Non existence of non violence | Sunday Observer

Non existence of non violence

27 November, 2022

“If we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends, and means must cohere. There have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means aren’t really important. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognise that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed, and the end represents the tree.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as “Intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, and so on.” Researchers have tried to study violence in human societies based on three different categories recognised as direct, structural, and cultural violence.

When people talk about ‘nonviolence’ they usually mean nonexistence of direct violence such as physical attacks, injuring or killing people, war, bullying (in Sri Lankan context that includes ragging in universities), and even domestic violence among family members. Though structural violence such as deprivation of basic resources and access to rights and systems that enslave, intimidate, and abuse nonconformists as well as the poor and powerless exist in the plain sight, people have come to accept them as ‘normal’ or ‘unavoidable’. Violence of racism, sexism, colonialism, oppression and devaluing particular human identities or ways of life (such as cast systems) are bundled into the category of ‘cultural violence’. About two million people around the world lose their lives and many more are injured physically due to violence every year.

These include wars and other armed conflicts such as gang violence, sexual assaults, racial violence, and mass killings two of which took place in the state of Virginia, USA just within the last seven days. There are millions of other victims suffering from a range of other physical and mental health problems such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), due to wars and other forms of violence around the world. Though most of the structural and cultural types of violence are not noticed and even not highlighted by the media, they usually last longer than direct violence resulting even worse outcomes than those of direct violence.

Sometimes, people who are oppressed due to structural or cultural type of violence retaliate with direct violence especially when the oppressors do not pay attention to the voices of the victims. These forms of violence are rarely recognised as human rights violations even by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).


Is there a connection between the knowledge about violence and the budget debate taking place in the Sri Lankan Parliament these days? One might even say ‘no’ right at the first glance. But if one watched and listened to the parliamentary proceeding these days one will be able to see easily that the behavior and the verbal attacks of the members of the parliament on each other fit very well into the WHO’s definition of violence. One might even feel that this is the time school children and young adults should have been invited to the Parliament to witness the violence so that they can at least learn how not to behave if and when they ever become a law maker in the country.

The youth of the country then would have had an opportunity to understand why they have to face violence when they try to express their dissent in a nonviolent manner even though they were recognized and pacified by saying that the budget specifically allocates money to improve their education and living standards when the budget was presented to the parliament a few days ago. They would have understood that exchanging personal insults among each other, at times even insulting religions by making jokes connected to scripture during the debate instead of discussing important issues such as lower education opportunities especially in rural areas, limited access to leisure activities, lack of employment opportunities and harmful working conditions in certain fields of work and why the country is where it is today and who is responsible for it and so on could very well be a violation of their rights.

Direct violence

They could have understood that not only the outcomes of direct violence but also those of structural and cultural violence place a massive burden on the national economy by increasing the cost of healthcare and law enforcement and through lost productivity. Youth of the country perhaps should be given a chance to think about the reasons why the highest allocation of money in this budget is for the ministry of defense. What are the threats to the country at present and what or who are the defense forces going to defend and against whom? Increased military spending would usually result an increase in recruitment, military infrastructure and/or an increase in weapons and other equipment.

That is of course, under the assumption (disregarding the unrealistic nature of such an assumption) that the money is used for the improvement of the military in a transparent manner without any corruption. Who is going to benefit from increased defense spending? Who are the weapon manufacturers and traders? What kindof commissions are being exchanged in weapon deals? Perhaps the youth of the country should learn more about the weapon industry and the legal and illegal markets where billions of dollars change hands through weapon trade and why it is the greatest threat to the world peace. It would certainly help our youth to place information in their proper perspective if they knew that the developed countries could have delivered free primary and secondary education to all the poor countries around the world just by using a week’s worth of their military spending.

While they are watching and listening to violent exchanges of personal insults in our parliament during the budget debate, they can also think about the importance of learning history, especially the political history of the country, since the budget allocates money for a separate history institute and the speech itself referred to the glory of our past. The fact that this budget is not taking the popular path but the difficult path of improving the economy of the country just as the President Jayewardene did in 1977. Therefore, it may be helpful to learn more about even more of Jayewardene’s achievements including the speech he made in support of Japan in 1951 in front of all the Western powers highlighting Sri Lanka’s commitment to peace, reconciliation and nonviolence. That is where he made the statement “hatred ceases not by hatred but by love” world famous, though it is nowhere to be seen among today’s parliamentarians.

The writer has served in the higher education sector as an academic over twenty years in the USA and fifteen years in Sri Lanka and he can be contacted at [email protected])