Today is Gandhi Jayanti – the (142nd) celebration of Mohandas K. Gandhi’s birthday. The United Nations has designated this also as International Day of Non-Violence.
This year I feel his birthday is more relevant than it has been in decades. In the west he is perceived as some kind of Dalai Lama-esque figure who spouted out quotes that Americans love to put on t-shirts and bumper stickers: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind” or “Be the change you want to see in the world.” He energized and led millions of Indians to rise up and throw off the shackles of British rule through non-violent disobedience.
Previously, we had made several attempts to forcibly push the British out, but those like the Indian Rebellion of 1857 ( also known as the Sepoy Mutiny) led to even harsher rule from our colonial masters. It took several decades of speeches, rallies, and protests which also led to many in the freedom movement having to endure beatings, imprisonment, torture, and in some cases death either in violent crackdowns or executions. Eventually, his work led to India’s freedom in 1947.
Many also don’t know how profoundly Gandhi’s philosophies had affected Martin Luther King Jr. It was King’s 1959 visit to India that led him to say “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.” It was these core principles of non-violent civil disobedience that powered the American Civil Right’s Movement in the 1960s. Like Gandhi, King also was martyred by an assassin’s bullet. Both paid the ultimate price to make sure the countries they loved became better places.
Last December the world witnessed the beginning of the “Arab Spring” set off by the Tunisian Revolution ousting longtime dictator Ben Ali. Then Egypt and the fall of Mubarak. Like wildfire, we saw the protests spread to Bahrain, Yemen, Algeria, Jordan, Oman, and Syria just to name a few. Libya’s revolution turned into a civil war, but it seems by and large the protests throughout the Middle East have been mostly non-violent. The spirit of Gandhi’s philosophy and methods are alive and well.
Finally, I hope President Assad of Syria and his cronies realize that the world is watching you and that history will remember you as bullies and cowards. The Syrian people are still out there protesting despite the killings and brutal repression by the state. My heart goes out to them. I hope their nightmare ends soon. Ironically, I can sum this up with one of Gandhi’s quotes: