Ever since 2007, when the United Nations adopted 2nd October, the birth day of Mahatma Gandhi, as the ‘International Day of Non-Violence’; it is celebrated the world over to commemorate the Mahatma’s enduring contributions to peace and non-violence. The day also aims to create awareness about the imperatives of non-violence. Emphasising the significance of the day, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres observed, “Gandhi constantly highlighted the gap between what we do, and what we are capable of doing. On this International Day of Non-Violence, I urge each and every one of us to do everything in our power to bridge this divide as we strive to build a better future for all.” According to the UN General Assembly Resolution, the International Day is an occasion to “disseminate the message of non-violence”, through education and public awareness. The resolution reaffirms, “the universal relevance of the principle of non-violence” and the desire “to seek a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence.”
Gandhiji’s ideas and ideals continue to stir the imagination of leaders who are fighting for freedom and liberation. Writing in the New York Times last year; on this very day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi quoted Nelson Mandela who called Gandhi “the Sacred Warrior”. Prime Minister wrote that “Gandhi had the unique ability to become a bridge between some of the strongest contradictions in human society.” In his article, Prime Minister Modi also agreed with Albert Einstein who had said, “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a man as this, in flesh and blood, ever walked on this earth.”
At a time when the world is afflicted with strife and violence, Gandhi’s ideas and ideals continues to be relevant today more than ever before. Gandhi’s ideas were not only the instruments of political struggle; they were also aimed at uplifting humankind from unbridled materialism and consumerism which are the bane of the contemporary society. He emphasised on character and ethics in personal and professional conduct. He was not only a preacher of truth and non-violence; rather he practised them in real life. Gandhi was great because he practised every bit of his ideology in life and he captioned his autobiography “My experiments with truth”.
Gandhiji’s ideas of non-violence were anchored in his concept of Satyagraha; meaning ‘holding truth firmly’. It originated in South Africa in 1907 where he fought against apartheid or racial discrimination. Later he applied the same in India’s epic freedom struggle to liberate the country from British colonialism. He had shown to the world that truth, non-violence and love could generate more power than the power of coercion and violence. It was a different power than the power demonstrated by armies and violent revolutions. Gandhi is arguably the only leader in the world who was able to convert the power of non-violence into political action. South Africa was not only the birth place of Satyagraha, but was also its’ main testing ground and laboratory. He carried out many experiments from his personal life to his political life in South Africa which provided him with many a new chapter.
Gandhi spent three months in a Pretoria Prison in 1909, where he read the great treatise of wisdom, the Upanishads, the Bible, and works of John Ruskin, Leo Tolstoy, R.W Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. He was greatly influenced by their writings and philosophy.
Gandhi held the spirit of universal love to be the vital source of non-violence. As love and non-violence are the natural instincts of human being, it is the normal behaviour of all living creatures. Gandhiji showed to the world that collective non-violent action of individuals if performed with purity of heart, will create such an atmosphere that violent thoughts will evaporate. Gandhi also said that non-violence doesn’t mean that it is an instrument of the weak. Gandhi’s ideas of peace and non-violence hold the beacon of hope and optimism. No wonder his ideas and ideals are becoming increasingly popular the world over including in countries like the People’s Republic of China, which was born out of armed struggle.
Script: Rupa Narayan Das, Strategic Analyst