‘Peace is not news’ : Shanti Sena

My wife and daughter were to travel alone to Chennai today. At the time of planning, over a week ago, the significance of this date didn’t strike us. But, by yesterday, with the hype around the impending judgement, it was clear that they could be stranded midway or at the station. The trip itself was not unavoidable, but, my wife, resolutely, decided to proceed with the journey, come what may. Why should we bring our lives to a halt for no fault of ours? [They have reached safely, just in time.]

I went to Thiagu Book Centre, around noon, and had a wonderful discussion with the Saturday regulars. We had a very special guest in the eclectic writer, Vittal Rao. From Pa.Singaram to Gunter Grass, from Tippu Sultan to his comrades, from world war graves to submerged forts, he spoke about a host of topics. We heard of the judgement midway during our discussions. There were warnings from our homes, that the city is shutting down. However, I was glad that none of us was in a hurry to scamper home. We stayed there longer than usual.

On the way back, I did get a bus to Gandhipuram – it reached there with a few minor detours and traffic snarls. The city was indeed shutting down. The police had asked the cinemas to close. The shops were downing the shutters. People were returning home, en masse, from offices and schools. From Gandhipuram, there weren’t many buses; home was at a very walkable distance, and I walked down, leaving behind a large crowd at the bus stand waiting with uncertainty.

All along, I was asking myself: Why is everyone panicking? Who are we running away from? What can happen, if we all choose to stand up and stay normal; continue to enjoy our lives? Who gave the authority to a handful of goondas to bring our lives to a standstill? The only authority they have is lent by our own timidity. What high cause are the agitators fighting for? What moral rights do they have to even be on the road, when they should be hiding away in shame? And what moral rights do many of those who rejoice (both in TN and Delhi) have, when it is only a matter of time when their turn shall(should) come?

And how can I not think of Gandhi, now? The thought that was filling up my mind was his idea of Shanti Sena – a voluntary, unarmed peace brigade to avert and mitigate riots. A few tens or hundreds of peaceful local volunteers roaming around the city in small groups can positively do what the hapless, or the unwilling, police can’t.

In my interview with Narayan Desai, he had talked about the role of Shanti Sena in the Northeast. Here, he explains in more detail about the genesis of Shanti Sena.


“there had been times when violence was averted.

“This is possible when a Shanti Sainik has lived in an area for a long time. The Shanti Sainik would assess the situation and talk to the right people, and in this way prevent a real outbreak. Of course, in a case like this, Shanti Sena would receive no credit, because things would go on as normal, and the public would not know there had been a likelihood of a riot.

“Peace is not news.”

Gandhi spoke of the “undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries” that would be made in the field of nonviolence. Shanti Sena is surely one of those.”

(Photo by Nedya, 2012)

(Photo by Nedya)

Gandhi, in his own way of blending the abstract with the concrete, lists down the ‘qualifications a member of the contemplated Peace Brigade should possess.’

  • He or she must have a living faith in non-violence. This is impossible without a living faith in God. A non-violent man can do nothing save by the power and grace of God. Without it he won’t have the courage to die without anger, without fear and without retaliation. Such courage comes from the belief that God sits in the hearts of all and that there should be no fear in the presence of God. The knowledge of the omnipresence of God also means respect for the lives of even those who may be called opponents or goondas. This contemplated intervention is a process of stilling the fury of man when the brute in him gets mastery over him.
  • This messenger of peace must have equal regard for all the principle religions of the earth. Thus, if he is a Hindu, he will respect the other faiths current in India. He must therefore possess a knowledge of the general principles of the different faiths professed in the country.
  • Generally speaking this work of peace can only be done by local men in their own localities.
  • The work can be done singly or in groups. Therefore no one need wait for companions. Nevertheless one would naturally seek companions in one’s own locality and form a local brigade.
  • This messenger of peace will cultivate through personal service contacts with the people in his locality or chosen circle, so that when he appears to deal with ugly situations, he does not descend upon the members of a riotous assembly as an utter stranger liable to be looked upon as a suspect or an unwelcome visitor.
  • Needless to say, a peace-bringer must have a character beyond reproach and must be known for his strict impartiality.
  • Generally, there are previous warnings of coming storms. If these are known, the Peace Brigade will not wait till the conflagration breaks out but will try to handle the situation in anticipation.
  • Whilst, if the movement spreads, it might be well if there are some whole time workers, it is not absolutely necessary that there should be. The idea is to have as many good and true men and women as possible. These can be had only if volunteers are drawn from those who are engaged in various walks of life but have leisure enough to cultivate friendly relations with the people living in their circle and otherwise possess the qualifications required of a member of the Peace Brigade.
  • There should be a distinctive dress worn by the members of the contemplated brigade so that in course of time they will be recognized without the slightest difficulty.
  • These are but general suggestions. Each centre can work out its own constitution on the basis here suggested.

Harijan, 18-6-38, p. 152

It is a pity that we abandoned this idea, like most other Gandhian ideals. It is an idea, which needs revival.


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