‘Developing Nonviolent Leadership’: Final webinar on the series on ‘Building Capacities for Justice and Peace’ – July 04, 2020

The final webinar’s theme, to conclude a series of 8 sessions over the last one month, is nonviolent leadership. There is clearly a disconnect between the young people and the kind of leadership, particularly the political leadership we see today which seems to be so rooted in the culture of violence. Is it then even possible to talk of nonviolent leadership? Afterall there are no examples that we see of nonviolent leadership, whether it is in communities, in social movements, in schools and our universities. How then can we resist violence in our everyday life on a daily basis.

Cultivating leadership that is committed to nonviolence forms the main topic of the webinar. This is dealt within four thematic areas sequentially after framing of the context in the first session; leadership in social movements, community leadership and educational leadership. The 5th and last session focused on nonviolent leadership in the future.

Session one: Framing the Context

The current model of leadership is modeled on singular leadership with its concurrent rise in authoritarian elected figures in recent times across the world as pointed out by both Shashi Tharoor and Tony, Hence the focus of the session was to look at the new ways of nonviolent resistance movements on a social and community level leadership.

An important observation that emerged was how we have been moving from singular leadership to collaborative leadership which is very different from populist leadership (Maya., Bernard, Shahi). The root of this new kind of political culture can be seen since the 2008 financial crisis. We see more involvement of young people who are engaging in nonviolent movements.

Session 2: Leadership in Social Movements

Seven different leaders participated in this session that highlighted different forms of nonviolent and non-singular leadership. This can be misjudged as leaderless movement but as Kejal pointed out, it was more of being ‘leaderful’ where every member feels the responsibility and involvement in the movement. She along with other participants spoke about how they are increasingly taking up collective leadership-collective decision makers that are jointly taking decisions. A project highlighted how different group take different sessions so no particular hierarchy. So, the social movement organizing is changing from 20-30 years ago.

Gradual modernization continues, as per tony, and he spoke as did a few others about the importance of grassroot organizing but how the challenges have really changed and how engagement at the grassroots was much more difficult.now.

Session 3 – Community leadership

The session with representatives from different countries discussed their ways of developing nonviolent leadership at the community level. To summarize, what came out was how the community leadership building is really about stressing community autonomy in ways that have not been there before. Here we saw how leaderships are emerging in very diverse ways and sometimes do not conform to our ideas of what community looks like. They’re challenging in very unique way the status-quo or those groups that are resisting the community leadership coming up.

Session 4 – On Educational leadership 

The session, facilitated by the eminent educationist and Gandhian, the Canada based Reva Joshee. The participants were mostly educationists and activists who spoke on several important points. One of the participants, Fatima, speaking from a very interesting vantage point of a progressive Muslim perspective looked at how the Muslim communities need to embrace much greater diversities and attacked the views propagated in the mainstream with even scholarship on the subject tends to “adopt an anti-Islamic lens which makes them view it as reductionist and literalist text through selective pieces of Islam misinterpreted through decontextualization”. Her presentation, thus, focused on nonviolence in Islam.as she went on to draw attention to how Gandhi had spoken of Imam Hussein as an inspiration for his satyagraha. 

This was followed by presentations on ’emancipatory pedagogy’ and ‘critical pedagogy’. These emphasized on the need for a more local based epistemology. The session highlighted ‘Love’ as something extremely vital to get people to deeply think and participate in their own education and empowerment and how important school is as part of the community. Another educationist spoke of a study hall in Lucknow, India which has been working for many years to bring women’s issue into education and does a lot of activism in villages. The study school is also a place where very marginalized women are also studied. They also get students to be aware of how girls should be confident and should be able to define education in a way which empowers them rather than becoming another cog in the whole machinery of a capitalist system-based education.

Urvashi closed the session with the importance of bringing about a culture of non-hierarchical contextualized education. The session highlighted the role of teachers as role models of nonviolence and how empathy and love play an important role in the relationship between the teachers and students.

Session 5 – Developing Nonviolent Leaders in the Future

Jill Carr-Harris, international coordinator and co-architect of the Jai Jagat campaign facilitated this session where eminent thinkers presented their views on views on nonviolent leadership and how it can be developed in the future. She raised three questions for the sessions with the first one concerning the trust issues that the young people have with the leaders today; the best ways in their opinions to assist young people today to embrace ‘sewa’, working closely with people, with farmers etc. into our leadership model; and finally, on the concept of ‘inclusiveness’.

Several points and insights that emerged from the answers from eminent thinkers and nonviolent activists. There was clearly a shift towards a more collaborative, participative, consensual and leaderless approach to nonviolent leadership. It was interesting to note how the young people are increasingly getting involved in nonviolent protest movements like the ‘velvet revolution’ in Armenia and in the two very different movements that showcased this collective and collaborative leadership in the ‘Black lives matter’ movement and the ‘Indigenous civil resistance’ movement in Latin America. 

All the panelists agreed on the need for horizontal relations and the need to teach from below-to above leaders with the intention of breaking the power asymmetry in the hierarchical relations and be in a kind of equalization relation and horizontal relation. Examples of movements like ‘the walk-out movement and the ‘Cycle Yatra’ were examples of radically rejecting the current global structure. The need to break down self- created boundaries and lead towards a horizontal model of leadership was emphasized in the session and generating a culture of trust and move towards a gift culture away from the money culture and to build intergenerational dialogues to ensure greater inclusiveness were some other learnings from this final session.

Mohsin Wali 

Development researcher and Peace Activist 

 Jai Jagat Communication Team