One of the most iconic world figures synonymous with non-violence, and peace is Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He is revered in India as the ‘Father of the Nation’, while the world knows him as Mahatma (Great Soul). The United Nations observes October 2nd, the birth anniversary of Gandhiji as ‘International Day of Non-Violence’ to spread the message of non-violence and peace globally. He led India’s freedom struggle on the tenets of truth and non-violence. Gandhi said non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”.
Globally many leaders, countries and communities were influenced by Mahatma. The Gandhian technique of mobilising people has been successfully employed by many oppressed societies around the world. Martin Luther King in the United States, Vietnamese revolutionary leader, Ho Chi Minh, and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar are eloquent testimony to the continuing relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.
The fight against Communism in Poland led by Lech Walesa, the ‘Polish Gandhian’, was based on the principle of nonviolence. The Filipino Peoples’ Power movement, under the leadership of Cardinal Jaime Sin, played a key role in the fall of President Marcos’ dictatorship. The nonviolent struggles brought down Soviet rule in Czechoslovakia.
In early 1990’s, nonviolent protests and mass resistance against apartheid in South Africa, led to Nelson Mandela being freed and elected President of the nation. Mandela’s leadership, based on absolute faith in Gandhi’s nonviolence, saw apartheid successfully ousted from South Africa. Gandhi had a great effect on Mexican-American labour movement and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez and his advocacy for Latino farm workers. More recently, nonviolence featured prominently in the peaceful drive for democracy and human rights known as the 2011 Arab Spring. Peaceful protestors gathered to end decades of autocratic and oppressive rule in the Middle East and Africa and ushered in reforms and changes in gulf region and west Asia. Protestors proved that peace, and nonviolence can be more powerful and effective in managing conflicts.
The Dalai Lama said, “We have a big war going on today between world peace and world war, between the force of mind and force of materialism, between democracy and totalitarianism.” It is precisely to fight these big wars that the Gandhian philosophy is needed in contemporary times.
Martin Luther King Jr went to the extent of saying “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, acted and inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony.”
Mahatma Gandhi did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, although he was nominated many times. But his followers namely Martin Luther King Jr, Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Aung San Suu Kyi, Barack Obama, Desmond Tutu and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina received the Nobel Peace Prize. Therefore, it is obvious that Mahatma Gandhi is above Nobel Peace Prize.
Nonviolence, far from meaning mere peacefulness or the absence of overt violence, as understood by Mahatma Gandhi is to denote active love – in every sense. Gandhi converted non-violence into a comprehensive transformation of life reinforcing the relationship between human beings and Mother Nature.
Today, when world peace is threatened with atomic weapons capable of annihilating the human race, Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of love and truth and of respect for others’ rights have become more meaningful than at any other time.
Albert Einstein and Gandhi were big admirers of each other and exchanged letters frequently. Einstein called Gandhi “a role model for the generations to come”. Today, as the world celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Mahatma, it would be prudent to recall Einstein’s words “The admiration for Mahatma Gandhi in the world rests on recognition, that in times of utter moral decadence, he was the only statesman to stand for a higher level of human relationship in political sphere. We must know that an endurable future of humanity will be possible only if, also in international relations, decisions are based on law and justice and not on self-righteous power”.
Script: Dominic Thomas, Commentator on Gandhian studies