60th Anniversary of the Death of Mahatma Gandhi

The Gandhi Development Trust and Satyagraha hosted a commemorative event to mark the 60th Anniversary of the death of Mahatma Gandhi at the Aryan Benevolent Homes (ABH) in Chatsworth on 30 January, 2008. His Excellency Consul General of India to South Africa, Harsh Vardhan Shringla attended the event and delivered an address. We reproduce excerpts of his address below:

Sixty years ago, on this very day, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known to the world as Mahatma Gandhi, died at the hands of a fanatical assassin. Thus, the life of the father of the Indian nation, one of the greatest leaders of the world, an advocate of peace and non violence, was brought to an end. On this auspicious day, to do homage to the memory of this great man, more than anything else, we need to contemplate on the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, what he stood for and what he tried to achieve. 

Earlier today, a day observed in India as 'Martyr's Day', the President of India, Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil paid tribute to Mahatma Gandhi at Mani Bhavan Sangrahlaya, Mumbai on the occasion of his 'Asthi Visarjan' (immersion of ashes). On this occasion, she said, "The life and work of Gandhiji is a lesson about tolerance and respect for humanity. He motivated a whole nation – millions of men and women – to fight and attain freedom on the basis of Satyagraha and non-violence. Gandhiji is the Father of the Nation and a symbol of peace and harmony for the world. Gandhiji's message is universal and the observance of 2nd October as the International Day of Non-Violence by the United Nations is a global tribute to Gandhiji's vision and principles, which are even more relevant today than they were during his lifetime. Let us on this day pledge our commitment to Gandhiji's ideals and philosophy".

Besides the President, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Chairperson of the Indian National Congress Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, his Cabinet colleagues and Leader of the Opposition Mr. L K Advani also offered flowers at the 'samadhi' of the Father of the Nation at Rajghat in New Delhi. An inter-religious prayer meeting was held to mark the death anniversary, where leaders, children, youth and women paid their respects. The three Chiefs of the Armed Forces also paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi and a two-minute silence was observed in his memory. Gandhiji's favourite hymn "Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram", a mellifluous rendering of which we were fortunate to receive this evening from Dr. Veena Lutchman and Mr. Rajesh Lutchman, was also played at the venue. The Gandhi Smriti and Darshan Smriti jointly organised a special all-religion commemorative prayer in memory of the Father of the Nation on the occasion.

Gandhiji was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on January 30, 1948 while he was going to attend a prayer meeting at Birla House in Delhi. Sixty years after he was assassinated, Gandhiji lives on through his ideas and ideals reflected not just in textbooks and speeches but also through his autobiography "The Story of My Experiments with Truth", which continues to sell an incredible 200,000 copies a year. Jitendra Desai, Managing Trustee of the Navajivan Trust, copyright owner of all Gandhiji’s works, stated that “as the world marks his 60th death anniversary hundreds of thousands of people are still buying his autobiography to try and get an understanding of the man who went from becoming Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi to simply the Mahatma – or the great soul. According to Desai, "The love for Gandhi and his ideology has not faded even 60 years after his death. Every year the Navjivan Trust sells about 200,000 copies of his autobiography. His autobiography was a bestseller, is a bestseller and will be a bestseller in the coming years”. The first edition of Gandhi's autobiography was rolled out by the trust in 1927 in Gujarati. It is now available in Assamese, Bengali, English, Hindi, Oriya, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, Urdu and Punjabi. Indian language versions of the 452-page work are offered at Rs.30. The hardbound version costs Rs.120. 

The Consulate General of India is happy to offer copies of the book or a recent DVD on Mahatma Gandhi based on digitalized version of the original footage of Mahatma Gandhi to schools and educational institutions, libraries, and non-profit organizations. The DVD has been produced by the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi.

Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the founder of the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, New York, said he is often asked if Gandhiji's philosophy can be relevant today. His answer, he said, is that a philosophy that is based on Respect, Understanding, Appreciation and Compassion has to be relevant at all times. If we conclude that nonviolence is not relevant today we are saying in effect that the positive attitudes of Respect, Understanding, Appreciation and Compassion are not relevant. If that be so then we cannot claim to be a civilised society.

A few months ago, the United Nations General Assembly declared the 2nd of October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the “International Day of Non-Violence”. The decision was taken through a unanimously adopted resolution initiated by India and co-sponsored by as many as 140 of the 191 Member States of the United Nations. In doing so, the international community resolved to recognise the importance of the resolution of disputes and conflict through non violent means.  A decision you have endorsed by your presence and support this day.

The decision of the UN reflected the universal respect that Mahatma Gandhi commands and the enduring relevance of his humane philosophy. In Gandhiji's own words, “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”. Gandhiji's novel mode of mass mobilisation and non-violent action brought down colonialism, strengthened the roots of popular sovereignty, of civil, political and economic rights. 

Many of us would know that the year 2006 marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of the 'Satyagraha' movement by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa to protest the injustices of the colonial regime at the time. I am not sure how many of us are aware though that this year represents the 100th anniversary of the historic burning of passes as a protest against the draconian pass law, the instrument of discrimination and oppression. This represented the historically first act of peaceful resistance against the colonial regime when Gandhiji led a large mixed group of people to burn the passes, at a public function at the Hamidia Mosque in Johannesburg in 1908. Many other great leaders such as Inkosi Albert Luthuli, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela were inspired by and took to the philosophy of non violence to guide their movements for freedom and justice.

When Gandhiji was ejected from the train in Pietermaritzburg for the colour of his skin, he was in a dilemma about whether to return to India or to fight against the injustice. The world is fortunate that Mahatma Gandhi summoned the will and the determination to fight on. For after all the Hindu Holy scripture, the Bhagwad Gita, states:

“Both the performance and renunciation of action are great.
But of these, the performance of action is greater than its renunciation”.

For from that injustice grew a movement. A movement that shook the edifice of apartheid rule in South Africa and led eventually to the independence of India from colonial rule.  When Mahatma Gandhi was thrown out of the train in Pietermaritzburg, he was not alone.  For his shame and humiliation was felt by the vast majority of people all of the world that at that time lived under one form of domination or the other. What transpired here inspired millions of people, the weak, the oppressed, the downtrodden and the discriminated peoples of the world, to dream of a better future. A future free from colonialism, racism, foreign occupation, alien domination or any other form of subjugation that could be imposed over a people.  A future that assured every man the right to justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. 

More important, it ignited a consciousness of ideals that are universally relevant over time and space. The ideals of truth, non-violence, peace, amity, brotherhood and cooperation. A philosophy that could mobilize the complete commitment of not a few, but thousands and even millions of people to pursue a just cause without any recourse to violence or conflict. Which system or government is resilient enough to be able to continue over a period of time in the face of such mobilization? What leadership confronted with non-cooperation without recourse to violence can indefinitely resist such a moral force? 

What transpired here in South Africa cannot be forgotten. The events that occurred in Pietermaritzburg in 1893, at the Empire Theatre in Johannesburg in 1908, at the Hamidia Mosque a hundred years ago, at the Phoenix Settlement in Durban, and elsewhere in South Africa are today glorious moments in the history of mankind. 

The Indian people have not forgotten, for it is a part of our legacy and our heritage. India was the first country to impose sanctions against the apartheid regime in South Africa. At the United Nations, India was at the forefront of initiatives in the Trusteeship Council designed to bring to an end racial discrimination and colonial rule. It was in recognition of the importance of this historic event that the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh visited Durban in September 2006 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the launch of the Satyagraha movement in South Africa, to pay tribute to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi and those that fought the oppression of an unjust system. His visit was also undertaken in recognition of the close ties of friendship and cooperation that India and South Africa share in the current global, regional and bilateral context. 

Sadly, Mahatma Gandhi was not the only advocate of peaceful resistance to die a violent death.  Inkosi Albert Luthuli and Martin Luther King were also victims of the violence they sought to counter through non violence. These great leaders pursued their beliefs in the face of the strongest opposition to the benefit of all mankind. Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, Chairperson of the Indian National Congress, referred to Gandhiji as “the ultimate touchstone of moral authority”. She said, “At the heart of Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, was his belief – that strength comes from righteousness, not force. Power comes from truth, not might. Victory comes from moral courage not imposed submission. He held that means and ends are inseparable, and that in fact the means themselves shape the ends. He believed unworthy means can never produce worthy ends.”

At the UN in New York, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi participated in a Round Table on Non Violence, along with two distinguished South Africans, Ms. Ela Gandhi and Mr. Ahmad Kathrada, where she stated, “Some question the relevance of Gandhiji’s methods in today’s fast-paced and globally interlinked world, where threats to peace, security and social harmony abound. But the essential validity of Mahatma Gandhi’s truth has not changed, because human nature itself has not changed. As we look around us today, we see violence everywhere 

• Violence against each other reflected in the spread of terrorism, the disturbing emergence of non-state players and our collective failure to move towards comprehensive, universal nuclear disarmament;
• Violence against the poor and the vulnerable, against women and children, caused by social strife and inequities spawned by economic globalization;
• And violence against Planet Earth reflected in man-made, climate changing activities and unsustainable lifestyles.

Even as we are inspired by Mahatma Gandhi's life, let us today affirm our commitment to the Gandhian way, a commitment that is reflected in demonstrable actions and results. Let us strive to adopt his methods to our present day challenges, with earnestness and perseverance”.