimsa in place of the earlier
militancy as the main plank: for India’s freedom struggle. As a
corollary to this, Gandhi envisioned the total transformation of India’s
semi-feudal society through the acceptance of the new norms of social
1The evolution of a new social and political consciousness through the
dynamic transformation of society has many aspects and Gandhi’s own
contribution in this had more than one dimension: These are:
• Ahimsa was the avowed means of India’s history; it also implied
the complete identity of means and end;
• Gandhi strove manfully to establish Ahimsa as the sole criterion
for the success or failure of the freedom struggle;
• Gandhi stressed the need for a liberalist, humanist and fullydemocratic consciousness based on a decentralised social
• With his deep insight into the process of social history, Gandhi
could see the relation of the caste system and the practice of
Sati to other forms of social violence prevalent in Indian society.
The Indian nationalist struggle was at a critical stage when Gandhi
arrived from South Africa. Mot only the Marxists, there were others in
the Congress fold who thought differently. The freedom struggle itself
turned violent on several occasions. These developments left a deep
impression on Gandhi’s mind even before the ‘Quit India’ movement of
1942 was in the final phase of the struggle.
No doubt, the concept of Ahimsa is also deeply related to the need of
changing the character of the state. However, the immediate
prerequisite was to bring about a new social reorganisation though a
radical and voluntary social reform movement, which Gandhi stressed
upon all along.
In essence, Ahimsa is a path, a totality of approach, it cannot be a
matter of tactics or strategy, its ultimate sanction is in the individual
and what it requires isn’t an intellectual grasp of ideology, but, a change of heart.

Author's Bio: 


Born in 1939, and holding Master’s Degree both in Mathematics (1959) and Economics (1961), and Doctorate Degree in Economics (1970), Dr. Vinod K.Anand has about forty five years of teaching, research, and project work experience in Economic Theory (both micro and macro), Quantitative Economics, Public Economics, New Political Economy, and Development Economics with a special focus on economic and social provisions revolving around poverty, inequality, and unemployment issues, and also on informal sector studies. His last assignment was at the National University of Lesotho (Southern Africa) from 2006 to 2008. Prior to that he was placed as Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of North-West in the Republic of South Africa, and University of Allahabad in India, Professor at the National University of Lesotho, Associate Professor at the University of Botswana, Gaborone in Botswana, and at Gezira University in Wad Medani, Sudan, Head, Department of Arts and Social Sciences, Yola in Nigeria, Principal Lecturer in Economics at Maiduguri University in Nigeria, and as Lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria in Nigeria. Professor Anand has by now published more than 80 research papers in standard academic journals, authored 11 books, supervised a number of doctoral theses, was examiner for more than twenty Ph.D. theses, and has wide consultancy experience both in India and abroad, essentially in the African continent. This includes holding the position of Primary Researcher, Principal Consultant etc. in a number of Research Projects sponsored and funded by Universities, Governments, and International Bodies like, USAID, IDRC, and AERC. His publications include a variety of themes revolving around Economic Theory, New Political Economy, Quantitative Economics, Development Economics, and Informal Sector Studies. His consultancy assignments in India, Nigeria, Sudan, Botswana, and the Republic of South Africa include Non-Directory Enterprises in Allahabad, India, Small Scale Enterprises in the Northern States of Nigeria, The Absolute Poverty Line in Sudan, The Small Scale Enterprises in Wad Medani, Sudan, Micro and Small Scale Enterprises in Botswana, The Place of Non-Formal Micro-Enterprises in Botswana, Resettlement of a Squatter Community in the Vryburg District of North West Province in the Republic of South Africa, Trade and Investment Development Programme for Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises: Support for NTSIKA in the Republic of South Africa, and Development of the Manufacturing Sector in the Republic of South Africa’s North West Province: An Approach Based on Firm Level Surveys. Professor Anand has also extensively participated in a number of conferences, offered many seminars, participated in a number of workshops, and delivered a variety of Refresher Lectures at different venues both in India and abroad. Dr. Anand was placed at the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla in the State Himachal Pradesh, India as a Fellow from 2001 to 2003, and had completed a theoretical and qualitative research project/monograph on the Employment Profile of Micro Enterprises in the State of Himachal Pradseh, India.