London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence
The London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence met recently to discuss The Current condition of Women, Feminism and Gandhi. This is a forum to discuss Gandhi and the relevance of his ideals, especially nonviolence, in the contemporary world. Anyone who has an opinion on the subject or has read about Gandhi and wants to share their thoughts is welcome to join. Details of the next discussion forum will be posted on the Gandhi Foundation website, Facebook and Twitter.
I came away from this meeting with a number of thoughts on the subject of violence against women which I have set out below in context with some other factors I see at play in this rather complex area and the environment in which we live. That is not to say violence in any form against women is acceptable.
In order for me to put things into perspective I would prefer to adopt a gender-neutral approach to the subject and consider violence against the person rather than against a man or a woman, albeit in the subject of the rape of women, this is a particularly disturbing crime.
The thing that became very apparent to me, were the economic factors in the equation and in particular the commodification of both men and women in an economic system that places a monitory value on all things, dependent on the various attributes that are assigned to it (him or her). “Conflict minerals” and the rape of women to secure control over mined resources and images of very attractive women being used by corporate institutions to enhance & market their particular brand of electronic device, derived from these same Conflict minerals.
I hope & believe these electronic devices will eventually help protect vulnerable communities and individuals everywhere from all types of harm and particularly the types atrocities we see happening in the Congo now & in other places around the world, which will I hope eventually pass.
I also recall the comment made by the (academic) whose name I do not recall, who sat next to me at meetup and who stated that corruption was endemic throughout Indian society.
Corruption being the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.
In a competitive open market economy the incentive for those in power to maintain unfair advantage over those under their control can only exist for a limited period of time, especially in a world where all are connected by a computer device of one sort or another.
The empowerment of all strata of humanity being achieved through online learning and education is just one factor to consider in this connected global society.
It is the responsibility of the strong & powerful to help protect the weak and vulnerable in society and in this respect I see the all-pervasive concept of mutual self-interest being of fundamental importance.
Further to the subject of the rape of women, it is important that our criminal justice system is fit for purpose in dealing with these matters and from what I heard at meetup, it is not. As I have already mentioned I am working with others to develop a number of legal and financial services, which will help address some of the issues raised above but for the time being I must bide my time.
You work in compliance and you will know the incidents of bribery and corruption within banking and other corporate sectors around the globe. Others who sat at the table at meetup had many of the skills and knowledge necessary to help develop some of the systems needed to address these challenges.
By Robert FisherDisclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The Gandhi Foundation.
Susan Denton-Brown who was Chairperson of the Gandhi Foundation in 2009 sadly died on 28 January 2014.
Her career was teaching Religious Studies in schools. From 2010 she was Chair of the British Friends of Neve Shalom Wahatal Salam (http:/www.oasisofpeaceuk.org), a village where Arabs and Jews live together peacefully and the children are educated in both languages.
Current Chair of the Gandhi Foundation, Mark Hoda, recalls her work preparing a pack on Gandhi for use in schools:
Susan was rightly very proud of this piece of work, which she researched and wrote at Oxford University, through a Farmington Fellowship. Susan also worked with my father and Father Joe Collela to roll out “Dealing With Conflict” teaching packs based on her work with the Neve Shalon project to all schools in this country.
My personal memories of Susan will be that she worked tirelessly and passionately to teach children about nonviolent conflict resolution through both her career and her voluntary work. She was a selfless person with a huge, warm heart, and her hospitality was unrivalled!
Trudy Lewis, friend of Susan, Gandhi Foundation member and one of the organisers of the Summer Gathering said:
There are many adjectives I could use to describe Susan – capable, fiercely intelligent, loving, spiritually deep, a force to be reckoned with and, in essence, an immensely gifted human being.
For information about the teaching resources that Susan created:
A free educational resource pack on Gandhi, designed for school teachers (UK KS3&4), is available in the form of an Adobe PDF file by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and quoting ref. TT186 or click here. Written by Susan, previous Chair of The Gandhi Foundation executive committee, and previously Head of Religious Studies at Tanbridge House School in West Sussex, the resource pack includes six modules which focus on the following aspects of Gandhi’s life and work:
2. Non-violent protest
3. Conflict transformation and mediation
4. Equity in community
5. Environmental issues
6. Exploring spirituality
Each module suggests relevant clips from the movie Gandhi by Richard Attenborough, and then presents a series of exercises for groups and the whole class.
Susan also worked with Mark Hoda’s father, Surur Hoda and Father Joe Collela to roll out “Dealing With Conflict” teaching packs based on her work with the Neve Shalon project to all schools in this country – www.history.org.uk/resources/secondary_news_168.html
The Abbey, in the little village of Sutton Courtenay, Oxfordshire, was again the setting for this year’s Gathering, a week of attempting to live in the style of one of Gandhi’s ashrams whilst allowing a space for discussion into applying his principles to issues faced in the modern world. The building itself is a perfect facilitator for this event, providing several cosy sitting rooms, a kitchen and dining room dating to the 13th century, and a large Great Hall which has windows that open out into the main garden. The grounds give ample space for camping and sports including badminton, as well as a large kitchen garden which provides much of the delicious food for the week! The surrounding countryside also provides several beautiful walks along the river Thames.
Although some rooms are available in the Abbey itself, most Gatherers stay in the guest house annexe, which has the advantage of 20th rather than 13th century plumbing and heating! The braver amongst us, mostly families, camped and this year a camper van was also used for accommodation. Thirty Seven people attended over the first weekend, with people coming and going over the next week.
The premise of Gandhi’s ashram means that a great communal spirit is built up throughout the week, with teams taking turns to help prepare meals and keep communal spaces clean. The kitchen is usually the focal point, where children’s (and adult’s!) baking and craft takes place, as well as some of the most interesting discussions about the year’s theme.
After a help-yourself breakfast, the morning session begins with a brief meditation and sharing of information, then continues into the main discussion topic for the day. There is normally a short introductory presentation followed by discussion in small groups and then feedback. This leads into Shramdana, meaning ‘sharing of one’s time, thought and energy for the welfare of all’ in accordance with the way Gandhi’s ashrams were run. Lunch is eaten and, after a digestion break, craft activities begin later in the afternoon. It was Gandhi’s belief that time should be spent on useful tasks, and this period is used to follow his guidance. Crafts available this year were varied, including collage making, art using dried flowers, crochet and watercolour painting. One particularly interesting activity was spinning thread from a sheep’s fleece: we set up a production line including carding the wool, using the spinning wheel to turn the wool into thread and winding the finished wool into balls (and untangling it!). The spinning wheel was a bit trickier to use than I expected and unfortunately my wool alternated between being much too thick and snapping because it was too thin! After supper Gatherers are invited to contribute to the evening’s entertainment which included animal noises, poetry readings, slideshows and circle dancing. Then meditation and time for sleep before it all begins again in the morning!
The topic for this year’s Gathering was “A World of Limited Resources: Inspirations and Challenges in Sharing the Planet” which attracted many external speakers as well as new participants. This meant that there was often a talk in the afternoon in addition to the morning session. The first of these was given by an architect, Sandra Piesik, who is running a project reviewing renewable resources as construction materials, involving over 120 scientists and professionals. Her talk mainly focussed on developing architecture using palm leaves in the United Arab Emirates, and her efforts to rescue indigenous technology from the extinction imposed by the advent of globalisation and modern building practices. She highlighted the fact that concrete is not always the most suitable building material in every environment on Earth, and that there is a huge untapped source of building materials from the palm leaves from plants used for date production, which are currently wasted in the UAE.
The theme of the first morning session (Sunday) was Sarvodaya. This is a term coined by Gandhi to mean ‘universal uplift’ or ‘progress of all’ and was a fundamental principle of his political philosophy. We discussed some of Gandhi’s other main principles: Swaraj, self-rule; Swadeshi, self-sufficiency; and Satyagraha, “truth force”, Gandhi’s nonviolent resistance strategy.
Monday’s theme was resource depletion: examining the effects of diminishing stocks of non-renewable gas, oil, coal and minerals on the world. We discussed particular industries’ impacts on the earth and its people, and possible substitutes.
Tuesday focussed on climate change and population from a biological perspective, as the talk was given by an ecologist. Human culture has gradually evolved from a hunter-gatherer lifestyle through small scale agriculture to the globalised economy we see today. However, this has occurred in a period of relatively stable climatic conditions for the past 5000 years, which has lulled us into a sense of false security. We were divided into three groups and attempted to answer three questions. The question for my group was: What attributes from our hunter gatherer and agricultural ancestors should we cultivate and which should we reject? We were also asked to talk about steps we could take to reduce our energy usage both on a personal and national/global scale.
Ruth gave a presentation originally aimed at actuaries to show that in the economic world it is vital to take into account risks of climate change and resource depletion.
The World Economic System was Wednesday’s subject. Alan Sloan presented us with a thought-provoking presentation on a potential new economic system based on ecological footprints. Conventional money is not directly related to the material world, and he suggested that if the new currency were based on the resources available from the earth then this would help to solve the resource depletion crises we are currently facing, as well as relieving poverty in the developing world.
Four participants gave presentations on four ‘prophets’ on Thursday. John Muir was an American naturalist whose activism helped to preserve national parks such as Sequoia National Park and the Yosemite Valley. Ishpriya is a Catholic nun who founded the International Satsang Organisation. The Reverend Horace Dammers was the founder of the Lifestyle Movement. Frances Moore Lappé is the author of the bestseller Diet for a Small Planet, which advocated a plant-based diet as being much more conducive to food security.
On Friday we welcomed another guest speaker, a representative of Traidcraft. He gave a presentation on the organisation and their efforts to ensure that workers are paid a fair price for their products.
On the last evening we held a party, which was a sort of variety show with everyone offering their best party pieces. We had old home videos, games, singing, jokes, poetry, a small flute recital and some improvised circle dancing. The evening ended with a small tribute to the victims of the atom bomb in 1945, as it was Nagasaki Day. We went out into the garden and floated tea lights in little paper boats in a large baking tray filled with water, as incense smoke floated up into the night sky. It was a lovely way to end the week, which has been one of the most thought-provoking I have attended.
Report from the Chair for 2011
Over the past year the Foundation has forged some very exciting new partnerships, leading to a series of new events and projects.
Following on from an fascinating presentation by photographer Robert Wallis and anthropologist and campaigner, Felix Padel, on the plight of tribal people in Orissa and Jharkhand at the hands of multinational mining companies, the Gandhi Foundation is supporting an exhibition at SOAS (if you haven’t already done so, please to try and find time to visit it before it closes on 25th June 2011).
Disappearing World Exhibition at SOAS
We can look forward to similarly exciting presentation following this year’s AGM at Kingsley Hall, led by local artist Saif Osmani, on Gandhi in Noakhali. It’s a particularly appropriate time to hold such an event given that this year marks the 40thanniversary of the foundation of Bangladesh.
We are also making good progress in finishing our photographic exhibition on Gandhi, which we will target at schools in Tower Hamlets. I hope to be able to include a lengthy report on how it has inspired numerous children in next year’s annual report.
The Foundation is also funding a mentoring project for Muslim girls at two schools in Tower Hamlets by Mosaic, a charity established by the Prince of Wales.
I hope that both the Noakhali presentation, Mosaic project and schools exhibition will enable The Gandhi Foundation to build stronger links with the local community around Kingsley Hall.
As well as funding Mosaic, the Foundation has funded a two very worthy local projects run by our friends and supporters that promote Gandhian values; a project in Brixton on permaculture, run by Rakesh Bhambri (who brought this fascinating concept to last year’s summer gathering), and a major contribution to the cost of a bus for the Sacred Era School in Ladakh, championed so passionately by our former Secretary, Denise Moll.
Looking ahead, our Summer Gathering theme will be ‘Faith and Sustainability’ and we will be re-visiting St Christopher School, Letchworth, where we had such a good gathering last year. The School’s ethos is very much in keeping with Gandhian values and it’s great to be able to continue our partnership.
Mark Hoda – Chair of The Gandhi Foundation and Jeevika Trust liaison
Mary Mather was a tireless campaigner for the rights of women and disadvantaged people in Britain and abroad. Born in Blackburn, Lancashire, she attended Folkstone county school for girls in Kent and went to study English at Girton College, Cambridge in 1944. She edited the Cambridge University socialist club bulletin. During the holidays she worked as a volunteer at Kingsley Hall in Bromley-by-Bow where she fell under the spell of the Lester sisters, Muriel and Doris, who had founded the community settlement with the aim of bringing people together regardless of class, race or religion.
In 1949 she was appointed lecturer in English at the University of Hong Kong. She had wanted to go to China from a young age, particularly having heard Muriel Lester’s travel stories. Her plans to travel into mainland China were thwarted by the communist revolution. The friendships she formed with her Chinese students and the writer Han Suyin did not endear her to the university authorities. She returned to London in 1953 to live in Canning Town women’s settlement in Plaistow, working in a sugar factory and teaching at the Keir Hardie primary school.
Active in the West Ham Labour Party during the 1950s and 60s, she got to know Elwyn Jones, who was appointed attorney general by Harold Wilson in 1964, and wrote speeches for him. She also ran equal opportunities courses for magistrates, but was turned down as a magistrate herself because MI5 had a file about her leftwing activities in Hong Kong.
In 1960, after another failed attempt to get into China during the Hundred Flowers campaign, she travelled in India with her father and joined Vinoba Bhave and other Gandhians trying to persuade landowners to give some of their land to those who had none (Bhoodan movement).
From 1966 to 1994 she lectured at the South Bank Polytechnic. In West Ham she established the first community relations council in the country, and for many years she ran a club which met twice a week for girls whose parents had recently arrived from the Indian subcontinent. Their crowning glory was a famine lunch where their meeting place, Durning Hall in Forest Gate, was transformed into an Indian Village complete with sand and saris. John Rowley remembers her:
“I met Mary first at a Summer School in the Abbey in the mid 90s. Thereafter, we had a few words at many Gandhi Foundation events and each time I felt an instant rapport with her. She was always quick to smile, ready to banter and very perceptive. I thought of her as a dedicated, radical, academic, practical, social reformer.”
Mary became actively involved with the Gandhi Foundation at the beginning of the new millennium when she suggested we might like to support a group of five villages in Orissa whose inhabitants had been displaced by a dam. She had come across them when she inquired of Bhoodan villages from Vinoba’s time. The GF gave financial support until 2005 when Mary felt that sufficient progress had been made by the villagers for them to no longer need outside help.
Her nephew Ian Mather (whose obituary of Mary in The Guardian supplied much of this appreciation) said of her: “Constantly fascinated by what was going on in the world, yet frequently absent-minded when it came to day-to-day practicalities, she had a unique ability to make people feel special and was adored by family and friends alike”.
With as always (but particularly in our age of 24 hour news coverage) so many negative stories making the headlines is it any wonder that people increasingly feel powerless? Some decide not to get up in the morning whilst others turn to a hedonistic life. Well friends, as many Gandhi followers know, we all have the power and talents to act for the common good of other people, our non-human animal cousins and our beautiful ‘on loan’ planet. To quote Mother Teresa
“We can do no great things but we can do small things with great love”.
So with this in mind I would like to share with you three simple and inexpensive events that Eastbourne Quakers, vegetarians, military personnel, town councillors (including the mayor) and others, many of them complete strangers, have recently been successfully involved in.
i) During National Vegetarian Week last September local Quakers, vegetarians / vegans and friends ran two very successful simple outside vegetarian stalls. Organisations such as Viva!, Animal Aid, The Vegetarian Society, The Vegan Society, and Advocates for Animals, gave us lots of very interesting and colourful information and recipes plus posters and stall banners. Also friendly veggie companies were only too pleased to provide food samples as this is a very good form of marketing for them. We even persuaded a butcher delivering meat to local pubs to try several vegan dishes, he declared them all delicious and apologised for his day job! Buoyed up by our success we decided to repeat this event at a big pre-Christmas Eastbourne Street Party in December. Our local health food shop Sunny Foods offered us the use of part of their premises. The stall was extremely popular gaining us lots of contacts and converts with widespread local press publicity.
ii) Last Spring/Summer we had noticed foie gras on sale at the French Market that visits Eastbourne and many other towns throughout the Spring to Autumn months. Foie gras is produced from the diseased liver of a duck or goose that has been forced fed, causing the liver of the bird to swell up to ten times its normal size. A pipe is inserted down the throat of the bird and pulped maize pumped into their stomachs, frequently resulting in severe injury or death. We therefore decided to try and get the product banned from all council land and premises. It is illegal to produce it in the UK and an increasing number of other countries. Due to the free trade EU regulations however it can be imported from mainland Europe.
We approached Eastbourne Borough Council (EBC) who advised us to write to them with several signatures. On reflection we decided to organise a petition. Within a few days friends, neighbours, sympathetic shop keepers etc. had signed and we presented this in person to EBC. After months of discussion and meetings including providing them with excellent information from animal welfare charities they agreed to debate it at a full Cabinet meeting at the Town Hall on 31st March 2010. Prior to this they had watched a graphic DVD.
Quaker friends attended the Meeting and were amazed at the welcome we received and at the supportive speeches made by council officials and town councillors. Imagine our joy when the vote was taken and the LibDem and Conservative councillors joined forces and voted unanimously for an immediate ban. One councillor regretted that EBC had not already banned it and has now offered to approach trade organisations to influence their members to stop stocking the product at hotels, restaurants and other outlets. We have received a great deal of positive publicity both locally and nationally including a feature in The Herald (2nd and 9th April 2010) the main widely circulated local paper and The Friend the weekly Quaker publication.
iii) Lastly but by no means least a similar group of us in conjunction with the animal welfare charity Animal Aid of Tonbridge agreed to mount a local campaign to enable us to lay a purple poppy wreath in memory of all the millions of innocent non-human animals that have served and died in wars and armed conflicts. Some of us had already visited the beautiful Animals War Memorial in Park Lane central London. This is a powerful and moving tribute to all those brave animals which was unveiled six years ago on the 90th anniversary of the start of WW1.
Our format was broadly similar to our foie gras campaign. EBC agreed in principal to our request to take part in the formal Remembrance Sunday Parade and to lay a purple poppy wreath. However the final decision rested with the Eastbourne Combined Ex-Services Association Wreath Laying Committee. Much to our surprise we started gathering support from many ex-service men and women as well as individual residents and local organisations. These included the local branches of Quaker Concern for Animals; Vegetarian and Vegan Societies; Viva! and Animal Aid plus East Sussex Wildlife Animal Rescue.
Again imagine our delight when in October the Wreath Laying Committee met for the final time before Remembrance Sunday and unanimously voted in favour of us permanently taking part in the official memorial parade with the laying of our purple poppy wreath at its conclusion. Some purists may say that we should not get involved with a military parade but as Quakers say “cooperation is better than conflict”. Once again our campaign produced a lot of good publicity both locally and wider afield. The town centre Sainsbury’s has now granted us the week prior to Remembrance Sunday for selling purple poppies and giving out relevant information.
No doubt many Gandhi friends are involved in similar enterprises to the three examples above. However do please contact myself or the organisations direct (just Google them!) if you care to join any of these particular peaceful campaigns. Good news as well as bad can travel fast nowadays.
You can reach Bill Palethorpe at email@example.com