Friday, August 12, 2022

A virtual celebration of the International Day of Non-Violence 2020

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H.E. Mr. Venu Rajamony, Ambassador of India. Picture by the Embassy of India.

By Sheila Turabaz.

Remembering Mahatma Gandhi and his tireless spirit for bringing about positive change through non-violent resistance.

On the 2nd of October 2020, the Stichting Standbeeld Mahatma Gandhi, with the support of the Embassy of India and the Municipality of The Hague, observed the International Day of Non- Violence, which coincides with Gandhi’s 151st birthday, through broadcasting online a compilation of live and pre-recorded speeches made by various dignitaries, among those a speech was given by the Dutch Minister of Justice & Security, Mr. Ferdinand Grapperhaus, by the newly appointed Mayor of The Hague Mr. Jan Van Zanen and by the Ambassadors of India’s neighbouring countries, Afghanistan H.E. Mr. Mohammad Asif Rahimi
and Bangladesh, H.E. Mr. Riaz Hamidullah.

This year’s modest celebration is a striking difference compared to last year’s celebration at the Peace Palace and the Grote Kerk, which gathered hundreds of people of different nationalities (including many diplomatic representatives and hundreds of school children), who participated in the memorable “Gandhi March for Non-Violence” throughout The Hague.

The message however, remains clear and urgent in the particularly challenging circumstances the world finds itself in. The UN Secretary-General Mr. António Guterres called for a global ceasefire in his annual address to the international community: “On this year’s observance, we have a special duty: stop the fighting to focus on our common enemy: COVID-19. There is only one winner of conflict during a pandemic: the virus itself. As the pandemic took hold, I called for a global ceasefire. Today we need a new push by the international community to make this a reality by the end of this year .”

The Chairman of the Stichting Standbeeld Mahatma Gandhi, Mr. Ram Lakhina reiterated the enduring relevance of the “Ghandian” philosophy and the work of his foundation: “Conflicts are an inevitable part of the human condition. Gandhi taught us that that the best way to resolve conflicts is through dialogue and peaceful means. Our purpose in organizing this program is to create greater awareness in resolving social and political conflicts. The Stichting Standbeeld Mahatma Gandhi was established 30 years ago to highlight Gandhi’s contribution to the world and to create awareness about his philosophy about non-violence resistance against oppression and for social and political change through peaceful means .”

Perhaps the most resonating, personal speech was given by Minister Grapperhaus, who gave this year’s keynote address. He opened his speech by quoting “Across the Universe” released by The Beatles in 1969:

“Jai guru deva om”, (…) this Sanskrit phrase means something like glory to the shining remover of darkness or simply “hail to the divine guru .” If I would sing those words, many of you would recognize them straight away. It is the mantra that is repeated in the Beatles’ song, “Across the Universe .” I am a big fan of the Beatles, and as a 10 year old, I sang along enthusiastically, without knowing what the words meant. It was only until much later that I realized what richness laid behind them. I am not especially religious, but now, 50 years on, I find that the philosophy at the heart of Hinduism largely matches my own world view. The way I approach my work and my outlook on life.

Today is Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday and the International Day of Non-Violence. (…) Freedom is not worth having if it doesn’t include the freedom to make mistakes, so said Gandhi, but he added, significantly, the important thing is to learn from them. I learned about Gandhi’s ideas towards the end of my primary school. I was brought up a Roman Catholic but was always taught to be open to other beliefs. I liked the fact that Gandhi took the same approach. You can only grow as a person, if you put yourself in other people’s shoes. Gandhi was a striking individual. Small, fragile-looking, with those iconic glasses. And the man who brought the British Empire to its knees. He showed that you could defeat a violent oppressor by means of peaceful protest, patience and dialogue. Since his death, the world has changed.

Two countries where Gandhi lived, India and South Africa had been transformed beyond recognition. Europe meanwhile has enjoyed an incredibly long period of peace. The Soviet Union has fallen apart and China has become an economic powerhouse. In most places but not everywhere alas, the world has become undeniably more prosperous, more democratic and more humane. At the same time, we are seeing greater self-assurance among people who although they live in freedom, feel discriminated against, who feel they don’t get a fair chance when they apply for jobs, who feel they are singled out for rougher treatment by the police, who question traditions, and there is growing unease in society, a new polarization, amplified by social media.

Organizing a protest was never so easy, the distance between ordinary people and authority has never been so small. I am curious about how Gandhi would have viewed all of this. Would he have applauded it or condemned it? Would he have been on Twitter? Would he have been described as “woke” or a “snowflake”? In fact, Gandhi is not immune to the upheaval of the modern world. We saw that this year, 72 years after his death when his statue in Amsterdam was dogged with graffiti. This act shocked the Indian community, and not only you. For many Dutch people, the attack on the statue amounted to an attack on the principles of peace and non-violence. (…) Not long after the statue was vandalized, I spoke with members of the Indian community and shared my concerns. Just like Gandhi, a large section of your community has literally come a long way.

The Indian community is one of the best-integrated communities in the country. Partly thanks to your approach in life. Modest, positive and forward- looking. Not looking back with feelings of jealousy and resentment. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye will make the whole world blind. Paradoxically, the incident with the statue shows that Gandhi’s teachings are still alive and well. The outgrow that followed shows how firmly the principles of non- violence is anchored in our society. It also reminds us that we must cherish that principle. And on a special day like today, celebrate it (…) .”

Gandhi statue in Amsterdam.

H.E. Mr. Venu Rajamony, the Ambassador of India, spoke about the many efforts made by the Government of India to promote the message of Mahatma Gandhi, as referred to by the Ambassador as “the Greatest of Apostel of Peace and Non-Violence the world has seen”, through outreach programs and events.

The Ambassador also compared the current global pandemic with the Spanish Flu in 1918, which had severely affected India back then, including Gandhi and his family: “What the Pandemic has taught all of us in today’s world, is how mistaken we have been in neglecting the importance of health. We do not have vaccines, we do not have medicines, we do not have medical equipment in many of our countries while millions and millions of dollars and wealth of all kinds have been wasted on building arms, on building armies, on creating monuments to boost the egos of leaders, while the most important, most basic requirement of health has been neglected by governments all over the world. If Mahatma Gandhi would have been alive this would have been something he would have spoken most loudly about. This was something he held very close to his heart all along.”

Moreover, the Mayor of the Hague, Mr. Jan van Zanen underlined his commitment to preserving the Hague’s reputation as Multicultural City of Peace and Justice: “The Hague has for centuries been a home for people of all the lands. (…) Men and women, believers and non-believers, Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Jews. As Mayor, I want to do to everything in my power to encourage contact between all these different people and groups in the city. (…) Many people are working in The Hague (who are) working to build bridges .”

The Ambassador of Bangladesh, H.E. Mr. Riaz Hamidullah, mentioned the relevance of Gandhi’s philosophy to the contemporary Sustainable Development Goals: “Through all that he spoke about or did, or stood for throughout his life, he actually laboured to in calculating in the mind of the individuals a culture of peace through education, sustainable economic and social development, respect for all human rights, equality between women and men, democratic participation at every possible tier, harmony, tolerance and solidarity.

Last year I had the privilege to be witness to the deliberation on the Culture of Peace Manifesto in New York. They ask every individual anywhere to pledge: “in my daily life, in my family, my work, my community, my country and my region, to respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice. Practice active non-violence, rejecting violence in all its forms. Share my time and material resources, in the spirit of generosity to put an end to exclusion, injustice and political and economic oppression. Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity. I believe this is where Gandhi’s philosophy connects eminently with the 18 Sustainable Development Goals Charter, which all leaders have signed in 2015.”

The newly-accredited Ambassador of Afghanistan, H.E. Mr. Mohammed Asif Rahimi, expressed his strong desire for sustainable peace in Afghanistan through international co-operation and partnerships. Afghanistan is currently facing multiple crises, among those the effects of global warming and climate change, deep-seated terrorism and the COVID-19 pandemic: “Though we are indeed facing multiple drivers of turmoil, all at once in our country and region, above all, our most urgent and important priority is peace. The role of the global community and our international partners and allies will continue to be extremely important, as the delegation of the Government of Afghanistan now negotiates with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar .” (…)

The people of Afghanistan already expressed a clear and urgent priority: a ceasefire. I would like to take this opportunity to call for the help of the international community, to achieve the result of a sovereign, united and democratic Afghanistan. A country that will be at peace with itself in the region, and will be capable to preserve and expand the gains of the last 19 years, and become an example of how unity can overcome the turmoil and uncertainty that defines our world today.”

Following the speech of the Afghan ambassador, the Deputy Mayor of The Hague and the city’s Alderman for Social Affairs, Mr. Bert van Alphen recited a fitting poem about the sense of urgency to respect fellow humans, to preserve the planet, learn about peace instead of violence and to “risk one’s neck for another era and new morals .”

The final part of the event included the inauguration of a Mahatma Gandhi Room at the Faculty of Public Management, Law and Safety of The Hague University of Applied Sciences, adorned with quotes by Gandhi to inspire the students. The initiative was taken by Ms. Elizabeth Betlehem, International Public Management lecturer and Mr. Ram Lakhina.

H.E. Mr. Eric Niehe, former Ambassador of The Netherlands to India offered his closing remarks, thanking the esteemed speakers and the viewers for attending this very first virtual commemoration.

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