India Adopts Non-Violent Defense When Free

FROM: Non-Violent Defense, The Road Not Taken: The Case of India by John M. Mecartney, Mercy College of Detroit, given at the Asian Studies Section of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts and Letters Annual Meeting, March 25, 1983, Ysipilante, Mi. Introduction by John Bacher.

By John Mecartney | 1990-04-01 12:00:00

Page 11-18: India Adopts Non-Violent Defense When Free

One of the most unfortunate missed historical opportunities was how India after achieving independence through non-violent defense, took the course of military defense. Gene Sharp has analyzed this departure as a result of a failure of Gandhi and his non-violent supporters to develop a specific plan for non-violent defense.

Let us imagine what might have happened if Gandhi and othe non-violent enthusiasts had spent their time in prison during World War II planning the specifics of non-violent defenxe in detail. There would still have been partition with all the hostility between Hindus, Moslems, and Sikhs. But India would have adopted non-violent defense determined to follow Gandhi's ideas on defending a country in a new way by a force more powerful than arms. Pakistan, on the other hand, would have been strong on arming and not afraid to use their military power to obtain what they thought was theirs. Jinnah had no real confidence in non-violent action though he did have to admit it was effective with the British.

The new country of India was excited not only to be free but also to be pioneering in a new defense method which might change war. Not only were they refining with Gandhi and Nehru the methods used against the British but they were looking to other sources for illustrations. They studied the following :

  1. The non-violent strikes and demonstrations of the social democrats against the Czarist tyranny in Russia during 1905-06 paralyzed the country and made the Czar grant an elected legislature. But the revolution continued with about two-thirds of the troops wavering in loyalty. Then the Moscow general strike was turned into an armed uprising. The soldiers fearing for their lives obeyed orders and put down the revolution. Thus the overthrow of the Czar was postponed until February, 1917 in a predominatly. non-violent revolution (Sharp, 1973:78,79).
  2. The case of Finland from 1898-1905 was particularly interesting for the Indians because of the long struggle to escape the domination of Russia using various non-violent means and a few violent. On the brink of sucess, they then engaged in a civil war but still many of the benefits held (Miller, 1964:244-50).
  3. The Indians were intrigued with the rejection of the Kapp Putsch in Berlin, 1920. The new Weimar Republic was attacked by rightists seeking to set up a dictatorship. The Weimer government left Berlin fearing for its life. The army would them. But the non-cooperation of the governmental officials and the people in a general strike forced Kapp out. It happened because people would not obey the Kapp government ( Boserup and Mack, 1975:122-25).
  4. A few years later in 1923 France and Belgium wanted to occupy the industrial and coal mining Ruhr though it belonged to Germany. They sent in their troops and severly repressed the people who refused to obey the occupiers. The invaders were not able to secure cooperation but the German government called off the non-violent resistance eventually. They needed finished products from the Ruhr to help pay war reparations. However, the French had to leave the territory. (Sternstein, 1967:128-161).
  5. During World War II Germany occupied Norway with Quisling attempting to establish a Nazi state there. A key part of his plan was to make the teachers teach Nazi doctrines. Most of them refused and they were shipped north to suffer deprivation and possible death. Most held firm and sucessful establishment of the Nazi state was prevented though the country was still occupied (Jameson and Sharp, 1963:156-186).
  6. The Germans occupied Denmark during World War II and gradually put pressure on that country to conform to Nazi doctrines including persecution of the Jews. When all the Jews were ordered to wear a yellow star and live in a ghetto, the king of Denmark rode through the streets of Copenhagen saying he would wear the yellow star and live in any ghetto that was established for the Jews. Later there was to be a roundup of Danish Jews for deportation. On October 1, 1943 7 500 Jews were smuggled out to Sweden. Only 50 were caught (American Friends Service Committee, 1967:39-40).
  7. Word also came to the Indian non-violent planners of two Latin American dictators being overthrown by non-violent resistance. That was 1944 in El Salvador and Guatemala. Sadly the vistories were not followed through to establish a set of strong democracies then (Sharp, 1973:90-93).
  8. Especially intriguing was the event which happened in Berlin during 1943 as the Nazis were rounding up all Jews for the "final solution." The Gestapo sorted out the Jews with "Aryan" kin and put them in a seperate jail. Their wives found out where it was and 6 000 strong marched on the prison. They were told to go but persisted. They came back again and again. Machine guns could have quickly killed them all. (The Indians recalled the massive killing of their non-violent people at Amritsar.) But the Gestapo seemed intimidated by the incident, which had no equal in Hitler's rule. They released the Jewish men (Sharp, 1973:95,96). Some were later incarcerated but others were able to escape the genocide.
  9. Of primary interest to the planners of non-violent defense was the work of De Ligt (1937) who had many specifics as well as the shorter essay by Hughan (1942). Here were carefully presented ideas for resisting invaders. The theoretical base is that no invader can rule if enough of the citizens are willing to disobey even with the threat of death. The power is ultimately in the hands of the people.

The planners in the Indian prisons who had received the smuggled Hughan pamphlet were fascinated by the statement which followed the story of planning for non-violent defense:

Adventurous spirits have even looked forward to the chance of invasion as to the literal "war to end war" in which their nation might be the protagonist with the opportunities of heroism for every citizen undreamed of under the old regime (1942:11).

The Ghandians dreamed that their country might be the first to end war by replacing it with a new method of defense. And they challenged the citizens of India to respond. The response was electric. What greater gift could one give to all humanity than to lift the burden of war!

The extensive planning for non-violent defense, often now called civilian base defense would have been done along the lines outlined today in Sharp (1973, 1983), Roberts (1967), Ebart (1969), Sider and Taylor (1982), American Friends Service Committee (1967) and Miller (1964) plus some of the old classics mentionned above.

Briefly noted the Indian plans for non-violent defense included the following:

  1. A commitment of the people not to resit with arms but to non-cooperate even to the point of torture and death.
  2. Training in simulation and role-playing.
  3. Using all the resources of temples, mosques, churches, schools and media to educate for non-violent defense.
  4. A careful study by the people of sucesses of the past in non-violence as well as the failures and how they could be avoided in the future.
  5. Plans for underground communication when the invaders cut off the regular means.
  6. A line of succession when leaders are shot or imprisoned yet with much decentralization and units being able to work alone.
  7. Arrangements for storing food in secret places for long term non-cooperation of vital services.
  8. Medical arrangements and stockpiling for long terms needs.

For the general public the pragmatic approach to non-violent defense might be enough. But special attention should be paid to religious people who want to feel they are doing the will of God. The non-violent tradition in most of the major religions could be stressed plus a general ecumenical question about the nature of God: If God is all powerful and has not only structured the physical order of the universe, but also the moral order then that moral order must be good since God is good. Would a good God have established a moral order whereby people who kill in massive ways will obtain a society of peace and justice? Would God want people to do evil to obtain good? If God were like this, is God truly a god or instead some devil?

The first test for the Indians came none too soon. Though the partition was accomplished with none of the anticipated riots, the prince of Kashmir acceded to India despite the fact that a majority of people in Kashmir were Moslem. Pakistan invaded Kashmir to retain this beautiful state for themselves. (The British agreement was for each prince to decide whether his state would go to India or Pakistan.) India sent into Kashmir non-violent troops to help reinforce the Kashmiri defense of non-violent resistance. There already had been much training of the civilians there and elsewhere. The Pakistani troops, calling the war a holy war, went in slaughtering the non-violent resisters in the name of Allah. But they were met with strong non-cooperation. They could not maintain their troops without cooperation and had to fall back untill more supplies came. The they advanced again to enact a reign of terror. however, the stronger the terror the more the population resisted. the Indian government offered to have a referendum of the people of Kashmir administered by neutral powers such as the UN with both Indian non-violent corpspeople and the Pakistani army out of the country. Pakistan refused becauise they had sampled the population and found that almost all of the Moslems were opposed to uniting with Pakistan especially after their cruel invasion. They planned to remain an occupying force untill Kashmir was made an official state of Pakistan. But the non-violent resistance demoralized the troops and made their stay impossible. Kashmir continued with India. And the world watched with growing interest the non-violent action.

Next came a challenge from China. The northern border of India and the southern border of China was not clearly marked. Few people lived there. But China was in an expansionist mood. They infiltrated their soldiers and occupying settlers further and further south. The noting that India no longer had an army but was using only non-violent resistance, they decided to add a large slice of territory to their country which they said was traditionally theirs but had been occupied by Indian "Imperialists." They offered to "liberate" the territory so people could enjoy the benefits of Communism. The people of the area did not agree. They wished to remain with India. Having been trained in non-cooperation, they resisted the occupying troops and their puppets. The troops tried to enforce cooperation by imprisonment and executions of leaders. Yet this only made the resistance stronger to their occupation. But it was so hard to keep killing those who did not threaten with violence the lives of the soldiers. They saw a power greater than killing force and they asked to be placed in another assignment. When they came back to China they told the people about what was happening and the new strength of non-violence. Had not Chairman Mao himslef said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun? Here was the power of non-violence overcoming the gun. The censored press tried to keep the message from the people. But it spread anyway. Non-cooperation with various aspects of the Chinese Communist regime began. With sucess, it spread further. the Communist system there was revolutionized into democratic Socialism. That country adopted non-violent defense. Taiwan tried invading to re-establish their dictatorial control beleiving that sophisticated arms could easily conquer non-violence. But they found themselves unsucessful.

Meanwhile, the world was taking note of thie new defense system. India was acting as a missionary to the world exporting their knowhow in non-violent defense. Russia resited it most severly and tightened their control over the media as well as communication with the outside.

But the Communist satellites heard of it and used it to free themselves. Also the countries dominated by US and multinational economic intersts took seriously the non-violent resistance defense approach. They had much more sucess than when they used guerilla warfare. They were free at last, yet it was a struggle with many casualties. Last to adopt civilian based defense (as it was now called) was the US and the USSR. Neither of them would give up all their conventional wepaons. But they had civilian based defense to use first because it had been shown to be most effective.

The world did not live in eternal peace. There were always conflicts. But at least they were not using killing force, especially nuclear war, which could have ended life for all humankind. Could it have happend this way if India had adopted non-violent defense when free?

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1990

Peace Magazine Apr-May 1990, page 10. Some rights reserved.

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