It is an honour and privilege for me to be at the Gandhi Memorial Center today on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti – the birth anniversary of our Father of the Nation.
I thank Ms Carrie Trybulec, the Director of the Center for the invitation and congratulate her on the hard and dedicated work she has put in actively promoting Gandhian values and thoughts in this country. I would also like to thank Shrimati Kamla, President of the Gandhi Memorial Foundation.
We invariably recall Gandhiji’s message, example and teachings through the year, as we are faced with events and choices that leaders and people make, in response to the challenges these events pose.
We also feel, however, the need sometimes to pull ourselves away, even if for a moment, from the sometimes overpowering preoccupation of the daily grind, to rise above the routine, the self, and concentrate on or seek inspiration from the teachings of this great soul, whose life has inspired millions of people across the world.
Gandhiji’s life and example speak for themselves. He believed in the dignity of all human life, as he struggled to win independence for colonised people, but not sacrifice the search for equality and social justice in this pursuit.
He believed in simplicity, and the identification it provided with the common people, as he forsook the transient comforts and pleasures.
He also taught us to stand resolutely against fear, to internalize the importance of truth, to remain steadfast and unprovoked even when faced with brutality and prejudice; and eventually to prevail not through force and imposition, but through winning the hearts and mind, through the persuasive power of will and justice.
The life and work of Gandhiji is also an inspiration for all of us about tolerance and respect for others, their values, their ways of life. Gandhiji believed that intolerance was a form of violence. He had said, "Non-Violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man ...". He also said that “the virtues of mercy, non-violence, love and truth in any man can be truly tested only when they are pitted against ruthlessness, violence, hate and untruth”. He believed in Ahimsa or non-violence as the highest ideal, and that Ahimsa is meant for the brave, never for the cowardly. It is significant that the United Nations General Assembly adopted a Resolution in June 2007 declaring 2nd of October as the “International Day of Non-Violence”.
Gandhiji led by example and it is due to his strong and personal commitment to secularism, truth, non-violence and social reform that modern India has stayed rooted to these values despite pressures and challenges. Whatever he taught, he first subjected to rigorous experimentation on himself.
No wonder, Albert Einstein felt compelled to comment that generations to come will scarce believe that such a being in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.
Pandit Nehru, our first Prime Minister, in a speech broadcast after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, said, “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere…. The light has gone out, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom”.
He gave us a simple way to judge our actions when we are in doubt. I quote Gandhiji’s words: “I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self [ego] becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self [ego] melt away.”
One of Gandhi’s everpresent passions was for civil liberties. He repeatedly said that ‘Civil Liberties are like the water of life and I have never heard of water being diluted’.
Gandhiji’s ideals continue to guide leaders of subsequent generations. Inspired by Gandhi's success with non-violent activism in India’s freedom struggle, Dr. Martin Luther King had visited Gandhiji’s birthplace in 1959. The trip to India affected Dr. King in a profound way, deepening his understanding of non-violent resistance and his commitment to America's struggle for civil rights. In a radio address made on the eve of his departure, Dr. King reflected, "Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of nonviolent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation”.
I would also like to quote President Obama on what he conveyed through his message on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti in 2009 – “Americans owe an enormous measure of gratitude to the Mahatma. His teachings and ideals, shared with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his 1959 pilgrimage to India, transformed American society through our civil rights movement. The America of today has its roots in the India of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent social action movement for Indian independence which he led”.
Gandhiji’s teachings and thoughts remain valid and relevant to all aspects of our national and individual lives. The power of peaceful means to seek justice; the effectiveness of non-violence in countering force; respect for diversity within and between societies; fighting social prejudices and promoting social reforms; conservation of nature; probity in public life; and, simplicity in personal life, are enduring ideas that can help us address many problems of the contemporary world.