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The recent large-scale communal disturbances in India have prompted some older Gandhians to voice the opinion that the time may have come to reactivate the Shanti Sena, Mahatma Gandhi’s Peace Army, that did impressive work in promoting communal harmony between the late 1950’s and the mid-1970s. Although the idea of a Shanti Sena was considered to be of fundamental importance by Gandhi, he had little success in setting it up in his lifetime. It took the foresight and efforts of Vinoba Bhave and Jayaprakash Narayan, and the organising ability of Narayan Desai. The history of this peace army that they brought into life and directed is not only an inspiring one, it is also important, given the rise in sectarian violence in India and the recent growth of international peace teams that looks to the Sena for motivation and guidance. Sena members worked in conflict resolution at the grassroots level and undertook peace missions during riots, convinced dacoits to turn themselves into authorities , carried out relief work following wars, experimented with nonviolent defence, conducted nonviolence training camps and even played a role in unarmed peacekeeping work in the international sphere. Relying on interviews with key participants and archival material, this thought-provoking work contributes greatly to the study of a unique experiment in practical nonviolence. This is the first study of its kind that has chronicled in such detail the activities and history of the Shanti Sena during its most active years, and discussed the prospects for its reinvigoration.
Thomas Weber teaches Politics and peace Studies at La Trobe Univeristy, Melbourne. He has been researching and writing about Gandhi’s life, thought and legacy for a quarter of a century, and has traveled extensively in India. His major Gandhi related publications include: Gandhi, Gandhism and the Gandhians (2006), Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor (2004/2007), Nonviolent Intervention Across Borders: A Recurrent vision (edited with Yeshua Moser-Puangsuwan, 2000), On the Salt March: The Historiography of Gandhi’s March to Dandi (1997), Gandhi’s Peace Army: The Shanti Sena and Unarmed Peacekeeping (1996) and Hugging the Trees: The Story of the Chipko Movement(1988).
He lives in the wooded hills on the outskirts of Melbourne with his wife and child.