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Gandhi At 150, Ahimsa At 113

Gandhi At 150, Ahimsa At 113

Today, the world is in a great cataclysm. It’s not just that nations do not get along, but find out situations for war. The rising inequalities are leading to conditions of extreme poverty and hunger on one side, while the emergence of a new slavery called technology along with consumerism and individualism led by competition pervades the other side. To top it all, the devastation of our ecosystem is causing natural calamities across the world.

Whenever the world faces crisis, all the possibilities are experimented upon it without success; till at last a concept called Ahimsa (non-violence) founded by Mahatma Gandhi in 1906 is brought into picture. It has been a crucial force for societal change. So the Ahimsavadis around the world have been at the forefront of campaigns to promote democracy and human rights. Ahimsa, in other words the non-violence movements, has ousted powerful dictatorships and military governments. It has stopped wars and prevented loss of precious lives.

However, looking at the present state of affairs in India, Gandhi's teachings are generally restricted to text books. India is not adopting any of it in its international relations. As a military superpower in Asia, India is definitely not sticking with the teachings of Ahimsa  in establishing peace with its neighbours, be it Pakistan, Bangladesh or China; nor is it practising non-fury in its numerous insurgencies, be it in Kashmir, Punjab, central India or in the North Eastern states of Assam, Manipur. It seems the Apostle of Peace is reduced to just a ‘ safai karamchari’ in his home country as we commemorate his 150th birth anniversary. Has Gandhi’s philosophy of Ahimsa lost its relevance in this all-pervading materialistic, agnostic and consumerist culture?  

But then in every corner of the globe, Gandhi is still remembered for his passionate adherence to the practice of non-violence and his supreme humanism through the philosophy of Ahimsa. The world observes October 2 as the International Day of Non-Violence. What is the significance of Gandhi to the modern world and what is the mystery of his success? Gandhi has been a great light for the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama, who puts Gandhi's success in proper perspective. He stated, “Many ancient Indian masters have preached Ahimsa, non-violence as a philosophical system. That was more philosophical reason. But Mahatma Gandhi, in this twentieth century, developed a very sophisticated approach because he went through that very noble philosophy of Ahimsa in modern government, and he won. That is a big thing.”  And that is precisely the greatness of Gandhi.

Gandhi was the role model for many great leaders across the world. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader and activist who had a great deal of influence on American society in the 1950s and 1960s, argued that the Gandhian philosophy was “the only morally and practically sound method open to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom”. Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became the first black President of South Africa, drew inspiration from the political struggles of Gandhi. When Mandela was awarded the Nobel Prize for peace in 1994, he claimed that he owed his success to Mahatma Gandhi.

Many present-day public personalities too see Gandhi as an inspiration. Barack Obama, former US President, has a portrait of the apostle of peace in his agency. He remarked, “In my lifetime, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an exemplary person, because he embodies the sort of transformational change that can be created when ordinary people get together to perform extraordinary things.”  Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese leader who was under house arrest for many years, too derived great inspiration from Gandhi. From Gandhi, she learnt that for a doctrine of peace and reconciliation to be translated into practice, one absolute condition needed is fearlessness. Gandhi has inspired and will proceed to inspire many political, societal and religious leaders all over the globe through his simple life and philosophy of ahimsa. Whether it is Joan Baez, the American folk singer and human rights activist, or Cesar Chavez, the American social activist, or Joanna Macy, the environmental activist, or Mubarak Awad, the non-violent Palestine leader, they all get different inspirations from Gandhi in their battles.

Gandhi’s messages kindle some inner fire to bring about change, if not in a great measure, in a small way in and around the place one lives. It inspires the modern human being to struggle for goodness in society in a non-violent manner. “ Good,” Gandhi said, “ travels at a snail’s pace.” “Nonviolence,” Gandhi said, “is a tree of dense development. It grows imperceptibly, but surely.” And then “ Mere goodness is not of much use,” Gandhi said. “Goodness must be conjoined with knowledge, courage and strong belief. One must cultivate the fine discriminating quality which goes with spiritual courage and character.” And that is the message of Gandhi to the advanced universe.

People get attracted towards Gandhi not much because of his excellent speeches, but because whatever he said he practised it.  His activism is not mere action, but contains many facets of a spiritual ‘practice’ that is inhaled by the inner urging of the moral sense. The modern man should get great wisdom from what Gandhi termed as the seven social sins: Politics without principles; Wealth without work; Commerce without morality; Education without character; Pleasure without conscience; Science without humanity; Worship without sacrifice.

Gandhi was an exemplary man who walked in the footsteps of Buddha and Jesus in this modern world. He stated, “I have nothing new to teach the creation. Truth and non-violence are as old as the hills”. After Buddha and Jesus, Gandhi in modern times once again showed the world that non-violence could be an efficient tool of societal change. Gandhi successfully demonstrated to a world, weary with wars and continuing destruction that adherence to Truth and Non-violence is not intended for individual behaviour alone but can be applied in global affairs as well.

As Albert Einstein stated of Mahatma Gandhi, "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth." Today if the philosophy of Ahimsa preached by Gandhi is in a severe test in our country, it is not because there is any weakness in the idea of Ahimsa, but because we lack the courage and conviction to practise and promote it. We need leaders who walk in the steps of Mahatma, leaders who walk and talk the philosophy of Ahimsa to oppose the evils in society. May the commemoration events for Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary be occasions to promote his greatest message, Ahimsa!

(Published on 01st October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 40)