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.

When Chaplin Met Gandhi educational workshop at Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry Youth Conference

Mulberry School for Girls invited Jim Kenworth to run a When Chaplin Met Gandhi drama workshop at their prestigious Mulberry Youth Conference recently.

Over a decade ago, a group of students concerned about growing tensions around the world and in Britain following September 11th, launched our Youth Conference. The conference has gained a reputation for its challenging discussion and powerful speakers through which students consider the means of becoming active in their communities. We have received the Philip Lawrence Award for excellence in citizenship and a prize in the highly commended category in the Anne Frank Awards. This year’s topic was ‘The Power of Voice’. Alan Rusbridger, Editor of The Guardian, and Lucy-Anne Holmes, founder of the No More Page 3 campaign, were confirmed as speakers.

For more information visit: http://www.mulyouth.org/

The play When Gandhi Met Chaplin by Jim Kenworth was performed in Kingsley Hall (where Gandhi stayed in 1931) and other venues in East London in 2012. The participants were both professional actors and young people from schools in the East End of London. An Education Resource Pack inspired by the meeting of the two famous figures has been produced by Jim Kenworth and the Royal Docks Trust, with some help from the Gandhi Foundation.

You can read more details and access further resources by clicking: http://gandhifoundation.org/2013/11/04/when-chaplin-met-gandhi-school-resource-pack/

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by Rt Hon Vince Cable MP. photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture 2013 was given by
Rt Hon Vince Cable MP
photo courtesy of Prem Prakash & Twisha Chandra

The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation & Skills delivered the Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture in October 2013. The title of his lecture was What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like? You can read the full speech by clicking here.

You can read a review by Robert Fisher and analysis by Antony Copley below.

What Would a Gandhian Business Model Look Like?
By Robert Fisher

At the recent Gandhi Foundation Annual Lecture, The Rt Hon Vince Cable MP spoke of Mahatma Gandhi as one of the three great 20th century political activists who along with Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King brought to the consciousness of humanity some of the injustices that human kind has heaped upon his fellow man/woman.

At the same time reminding us of three 20th Century tyrants who had brought humanity to the depths of evil and despair, Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong who collectively killed millions in their attempts to control the destinies of many with their ill conceived ideological objectives.

And of the legacies of these six individuals, exemplified by the election of Barack Obama as the president of the United States of America, the emergence of India and China as two of the great economic powers in the world and of the recent joint American and Russian intervention in Syria in bringing about the destruction of its chemical weapons.

The legacies of Hitler, Stalin and Mao Zedong are not forgotten, there are still many within global society who would kill with impunity anyone questioning their authority or ideological beliefs.

Whilst Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela have undoubtedly helped to reduce the incidents of institutional racism and colonialism, sexism, ageism, classism etc. still exist and as was stated by Dr Cable, nonviolent direct action by all, wherever these incidents occur, will eventually bring these prejudices and injustices to an end.

It is noted that Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all individuals who fought against their political systems at the time to achieve their moral objectives.

The world of commerce and industry, based on mutual self interest has steadily moved on, perhaps providing some insight as to the way in which finding ways of working together can be more important than seeking to impose one ideological view over another. Politicians around the world will be aware of the impact the Internet has had on the political landscape.

Dr Cable spoke of globalisation, of economics and of ethics and of cultural and subsequent ethical conflicts between those who are the wealth creators in society and some who retain it to create even more money and of the differences between great wealth and deep poverty, inequalities and injustices in society.

Within the bandwidth of ethics that allows for freedom of thought and deed, I believe different and deeper truths and cultural values will emerge as nations converge and collective society moves forward in what I imagine Gandhi’s definition of Sarvodaya to be.

Globalisation, in this digital age, brings with it the hopes and aspirations of many and the potential for all cultures and nation states to collaborate in trying to address the many challenges that face humanity and earth’s subsystems, and the many opportunities in so doing.

Just under 40 years ago the combined intellectual capacity of only a few motivated individuals addressed the challenge of taking humanity to the moon and back.

It is entirely plausible that the combined intellectual capacity of humanity, connected, motivated and focused on addressing the many challenges we undoubtedly will face as we all move forward in eliminating extremes of poverty and injustice in society and the degradation of the natural world will be achieved. Gandhi and those like him have shown the many what only a few can achieve.

True economics, articulated by Vince Cable as social justice, equality and the good of all is not only aspirational it is logical and demonstrable through the concept of mutual self interest.

Whatever our views of capitalism are, laissez-faire or some other form of capitalism, we are part of global economic community and what we do in one part of the world has an impact in another. Dr Cable in his Ministerial capacity in relation to business, innovation and skills will I’m sure be aware of the need of a fine balance between government (regulation, innovation), and economic (stimulation and equilibrium).

Dr Cable spoke of the liberalisation of the Indian economy and of the dismantling of state control of its planning processes and what would have been Gandhi’s opposition in the protection of rural industries. I can see both sides to this argument, in the semi rural community within which I live I am aware of a balance that needs to kept in the development of any economy, local, national or international and of the need to support those whose aspirations are to the husbandry of natural / rural environments (you cannot eat software), and there is much more to true economics than generating GDP through irresponsible planning processes and ill thought through economic stimuli. I believe aesthetics and analysis both to be part of this liberalisation and planning process, soul with pragmatism.

The balance between materialism / consumerism / waste in a world of finite resources and the subsequent impact on global ecology I feel sure concerns the majority of people in society today and as set out in Vince Cable’s view of true economics it will be the innovators, scientists, engineers, businesses, social entrepreneurs who will address these challenges, but perhaps equally as important the spiritual / moral dimension to be included in this equation will determine the society in which we all will eventually live.

Dr Cable then commented on the benefits of the “green revolution” and of the efficiencies gained in multiple cropping, fertilizers etc.

Those cultures who have tilled the land responsibly for centuries will already be aware of nature’s natural and sustainable cycles, the green revolution will be nothing new to them. However irrigation and mobile telephony, in ways as yet to be imagined, will transform their lives forever.

Jevon’s paradox however puts forward the view that efficiencies gained through technological progress in accessing resources, tend to increase the rate of consumption and if this is the case I believe humanity must define and find ways of living within a sustainable global budget.

Vince Cable then went on to elaborate on the meaning of Swadeshi, as self-reliant village communities, independent from their neighbours for vital wants.

All modern communities of which I am aware are reliant on some of their vital resources from others. Within my own village community I can see many benefits in the reduction of waste by providing within its borders a balanced local economy and employment for its residents, whatever their aspirations are. In all transactions going forward there should be benefits, financial, social or environmental, but no transaction should be at the expense of the other, the metrics and algorithm developed to measure impact, an important factor in creating a sustainable and equitable society, wherever it exists.

Community cohesion and social mobility, mentioned by Dr Cable, should mean something different to the emergence of ghettoes in the city of London for highly paid bankers, or traveling miles to get to work because a person in his or her chosen occupation cannot afford to live close to their employment. These are complexities any economic system will have to deal with, but not, I feel, insurmountable.

Personally I can see some merits in Gandhi’s Swadeshi that should be nurtured, valued and protected, however this should be in a local / national /international / mutual self-interest context.

We have seen both positive and negative impacts of outsourcing our industrial and other capabilities since the 1970s to places such as the far-east and the impact of this short term bottom line thinking has had on the manufacturing skills base of the United Kingdom. There are now not enough engineers to rebuild our own critical infrastructures.

There is a comfort in the idea of British critical infrastructure being held in trust on behalf of its population by a British institution, built and managed by British engineers and if the money needed to build it comes from abroad I feel sure, within the concept of mutual self interest, this can be achieved.

Protectionism is not a viable option in modern day society, whichever industry people are in, but perhaps as is the current focus of Dr Cable’s attention in the development of government economic policy it will include joined up thinking in areas such as education, infrastructure, employment and planning.

Dr Cable then went on to state that he saw little merit in British Swadeshi, and in terms of international trade I would agree that the sum of the whole, in an international context, is much greater than its individual parts. However I imagine in line with government policy, localism, the decentralization /devolution of government and the organic development of clusters of various activities at a local level will inevitably provide the international community with significantly more parts to the whole, which perhaps will propel all nations, including the United Kingdom, who adopt the same model, into an age of socioeconomic and environmental equilibrium.

Finally Dr Cable went on to state that he wanted to see businesses in the United Kingdom that were socially responsible to customers, supply chains, workers and to the exchequer, by self regulation, by naming and shaming. I would add, naming and shaming, if it is to be effective in the world of classic capitalism, transparency and accountability must be part of this Process.

It was a good lecture and a shared vision for the future.

Where is the Gandhian Business Model?
by Antony Copley

No Gandhian could disagree with Vince Cable’s interpretation of Gandhi’s approach to economics as far as his lecture went. He stopped short of Gandhi’s late visionary hopes for the Indian economy, one that was to be taken forward by the left Gandhians, J P Narayan and Vinobe Bhave. No doubt, however, it would be naïve to expect a Secretary of State for Business to move beyond the conventional paradigms of the market economy and the overriding importance of economic growth.

Cable led us through a perfectly plausible account of the way Gandhi had to work within the constraints of a colonial economy, rejecting laissez-faire, the imperial policy which of course advantaged British exports, and a nationalist demand for protectionism, the wish of Indian business interests to play a significant role in shaping Congress policy. This would shelter emergent indigenous capitalist growth, a protectionism most strikingly expressed in the doctrine of swadeshi, the clarion cry of the nationalist movement in its outraged rejection of the partition of Bengal in 1905. I’m not sure if Gandhi ever actually endorsed swadeshi, his concern being to protect artisan industry against both foreign and Indian factory production. I think Cable’s may be special pleading in speculating that Gandhi would have gone along with a globalisation that saw Indian handloom products being sold as luxury items abroad. It would be interesting to read his exposition of this in a jointly authored book with Gandhian L C Jain. But one can agree that Gandhi would have rejected the economic nationalism of the Hindutva movement and the BJP, despite their claims that he was one of their own.

And of course he is surely right to argue that Gandhi engaged in this debate not so much as an economist, for he was no expert in this field, but as a moralist. His concerns were ethical. Cable overlooks the profound influence of John Ruskin’s ideas on Gandhi, above all on the sacred nature of work. Here was one reason for Gandhi’s championing of khadi, his high evaluation of the skills of artisan workers through his constructive programme. The relevant concept here is sarvodaya. It was a policy that did indeed look to the self-sufficiency of the village community. This was nothing to do with the highly regressive programme of autarchy pursued by the Axis powers and such latterday totalitarian states as North Korea. Cable, at the end, advocates forms of decentralisation and here he is seemingly on Gandhi’s wavelength. But something much more far reaching than local autonomy is encompassed in Gandhi’s vision.

Maybe this late Gandhian outlook was never coherently expressed, with his life so tragically cut short. The left Gandhians teased out the quasi-socialist implications of Gandhi’s vision of a new social structure which would radiate outwards from the village, inspired by an oceanic, quasi-mystical sense. So Bhave took up a national crusade of land redistribution, the bhoodan movement, though this was to be on a voluntary basis, appealing to landlords to hand over land to the poor. Narayan of course moved into left-wing politics and was a critical figure in challenging Mrs Gandhi’s increasingly autocratic rule that led to the Emergency regime of 1975-77. Sadly, Bhave and Narayan stood on different sides in that crisis. This possibly reflected the ambiguities in Gandhi’s own outlook.

Arguably Gandhi’s late vision represented a new paradigm on how the economy was to based. All along he had opposed the liberal capitalist insistence on growth above all. His was an economic vision of reaching out to abject levels of poverty but seeking no more than the meeting of basic human needs, a view that rejected a merely materialist approach and was inherently ascetic. This was the way of life in his ashrams. Really and truly here lay Gandhi’s new business model and Cable was way off target. Are Gandhi’s panchayats [small elected body governing a village] indeed so irrelevant?

When the banking crisis struck in 2010 many believed this exposed the inherently flawed nature of capitalism and the opportunity to move from its endlessly preached mantra of growth to an entirely new paradigm of a sustainable economy. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, wrote eloquently of the need to respect our environment and not to exploit and abuse its resources. Of course all this was to tap into a long lament on such abuse from Rachel Carson to James Lovelock and many others. All this has taken on a horrible urgency with the recognition of the threat from climate change. A recent article in the New Statesman by Naomi Klein, ‘Science says: Revolt!’ (25-31 October 2013) describes how leading scientists reinforce this search for a new paradigm, the way government see the revolutionary implications of this new paradigm and are trying to suppress the scientists, and the need for direct action. In this context the ideas of Gandhi, far from seeming utopian, have an all too urgent relevance.

The way the Gandhian ashram and panchayat have been brought up to date and prove that they are not pie in the sky is demonstrated in an astonishing experiment in Gandhian-style communitarian living in Andalucia. In 1979 one Sanchez Gordillo was the first elected mayor of the pueblo of Marinaleda, today with but 2,700 citizens. In 1980 he led a hunger strike ‘against hunger’. In 1991 the 1,200 hectare El Humoso farm was taken over by the Marinaleda co-operative. It chose to develop an agriculture which maximised the use of labour and provide much needed employment. It was a rejection of a wheat based economy that used little labour and pursued mere economic efficiency. Profits of the co-operative are used to create ever newer employment. It is an anti-capitalist example which is catching on. Neighbouring Somante has set up its own co-operative on government owned land. Admittedly the Andalucian Workers Union were initially evicted in March 2012 but returned the next day and never left. Here, argues Dan Hancox, is just the kind of new economy that the indignados are seeking. (See his essay ‘Since the Financial Crisis, the Spanish Economy has been on its Knees. But one Village Stood and Fought’, The Observer 20/10/13 and his book The Village Against the World, Verso). Gandhi is certainly one source for Sanchez Gordillo’s visionary new economy. (Others are Jesus Christ, Marx, Lenin, and Che Guevara.) Gandhi’s attitude to labour, the need for both full employment and a shared labour within the community, is brilliantly realised in these two pueblos. It is of course equally a fulfilment of the ideals of Spanish anarchism.

Quite obviously Vince Cable could not have advocated such a radical new paradigm. He has no option but to stick with the mantra of growth. But here is in fact where a truly Gandhian business model lies.

Antony Copley is an honorary Senior Research Fellow at the University of Kent and a Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation
 
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.

Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi

NM

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The death of Nelson Mandela at the age of 95 has moved people all over the world. The outpouring of grief is similar to the one when Mahatma Gandhi died. It is one of those inexplicable quirks of history that both these giants who shaped the modern world started their long march for justice in South Africa. As a young man looking for a better future Gandhi could have found any of the many countries of South and East Africa that he could have settled in as did many Indians in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. But it seems some divine force brought Gandhi to South Africa which at the time epitomized the oppression of a people in their own country in the form of apartheid. It is in South Africa that Gandhi started a struggle against injustice and his experiences there were of immense importance in his strategy to confront the British Raj in India. Gandhiʼs nascent movement for justice in South Africa inspired and galvanized a whole generation of South African freedom fighters like Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Desmond Tutu and many others. After Gandhi departed for India he left his son Manilal back in South Africa to continue the struggle. Manilal was present at a crucial meeting of the ANC in 1949, where he pressed the party to unconditionally adopt nonviolence but with little success. The attitude of the party toward the Gandhian ideal of nonviolence was in subsequent years best summarized by Desmond Tutu. He said: “Gandhi was to influence greatly Martin Luther King Jr., the leading light in the American Civil Rights Movement, as well as the South African National Congress of Nelson Mandela. So many, many people expected our country to go up in flames, enveloped by a catastrophe, a racial bloodbath. It never happened. It never happened because in the struggle against an evil of injustice, ultimately it did not take recourse to violence, and because you and so many others in the international community supported the struggle.” Nelson Mandela wrote a wonderful article for the 3rd January 2000 issue of TIME magazine. The issue celebrated People of the Century. Mandela wrote about one of his teachers: Gandhi. His story was called The Sacred Warrior and shows some of the ways Gandhi influenced him. This is what he wrote: Gandhi dared to exhort nonviolence in a time when the violence of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had exploded on us; he exhorted morality when science, technology and the capitalist order had made it redundant; he replaced self-interest with group interest without minimizing the importance of self. India is Gandhi’s country of birth; South Africa his country of adoption. He was both an Indian and a South African citizen. Both countries contributed to his intellectual and moral genius, and he shaped the liberation movements in both colonial theatres. He was the archetypal anticolonial revolutionary. His strategy of noncooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators and his nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements internationally and in our century. Both Gandhi and I suffered colonial oppression and both of us mobilized our respective peoples against governments that violated our freedoms. The Gandhian influence dominated freedom struggles on the African continent right up to the 1960s because of the power it generated and the unity it forged amongst the apparently powerless. Nonviolence was the official stance of all major African coalitions, and the South African ANC remained implacably opposed to violence for most of its existence. Gandhi remained committed to nonviolence; I followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could but then there came a point in our struggle when the brute force of the oppressor could no longer be countered through passive resistance alone. We founded Unkhonto we Sizwe and added a military dimension to our struggle. Even then we chose sabotage because it did not involve the loss of life and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Militant action became part of the African agenda officially supported by the Organization of African Unity (OAU) following my address to the Pan-African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in 1962, in which I stated, “Force is the only language the imperialists can hear, and no country became free without some sort of violence.” Gandhi himself never ruled out violence absolutely and unreservedly. He conceded the necessity of arms in certain situations. He said, “Where choice is set between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I prefer to use arms in defense of honour rather than remain the vile witness of dishonour …” Violence and nonviolence are not mutually exclusive; it is the predominance of the one or the other that labels a struggle.

Nelson Mandela was indeed a great soul as even though his people suffered so much under the apartheid regime and he himself spent 27 years in jail in conditions that could destroy most people, he was able to forgive the oppressors and establish a rainbow nation of peace and harmony. It is the small and often many insignificant episodes in the lives of great souls that separates them from the rest and here is one such moving incident in the life of Nelson Mandela. In around June 1961 Mandela spent some time in a farm at Liliesleaf in Rivonia a suburb of Johannesburg. His then wife Winnie brought him an old rifle for target practice. One day he shot a sparrow with it and was mortified when the five year old son of a friend rounded on him saying: “Why did you kill that bird? Its mother will be sad”. Mandela said, “My mood immediately shifted from one of pride to shame. I felt this small boy had far greater humanity than I did.” It was an odd sensation for a man who was the leader of a nascent guerilla army. That regret he felt at his action and his willingness to learn from a five year old is the making of a great man. It is a matter of great pride for Indians that Mahatma Gandhi has had such a enormous impact on so many people all over the world. Mahatma Gandhi was able to articulate the glorious heritage of India which had been stifled by invading armies for around a thousand years. Newly independent India also played an active role in bringing freedom to other numerous colonized countries.

Nitin Mehta
8th December 2013
 
 

New Book – M.K.Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man before the Mahatma By Charles DiSalvo

9780520280151_DiSalvoThe new book, M.K. Gandhi, Attorney at Law: The Man before the Mahatma, is the first Gandhi biography of its kind. The author, Charles DiSalvo, uses previously unearthed archival materials to illuminate Gandhi’s unsuccessful court battles to defend Indian rights, his turn to civil disobedience, and his transformation from a shy youth into the confident public person who would lead India to freedom.

 - University of California Press

Here is a link to a feature about the author and what compelled him to write the book: http://law.wvu.edu/disalvo-feature

 

New Book – Ecology Economy by Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar & Jeemol Unni

Ecology Economyecology economy

- Quest for a socially informed connection

By Felix Padel, Ajay Dandekar and Jeemol Unni

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About the book, courtesy of Orient Black Swan:

Ecology, Economy is an elaborate argument to establish society as central in policy-making for holistic development. The book presents cases of the adverse effects of resource utilisation—water, metals, power, land—on Adivasi communities in particular. It presents an overview of the paradoxes inherent in ‘development’ projects, emphasising the drastic drop in the standard of living of rural communities, and the immeasurable damage to India’s ecosystems and resource base.

The authors highlight the tussle between real growth and the rule of law, the informalisation of labour under a neoliberal economy, and current threats to ‘Adivasi Economics’—the little monetised systems based on a long-term symbiosis with the natural environment, based on taking from the ecosystem without intrinsically damaging it.

It asks: what is real development? How can we transform present developmental patterns to achieve a more truly sustainable path towards collective well-being? Is there any politically feasible path out of the multidimensional economic, environmental, social and climate change cataclysms facing us now in India and worldwide? Contrary to seeing dissent as ‘anti-development’, this book puts a face to the people on whom ‘development’ is imposed.

A product of the confluence of anthropology, policy analysis and rural economics, this volume also comes with an extensive Bibliography to lead researchers and every interested reader towards a rich body of work. It will be useful for students and scholars of sociology, economics, anthropology, ecology and environmental studies, development studies, political science, law and international affairs.

Book Review – What Gandhi Says about Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage by Norman Finkelstein

What Gandhi Says about Nonviolence, Resistance and Courage

Norman G Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein at Suffolk University in Massachusetts 2005 by Miguel de Icaza

Norman Finkelstein at Suffolk University in Massachusetts 2005 by Miguel de Icaza

OR Books: New York and London 2012 pp100

$10/£6

Reviewed by Antony Copley

Thinking through how a nonviolent protest might free the West Bank from Israeli occupation led the author to take a close look at Gandhi’s own writings to see just what he did say about nonviolence. One of his complaints is that Gandhi scholars in fact rarely do take a close look at the Collected Works, though surely this is transparently unfair in the case of Anthony Parel and, indeed, our own editor, George Paxton. As one would expect of a close friend of Noam Chomsky a razor-sharp intelligence is brought to bear on those writings. Finkelstein has written extensively on the Israel-Palestine conflict and maybe predictably his major critique of Gandhi’s ideas lies in their ineffectiveness for dealing with Hitler and the Holocaust. But this is a highly sophisticated analysis and is far more ambivalent in the ways it looks at such questions as Gandhi’s consistency and at the psychology underlying these ideas, other historical conflicts, above all the freedom struggle, and this is a measured recommendation for a nonviolent approach at the time of the Arab spring and the Occupy movement.

It is easy enough for Finkelstein to expose Gandhi’s inconsistencies. Gandhi wrote of the hobgoblin of consistency and the author concedes that, for all the apparent contradictions, there were underlying core beliefs: “he probably never consciously lied. ” (p20 ). Finkelstein sees a fatal weakness in Gandhi’s reliance on intuition,his inner voice, and though I don’t wholly see the logic of his conclusion, sees this as bound to lead to authoritarianism: “to doubt Gandhi was to doubt God.” (p23) But then he corrects himself and sees Gandhi’s ideas as less abstract and incoherent and open to rational explication.

The most worrying inconsistency is the way Gandhi wavers between nonviolence and the need in certain circumstances to resort to violence. In some ways the whole play between nonviolence and violence could be recast in terms of courage versus cowardice. Gandhi surely rightly saw it as the highest form of courage to meet violence with nonviolence, even a readiness to die. Finkelstein sees Gandhi taking this to an extreme and encouraging a positive cult of death, almost revelling in the number of those who might lose their lives, say in a communal conflict with Muslims. Nothing was so shameful in his eyes than cowardice. Better to resort to violence than to be cowardly. To quote Finkelstein: “Gandhi’s Collected Works are filled with, on the one hand, scalding condemnations of ersatz nonviolence, and on the other, exhortations to violence if the only other option is craven retreat.” (p35) Gandhi is seen as almost sharing Nietzsche’s contempt for Christian passivity, its turning the other cheek.

Oddly the reason for such concern is staring us in the face. Gandhi’s was surely a response to an imperialist rhetoric which spoke of the lack of manliness, the effeminacy of Indians. The Raj here had the Bengalis in mind in contrast to the Indian martial races. Here was one way the Raj met the challenge of a nationalist movement initially inspired by the Bengalis. In many ways Gandhi had bought into the martial values of the Rajputs. Evidently the charge of effeminacy stung Gandhi and possibly he overcompensated. Of course there are more complex psychoanalytic explorations possible and Gandhi’s complex attitudes to sexuality, evidenced in brahmacharya, inevitably exposes him to such enquiry.

Finkelstein’s real concern is to test the effectiveness of nonviolence. The example he takes is the plight of European Jews in the Holocaust. Gandhi was obviously not alone in floundering before such crimes against humanity. Might he yet appeal to Hitler’s good nature ? Might mass nonviolent passive resistance by the Jews work on the conscience of the Nazis ? Finkelsteins’s argument is that the coercive power of satyagraha, its capacity to change minds, cannot work against a mind set such as the Nazi. They were impervious to such moral pressure. There is no evidence that the sight of millions of Jews being led to the crematoria ‘like lambs to the slaughter house’ had the slightest affect on the conscience of the Nazis. Noncooperation simply would not work in this case. He concludes, somewhat ambiguously, that Gandhi’s own unique moral force could prevail and “this was his great personal triumph, but also his great political failure. The tactic had no generalised value.” (p57) Gandhi himself, to quote his own words, believed “human nature in its essence is open and therefore unfailingly responds to the advances of love.” (quoted p69) Finkelstein does not share this optimism. At this juncture he chooses not to explore the alternative tactic of violent Jewish resistance, both in the camps and ghettoes, a violence of course played up today by Israel itself, gripped by a rhetoric of survival. Nor does he mention Gandhi’s Jewish friends, Polak and Kallenbach, and Kallenbach’s failure to win Gandhi over in the 1930s to a more militant stand.

But then Finkelstein proceeds, along different lines, to try and explain how in fact a coercive nonviolent strategy does work. It is of course controversial to see nonviolence as morally coercive, which Gandhi always denied, for it seems in flat contradiction to its moral nature. A Gandhian strategy will only work, it is argued, if there is some susceptibility in the opponent either to its moral case or, just as probably, to a sense of its being in its own self interest. Finkelstein puts this well: “the thrust of his campaign was clearly to energize a latently sympathetic public via selfsuffering.” (pp61-2) Gandhi might prevail in a temperance campaign, for the Indian public saw the ravages of alcohol, but not against gambling, for here the Indian public were far too committed to gambling for any campaign to work. And of course the classic campaign was the nonviolent freedom struggle itself. But here once again Finkelstein takes a controversial line. He does not believe that it was ‘love power’ that persuaded the British to leave. There was no successful appeal to their moral conscience. Gandhi himself realised that the way to get the British to leave was to make India ungovernable and hence unprofitable. It was not a case of melting British hearts: “instead he set out to coerce them, albeit non-violently, into submission.” “It was not the power of love but the juggernaut of power that cleared the path to India’s independence.” (p78) Of course this is to overlook metropolitan British moral disquiet at the Amritsar massacre and the Christian conscience of the Viceroy, Lord Irwin.

This short, incisive work has to be taken very seriously. In the end Finkelstein, however ambiguous his whole interpretation, seems to come down on Gandhi’s side. He looks at the world today and decides on balance a nonviolent struggle leads to less loss of life than a violent. (cf the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt compared to what happened in Libya.) But does it set the bar of courage too high ? Is it necessarily more ethical than a violent struggle ? (Obviously here he has the Second World War in mind). But he proceeds: “but what can be said with confidence is that the results of violent resistance have at best been mixed.” So just how far will a nonviolent struggle take us ? He argues: “the further along it gets nonviolently, the more likely it is that the new world will be a better one.” (pp79-81)

Finkelstein’s interpretation of the limitations of Gandhism confronting Nazism reminds me of Ernest Gellner’s critique of moral relativism. Confronted by Nazism one has no alternative but to believe in an absolute right and wrong. You cannot in anyway qualify Hitlerism. And the debateover the need for fearlessness, Gandhi’s belief that could the British overcometheir fear of loss of Empire they would happily surrender, reminds me of Aung San Suu Kyi’s belief that could the Army in Burma lose its fear of the loss of power, they would come into line with more progressive policies. It is in Burma that the Gandhian ideal is currently being put most critically to the test.

Antony Copley is Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Kent and Trustee of The Gandhi Foundation

Adivasis Need Speedy and Impartial Justice – An Open Letter

May 6, 2013

To: The Government of India,

Members of the Judiciary and All Citizens,

One of the most disastrous consequences of the strife in the tribal areas of central India is that thousands of adivasi men and women remain imprisoned as under-trials, often many years after being arrested, accused of ‘Naxalite/ Maoist’ offences.

The facts speak for themselves.

In Chhattisgarh, over two thousand adivasis are currently in jail, charged with ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ offences. Many have been imprisoned for over two years without trial. In Jharkhand, an even larger number of adivasis, possibly in excess of five thousand, remain imprisoned as under-trials. The situation is similar in many other states of central and eastern India currently affected by armed conflict between the government and adivasi-linked militant movements, namely Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal. The adivasi undertrial population may run into thousands in each of the states. Assessing the true scale of the problem is inherently difficult, given that none of the police or jail administrations are making comprehensive figures public, even after RTI requests have been filed by concerned citizens. This opacity adds to the injustice.

In each of these states, the adivasi under-trials, and particularly those arrested under special security statutes, face grave common handicaps that obstruct their Constitutional right to a fair, speedy trial, to justice.

One, language barriers. The vast majority of adivasi under-trials speak only adivasi languages, such as Gondi and Halbi. However, few if any courts have official interpreters/translators. This leaves the adivasis unable to communicate directly with the Officers of the Court or otherwise effectively make their case.

Two, the failure, in case after case, for evidentiary material, such as captured arms or explosives, to be promptly submitted in court by the security forces when they first produce the detainees before the Magistrate, as the Magistrate can statutorily direct the security forces to do when they level such serious charges. In the absence of prima facie proof, the grave risk of injustice being done to innocent adivasis is self-evident.

Three, procedural barriers relating to ‘Naxalite/Maoist’ and other security offences. Being charged with such offences, the under-trials are not produced in the courts for lengthy periods. Owing to this, the trial does not proceed for years together.

Four, other procedural barriers. Since under-trials charged with’Naxalite/Maoist’ offences are only held in Central Jails, many of them of them are transferred to jails at a great distance from their homes and families. In Chhattisgarh, for instance, nearly one hundred adivasi under-trials from Bastar have been transferred to Durg or Raipur Central Jails, a distance of over 300 kilometers. The great distance, coupled with the poverty of most adivasis, means that families are unable to regularly visit them or provide them with vital emotional support.

Five, the lack of proper legal defence. Lawyers who visit ‘Naxal/Maoist’ under-trials in Chhattisgarh are photographed by the authorities and their information listed in a separate register, making lawyers reluctant to visit their clients. In any event, many of the adivasi under-trials are dependent on legal-aid lawyers who rarely go to meet the client or seek instructions regarding the case. Often lawyers are careless in their conduct of cases and are amenable to pressures from the police or prosecution.

In addition to the humanitarian imperative, the prolonged failure to provide speedy and impartial justice to these thousands of adivasi under-trials is damaging the prospects for peace in India’s heartland - by leading adivasis to feel that the Indian government does not treat them as full citizens and by intensifying their generalised sense of alienation. It is telling that in the widely publicised “Collector abduction” incidents of Chhattisgarh and Odisha, one of the major demands raised by the insurgents was speedy and fair trial for these thousands of jailed adivasis, accused of being Naxalites/Maoists. Yet, virtually none of the efforts belatedly agreed to by the state governments – such as the ‘High-powered Committee for review of the cases of Adivasi undertrials in Chhattisgarh’, set up in mid-2012 under the aegis of Nirmala Buch, the former top IAS officer - have come to fruition or been acted on to any degree by the concerned governments.

More than anything else, the failure to ensure justice for the adivasis is a grave blot on India’s human rights record. Not only are we as a nation committed to democracy and human rights, but our Constitution provides extensive safeguards and rights to the adivasis that are being violated by not ensuring fair and speedy trials for these thousands of adivasi under-trials.

On every count – whether humanitarian or strategic – it is imperative that this prolonged failure to assure our country’s adivasis of speedy, impartial justice be set right immediately.

Justice is in everyone’s interest.

Hence, we the undersigned, a large group of concerned Indians - including adivasi leaders, jurists and lawyers, and public intellectuals – urge the Union Government, the concerned State Governments, and the Supreme Court to undertake to appoint a special Commission of eminent jurists to oversee dedicated fast-track courts that hear these cases speedily and impartially.

Sincerely,

VR Krishna Iyer, Mahasweta Devi, Swami Agnivesh, Nandita Das, Nitin, Desai, GN Devy, Jean Dreze, Gladson Dungdung, Anand Grover, Ramachandra Guha, Girish Karnad, Manish Kunjam, Harsh Mander, Vinod Mehta, Arvind Netam, Rajinder Sachar, BD Sharma, Nandini Sundar, Father Stan Swamy, Tarun Tejpal, Mukti Prakash Tirkey.

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.

A Publishing House for Adivasi Literature

adivaaniWhy don’t we have an Adivasi voice?”, “Why don’t we have a ‘for and by’ Adivasi publishing house?”, “Where is the authentic Adivasi narrative?” These questions had haunted Ruby Hembrom when she enrolled for a publishing course in Kolkata last year. “While going through a list of publishers and authors, I could not find any Adivasi. While Adivasis have often been written about by others, they have very rarely been authors themselves,” says 35-year-old Hembrom, an Adivasi herself.

So, in July, 2012, after she completed her course, Hembrom, along with two friends — Joy Tudu, 36, an Adivasi social activist in Pakur, Jharkhand, and Luis A Gómes, 46, a Mexican publisher in Kolkata — established Adivaani, a trust that publishes books written by Adivasis. Hembrom looks after the editorial side, Tudu is in charge of marketing and Gómes handles the designing and printing.

Article & photograph courtesy of The Indian Express. Read the full article here

Whose Country is it Anyway? written by Gladson Dungdung is published by Adivaani. See a review of this book by Dr Felix Padel here

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