Shanti Sena, or peace army, was Gandhi’s proposed solution for the management of conflict through nonviolence, as opposed to the more traditional “threat power” employed by officers of the law and the State. His idea was to have trained volunteers living in the communities they would serve acting as trusted third parties. The volunteers could, for example, abate rumors that often exacerbate conflict and if necessary carry out what is today known as interposition between conflicting parties. The Shanti Sena concept is crucial to the development of world peace because any truly free society must be able to manage conflict in its midst, neither resorting to violence nor fear, lest it become beholden to a military class.
In the Harijan, for March 26, 1938, Gandhi wrote:
“The Congress should be able to put forth a non-violent army of volunteers numbering not a few thousands but lakhs [tens of thousands] who would be equal to every occasion where the police and the military are required. Thus, instead of one brave Pashupatinath Gupta who died in the attempt to secure peace, we should be able to produce hundreds. And a nonviolent army acts unlike armed men, as well in times of peace as disturbances. They would be constantly engaged in activities that make riots impossible. Theirs will be the duty of seeking occasions for bringing warring communities together, carrying on peace propaganda, engaging in activities that would bring and keep them in touch with every single person, male and female, adult and child, in their parish or division…”
A shanti sena is usually comprised of well-trained volunteers, sometimes receiving subsistence pay, whose mission is to provide constructive, creative avenues for violence prevention and control. Beyond the intention to replace a more traditional police force, which is as far as Gandhi went with the idea, others have seen that a shanti sena could also be used in international conflicts. An example is Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, sometimes called the “Frontier Gandhi,” leading nearly 100,000 devout Muslim Pathans, as the world’s first historical nonviolent army. With a promise of simplicity, nonviolence, and respect, this Pathan shanti sena obstructed the violence of the colonizing British forces in India’s North West Frontier Province, now within Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 1957, In another example, Gandhi’s disciple Vinoba Bhave established a shanti sena in India whose numbers rose to 6,000. This group was of some service during the Chinese Border war of 1962. Unfortunately Bhave’s group broke apart in the 1970’s due to political divisions within the group.
In other parts of the world, dating from the early 1980’s, other groups similar to shanti senas have come to life to support Gandhi’s dream. These include Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Volunteers for International Solidarity, and Nonviolent Peaceforce, which in spring, 2010 had peace teams in four countries. What these groups do is called peacekeeping, and the peacebuilding activity was known as Third Party Nonviolent Intervention but is now known as Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping.