Shanti Sena

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…”

 

 

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 conception was of trained volunteers living in the communities they would serve as trusted third parties who could, for example, abate rumors that often exacerbate conflict and if necessary, as he says in the above quote, carry out what is today known as interposition between conflicting parties.  The Shanti Sena concept is based on the belief that is crucial to the development of world peace because any truly free society must be able to manage conflict in its midst with an awakened consciousness, neither resorting to violence nor fear lest it become beholden to a military class and thus forfeit its democracy to that extent.

 

A shanti sena  is usually comprised of volunteers (though Nonviolent Peaceforce offers subsistence pay to field-team members) 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 (mainly to control the serious communal divisions in India), others have seen that a shanti sena  could also meet international conflicts, especially as Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, sometimes called the “Frontier Gandhi,” led nearly 100,000 devout Muslim Pathans, as the world’s first historical nonviolent army, with a promise of simplicity, nonviolence, and respect to obstruct the violence of the colonizing British forces in India’s North West Frontier Province, (now within Afghanistan and Pakistan, and still the seat of much conflict). In 1957, After Gandhi’s passing (he was to attend a founding meeting the day after the assassination) his disciple Vinoba Bhave established a larger Shanti Sena in India whose numbers rose to 6,000 and was of some service during the Chinese Border war of 1962 but 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 of international solidarity to obstruct war and violence have continued to come to life based upon develop Gandhi’s dream, including Peace Brigades International, Witness for Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Volunteers for International Solidarity, and Nonviolent Peaceforce, which now (spring, 2010) has peace teams in four countries. What these groups do was called peacekeeping, and the peacebuilding activity was known as Third Party Nonviolent Intervention but is now known as Civilian Unarmed Peacekeeping.

 

-David Cortright, Peace : A History of Movements and Ideas. pp: 310-313.

-M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violent Resistance: Satyagraha, p. 86.

-Michael N. Nagler, The Search for a Nonviolent Future. pp: 220-224.