Violence and Oppression

February 27, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

As a student of Peace and Human Rights Education, my views towards the world have started changing and so will my effort to have those views reflect in my writings. There is Peace and Human Rights Education because there is Violence, Conflict and Oppression. 

Famous Norwegian sociologist, Johan Galtung defines violence as the ‘cause of the difference between the potential and actual’. For example depriving someone of education is violence as it is everyone’s Right to Education. In this case a person is ‘potentially’ being deprived of education when ‘actually’ most of the countries have made basic education free of cost.

Violence can be in the most direct (personal) form and also in the subtlest indirect (structural) form. The examples of direct violence are physical and sexual abuse, murder, rape, extortion etc. whereas structural violence is a result of structure as in division of labor, segregation of classes in the society and ranking in administrative positions. It is very easy to identify direct violence but indirect is the one that people fail to recognize without having awareness of peace and human rights education. Galtung explains another kind of violence, which he calls cultural violence. It is the one that provides justification for direct and structural violence in the name of religion (or culture). An example of cultural violence would be spreading the idea of terrorism and justifying committing murder of all who do not observe the tenets of a religion. If we include the violence against animals then sacrificing animals to appease Gods in the name of culture is also an example of cultural violence.

Another kind of violence that results in the mental state of a person is the psychological violence includes brainwashing, manipulation, persuasion, oppression or ‘emotional blackmailing’. Being forced to study something a child does not want to or pursuing a certain career is a kind of violence too. This is an unintentional violence that the parents ‘unknowingly’ commit and by the time the child grows up he or she is used to being told what to do and is unable to make decisions on their own.

It is often observed that in the absence of a way out, victims tend to accept a violence to avert another one. Let’s say a husband physically abuses her wife for something he does not approve of but it is completely within her rights to be able to do it. As a result of continuous physical abuse, she would resort to her husband's desires curbing her own and choose to live in mental agony and frustration. In this case she is accepting to be psychologically abused over being physically abused.

To further the realm of violence, Douglas Allen elaborates Gandhian principles of Violence and Peace Education. Gandhiji focused on educational and economic violence. The former is committed in classrooms following the use of language, gestures or body language that threatens the students from questioning their teachers. Some Asian countries still follow the education method in which communication is one way and the students are discouraged from asking questions. In such systems, asking questions is taken as judging the teachers expertise and questioning his or her authority. So, the students remain silent to prevent any embarrassing situation for themselves.  

Economic violence is a result of income disparities that are caused due to unequal distribution of wealth among people in a society. Gandhi attributed this to exploitation, injustice, suffering etc. which is akin to the Zamindari system in India under which the wealthy landlords continued becoming rich at the expense of the poor farmers: the rich became richer and the poor became poorer further increasing the economic gap. This was partly due to the lack of education and awareness of rights.

Paulo Freire, the famous educator and philosopher talks about violence in terms of oppressors and oppressed.  Oppressing and being oppressed is a continuous process in which the oppressed become oppressors in order to take out their frustration of being oppressed. On the other hand, when oppressors are unable to oppress or have their control over someone, they start feeling oppressed in the lack of it. Also, when oppressed are emancipated from their oppressors, feel lost because they had become so used to following orders. They are also unable to undertake the pressure of responsibility and take the independence they have been given. Freire further adds that even if the oppressors think about implementing something in good faith in the life of oppressed, they are still unintentionally being oppressors because they are not giving the oppressed a chance to think on their own. This is a vicious cycle that takes the humanity out of both the oppressed and the oppressor. My suggestion is that Peace Education should not just restrict its realms to getting freedom for the oppressed but also help them feel responsible to get on with their lives eventually.

To sum it up, I would say I am surprised to see violence being committed in so many more ways than my thoughts could take me. My knowledge of violence was just limited to direct physical violence until reading Galtung. In conclusion, no kind of education or curriculum can bring ‘absolute peace’ but it can bring awareness of peace and provide tools to human to achieve their fair share of rights. This is what Peace and Human Rights Educators should strive to accomplish. 



  • Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural violence. Journal of peace research, 27(3), 291-305.
  • Galtung, J. (1969). Violence, peace, and peace research. Journal of peace research, 6(3), 167-191.
  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum International Publishing Group.
  • Allen, D. (2007). Mahatma Gandhi on Violence and Peace Education. Philosophy East & West 57(3), 290-310.



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