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Plans announced for Gandhi statue to be erected in London’s Parliament Square

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The Foreign Secretary and Chancellor have announced plans for a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, the inspiration for non-violent civil rights movements around the world, to be erected in Parliament Square.

A monument in a location of symbolic value for our democracy is a fitting tribute to this great man, which will inspire us all to uphold his ideals and teachings ahead of important anniversaries of key moments in his extraordinary life. Gandhi has a particular connection to London, having studied here like so many of the talented young Indians we welcome today.

Our ambition is for the monument to be in place early next year. Once installed, the statue will provide a focal point for commemoration next summer of the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to start the struggle for self-rule, as well as the passing of 70 years since his death in 2018, and the 150th anniversary of his birth in 2019.

The Foreign Secretary and Chancellor made the announcement while visiting Gandhi Smriti, the Gandhi memorial in Delhi, on the second day of their visit to India. The memorial is located on Tees January Marg (30 January Road) at Gandhi’s home and the site of his death on 30 January, 1948.

It is intended that this important monument will be funded by charitable donations and sponsors. The project has the full support of Government, and a special advisory group, led by the UK’s Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid, has been set up to support progress. Philip Jackson, a leading British figurative sculptor, renowned for statues of the Queen Mother and Bomber Command, has been approached to take on this prestigious project.

The memorial will stand alongside those to other international leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.

The Foreign Secretary said:

Gandhi’s view of communal peace and resistance to division, his desire to drive India forward, and his commitment to non-violence left a legacy that is as relevant today as it was during his life.

He remains a towering inspiration and a source of strength. We will honour him with a statue alongside those of other great leaders in Parliament Square.

The Gandhi statue will be the 11th statue to be erected in Parliament Square.

The advisory panel will be chaired by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and amongst others will include: Jo Johnson MP, Head of the Downing Street Policy Unit, Cllr Robert Davis, Deputy-Leader Westminster Council; Sir Edward Lister, Deputy Mayor Policy and Planning GLA, Lord Desai, Lord Bilimoria, Priti Patel MP, the Prime Minister’s Diaspora Champion, and Sandy Nairne, Director of the National Portrait Gallery.

source. GOV.UK

 

Great Political Thinkers on the Daily Politics show

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On Friday 4th July 2014 the Daily Politics show on BBC2 showed a short film on Gandhi and Kingsley Hall as part of their Great Political Thinkers series. The life of the man, who is known as the Father of India, and his role in history is examined by the comedian and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli.

Great political thinkers from history are being cheered by famous faces of today in a series of Daily Politics films.

Reporter Giles Dilnot talks to those who are championing those who are known to historians, but perhaps not to the wider public.

The films are airing on Friday’s Daily Politics – broadcast at lunchtimes on BBC and at midnight on BBC Parliament – which are then on iPlayer for UK viewers for seven days, but the full films can also be seen via the link below.

Some of the contributors then join Andrew Neil in the studio for a debate with his guests of the day to follow up the ideas in their film.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-25265610

An open letter from Gopalkrishna Gandhi following the Indian Election

Narendra Modi. Photo by Bharat N Khokhani [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Narendra Modi. Photo by Bharat N Khokhani [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Dear Prime Minister-designate,

This comes with my hearty felicitations. I mean and say that in utter sincerity, which is not very easy for me to summon, because I am not one of those who wanted to see you reach the high office that you have reached. You know better than anyone else, that while many millions are ecstatic that you will become Prime Minister, many more millions may, in fact, be disturbed, greatly disturbed by it.

Until recently I did not believe those who said you were headed there. But, there you are, seated at the desk at which Jawaharlal Nehru sat, Lal Bahadur Shastri did, and, after a historic struggle against Indira Gandhiʼs Emergency, another Gujarati, Morarji Desai did, as did later, your own political mentor, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Those who did not want you there have to accept the fact that you are there.

Despite all my huge misgivings about your deserving that rare privilege, I respect someone coming from so sharply disadvantaged a community and family as yours, becoming PrimeMinister of India. That fulfils, very quintessentially, the vision of our egalitarian Constitution.

Revisting the idea of desh [country]
When some spoke rashly and derisively of your having been a “ chaiwala [tea person],” I felt sick to my stomach. What a wonderful thing it is, I said to myself, that one who has made and served chai for a living should be able to head the government of India. Far
better bearing a pyala [cup] to many than being a chamcha [spoon] to one.

But, Mr. Modi, with that said, I must move to why your being at Indiaʼs helm disturbs millions of Indians. You know this more clearly than anyone else that in the 2014 election, voters voted, in the main, for Modi or against Modi. It was a case of “Is Narendra Modi the countryʼs best guardian — desh ka rakhvala [looking after the country] — or is he not?” The BJP has won the seats it has because you captured the imagination of 31 per cent of our people (your vote share) as the nationʼs best guardian, in fact, as its saviour. It has also to be noted that 69 per cent of the voters did not see you as their rakhvala . They also disagreed on what, actually, constitutes our desh . And this — the concept of desh — is where, Mr. Modi, the Constitution of India, upon the authority of which you are entering the office of Prime Minister, matters. I urge you to revisit the idea of desh.

Reassuring the minorities
In invoking unity and stability, you have regularly turned to the name and stature of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The Sardar, as you would know, chaired the Constituent Assemblyʼs Committee on Minorities. If the Constitution of India gives crucial guarantees —educational, cultural and religious — to Indiaʼs minorities, Sardar Patel has to be thanked, as do other members of that committee, in particular Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the Christian daughter of Sikh Kapurthala. Adopt, in toto, Mr. Modi, not adapt or modify, dilute or tinker with, the vision of the Constitution on the minorities. You may like to read what the indomitable Sardar said in that committee.

Why is there, in so many, so much fear, that they dare not voice their fears?

It is because when you address rallies, they want to hear a democrat who carries the Peoplehood of India with him, not an Emperor who issues decrees. Reassure the minorities, Mr. Modi, do not patronise them. “Development” is no substitute to security. You spoke of “the Koran in one hand, a laptop in the other,” or words to that effect. That visual did not quite reassure them because of a counter visual that scares them — of a thug masquerading as a Hindu holding a Hindu epicʼs DVD in one hand and a minatory trishul [trident] in the other.

In the olden days, headmasters used to keep a salted cane in one corner of the classroom, visible and scary, as a reminder of his ability to lash the chosen skin. Memories, no more than a few months old, of the riots in Muzaffarnagar which left at least  42 Muslims and 20 Hindus dead and displaced over 50,000 persons, are that salted cane. “Beware, this is what will be done to you!” is not a threat that anyone in a democracy should fear. But that is the message that has entered the dayʼs fears and nightʼs terrors of millions.

It is in your hands, Mr. Modi, to dispel that. You have the authority and the power to do that, the right and the obligation as well. I would like to believe that, overcoming small-minded advice to the contrary, you will dispel that fear.

All religious minorities in India, not just the Muslim, bear scars in their psyche even as Hindus and Sikhs displaced from West Punjab, and Kashmiri Pandits do. There is the fear of a sudden riot caused with real or staged provocation, and then returned with multiplied retribution, targeted very specially on women. Dalits and Adivasis, especially the women, live and relive humiliation and exploitation every minute of their lives. The constant tug of unease because of slights, discrimination, victimisation is de-citizenising, demoralising, dehumanising. Address that tug, Mr. Modi, vocally and visibly and win their trust. You can, by assuring them that you will be the first spokesman for their interests.

No one should have the impudence to speak the monarchist language of uniformism to a republic of pluralism, the vocabulary of “oneness” to an imagination of many-nesses, the grammar of consolidation to a sensibility that thrives in and on its variations. India is a diverse forest. It wants you to nurture the humus that sustains its great variety, not place before it the monochromatic monoculturalism of a political monotheism.

What has been taken as your stand on Article 370 of the Constitution, the old and hackneyed demand for a Uniform Civil Code, the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, and what the media have reported as your statements about “Hindu refugees” in our North and North- West and “Muslim refugees” in our East and North-East, strikes fear, not trust. Mass fear, Mr. Modi, cannot be an attribute of the Republic of India. And, as Prime Minister of India, you are the Republicʼs alter ego.

Indiaʼs minorities are not a segment of India, they are an infusion in the main. Anyone can burn rope to cinder, no one can take the twist out of it. Bharat mata ki jai [victory for mother India], sure, Mr. Modi, but not superseding the compelling urgency of Netaji Subhas Chandra Boseʼs clarion — Jai Hind [long live India] !

A historic win it has been for you, Mr. Modi, for which, once again, congratulations. Let it be followed by a historic innings, which stuns the world by surprises your supporters may not want of you but many more would want to see you unfurl. You are hugely intelligent and will not mind unsolicited but disinterested advice of one from an earlier generation. Requite the applause of your support-base but, equally, redeem the trust of those who have not supported you. When you reconstitute the Minorities Commission, ask the Opposition to give you all the names and accept them without change. And do the same for the panels on Scheduled Castes and Tribes, and Linguistic Minorities. And when it comes to choosing the next Chief Information Commissioner, the next CAG, CVC, go sportingly by the recommendation of the non-government members on the selection committee, as long as it is not partisan. You are strong and can afford such risks.

Addressing the southern deficit
Mr. Modi, there is a southern deficit in your India calculus. The Hindi-belt image of your victory should not tighten itself into a North-South divide. Please appoint a deputy prime minister from the South, who is not a politician at all, but an expert social scientist, ecologist, economist or a demographer. Nehru had Shanmukham Chetty, John Mathai, C.D. Deshmukh and K.L. Rao in his cabinet. They were not Congressmen, not even politicians. Indira Gandhi had S. Chandrashekhar, V.K.R.V. Rao. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the UPA did not make Professor M.S. Swaminathan and Shyam Benegal, both nominated members in the Rajya Sabha, ministers. There is a convention, one may even say, a healthy convention, that nominated members should not be made ministers. But exigencies are exigencies. Professor Nurul Hasan, a nominated member, was one of the best Ministers of Education we have had.

Imperial and ideological exemplars appeal to you. So, be Maharana Pratap in your struggle as you conceive it, but be an Akbar in your repose. Be a Savarkar in your heart, if you must, but be an Ambedkar in your mind. Be an RSS-trained believer in Hindutva in your DNA, if you need to be, but be the Wazir-e-Azam of Hindostan that the 69 per cent who did not vote for you, would want you to be.

With every good wish as you take your place at the helm of our desh,

I am, your fellow-citizen,

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator and diplomat. He was Governor of West Bengal, 2004-2009, and officiating Governor of Bihar, 2005-2006.

Let this historic win be followed by a historic innings, which stuns the world by surprises your supporters may not want of you but many more would want to see you unfurl, writes Gopalkrishna Gandhi.

Disclaimer: 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.
 

Rajkumari Kaur, 1889-1964 – Health minister in Indian cabinet for 10 years after independence
Vallabhbhai Patel, 1875-1950 – Indian congress leader, founding father of India
MS Swaminathan, 1925 – Geneticist and administrator, played key part in Green Revolution
Shyam Benegal, 1934 – Indian director and screenwriter
VK Rao, 1908-1991 – Indian economist
S Chandrasekhar, 1910-1995 – Astrophysicist who emigrated to USA and won 1983 Nobel Prize
K Rao, 1902-86 – Indian engineer who won award
CD Deshmukh, 1896-1982 – First Indian to be Governor of Reserve Bank of India
John Mathai, 1886-1959 – Economist who was India’s first Railway Minister
RK Chetty, 1892-1953 – Lawyer who was India’s first finance minister

Was this Gandhi’s worst decision? By George Paxton

Gandhi in the Boer War

Gandhi in the Boer War

2014 has been chosen by the British Government to commemorate the start of the Great War. The idea strikes me as very odd, unless its aim is to encourage a determined effort to avoid war in the future. But there is little sign of that in the everyday business of government. However the commemoration does give opponents of war the opportunity to present their different approaches and peace organisations are attempting to do that this year. [See www.noglory.org for some events planned]

But what about Gandhi and WWI ? Let’s start with Gandhi’s first experience of war, namely the Anglo-Boer War. Although critical of the treatment of Indians by the white South Africans, he believed at this stage in his development that the influence of the British Empire was generally benign. So, although sympathetic to the Boers, he offered to form an ambulance corps of Indian volunteers to serve in the British army. The corps was 1,100 strong and for 6 weeks it served in the battlefield removing the wounded to field hospitals. Gandhi also felt that this support would improve the standing of the Indians in the eyes of the British. In 1906 fighting broke out between Zulus and the British and this time Gandhi gathered a smaller corps to serve with the British under his command as a sergeant-major. The corps in fact helped to treat Zulus who had either been flogged as a punishment or were ‘friendlies’ who had been shot by mistake. In both cases Gandhi believed that as the SA Indians accepted the protection of the British Empire they should be prepared to defend it when it was under threat.

Leaving South Africa in 1914 for the last time Gandhi called in at London before returning to India but the European war broke out just two days before the ship reached port and so once more he felt called on to establish an ambulance unit, this time made up of Indians in Britain, including many students. Gandhi’s health was poor during his stay but the corps was able to give aid to wounded Indians when they started to arrive from the front although they were not given permission to go to France. In all three cases the Indians led by Gandhi were non-combatants but his actions were now criticised by some of his colleagues and friends. His close friends and colleagues Henry Polak and his wife Millie Graham Polak objected to this support for the war as being inconsistent with ahimsa. Olive Schreiner, the South African writer who knew Gandhi wrote to him saying that she had been “struck to the heart … with sorrow to see that you … had offered to serve the English government in this evil war in any way they might demand of you. Surely you, who would not take up arms even in the cause of your own oppressed people cannot be willing to shed blood in this wicked cause.” [Olive Schreiner by Ruth First and Ann Scott]

The issue of participation in war was to arise more dramatically when he was back in India. The war was not going well for the Allies early in 1918 and the Viceroy hoped to recruit more Indians for the war in Europe. For this purpose he convened a War Conference to which prominent Indians were invited. At first Gandhi thought of boycotting it but then decided to attend. He was persuaded to support recruitment. The argument put forward on the previous occasions still stood. Gandhi always greatly admired bravery – perhaps having been a timid child had something to do with that – and he perceived soldiers as displaying bravery. But he also thought that by supporting Britain now it could lead to the politicians taking a more generous attitude to Indian political aspirations after the war.

Gandhi then threw himself into a recruiting campaign in the Kheda district of Gujarat, significant because only a few months earlier he had launched an anti-tax campaign there. But the villagers could see more clearly than Gandhi. The contradiction in the votary of nonviolence recruiting for a war that had already led to the slaughter of tens of millions of human beings was clear to them and they refused to join up. Not only that but villagers did not greet Gandhi and Vallabhbhai Patel who accompanied him, nor feed them nor provide carts for the journey and so the recruiters often had to walk 20 miles a day. Gandhi now experienced non-cooperation used against himself. His actions were also once again opposed by friends and colleagues including C F Andrews.

The physical and mental strain on Gandhi led to a severe illness that was to last for months. It is clear that there was serious conflict in his mind and Erik Erikson the psychoanalyst attributes his physical collapse at least in part to a nervous breakdown at this time.

By the following year the war had ended but the Government had decided to pass the Rowlatt Acts which were perceived by Indians as oppressive, the very opposite of what Gandhi had expected following his support for the Government. So he launched the first all-India satyagraha and when a peaceful crowd in Amritsar were massacred by the Army his hope for a generous attitude by the Government was finally shattered.

Over the next decade or so Gandhi’s past attitude to war continued to puzzle Western pacifists and some like the noted Dutch pacifist Bart de Ligt and the Russian Vladimir Tchertkov, Tolstoy’s former secretary, argued with him through correspondence. Gandhi gave the reasons for his participation that he had given at the time, reasons that did not satisfy his correspondents. However Gandhi spoke and wrote increasingly strongly against war during the rest of his life. There was still occasional room for confusion over his positions as, although he would not participate in war himself, he knew that most people did not share his belief in nonviolence and so he believed there were circumstances when such people should fight. On the other hand in the 1930s and 40s he advocated only nonviolent resistance against the forces of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. As on other issues Gandhi could be inconsistent, or at least apparently so. But certainly he believed that satyagraha was universally applicable and that was the direction in which humankind should move and ultimately war should be completely replaced by nonviolent action and the willingness to suffer rather than kill.

Below are some quotations from Gandhi which reveal something of his evolving views over the last 30 years of his life, although this did not follow a straight unwavering line but rather a clear direction.

I hear and read many charges of inconsistency about myself.
…. Not only did I offer my services at the time of the Zulu revolt but before that, at the time of the Boer War, and not only did I raise recruits in India during the late war, but I raised an ambulance corps in 1914 in London. If, therefore, I have sinned the cup of my sins is full to the brim. I lost no occasion of serving the Government at all times. Two questions presented themselves to me during all those crises. What was my duty as a citizen of the Empire as I then believed myself to be, and what was my duty as an out-and-out believer in the religion of Ahimsa – nonviolence?
… Under Swaraj of my dream there is no necessity for arms at all. But I do not expect that dream to materialise in its fulness as a result of the present effort. Young India 17/11/1921

I am an uncompromising opponent of violent methods even to serve the noblest causes. Young India 11/12/1924

I should be against compulsory military training in every case and even under a national Government. Young India 24/9/1925

I do justify entire nonviolence, and consider it possible in relation between man and man and nations and nations; but it is not “a resignation from all real fighting against wickedness”. On the contrary, the nonviolence of my conception is a more active and more real fighting against wickedness than retaliation whose very nature is to increase wickedness. Young India 8/10/1925

By enlisting men for ambulance work in South Africa and in England, and recruits for field service in India, I helped not the cause of war, but I helped the institution called the British Empire in whose ultimate beneficial character I then believed. My repugnance to war was as strong as it is today; and I could not then have, and would not have, shouldered a rifle. Young India 5/11/1925

…. But that still does not solve the riddle. If there was a national Government, whilst I should not take any direct part in any war, I can conceive occasions when it would be my duty to vote for the military training of those who wish to take it. For I know that all its members do not believe in nonviolence to the extent I do. It is not possible to make a person or society nonviolent by compulsion.
… But the light within me is steady and clear. There is no escape for any of us save through truth and nonviolence. I know that war is wrong, is an unmitigated evil. I know too that it has to go. I firmly believe that freedom won through bloodshed or fraud is no freedom. Would that all the acts alleged against me were found to be wholly indefensible rather than that by any act nonviolence was held to be compromised or that I was ever thought to be in favour of violence or untruth in any shape or form. Young India 13/9/1928

I would not yield to anyone in my detestation of war. Young India 7/2/1929

Czechoslovakia has a lesson for me and us in India. The Czechs could not have done anything else when they found themselves deserted by their two powerful allies. And yet I have the hardihood to say that, if they had known the use of nonviolence as a weapon for the defence of national honour, they would have faced the whole might of Germany with that of Italy thrown in. They would have spared England and France the humiliation of suing for a peace which was no peace; and to save their honour they would have died to a man without shedding the blood of the robber. I must refuse to think that such heroism, or call it restraint, is beyond human nature. Human nature will only find itself when it fully realises that to be human it has to cease to be beastly or brutal. Harijan 8/10/1938

I do not think that the sufferings of Pastor Niemoeller and others have been in vain. They have preserved their self-respect intact. They have proved that their faith was equal to any suffering. That they have not proved sufficient for melting Herr Hitler’s heart merely shows that it is made of harder stuff than stone. But the hardest metal yields to sufficient heat. Even so must the hardest heart melt before sufficiency of the heat of nonviolence. And there is no limit to the capacity of nonviolence to generate heat.
… Herr Hitler is but one man enjoying no more than the average span of life. He would be a spent force, if he had not the backing of his people. I do not despair of his responding to human suffering even though caused by him. But I must refuse to believe that the Germans as a nation have no heart or markedly less than the other nations of the earth. They will some day or other rebel against their own adored hero. If he does not wake up betimes. And when he or they do, we shall find that the sufferings of the Pastor and his fellow-workers had not a little to do with the awakening. Harijan 7/1/1939

My personal reaction towards this war is one of greater horror than ever before. I was not so disconsolate before as I am today. But the greater horror would prevent me today from becoming the self-appointed recruiting sergeant that I had become during the last war. Harijan 30/9/1939

As against this imagine the state of Europe today if the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the French and the English had all said to Hitler: “You need not make your scientific preparation for destruction. We will meet your violence with nonviolence. You will, therefore be able to destroy our nonviolent army without tanks, battle ships and airships”. It may be retorted that the only difference would be that Hitler would have got without fighting what he gained after a bloody fight. Exactly. The history of Europe would then have been written differently. Possession might (but only might) have been then taken under nonviolent resistance., as it has been taken now after perpetration of untold barbarities. Under nonviolence only those would have been killed who had trained themselves to be killed, if need be, but without killing anyone and without bearing malice towards anybody. I dare say that in that case Europe would have added several inches to its moral stature. And in the end I expect it is the moral worth that will count. All else is dross. Harijan 22/6/1940

Japan is knocking at our gates. What are we to do in a nonviolent way ? If we were a free country, things could be done nonviolently to prevent the Japanese from entering the country. As it is, nonviolent resistance could commence the moment they effected a landing. Thus nonviolent resisters would refuse them any help, even water. For it is no part of their duty to help anyone to steal their country. But if a Japanese has missed his way and was dying of thirst and sought help as a human being, a nonviolent resister, who may not regard anyone as his enemy, would give water to the thirsty one. Suppose the Japanese compel resisters to give them water, the resisters must die in the act of resistance. It is conceivable that they will exterminate all resisters. The underlying belief in such nonviolent resistance is that the aggressor will, in time, be mentally and even physically tired of killing nonviolent resisters. He will begin to search what this new (for him) force is which refuses co-operation without seeking to hurt, and will probably desist from further slaughter. But the resisters may find that the Japanese are utterly heartless and that they do not care how many they kill. The nonviolent resisters will have won the day inasmuch as they will have preferred extermination to submission. Harijan 12/4/1942

George Paxton is a Trustee of the Gandhi Foundation, Editor of the Gandhi Way and an author of several books on Gandhi.

Tony Benn – the Vegetarian

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square. It is being presented by late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony receiving the Lord Parshvanath Award at Trafalgar Square from the late Sudha Mehta and Kumudbhai Mehta

Tony Benn passed away on 14th March 2014 aged 86. Tony had been a vegetarian for many years and was present at the Vegetarian rally held on 22nd July 1990 in Hyde Park. The event had massive media coverage. Many newspapers reported the event titled,’Veggie Benn’. Tony became a vegetarian after his son told him about the colossal use of crops used in feeding animals to produce meat. At the rally Tony said that he felt very healthy as a vegetarian and he opposed animal exploitation as much as he opposes human exploitation. Tony often mentioned that he had met Mahatma Gandhi when he was a child. Gandhi had made a great impact on young Tony which shaped his concern for social justice and inequality. He was also a passionate campaigner for stopping all wars and advocated pacifism. The following quote from Tony shows his concern for animals:

‘The case for animal testing is now being directly challenged by scientists and doctors and their judgement must be taken seriously.’

By Nitin Mehta, who is the founder of the Indian Cultural Centre in Croydon and of the Indian Vegetarian Society.

Disclaimer: 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.

London Discussion Forum on Gandhi and Nonviolence – a view of the last discussion by Robert Fisher

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.

GF London Discussion Forum

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 Fisher

Disclaimer: 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.

Indian Elections and Non-Resident Indian Nationals – What would Gandhi do?

Absentee Ballot campaign march in London, conducted by Pravas Bharat in January 2013

Absentee ballot campaign march in London conducted by Pravas Bharat in October 2012

What would Gandhi do?

If Mahatma Gandhi were alive today and happened to be living abroad he would have fallen foul of the Indian election rule which requires non-resident Indians (NRIs) to be physically present in the constituencies where they are registered to be able to exercise their franchise.

NRIs are allowed to vote in Indian elections, but only if they are present at a polling booth. This is unreasonable and impractical. (Other democracies like the UK, USA, Canada, Germany and Philippines have successfully implemented an absentee ballot system). In today’s globalised world, people move across the globe for higher education, work advancement, knowledge and research, among other things. That should not become a drawback. That shouldn’t be a reason for anyone to be refused his or her voting rights.

Pravasi Bharat, a UK-based activist group that campaigns for an absentee ballot system for NRIs, believes that this is a denial of a fundamental right of NRIs who are temporarily out of India. The group has been protesting this denial through non-violent demonstrations, protests, petitions and most recently, a hunger strike.

Pravasi Bharat believes in the principles and ideologies of Mahatma Gandhi, and expresses its dissent in Gandhian ways. A citizen’s right to exercise his or her vote is one of the keystones of democracy, and what better way to fight for a democratic right than follow the father of the world’s biggest democracy. Each time this group encounters a roadblock, they ask – What would Gandhi do?

“This is our genuine democratic struggle and we will continue our battle in all democratic ways, following the methods shown by Mahatma Gandhi,” says the group’s co-founder Nagendar Chindam.

Pravasi Bharat was founded in 2012, with the group organising an online petition, writing letters and having peaceful demonstrations. One of the group’s demonstrations was held at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Tavistock Square gardens, London. Since then the statue has continued to be a part of Pravasi Bharat’s initiatives, with the groups of people assembling in front of it growing with each event.

Pravasi Bharat first held a demonstration in August 2012, urging the government of India to provide an absentee voting option for NRIs. The group then submitted a petition to the High Commission of India in London. Neither initiative garnered a response from the Indian government.

In October 2012, taking inspiration from Gandhiji’s Salt March, the group organised a London March as a form of protest against the Indian government’s apathy to their request. The march began at the Gandhi statue in Tavistock Square gardens and ended with a non-violent demonstration outside the High Commission of India.

at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Tavistock Square, London

at the Mahatma Gandhi statue in Tavistock Square, London

After another period of silence from the Indian government, the group filed a public interest litigation with the Supreme Court of India in February 2013. Pravasi Bharat’s first victory came when the Supreme Court of India presided by the Chief Justice ordered the Government of India and the Election Commission of India to respond to the matter. As the legal battle continues, the need for an absentee ballot becomes more urgent with the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Having all their attempts to get the Indian government’s attention fail only made Pravasi Bharat seek more inspiration from Gandhi’s life. The group’s chairman went on a three-day hunger strike that ended on January 26, 2014, India’s Republic Day. Nagendar Chindam broke his fast in front of the Gandhi statue at Tavistock Square. A group of NRIs stood with him on the rainy, freezing day, pledging their support to Pravasi Bharat’s cause. This time, the High Commission of India in London noticed, and a meeting was set up with the High Commissioner. The High Commissioner heard the group out and promised to forward their request to the government of India.

As a group that promotes equality and democracy, Pravasi Bharat also campaigns against human right violations. The October 2012 death of NRI Savita Halappanavar in Ireland after being denied a necessary abortion was protested at Tavistock Square gardens in London. Pravasi Bharat wrote to the Irish embassy asking for an amendment in Ireland’s Abortion law. Pravasi Bharat protested the December 2012 fatal gang rape of a medical student in Delhi, India and wrote to the Indian government asking for stricter anti-rape laws. The laws in both countries were eventually amended after similar pressure from various other groups.

As it waits, yet again, for a response from the Indian Government, the group continues its campaign among NRI communities across the globe, asking them to fight for their votes. It believes that most NRIs will vote if an absentee ballot system is made available to them.

“Be the change you want to see” said Gandhiji. Pravasi Bharat takes that very seriously.

Article by Preethi Dumpala

Disclaimer: 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.
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