Indians unite to challenge Modi government and uphold justice for all

Prashant Nema and Sana Alam talk to Nonviolence Radio about the deep roots of nonviolent activism in India and the struggle against Modi's nationalist agenda.

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Legislation passed in India last month by Narendra Modi’s government has led to massive, and primarily nonviolent demonstrations throughout the country. Peaceful protestors are voicing their opposition to the National Register of Citizens, or NRC, as it stands coupled with the Citizenship Amendment Act, or CAA, which effectively, if not explicitly, excludes Muslims from a group of “persecuted minorities” who will now have access to Indian citizenship. This destructive, divisive and discriminatory law has had the contrary — and inspiring — result of unifying not only the often fragmented Muslim community in India, but has brought together Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians to stand up against this injustice, even in light of the excessively violent response from authorities. 

In this episode of Nonviolence Radio, Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler speak to two Seattle based activists, Prashant Nema and Sana Alam about the current protests, the deep roots of nonviolent activism in India and the hope it offers for the future. As we see in the following excerpt (and the full interview that follows), not only have many religious divisions dissolved in response to this concrete expression of a nationalist agenda, but people from all economic backgrounds seem to be coming together in hopes of ensuring a better, more inclusive India, one which recognizes and respects all its people.  

“The idea of introducing this law is exactly to create that divide in society. They were probably expecting that only Muslims will come out and protest and then they would be able to clearly create a divide in the society. But thankfully, this did not happen. Every peace-loving person of the country has stood up against this law. And we hope that this continues to become bigger in the future. That’s my take on what has been happening….

One thing I wanted to point out was the use of nonviolent resistance. There have been a lot of incidents of them; there’s this famous Shaheen Bagh where there are hundreds of women who are bearing the cold and sitting and doing a sit-in. And it’s really cold in Delhi right now. They are spending their nights sitting outside on the road trying to protest this law.

Our prime minister made a comment that you can identify the protester by their clothes, meaning that he was trying to profile a Muslim person. There were some protests where people took off their clothes and then they marched through the street because they were trying to respond to that comment.

And there was also some protests where the Hindus and Muslims who are exchanging their traditional dresses, and then they were carrying placards which says, “Please identify me by my clothes, Mr. Modi.” So, this has targeted a lot of these spontaneous peaceful protests.”

Prashant Nema

Michael Nagler: As we all know, there have been roiling protests taking place in India for quite some time. In some cases, there have been serious repression, especially in Uttar Pradesh up in the north. The struggle throughout the country among activists is how to maintain nonviolent discipline. We may be revisiting this topic in our next episode with a friend, Kaf Mamhoud, and some of the leaders [in nonviolent activism].

We have with us this morning, Prashant Nema, who is an old friend from Seattle, and a friend of his, whom I’m going to ask him to introduce. Prashant, good morning.

Prashant Nema: Good morning, Michael.

Michael Nagler: How are you this morning, and whom are we going to be hearing from with you?

Prashant Nema: So, we have been organizing some protests against the new law that the Indian parliament recently passed; it is a very discriminatory law. I met Sana as part of that organizing effort in Seattle. I’ll let her tell more about that to you.

Stephanie Van Hook: Thanks, Prashant. Sana Alam, you are here also from Seattle. Please do tell us how you and Prashant have been organizing there.

Sana Alam: Hi everyone. Firstly, I want to appreciate the kind of work Metta Center does in educating people about Gandhian values. It’s very inspiring to see you guys pick up a story, educating the world, and then helping them contribute towards a peaceful society. So, thank you tons.

Stephanie Van Hook: You’re very welcome. It’s our pleasure and it’s also our pleasure to be able to talk with and engage with people in the world who are working on nonviolence from various aspects.

Sana Alam: It’s really needed. Today we’ll be talking about India again, specifically, the CAA and NRC. That’s how it’s coming to be known around the world. As Prashant already mentioned, there has been a law passed in both the houses of parliament called, “Citizenship Amendment Act.” This act politically benefits Hindus, Sikh, Jains, Buddhists, Christians, and past refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh who sought refuge in India before 2015, leaving out only Muslims.

Now, this thing has enraged not only Muslims, but the entire population of all those peace-loving Indian citizens who believe in the secular fabric of our constitution, which has already been providing provisions for giving citizenship to persecuted minorities from neighboring countries. The only thing which this government is doing differently is excluding Muslims.

Actually, when you see it [CAA], it’s not against citizens – people argue that when you see that it’s going against the citizens, all the citizens which are living in India are going to continue living in India. Nobody is trying to take away their citizenship. But when you look at another thing, the NRC, National Register of Citizens, it’s alarming.

In the National Register of Citizens, the government plans to collect data based on which they are going to come up with lists of thousands of citizens. And those thousands of citizens will have to prove themselves as citizens of the country. They did it in Assam, one of the states in the northern part of the country.

We saw that out of 33 million people who appeared on the list, only 31 million people could make it, leaving out roughly 1.9 million people. So all those citizens, all those people were left out and were in danger of losing their citizenship. Thousands of them were moved to detention centers. And I want to mention that lots of these people who are affected were majority Hindus.

In order to rescue them, the government brought out this CAA, which is Citizenship Amendment Act which was going to provide them citizenship sooner or later. They just had to be among those communities which I mentioned earlier: Hindu’s, Sikh, Jain, Buddhists, Christians, and past refugees, and leaving out Muslims.

For this, protests have started all across the country, be it Assam, Delhi, Mehghalaya. It’s happening everywhere. Now the protesters, their concerns vary. In some parts of the country, they think that illegal immigrants are refugees who are going to come from outside are going to make them minorities.

In some places, people are signed against the constitution. In other places, people signed it that it’s going to target Muslims and they will be rendered stateless when CAA will be applied in combination with NRC.

We have been really concerned. We have been participating, spreading the word, educating people about how it’s going to be detrimental to the interests of the common man because you know that half of the population is poverty-stricken. Some of them don’t have documents at all. Some of them are nomadic tribes.

How are they going to provide the documents to prove their citizenship? I mean this is really dumb. Your passport doesn’t count. Your voting ID – there’s a political document in India which is called Voter’s ID, which is used to exercise your vote — that doesn’t count. Your income – there’s a PAN card, which is used to file income tax — that doesn’t count.

You will have to establish your relationship with your father and they, in turn with their forefathers, making sure that they have properties in India and they were residing in India after independence. It’s complicated. The government has been changing stories every now and then so there’s an amount of distrust.

And I would want to point out here about the major protests, about the students standing up against the government. There’s this university in Delhi, Jamia Millia. The students there were protesting for three days. They were peacefully protesting. After three days, police forcibly entered the campus, used batons, hand grenades, tear gas, and fired gunshots.

The police action resulted in several students losing their fingers, becoming amputees for life. I saw an image, it was horrific: a student was lying in the corner of a room with tissues soaked in blood covering up his face.That particular student ended up losing one of his eyes. I clearly see this as human rights violations.

Another major thing which government has been doing is the internet shutdown. I don’t know what this is about and how it’s helping them. The horror – we are still getting to hear the horror stories. The student community all across India was outraged to see that, they came out protesting against the police action. It has killed, to date, it has resulted in 27 deaths and thousands of arrests.

I would also like to mention that the nature of the protests were mainly peaceful, except for a few places where violence did break out. But still, we are not sure who does it. Was it a retaliation because of the police action? Were there outside elements? Or one that’s police. It’s still trying to give it a different color.

Stephanie Van Hook: Those are really good points because when the media shows violence happening in protests they never – we never go deeper into the story and try to understand where did it come from, and why is the focus on it, and who sent those people if they weren’t a part of the protest at the beginning? So those are really good points.

Sana Alam, you’ve done such a good job in getting us to the basis of what has happened in the protests. I want to bring Prashant Nema back on to tell us a little bit more about how these protests and these acts, the CAA and so forth, have been kind of an escalation, and why there is mistrust of the Modi government when it comes to the protection of Muslims in India.

Prashant Nema: This goes back a long way, actually. The Modi government was founded by a party called BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party], and BJP has been in the business of provoking criminal discontent for almost four decades now. BJP’s mother organization is RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh]. RSS goes back to 1925 and they were also allegedly – they were accused of plotting to kill Mahatma Gandhi.

If you look back into the history, there were a lot of celebrations by this particular organization when Gandhi was assassinated. And they were banned for a short period of time because during the partition. They were also involved in causing a lot of misery to people.

So the RSS and BJP are already looked at with a lot of suspicion. But Mr. Modi has been also – to put it mildly — involved. We cannot say he was involved, but he stood by as thousands of Muslims were killed during the Gujarat Riots in 2002. And right after that, he went on something which was like a celebration of how good his state was after failing to protect thousands of lives.

So, he has been openly criminal in his speeches, in his acts. His party has been doing that. And ever since they came to power in 2014, there have been many incidents of Muslims being lynched in the street with people either watching helplessly or joining the act and taking videos and spreading it all across the country to show, you know, to instill some kind of fear in the minds of Muslims.

The government also has been very inhuman to the most underprivileged caste. They call themselves, “Dalit”. They have also seen in similar kinds of lynching because RSS is Brahmin party, and they want to restore the old caste struggle in the society.

So there has been enough reason to not trust the government, but more than that, if you – even if you try to ignore that, this is the same government that brought demonetization to India, which destroyed millions of lives all over the country by declaring everybody as a money hoarder. So, NRC [National Register of Citizens], in itself, is already a very inhuman policy where you declare every living person in India illegal, and then expect them to prove otherwise.

So, in a country where people never had access – easy access to documentation — there was always corruption in the bureaucracy. It says that if you don’t expect to trust anybody, even if the best government was in place, you wouldn’t trust that if they could go to this kind of extent.

There’s a lot of reasons for the distrust. And CAA itself tries to act like a kind law. It tries to portray as if India is trying to provide some sort of relief for the persecuted people in the neighboring countries. But people are able to see clearly through this drama because the kindness that this government is trying to – I mean there’s no clear idea about how they’re exactly going to do it.

The idea of introducing this law is exactly to create that divide in society. They were probably expecting that only Muslims will come out and protest and then they would be able to clearly create a divide in the society. But thankfully, this did not happen. Every peace-loving person of the country has stood up against this law. And we hope that this continues to become bigger in the future. That’s my take on what has been happening.

Stephanie Van Hook: And the idea behind the protest then, is that it’s all of us or none of us. There is sort of a hope arising that people are willing to put themselves at risk for each other even if their religion or their class, caste, in the Hindu fold is getting the support that it needs. But they’re willing to come out and put themselves under duress for everybody, to make sure that everybody has rights and access.

Prashant Nema: Yes. But the only thing here is that India has been a little bit of a segregated society, so the police have been able to target Muslims much worse. And like Sana has described about the Jamia Millia University, even though the university has both Hindu and Muslim students, the public perception is that it’s a Muslim university.

So they have been more brutal to that university compared to the other ones. They have been targeting Muslim localities for causing – I mean, there are videos where the policemen in uniform have been seen destroying private property of people. If you remember the Kristallnacht of Germany, it is almost similar.

They are going and destroying property that belongs to Muslims because they know that this is a Muslim neighborhood. There has been allegations of horrible crime against children from a Muslim orphanage. So even though everybody has been involved and everybody is standing up, the divide will become – I mean, we have to make sure that as the government is trying to put more stress on the Hindu/Muslim binary, and trying to target Muslim workers and trying to, you know, show this defense to both of them, this is going to be something for us which we will have to carry over to unity.

Stephanie Van Hook: And I like what you two are pointing out as well: India is not just a Hindu country.

Sana Alam: Stephanie, I would also want to bring your attention to Uttar Pradesh. It’s the state where I was born and raised. And its condition is horrific. Local policemen are conducting raids on the Muslim houses and the houses of activists, preventing them from standing in demonstrations. Muslim neighborhoods have been vandalized, forcing people to flee.

We saw police personally breaking CCTV cameras, brutally beating up protestors. They were actually audiotaped – police officers talking to their  subordinates asking them to stop the protesters’ rights, making them an example for everyone who dares to do such a thing to them, so that no one dares to come out.

We are seeing educational institutes, asking their students to shut down themselves. They [students] are being asked to be silent about the entire thing, otherwise, they are shutting them off, taking disciplinary action for sending them from schools and colleges. We are seeing the post-mortem reports which are coming out.

It’s found that most of the people were shot in either chest or head. The question arises, why not on the leg or arm? Isn’t the police using excessive force? Actually, the police are. It’s like the police never intended to warn them. They are there to make the people feel its power.

There’s another incident which I want to bring out, which Prashant also mentioned in which a 72-year-old Muslim teacher was picked up. He was tortured badly. He ended up having four fractures and he complained of rectal bleeding as a result of baton inserted up in his privates. There are cases of Muslim boys who were sexually assaulted, and there have also been reports of rectal bleeding. So this is horrific. I clearly see that where this is going and what our government and police are trying to do.

Just so you know, out of 27 deaths, roughly I can say that 25 were reported only in UP [Uttar Pradesh]. And not only this, the head of state, chief minister, comes out and says that, “We will take revenge.” These are the very words which he used. And the public – the properties of all the people who were involved in violent protest would be seized. And they would have to compensate for the losses.

Stephanie Van Hook: Wow. That’s really interesting, you guys are really showing how this isn’t an innocent bill that’s trying to be passed. It’s a dog whistle to all of the tension and racism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

Prashant Nema: Exactly. One thing I wanted to point out was the use of nonviolent resistance. There have been a lot of incidents of them; there’s this famous Shaheen Bagh where there are hundreds of women who are bearing the cold and sitting and doing a sit-in. And it’s really cold in Delhi right now. They are spending their nights sitting outside on the road trying to protest this law.

Our prime minister made a comment that you can identify the protester by their clothes, meaning that he was trying to profile a Muslim person. There were some protests where people took off their clothes and then they marched through the street because they were trying to respond to that comment.

And there was also some protests where the Hindus and Muslims who are exchanging their traditional dresses, and then they were carrying placards which says, “Please identify me by my clothes, Mr. Modi.” So, this has targeted a lot of these spontaneous peaceful protests.

But the thing that I wanted to point out is that for many decades now, the dehumanization of the Muslim person has been taken to a stage where people, they will lynch them openly in the street. So we have to be very careful about how to practice nonviolence in a society where the dehumanization is at an extreme. And the amount of suffering that has to be taken to re-ignite the humanity of others… it will be very costly.

It will be better if we get more support from the international community quickly, where we see the kind of pressure built up from all sides, for the government to back off. That, I feel, is the need of the hour.

Stephanie Van Hook: And we’ll do our best as well to help spread this show and far and wide. Michael, do you have a comment?

Michael Nagler: Yes. There are circumstances if you play your cards right as a nonviolent actor, where the brutality of the opposition actually can be worked to your favor. It doesn’t mean that you suffer less, but it means that that suffering can create the kind of reaction that you want. Now, one of the things that we know about nonviolence success these days is that we have to – I’m going to use an American expression now – we have to get out of the protest bubble. We have to be able to move beyond and take that spontaneous energy and channel it in various modalities. One of them being a consistent list of demands.

I know, Sana, that you were telling us that the demands vary from state to state, region to region. And you know, that’s not fatal, but there has to be kind of a list of concrete demands. And there has to be a strategy for reaching those demands. In other words, “If you don’t do what we’re asking, we’re going to have to escalate.”

Now, the great advantage in India is, of course, you have the most sophisticated tradition of nonviolent resistance in the world. And so, what I’d like to explore further when we can get back with you and some of the other guests we’re going to have, is to what degree are people looking around for the future?

Where do we go from here? How do we turn the very brutality of the repression to an advantage? Because you remember Gandhi saying now, “The British lion has shown its bloody claws.” And people are not okay with that. I’m going to use your phrase now, Prashant, which I thought was very good, “Reignite the humanity in people.”

So, I guess, my main question that I want to end up with is to what degree are people trying to go systematically beyond the protest modality into the strategic campaign building, etc. Do either of you have anything to say about that, quickly before we run out of time?

Sana Alam: I just want to add, Michael, the students, they have turned up and they are resisting it really nicely following the Gandhian principles. Right now, they want to dialogue. They want a two-way communication. They want someone to listen to their issues. They feel that if nothing comes out of it, then they will start a civil disobedience movement and they should be able to resist. They wouldn’t show papers to the people who came from the government offices.

This is their plan of action, about how you have a protest, that there has to be a strategy. And we need to organize our movement and work quite heavily in trying to attain our goal, this is very important.

Michael Nagler: Yeah. We heard this from a friend of ours in Delhi the other day. I think we’re going to be following up here. But Sana, I’m really glad to hear what you were saying about the students being more concerned about the future and having a regular set. It sounded like the beginning of exactly what we would need. And of course, the call for dialogue is exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.

Prashant Nema: I just wanted to bring up that there has been some futuristic development which you may have heard about from one of the leaders from the lower caste, Mr. Chandrashekhar Azad, who has a big following. He has shown complete support at the Jama Masjid with a lot of Muslims around him.

And that, I think, is a very hopeful development; the marginalized communities of India are coming together. That’s the reason that will probably take us forward. This is something that the communal forces have always been afraid of. The communal forces would rather try to show that there’s a Hindu/Muslim divide in the country to avoid the people questioning the actually divide which is the caste divide in the country.

So, this whole episode has pushed the marginalized to unite. And I think that’s one good strategy where if people were to start working on how to come together, forgetting their minor differences, and fight with the what we call now as fascist forces. It will be a great development. But yes, there has been no singular entity that has been guiding this thing that people are spontaneously and independently coming up with ideas.

A lot of these ideas are common. Even we, in Seattle, have organized a really diverse group. We have Ambedkarites in the group. We have people from the Muslim community. We have people from Sikh community. There are also support from the students from the universities around here.

But if you look at the counter-protesters, who are very small in number, they have almost no diversity. They are uniformly upper-caste Hindus who are going to benefit from these government policies. So the development of unified themes is, I think, the theme of the future.

Stephanie Van Hook: Thank you so much, Prashant Nema and Sana Alam. What are your last thoughts for our listeners and readers of today on how people can get involved and stay informed?

Sana Alam: Prashant made a lot of sense when he said that the people are uniting, be it Hindus or Sikhs or Muslims or Christians. The best thing which has come out from this struggle is that we see a lot of unity. The students – you cannot identify students as Muslims or Hindus, they are putting themselves up as a united force, which is a very good thing.

We should learn from them and try to take it forward. We have already been doing it here. We need to educate people about what’s happening because lots of people are still under the impression that it’s just a bill which has been passed and it’s not going to affect the citizens.

We feel that not many people have the idea, how [these laws are] going to hinder the interests of the common man, which should be the priority of the government. Also, we see there are many polls conducted in the country trying to – in which the government is seen seeking support from the protesters. Prashant just mentioned that we are seeing counter-protests, so those actually support rallies which are out on the streets after our prime minister and his party has been asking people to come out and show their support rather than addressing that issue.

So right now, the only thing which we can do is mount a lot of pressure on the government, influence them to roll back the entire thing. That’s the priority right now.

Stephanie Van Hook: Thank you so much, both of you, for joining us today on the show. And we do hope to stay in touch. Anytime you have new information you’d like to share on the radio, we’d love to have you back.

Sana Alam: Thank you so much.

Stephanie Van Hook: Thank you both.

Prashant Nema: Thank you Stephanie and Michael.

The Nonviolence Report

Michael Nagler: Greetings everyone! We are, of course, at the beginning of a new year and new decade, and as I look around the movement and the organizations that I’m privileged to be in touch with, I think I see a spirit moving of a greater intensity, greater dedication, greater enthusiasm. And that certainly is true of our own organization, the Metta Center for Nonviolence.

2020 looks to be a really banner year for us with a big project, a four-fold project that we’re mounting called, “The Third Harmony Project.” But also, the institute – the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict — has been very active in this regard. Back in the middle of last month, December, Shaazka Beyerle, who is one of their researchers for quite some time now, has written something called, “Six Takeaways for the Next Decade of People Power What can we learn from 2019’s inspiring rise of nonviolent movements?”

We’ve been emphasizing repeatedly this capacity of movements to analyze their best practices and their worst practices from past experience and to transmit that to the next generation, in other words, to the next decade of activists. I’m so extremely pleased to see this because for years when I was teaching nonviolence I would say that the military expends so much effort in checking in with their own past experiences, learning and going forward with more improved techniques, but for the wrong overall goal.

Even bank robbers are spending more time studying their past experience of other bank robbers than nonviolent people were. Again, it was this phenomenon of people just suddenly getting inspired, running out and doing a protest and going back in. And that is dramatically changing.

There are institutions now that are systematically collecting experiences and helping to teach. We talked last time about the way that Nonviolent Peaceforce is going to be conducting a major get-together, a conference in Europe that will summarize their experiences. When it’s completed, there will be six continental meetings. They’re having a meeting on each inhabited continent of nonviolent actors in this particular institution which is called now, Unarmed Civilian Peacekeeping. So I’m really pleased, I know Shaazka’s work has been very valuable all along: Six Takeaways for the Next Decade of People Power.

Of course, at the Metta Center, we love people power, but we also talk often about person power, you know, what happens when – to borrow a phrase from Prashant Nema, whom we just heard on the air — what happens when we can reignite the humanity within an individual? What an incredible reservoir of power that turns out to be.

But studying it on the people power level and this collecting episodes and experiences and systematizing that and moving forward is exactly what we need to be doing.

Another group that’s responding in this spirit of enthusiasm for the beginning of the new decade is Nonviolence International. We just got a thrilling email from them with quite a number of resources. I’ll just mention one here and I’ll do it by quoting from Michael Beer who sent us this email. Quote, “In 2020 we will be launching our digital online archive of nonviolence training materials.”

I mean I just cannot imagine anything more important, especially now that the nonviolence training hub has been kind of fading in and out. But to continue Michael’s quote, “This includes materials from many movements and countries over the last 60 years, and as a partnership with our friends at Rutgers International Institute for Peace.”

This is, again, another very hopeful new development that academic institutions, which traditionally had a value of non-engagement, which I thought was reasonably valuable in itself, but was violated in one direction only, and that is that military and corporate interests were able to take advantage of the fact that colleges and universities with a few exceptions are typically underfunded. They then used them to implant their own needs – again, for the training and study and research in the universities, which are set up to do that.

I’ll never forget one of my first activities as a faculty member at Berkeley, my first administrative activity was to be on a committee on courses. Somebody came to our committee from a corporation – I don’t remember which one – asking us to teach more courses that would help train people for their organization. And I said that I was totally shocked, I think, you know, we’re the ones – the professors – we’re the ones who are in charge of deciding what is valid instruction and what to teach. But this kind of went down without a ripple. And that’s when I saw the handwriting on the wall.

So, the fact that universities and colleges are now getting more engaged with the needs of nonviolent activism is, I think, a useful balance. In some golden age in the future, we may go back to a value of non-engagement altogether, and just do pure research and not be abused in either direction. But for where we are now, I personally believe that what’s going on U of Mass Amherst and this cooperation with Rutgers, and of course, it’s been going on for quite some time at Swarthmore, which is a more-or-less Quaker institution in Pennsylvania, that these are very good developments.

Another organization that is starting up more locally and again is starting at a university, namely Stanford. This is the Gandhi-King Global Initiative which had a very successful meeting a few weeks ago, which I attended. It had a lot of luminaries from the nonviolence world, and the question in my mind and I think a lot of minds was, as usual, where do we go from here?

Well, they are actually taking that challenge up very seriously, which, I think they always intended to do. And so they are starting a major technology driven network which will include a website which will include a newsletter, and which will include some material from the Metta Center for Nonviolence. So, I’m very glad to see that that event was such a smashing success. Maybe we need another image for that — such a ‘blossoming’ success, and that it’s going to be going forward.

While we’re talking about our local area, up here in Santa Rosa on the 26th of this month, at 3:00 PM at Shomrei Torah (a major synagogue in Santa Rosa), they are, again, going to be hosting two people from the Combatants for Peace.

Combatants for Peace is an organization that was started jointly by former IDF Israeli Defence Force soldiers, men and women, and former Palestinian activists who were initially not against taking to armed struggle. These were individuals who came to see the futility of this kind of activity, gave it up, joined hands, and Combatants for Peace has been a dramatic example of how former enemies can unite in a spirit of nonviolence. Rabbi Samuel Tuttleman has always been open to this kind of thing. I think this is a free event, again, on January 26, 3:00 PM at Shomrei Torah in Santa Rosa.

Here on the air, PBS has begun – or will very shortly begin broadcasting — something called The Democracy Rebellion. which looks extremely pertinent. That is going to roll across the nation all throughout January and beyond. So, look for your PBS stations and look for a series called The Democracy Rebellion.

The government is considering a bill, HR 5492. House of Representatives 5492, which would repeal the Military Selective Service Act, among other things. This would eliminate the presidential authority to order men and women to register with the Selective Service system for possible military draft. And HR 5492 would also eliminate criminal penalties, of course, for failure or refusal to register. And responses to this are, I think, appropriately ambiguous.

Other things being equal, not having a Selective Service Act, not having a draft is or could be a big step in the direction of demilitarization and peace. There are a couple of problems, however. One is the way the thing is being couched, that is, the way the new selective service measures are being couched is that it is against civil rights not to allow women to participate in various roles which they’ve not traditionally been undertaking in the military. So it’s being couched as an attempt at human rights, but under the umbrella of militarism. And that is kind of an unfortunate dodge, it seems to me.

It’s a little bit like what we were just hearing from our guests about the Citizens Amendment Act in India which pretends to have a humanitarian motive. It says that neighboring countries to India are mainly a Muslim majority nation, so therefore we don’t have to accept Muslim refugees. But everybody knows that it’s actually discriminatory against them.

There’s another issue with Selective Service and that is this: Selective Service, if it works well, would democratize participation in the military. Without a draft – and we’ve been without one for a while – what you have, in fact, is de facto what’s called a poverty draft, where people who do not have other options and who need income, will be forced to pick up the option of joining the military. So, people are kind of divided about this and I am one of those people.

We have been following from time to time developments with the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative, and we were very pleased to see that in his midday address for the beginning of the New Year, Pope Francis said, and I quote, “My thoughts also go to the many volunteers who in places where people and justice are threatened, courageously choose to be present in a nonviolent and unarmed way.” He goes on to say, “As well as to the military who carry out peacekeeping missions in many areas of conflict.” That’s very, I think, broad minded of him, here he is in public acknowledging unarmed civilian peacekeeping, another really encouraging step going forward.

Well, we spent the first half of our program talking about protests in India and learned a very great deal about the issues and the severity and the degree of nonviolent sophistication, which is beginning there among the students. We will have more to say about that, but I also wanted to think a little bit today about Iraq, where protests have been going on for quite a while. And as usual, the motives are mixed. It’s simply against abuses of the government. I guess not motives are mixed, but issues are more than one.

So, back last spring in May, the coordination committee of the protests, which was made up of secular and other civic activists, read a statement from the podium of the public square, Tahrir Square, announcing the following political plan. I want to cite this as a good example of how to advance a nonviolent struggle of this kind.

So, four demands – or statements, anyway: 1.) the demonstrators would withdraw from the Green Zone, that is, this is the heavily militarized fortified zone that protected American military institutions and now protects the Iraqi government. And it was breached, incidentally, by protesters who have recently withdrawn peacefully after setting fires and so forth. Anyway, to get back to our story, the demonstrators would withdraw from the Green Zone in an organized manner in order to give more time to politicians to apply reforms.

That is a superbly good nonviolent move. You assume good faith on the part of your opponent and you give them room to operate. If they don’t operate, then you have to escalate. So, as a first phase, the Iraqi parliament will have to vote on the government cabin of technocrats and approve it as soon as possible.

In case of failure to achieve this goal, protestors will move to the second phase, demanding the three presidencies to resign.

If they refuse to resign, the third phase will follow: either Iraq goes to early elections, or the protest will move to the headquarters of the three presidencies to prevent them from working, calling for general civil disobedience, or a general strike.

So, not being well-informed enough to comment on all of these details, I would say that this is a very good pattern. This is exactly how nonviolence is to proceed, giving the opposition ample time to respond, telling them exactly what their responses are that you request, and telling them what you’re going to do if those requests are not met.

You know, quite a while ago, Kenneth Boulding, a famous peace researcher wrote – it was his last book, I think called, Three Faces of Power. It’s a model that we use very often at the Metta Center. The most violent kind of power is threat power. 

A neutral kind is economic power or exchange power. You give me what I want, I’ll give you what you want.

And the nonviolent kind of power, which is very under-developed, was integrative power, where I am going to be authentic and we will be closer.

Now, this looks a little bit like a threat, but there is a subtle distinction between a statement of process, informing the opposition what you’re going to do and letting them make a decision. I’m willing to not call that a threat, but a plan. And I hope you are also.

Stephanie Van Hook: Or as my mom used to say, That’s not a threat, it’s a promise.

Michael Nagler: That’s right, that’s right.

Stephanie Van Hook: That’s when we knew we were in trouble.

Michael Nagler: I think I have time to mention two other things, Stephanie.

Stephanie Van Hook: And I have one fresh in from the UNAC as well.

Michael Nagler: Oh, excellent. Let me do use real quick then and get over to you.

Stephanie Van Hook: Sure.

Michael Nagler: There is a wonderful conference coming up in Los Angeles. It’s called, Truth and Nonviolence in Post-Truth Times. It’s an international conference on Mahatma Gandhi, and it’s going to be at UCLA at the end of the month, Thursday, the 30th January through Sunday, the 2nd of February. It looks like I will be not presenting, but attending that conference. It’s quite a spectacular list of mostly Indian Gandhians.

And then finally, our neighboring institution down the coast here, Resource Center for Nonviolence in Santa Cruz, I just want to say that they are hiring. They are looking for an executive director and they’re accepting applications. So, are you a non-profit leader or community organizer experienced in nonviolent social change, racial equality and the daily work of building an organization? If so, you’ve got a good job waiting for you at RCNV. Stephanie?

Stephanie Van Hook: Thank you so much, Michael, for your Nonviolence Report. And we want to thank all of our listeners. I do want to let folks know in this Nonviolence Report that the United National Antiwar Coalition is doing emergency demonstrations on Saturday, January 4 to protest wars in the Middle East with this new news of assassination in Iraq of a top Iranian general and a top Iraqi population mobilization leader, which they’re calling an act of war. Both illegal to kill somebody that we’re not at war with and in a third-party country that had nothing to do – did not approve of the act either.

So do check out United National Antiwar Coalition to find out where a protest and demonstration is being scheduled in your area. And do bring nonviolence to that protest demonstration if you can.

You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank our listeners, to our mother station, KWMR, to our staff and friends at the Metta Center for Nonviolence, Especially Matt Watrous, transcribing the show and Anne Hewitt making that transcript available on Waging Nonviolence later. And to everybody, we want to say take care of one another. This is hard work when we dedicate ourselves to nonviolence and it’s hard work.

Transcript edited for clarity by Annie Hewitt, and transcribed by Matthew Watrous.

This story was produced by Metta Center for Nonviolence


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