By Albert Baldeo
“Each of us must be the change we wish to see in this world…An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind…The future depends on what we do in the present…Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed…Truth alone will endure, all the rest will be swept away before the tide of time…There is no such thing as slow freedom. Freedom is like a birth. Till we are fully free we are slaves. All birth takes place in a moment.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality or justice or anything. If you’re a man, you take it…There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time…You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom. We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”-Malcolm X
India is a unique country, and the world’s largest democracy. For centuries, it is the only nation which has been the center of great attraction for people from every part of the globe. Its collective knowledge, technology and spiritualism defines it as a country on the march. Its cultural values have left indelible footprints. India’s waxing prosperity and the way of life of its people have attracted many to it, but it is also a country trying to close the divide between rich and poor, caste and creed, which could not have been wider. Even in sports, like cricket, India has seen tremendous progress.
Mahatma Gandhi, born Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, was the foundation for this growth, and is the hero who must be credited for making most of this possible. Even though he himself was unjustly persecuted and tossed in jails regularly, he proved that non-violence was the elementary and indispensable condition for the materialization of his noble goals. These principles and values represented a permanent source of inspiration in Gandhi’s guidance in his imaginative undertakings both in the struggle for freedom and independent development of India and the promotion of her role in the international community.
Indeed, Gandhi’s firm belief in the creativeness and openness of the people of India and his own active engagement for a peaceful and friendly cooperation among nations equitably, without any interference or imposition, were manifestations of his personal wisdom and foresight, both as the father of modern India, as well as one of the major moral, spiritual and political international authorities of all times.
Today, largely due to the inspiration and work of Mahatma Gandhi, India has surged after it broke the shackles of imperialism and colonialism. Indeed, the Mahatma’s philosophy is eternal, and It is based on basic human nature which will not change and is an inspiration and road map to all those involved in seeking justice from the evil, bigotry and oppression, at all levels, all over the world. He based it on his universal concept that “Non-cooperation with evil is a sacred duty”.
On January 21, 2017, the Women’s March on Washington became the largest human rights protest in U.S. history, with an estimated 3.3 million demonstrators (and counting) in over 500 cities, without a single arrest or act of violence recorded. This march’s success, and many others, are rooted in the nonviolent civil disobedience philosophies of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
As we celebrate his life, we must remember his lasting relevance to the world, and to history. These are the days of globalization. Today, no country, not matter how mighty or rich it is, can think of its existence in a state of isolation. It cannot, and will not endure. Think of Venezuela’s illegal clams and unjustified greed over Guyana’s sovereign territory. In time, the brotherhood of independent nations will not allow this evil to succeed.
More than ever before, Gandhi’s teachings are valid today, when people are trying to find solutions to the rampant greed, widespread violence, and runaway consumptive style of living. In the face of the retaliation, violence and hatred being perpetrated today, Gandhi’s gospel of non-violence and mutual respect make immense sense.
It was the unique non-violent movement under his leadership that earned India freedom from British colonial rule. In spearheading the campaign against such suppression, Gandhi adopted the innovative techniques of civil disobedience and social transformation, which had several exemplary features. It was a catalyst for success.
Since then, the Gandhian technique of mobilizing people for dignity, rights and equality has been successfully employed by many oppressed societies around the world under the leadership of people like Martin Luther King Jr., in the United States, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and, more recently, Aung Saan Sun Kyi in Myanmar, which is testimony to the continuing relevance of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Gandhian philosophy was an important part of India’s struggle for freedom. He emphasized non-violence in all situations, and advised us to protect the poor and vulnerable by non-violent means if possible (Ahimsa). But his philosophy should not be construed as limited to these concepts. When all such means fail, for the attainment and protection of freedom, equality and justice, if the least possible violent means are applied in the larger public interest, it is not a breach of the Gandhian approach, because freedom and justice were supreme for Mahatma Gandhi. They were so important that he would have embraced Malcolm X’s “by any means necessary” methods if all else failed in his mantra that non-cooperation (read acquiescence), with evil is a sacred duty. Indeed, Gandhi felt that “Non-cooperation and civil disobedience are different but are branches of the same tree call Satyagraha (truth-force)”.
Mahatma Gandhi will always be India’s greatest asset. He was deservingly called the “Great Soul.” Traditional Indian values, particularly the supreme concept of Ahimsa, were the basis of his ideas. Practically, he desired solutions for all problems through the means of non-violence, and such ideas are entirely important in the new world. They are completely relevant today and will remain so in the future as well.
Sacrifice and commitment to the cause of others, albeit sometimes unappreciated and unrequited, is something personal which one should aspire to for the greater good of mankind and community. Gandhi hailed from an ordinary Indian family, but faced a lot of discrimination and inequality when he was denied permission to travel in a train in racist South Africa, and forcibly removed from a whites-only carriage for not obeying laws that segregated each carriage according to race. This incident was life altering and compelled him to make a commitment to achieve something great and carve an identity for the masses and people of color as human beings.
It is interesting to compare the occurrence of similar incidents in the lives of many great people who suffered similar humiliation and injustice-Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and so many other champions.
Gandhi left us a lasting, comforting prediction: “All through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall, always.”
Note: Albert Baldeo is a community advocate. He is President of the Baldeo Foundation and Liberty Justice Center, which fights for equal rights, dignity and inclusion in the decision making process. He can be contacted at the Baldeo Foundation: (718) 529-2300.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.