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Peace Education

Case Study of Conflict Resolution: Mahatma Gandhi

The story of Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) offers a dramatic example of how a person of outstanding character representing oppressed peoples can move the conscience of the oppressors to reflect, reorient themselves, and take steps to reverse injustices. Through his movement of nonviolent resistance, Gandhi was able to win independence for India from British rule.

Gandhi received from his family a foundation of Indian wisdom, and he studied law in England. Working for 21 years in South Africa, he advocated for the rights of the Indians who were living there. Formative influences included his readings from the Sermon on the Mount, the Bhagavad Gita, and the writings of Russian author Leo Tolstoy and American author Henry David Thoreau.

Gandhi built the notion of satyagraha (the power of truth, translated as non-violence in Western languages) based on the ancient concept of ahimsa (the refusal to harm). Gandhi believed that there is a common truth to humanity, which is veiled or hidden when there is conflict, and that nonviolence is the way to restore this truth. According to him, the battlefield of nonviolence is in the human heart, and the goal is not to defeat human beings but to defeat the evil that corrupts their minds. Gandhi came to a realization that “Nonviolence is the law of our species, as violence is the law of the brute.” Gandhi taught people that we have to liberate ourselves before we can liberate others; thus, he stressed self-control and daily self-discipline.

In India, Gandhi developed strategies to deal with four kinds of conflict: political, social, economic, and religious. He started combating social injustice and political oppression there through nonviolent means. He believed that India would be free from the British only through returning to its own moral roots and traditions. He formed a tactical alliance with the Indian Muslims and launched a program of non-cooperation that included economic boycotts and civil disobedience. He advocated for the rights of the Untouchables and urged the Indian people to develop their own economic foundation through such basic activities as spinning thread, weaving cloth, and refining salt. By gaining the support of the masses, going on long hunger strikes, and using his sheer force of character. Gandhi made the British acknowledge the immorality of their position as oppressors, and they withdrew voluntarily.

Gandhi regarded conflict as an opportunity for oppressed people to gain empowerment and identity. He carefully chose and trained leaders in the principles of nonviolent action. He was committed to discovering truth and keeping an open flow of information. Gandhi always sought to develop personal relationships with his opponents, because he considered them to be potential partners in a search for fair and truthful solutions. For Gandhi, the goal was to further the process of self-realization for both the British and the Indians.

Gandhi was a saint among political leaders and a political leader among saints as he worked to resolve deep-seated political, social, economic, and religions conflicts. Gandhi taught that if people continue demanding equal compensation for offenses, as in “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” the whole world would become blind and toothless. Still, he was unable to prevent the bloody partition between India and Pakistan and was assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.

From Causes and Resolution of Conflict, International Educational Foundation

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