Hailing Gandhi as the “Mahatma” (the Great Soul), Tagore wrote a famous song, which marked Gandhi’s journey: “When no one answers your call, walk alone!” Gandhi never had to walk alone. The world followed him. Similarly, in Ukraine, a call to study and discuss Gandhi even before his birthday October 2, was made the International Non-Violence day by the UN, was met with overwhelming response by many Ukrainian intellectuals, activists and media since 2006. I am proud to be part of these events held under the lovely slogan: “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind”. The tradition continues. Irrespective of the fact, whether or not officially celebrated, array of speeches delivered, events reported and Gandhi remembered every year only on this day more than any other day, I think, every year, this day comes to us to analyze, recapitulate and again evaluate the importance of Gandhian ideas rather than the mere persona of Mahatma. In fact, not a day, it’s a week, with Vaclav Havel being born on October 5th and John Lennon on October 9th. The trans-continental meridian for peace and non-violence calling.
I got used to Albert Einstein’s words that, for many years after Gandhi, humanity will continue to wonder that such an individual in flesh and blood really existed and walked among us. But, a decade ago, Russian President Putin, who has not resisted to resort to violence several times, sarcastically remarked “there is no one to talk to after the demise of Mahatma Gandhi”. It sent shockwaves to me. Equally shocking was to hear from my Gambian friend, a Hungarian citizen, resident of Budapest, chairing the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation there, “I was in Ukraine. You know that place in the Carpathians? No, not Beregovo. We call it Bereskas! It was ours. And it still is. Everybody is Hungarian.” And countless such unseen un-Gandhian references made in Gandhi’s name! My polite explanation could help my Gambian friend understand, he regretted the colonial statement. But the global waves of cynicism and violence are beyond our control and dampen the spirit. Domination of bigger powers and colonialism in very different forms is still something that smaller nations have to challenge and address. Smaller economies grapple with crises and face political unrest.
This is especially so, in the wake of populist politicians all over the world. Populists get ready for earning votes, throwing generous promises that will never be fulfilled. PR companies actively engage in supporting them professionally. Nothing wrong. Framework of democracy allows the right to participate to all. And it is here that Gandhi emerges and warns, “The means are as important as the end. Use unfair means to achieve even a good end, and you will pollute the end itself.” However, there are ethical voices. Activists in Ukraine paraphrase this and say, “Think before you vote. Why did we sacrifice more than ten thousands of lives?”, though they know perfectly, there is little room for Gandhism in electoral politics.
No doubt that post-war history in the world is inspired by Gandhi. 65 years ago, the Ukrainian Gandhi, fearless Yevhen Hrytsiak, led the non-violent Norilsk uprising in 1953, calling an end to the infamous Gulag system. Since then, hundreds of Gandhi perished in their non-violent struggle against totalitarianism, while many others could get free and win their battle. The dissidents’ movement was essentially Gandhian in spirit. Even today, we see the same trend is reflected as Oleg Sentsov, Roman Sushchenko and many others suffer political incarceration in Russia.
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Towards the 150th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the world is celebrating, so is the Indian government. Topical has been the cleanliness campaign inside India. Of all the events around the world, the most significant is the one held in Berlin, at the Mauermuseum at Checkpoint Charlie, where a memorial stamp was released. In addition to permanent exhibitions on the division of Germany, Europe and the world, the history of the Wall, the successful escapes from the GDR and the history of NATO since its foundation, there is also a permanent exhibition "From Gandhi to Walesa – Nonviolent Struggle for Human Rights" on display since 1984. The most valuable exhibits are 14 original objects by Mahatma Gandhi, including Gandhi's diary from 1916 and 1917 and a bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi, a gift from the government of India in recognition of the museum’s human rights work. Crossing the Checkpoint Charlie several times in my young days, I could never think that I will see the wall break, take a piece of it as memento and a museum will be there.
Gandhi at Checkpoint Charlie is symbolic of how his philosophy has gone beyond the boundaries of time and space and continues to inspire people around the world. Sitting in Ukraine, I do not cross the checkpoints to occupied parts of East Ukraine or Crimea. But I have my dreams. Perhaps someday, when the political prisoners are freed, and a peaceful resolution allows Ukraine to gain control over her lost territories, the check points in Kherson and Donbas will become such milestones on time, showing the futility of Russia’s aggression and the resilience of the Ukrainian people?
By Mridula Ghosh