Nonviolent Non-Cooperation: An Effective, Noble and Valuable Means for Peaceful Change

By Kumar, Ravindra | Social Alternatives, First Quarter 2010 | Go to article overview

Nonviolent Non-Cooperation: An Effective, Noble and Valuable Means for Peaceful Change


Kumar, Ravindra, Social Alternatives


This article reviews the central principles of the social and political tactic of nonviolent non-cooperation, particularly in the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi. It identifies key traditions, values, and historical practices that frame and demonstrate the meaning and significance of nonviolent non-cooperation, and explores the potential of these approaches in the global village.

An Ancient Tradition

Since ancient times social reformers have taken the path of non-cooperation to remove obstacles from the way of mutual cooperation. The Indian tradition is long, which besides Gautama Buddha (563-483 BC.) and Guru Nanak Dev (1469-1539) also includes Vedic scholars like Dayananda Saraswati (1824-1883) and Vivekananda (1863-1902) who called upon people to resolve problems and transform conflicts through nonviolent non-cooperation. They themselves practised it; they discovered its strength and, thus, proved non-cooperation to be a powerful, noble, exemplary and effective method or means to accord equal justice and freedom. Victories were achieved through it mainly due to the following two reasons:

* Leaders of non-cooperation applied effective methods and techniques in their actions in prevailing circumstances of time and space; and

* They adopted the supreme human value of Ahimsa (nonviolence) as the means in their actions, i.e., nonviolence became the basis of their non-cooperation programmes.

The sources of these methods and values lie in a millennium-old tradition. Thousands of years ago in the earliest written texts people had been called to take the path of non-cooperation to end atrocities, inhumanities and injustices. To fight against wrongdoers, tyrants, oppressors, exploiters or unjust persons through the method of non-cooperation1 was declared a duty of human beings. Simultaneously, by staying within the domain of human values and impelling one's whole soul-force, to refuse to obey an unjust person or a group of persons was considered to be justifiable. It was recognised as a right of individuals as well as the society.

I refer to a call of non-cooperation in the Vedas, and particularly in the Rig-Veda2 when it declares man's disassociation from the one who is imprudent, jealous, malicious and selfish, to be his duty. I find it in the other Vedas also, and especially in the sixteenth Mantra of the first chapter of the Yajurveda, where people have been called to boycott those who are wicked, vicious or corrupt. It is, undoubtedly, a call for non-cooperation with the wrongdoers.

In the political sphere, half a century before Gandhi's practices in South Africa, in the middle of the nineteenth century, this methodology was used in the Punjab province of India by Ram Singh (1816-1885), who was the founder of the Namdhari (Sikh) sect and was also known as the Kuka, with the purpose of making his country, India, free from the yoke of British impehalism.3The non-cooperation programme of Ram Singh included:

* Boycott of government services;

* Boycott of educational institutions started by the English;

* Boycott of law-courts started by the British;

* Boycott of foreign-made goods; and

* Boycott to obey and resist against the laws and orders, which one's own conscience abhors.4

All the above were part of Gandhi's non-cooperation programme in India in 1920. That is why it is said that the Namdharis' approach influenced Gandhi's programme of non-cooperation and civil disobethence. Furthermore, before Gandhi's Non-Cooperation Movement of 1920, BaI Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) along with Aurobindo Ghosh (1872-1950) and Lajpat Rai (1865-1928) started the Swadeshi Movement in India in the beginning of the first decade of the 20th Century. It was also a sort of noncooperation.

In other traditions, such as from the Middle East the teachings and life of Jesus Christ embody nonviolent noncooperation, while Prophet Muhammad (570-632) refused to cooperate with inequality-based social structures and all improper practices that prevailed in his time.

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