International Day of Non-Violence

Let us be inspired by Gandhiji’s ideas

One of the main objectives of the United Nations Organization is the maintenance of international peace and security.

Somduth Soborun

“Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed”

Gandhi

One of the main objectives of the United Nations Organization is the maintenance of international peace and security. Indeed over the past seventy years the United Nations has tried its best to deliver fulfill this aim. In this respect it is always good to recall a famous quote of the second Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold who had once said that the, “United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell”. I tend to view the efforts of the United Nations from this angle.

On 15 June 2007 the United Nations General Assembly adopted by unanimous decision a resolution sponsored by India and co-sponsored by 142 countries including Mauritius, to observe and celebrate annually 2nd October, Mahatma Gandhi’s Birthday, as the International Day of Non-Violence. This is a special day to seek inspiration from the message of Gandhi and also to reflect on how to resolve conflicts and differences by non-violent means so that we are able to collectively work to create a safer and better world. In a world torn by hatred, dastardly acts of terrorism and violence, the philosophy behind the International Day of Non-Violence is not only of great symbolic value but also an exercise of soul-searching! In his own words, Mahatma Gandhi had objected to violence because “when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary. The evil it does is permanent”.

Speaking at the first commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence in 2007 at the UN Headquarters in New York, Pranab Mukherjee President of India, then Minister of External Affairs of India, said that “Non-Violence, as the Mahatma saw it, was not simply positive resistance or tolerance, but a conscious and proactive effort to reject all forms of violence directed not only at oneself or others, but also against nature itself. Non-violence to the Mahatma necessitated complete abstention from exploitation in any form. In that sense, non-violence became both an ethical construct and a powerful socio-political force aimed at removing many forms of social and political exploitation”.

“Gandhiji’s ideas on the need for and effectiveness of non-violent methods of social and political change” says Professor Amartya Sen, Nobel Laureate, “have had profound effects everywhere, not just in his native land India, or South Africa, where his political journey began, but also across the world. He has made the whole of humanity understand the basic nature of peaceful political opposition and the hidden strength of courageous defiance without any violence whatsoever.”

As a matter of fact in the midst of a violent twentieth century and this century we continue to witness the thirst for non-violent struggles in bringing down dictatorships, preventing coups d’Etat, social and economic injustices and so on. Examples are Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Philippines, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, East Germany, the struggle for Independence of Ghana, Nigeria, Namibia; the American Civil Rights Movement, and the Arab Spring in Egypt and Tunisia in particular.

Between 1894 and 1914 Gandhi transited in Mauritius twice (1901 and 1903) on his way to India from South Africa. The fallout of these visits have been manifold. Two of them are firstly the arrival of Manilal Doctor in Mauritius to look into and make recommendations for improvement in the conditions of work and wages of the Indian immigrants; and secondly the increasing participation of the Indian community in active politics. Decades later Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam who led the country to Independence chose 12 March as the Independence Day of Mauritius, to pay tribute to Gandhi’s Dandi (Salt) March.

In the run-up to self-rule and in the early post-independence period of Mauritius it was a common feature to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, “Gandhi Jayanti” in every nook and corner of the country with the help of volunteers and socio-cultural and religious associations. Leaders from political and social life would use this opportunity to spread the message of Gandhi, particularly in respect of independence. 2nd October 2016 will be the Ninth Commemoration of the International Day of Non-violence. Unfortunately, we neither witness the same fervour nor do we see any credible popular events worthy of name which have been organized for the occasion at the national level, in spite of the fact that we now have Institutions like the Mahatma Gandhi Institute, Indira Gandhi Cultural Centre and various cultural centres and socio-cultural organizations, to mention only a few which are either fully funded or subsidized by government.

It may be worth mentioning as a matter of example that in Brazil, the Associacao Palas Athena, which is a civil society has been celebrating every first week of October as Gandhi Week for the last 26 years. In 2007 it had involved 400 events in 16 cities of six Brazilian States with the participation of schools, universities, civil society institutions with activities based on three Gandhian principles: active non-violence; disseminating and fostering peaceful activities and attitudes in every aspect of life, and inviting people to think about the harmful consequences of physical, structural and cultural violence.

Next year the world will be commemorating the 10th International Day of Non-Violence. In this context the concerned authorities in Mauritius may perhaps seriously consider taking the lead to organize in collaboration with all the stakeholders a Gandhi Month. By all standards Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest human beings of all time. His ideas and commitments and experiences with “Satyagraha” (Truth Force), “Swaraj” (freedom), “Sarvodaya” (good for all) and ”Swadeshi” (smallest unit of economic livelihood) remain so vitally relevant today. Given that we may not be able to do justice in discussing the Mahatma within a limited period of time because his message is encapsulated in day-to-day life, the least that we can do is to organize a week-long discussion and deliberation on each of his four great ideas in succession in the month of October every year. This will go a long way in strengthening the resolve, the character as well as consolidating the racial harmony and the peaceful co-existence of the cultural diversity of our beautiful country and also pave the way to better integrate an increasingly globalizing world.

“It is easier to admire Gandhi than to follow him. On this very special day, we reflect upon this genius and seek to do a difficult thing- try to follow him in today’s tough crises, not just admire him for solving yesterday’s crises.”

— Rev. Jesse Jackson

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