I maintain that undreamt-of and seemingly impossible discoveries will be made in the field of nonviolence.
The Shanti Sena or “Peace army” was made up of Gandhi’s followers in India. Its non-violent methods have been adopted by other movements such as the World Peace Brigade, Nonviolent Peace force, Swaraj Peeth and the Rainbow Family of Living Light.
“Shanti Sena” is a term first coined by Gandhi when he conceptualised a nonviolent volunteer peacekeeping program dedicated to minimising communal violence within the Indian populace. The words “Shanti” and “Sena” both come from Sanskrit. Shanti means peace and Sena means army, or a drilled band of men. The word “Sena” has been criticised for its connection to militarism, but for Gandhi, it had strong metaphorical and spiritual qualities connected to its use in the Hindu vedas.
What is a Shanti Sena?
Shanti Sena are peace-keepers, mediators, diplomats, crisis counselors, and so forth. By calling Shanti Sena we are inviting help from everyone at the gathering. We are all responsible for keeping the peace. Everyone is involved in what is seen as a community responsibility. If there is a serious situation that needs more than an on-the-spot intervention, anyone can call for a Shanti Sena council.
Examples of when to put out the word gathering-wide that Shanti Sena help is needed would be an instance of a lost child, or a violent person who is out of control.
Examples of when a Shanti Sena Council might be called is an occurence of sexual assault or the consideration of what to do with a mentally ill person who is a danger to self or others.
As with any other function of the gathering, there is no real organization, but there is a lot of co-ordination and cooperation. And as with any other function of the gathering, sometimes it runs very smoothly and sometimes there are problems.
The following list of guidelines are to be interpreted by the circle in the moment
- Safety is the primary consideration of any Shanti Sena action – safety for both the person acting out and for the people around them.
- Whenever possible, interventions should be non-physical. Any physical intervention should be as brief and as gentle as possible, and then only if someone is harming themself or others.
- If any decision needs to be made about what to do about an ongoing situation, or about an instance in which violence has occurred, it should never be made by one or two people, and it should not be made in the heat of the moment. Folks need to chill, sit down with each other in a circle, OM to bring in Spirit, and then discuss the issue calmly.
- Whenever possible, we try to deal with the situation in camp. If someone is a clear and imminent danger to self or others, however, it is appropriate to turn them over to the police if no other solution can be arrived at to insure the safety of other gatherers; or if the person is mentally ill and is clearly a threat due to their disorientation, it is appropriate to turn them over to the local mental health system. Many people may question whether this is the best thing to do, and questioning is a good thing; but there comes a time when all other options for safety have been exhausted and our only resort is the system. Sad but true.
- The purpose of Shanti Sena is not to determine guilt or innocence, or to mete out justice or punishment. If someone has been injured and wishes to press charges, they have the right to do so and to turn it over to the criminal justice system. It is not Shanti Sena’s place to decide that this should not be done. There may also be instances in which an injured person may not wish to press charges, but a Shanti Sena council determines that the perpetrator presents an ongoing threat to safety, and in that case might fall back on point #4.
- There are times when someone just doesn’t get that their behavior is not acceptable, but it is not appropriate to turn them over to the system. Yet, we may not feel that they are safe to remain at the gathering. At that point, a Shanti Sena council may determine that the best course of action is to ask the person to leave the gathering. This option should never be taken lightly, and only in instances where safety cannot be insured by any other means. It should be carried out gently and respectfully, the person being escorted to the highway or to the bus station.
Fortunately, we don’t have do take drastic action very often, having found more creative and effective ways of communicating and teaching people what is necessary to live healthy and safe in a community without rules or laws. It’s amazing, but we really do maintain functional, peaceful anarchy at the gatherings. Nothing short of a miracle. Call it voluntary compliance with common sense.