Our history books are filled with dates related to wars, raids, massacre and change in dynasties. In history, peace has a small space only in religious teachings, and that too was not followed religiously. Also, we considered the periods between wars related destructions peaceful. The more the developed cities and architecture during a dynasty reign, the more the region was considered peaceful.

But for our surprise, we never had a single definition of peace in past. Even many famous intellectuals of the past wrote about peace in negative terms. They didn’t value peace, glorified wars and argued that only war can lead to growth. Wars were considered as goal achievements and thus heroic. The seeming consensus around the idea of peace is a relatively recent phenomenon. 

In recent few centuries only, historians gave values to lives of common people and started collecting related knowledge. And so the meaning and value of peace were assessed in the better ways over these few years. Though we do not know the proper meaning of peace, talking about peace is a new popular trend. Every constitution, treaty, textbook, journal, social academician, journalist, change-maker, politician, and industrialist etc. relates something or other with Peace.

The desirability of pursuing peace is rarely questioned. The destructive face of fascism, Nazism, terrorism, world wars, and partition riots in history has taught us the meaning of peace. Such tragic conflicts and absence of peace haunt us. Still, wars, terrorism, and riots related news are very common in our daily news. So if we consider ourselves liberal or peaceful than our past, then we might be wrong. We carry more anger and mass destruction means than ever in the history. Not only national security, oppression, the demand of rights but road rage, parking space, land matters, even movie screening may lead to disagreements between people and in a society which may express themselves through open conflict, violence, and killings.

It may be argued that tyranny can be prevented only by being forcibly removed or the liberation struggles of oppressed people can be justified even though they may use some violence. But history has several examples which show that use of violence can never lead to long term peaceful future. Once deployed, it tends to spin out of control, leaving behind a trail of death and destruction.  So the idea of fighting the oppressors by using indiscriminate violence is both unethical and extremely risky.

The pacifists, who consider peace to be a supreme value, take a moral stand against the use of violence even for attaining just ends. They too recognise the need to fight oppression. However, they advocate the mobilisation of love and truth to win the hearts and minds of the oppressors. History also has champions of peace, both in the spiritual and secular domains i.e. Mahatma Gandhi and Goutam Buddha. Several age-old spiritual principles (e.g., compassion) and practices (e.g., meditation) are considered to achieve peace of mind.

So as per our understanding of peace in history, peace would be defined as the absence of violent conflict of all kinds including war, riot, massacre, assassination, or simply physical attack and structural violence, such violence arising from caste hierarchy, class disparity, patriarchy, colonialism, and racism/communalism. Peace is the harmonious coexistence of contented people. It can never be achieved once and for all. Peace is not an end-state, but a process involving an active pursuit of the moral and material resources needed to establish human welfare in the broadest sense of the term.

Reference: National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT)

Photograph Credit: Mridul Upadhyay

This article was originally published at YourCommonwealth.Org