Exerting moral force or influencing public opinion against an unjust government or social situation through refusing to do certain highly symbolic acts or to obey certain important laws. Also redressing wrongs through inviting, rather than inflicting, suffering.
The history of pacifism, from the earliest times, to that of the Quakers; and the history of the Indian independence movement testify to the impact that non-violent action has on public thinking. Hinduism and Buddhism built their ethics on non-violence, as did the Essenes, and Jesus' teaching also advocates non-violence.
Nonviolent action campaigns have been a part of political life for millennia, challenging abuses by authorities, spearheading social reforms, and protesting militarism and discrimination. In recent years, however, there has been an increase in movements that have not only led to significant political and social reforms advancing the cause of human rights but have even toppled repressive regimes from power and forced leaders to change the very nature of their governance. In more recent decades, nonviolence has become a more deliberate tool for social change, evolving from an [ad hoc] strategy associated with religious or ethical principles into a reflective, even institutionalized, method of struggle.
Passive resistance holds its roots in certain aspects of Buddhist and Christian tranquillity and repudiation of violence. It was developed in recent times by M K (Mahatma) Gandhi in South Africa and India and by Dr. Martin Luther King of the Civil Rights Movement against racism in the USA.
The past 20 years have witnessed a remarkable upsurge in nonviolent insurrections against autocratic rulers. Primarily nonviolent "people power" movements have overthrown authoritarian regimes in nearly two dozen countries over the past two and a half decades, have forced substantial reforms in even more countries, and have seriously challenged other despots. In contrast to armed struggles, these nonviolent insurrections are movements of organized popular resistance to government authority, and they – either consciously or by necessity – eschew the use of weapons of modern warfare.
This strategy is practised by deliberate civil disobedience to laws which the resisting party objects to, followed by passive obstruction of the police or military force attempting to enforce those laws. The means of resistance may extend to boycotts of the opponents' commerce, to symbolic law-breaking to force public sympathy and establishment reaction, and to intentional suicide by hunger strike or self-immolation. Demonstration marches, sit-ins, and obstruction by mass physical inertia are other forms.
Unlike conventional political movements, nonviolent campaigns usually employ tactics outside the mainstream political processes of electioneering and lobbying. Tactics may include strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, the popular contestation of public space, tax refusal, destruction of symbols of government authority (such as official identification cards), refusal to obey official orders (such as curfew restrictions) and the creation of alternative institutions for political legitimacy and social organization.
Resisting oppressive conditions by passive means creates profound change by unifying the consciousness of both the resistors and the public as a whole. Its ultimate goal is to convert rather than eliminate the ruling bodies. Violence deliberately polarizes groups and assumes change in attitude is impossible. Groups with little money and power but high ability to organize people can be influential in policy-making.
Passive resistance is only effective against governments which are themselves subject to the pressure of public opinion. It cannot succeed against a dictatorship strong enough either to impose a censorship of news or to ignore the ordinary humane feelings of its subjects.