Peace and Conflicts Studies (PCS) seeks to contribute to a better understanding of the causes of violence and war and ways to resolve conflicts around the world. Despite its global reach, key concepts and theories dominating the discipline’s discourse originate primarily in European intellectual history and Northern experiences of violence and war, even though the “objects of study” are today predominantly located in the Global South. PCS needs to be decentered to live up to its cosmopolitan aspirations, and voices of different regions affected by conflict have to be incorporated to co-author the idea of peace. Examining the specific case of India, the article illustrates how the historical, religious and spiritual traditions and the politics of the subcontinent have informed Indian discourses on peace with the potential to fertilise global dialogues on peace and peacebuilding.
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Though the usefulness of the Global North and Global South dichotomy can be questioned (Hollington et al. 2016), these notions are used here to point towards the “long-lasting pattern of inequality in power, wealth and cultural influence that grew historically out of European and North American imperialism” (Connell 2007, p. 212). As such, and though not being perfect, in comparison to the predecessors ‘Third World’ or ‘Developing World’, the notion of the Global South has an empowering connotation with the potential to resist “hegemonic forces” (Hollington et al. 2016; citing Duck).
Eurocentrism is here understood as “a conceptual and philosophical framework that informs the construction of knowledge about the social world—a foundational epistemology of Western distinctiveness. In this sensibility, ‘Europe’ is a cultural-geographic sphere which can be understood as the genealogical foundation of ‘the West’” (Sabaratnam 2013, p. 261).
For example, the partition of India in 1947 is not part of any major discourse emerging from the Global North even though it had been a significant event shaping South Asian history as well as its present realities. Having said this, the effects of militarisation during the Cold War, the competition between the two superpowers and the proxy wars that were fought in the so-called Third World provoked a number of insightful studies on the Global South (see for instance McMahon 2013; or Westad 2007).
To decentre means to overcome cognitive and conceptual eurocentrisms (Müller 2016, p. 242) and to “challenge the politics, concepts, and practices that enable certain narratives […] to be central; decentering is also a way to put forth and participate in other kinds of narratives and politics that have different ‘starting points’” (Nayak and Selbin 2010, p. 4). See also Agathanelou and Ling (2004) and Acharya (2011).
This is not to say that there are no centres in the “periphery that attract a workforce and develop prestige” (Connell 2007, p. 218). However, these are but a few in comparison.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition—and especially in the New Testament—peace, love and non-violence are key ideas that shape religious thinking until this date. For an overview of the philosophy of peace see Rengger (2016).
The eschatological meaning of peace is most prominently associated with the writings of Augustinus in which he conceptualised peace as an eternal and final state in the afterlife (Bonacker and Imbusch 2010, p. 127). This also finds parallels in the religious traditions of ancient and medieval texts in India, as the next section will show.
Another prominent figure whose reflections on peace are among the most influential until today is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. For him, peace is to be achieved in this world as a product of human reason. His principles of popular sovereignty, the rule of law and republican world order as requirements for peace have informed the theory of democratic peace and reverberate in peacebuilding discourses (Richmond 2006, p. 295). Not only in Kant’s “Perpetual Peace”, but also in Hobbes’ social contract theory, the state is considered the guarantor for peace (Bonacker and Imbusch 2010, p. 128).
A contrasting conceptualisation of peace is developed in the natural law tradition, which sees peace as the natural state from which war is a deviation. In this tradition—and in opposition to Hobbes—human nature is peaceful and cooperative. This conceptualisation of peace is often linked to so-called pacifist traditions and the figure of Gandhi (Bonacker and Imbusch 2010, p. 129).
Indigenous conceptualisations and methodologies are here understood as self-determined knowledge production of the subaltern, not as essentialising categories that contrast local/indigenous authentic knowledge with Western/universal and technocratic knowledge (Exo 2015).
Telephonic Interview with Rita Manchanda, Programme Director, South Asia Forum for Human Rights, 12 December 2018.
Upanishads (also termed as vedanta) are the concluding sections of the Vedas, highlighting the ontological connection between humanity and the cosmos. They have significantly impacted the theological discourses of many Hindu traditions also called Vedanta (Olivelle 2017).
Bhagavad Gita (often interpreted as the song of the Lord) is a 700-verse Hindu religious scripture in Sanskrit and is part of the Hindu epic “Mahabharata” or the righteous war between two clans—the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
This is not to deflect the caveat that a few stray passages from one or two ancient Hindu authors cannot be taken as the watchword of all Hindu thought as there are texts like Mahabharata and Arthashastra which discuss war and strategies to win. This dualism is beyond the scope of this paper, however the later half of the article (section 4.0) explains this briefly.
The Bhakti Movement started in the 8th century in south India and spread to other parts of the country against the orthodoxy of the Hindu religion.
Advaita Philosophy is often compared with Dvaita (dualism) which means the material world is real and that there is a difference between the ultimate reality (God) and the individuals. For more details see “A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy” (Sharma 1960).
According to Gandhi, swadeshi in its ultimate and spiritual sense means the final emancipation of the soul from her earthly bondage. Therefore, a votary of swadeshi has to identify oneself with the entire creation (or the world) in the ultimate quest to emancipate the soul from the physical body, as it stands in the way of realising oneness with all life. For more details see https://www.mkgandhi.org/articles/understanding-gandhis-vision-of-swadeshi.html. Accessed 13 December 2018.
Buniyadi Talim or Basic Education in Gandhian terminology means education/training leading to knowledge that is useful for the service of mankind and liberating individuals from servitude of two kinds: Slavery to domination from outside and to one’s own artificial needs. More details can be found at http://www.gandhi-manibhavan.org/gandhiphilosophy/philosophy_education_%20buniyadishiksha.htm. Accessed 13 December 2018.
Even though Sharp was influenced by Gandhi, his ‘technique approach’ calls for non-violent action for pragmatic reasons, i.e. it works, rather than religious or ethical ones, i.e. it is the right thing to do (Weber 2012, p. 446).
Gandhi’s preference for a violent defence of loved ones over cowardly flight is often construed as his “qualified commitment to non-violence” (Holmes 1990, p. 2).
Some trusted Gandhians like Vinoba Bhave, Jayaprakash Narayan, and Narayan Desai carried forward the idea of a non-violent brigade but the war with China in 1962 gave a severe blow to the concept and could not materialise (Upadhyay 2009, p. 75).
Abdul Ghaffar Khan, also known as ‘Frontier Gandhi’ in India, was a Pashtun leader who fought for India’s independence and became a follower of Mahatma Gandhi (Shah 2008).
Panchsheel, or the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, were first formally enunciated in the Agreement on Trade and Intercourse between the Tibet region of China and India, signed on 29 April 1954. The agreement stated, in its preamble, that the two governments have resorted to the agreement based on (a) Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, (b) Mutual non-aggression, (c) Mutual non-interference, (d) Equality and mutual benefit, and (e) Peaceful co-existence (Ministry of External Affairs, India 2004).
Krishnamurthi emphasised on understanding the real meaning of cooperation, right relationship, and compassion for all. He provides a holistic understanding of peace which is not limited to merely freedom from something, peace of mind and physical peace, but the ending of all conflict. He critiqued individualism and accorded that real peace is not only in ourselves but with our neighbours and with the world, peace with the environment and the ecology. He believed that peace can only exist if we have complete security, both outwardly and inwardly, psychologically and environmentally (Krishnamurthi 1983).
Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace (WISCOMP) is a pioneering peacebuilding initiative in South Asia which was established in 1999. It foregrounds women’s leadership in the areas of peace and security and promotes cultures of pluralism and coexistence in the South Asian region. For more details see http://wiscomp.org/. Accessed 11 December 2018.
Bhagavad-Gita elaborates several reasons why killing in warfare is permissible since there is no greater good for a warrior than to fight in a just war. However, it also exemplifies the negative consequences of violence elaborated in the dialogue between Arjuna (warrior) and Krishna (the divine). Krishna is willing to go an extra mile for negotiating peace but if negotiations fail, Krishna exhorts the Pandavas (especially Arjun) to wage the righteous war which was called the Mahabharata (Upadhyay 2009, p. 72).
The Arthashastra is an ancient Sanskrit treatise which highlights statecraft, economic policy and military strategy and was written by Kautilya or Chanakya (4th century BC), who was a political advisor to Chandragupta Maurya, one of the rulers who set up the Maurya dynasty in India.
Meira Paibi also referred to as Meira Paibis or “Women torch bearers” is a women’s social movement in Manipur, a state in North East India. It derives its name from the flaming torches carried by women in the city as a patrol, protesting the human rights violations committed by paramilitary and armed forces units against civilians. According to The Times of India, Meira Paibi is the “largest grassroots, civilian movement fighting state atrocities and human rights violations in Manipur” (Sunil 2013).
Telephonic interview with Rita Manchanda, 12 December 2018.
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Tripathi, S., Roepstorff, K. Decentering Peace and Conflict Studies: Conceptualisations of Peace in India. Z Friedens und Konflforsch 9, 79–99 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42597-019-00014-z