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4 Oct, 2011

Another 9/11 That Changed the World — But In a Non-Violent Way

Mrs Nagma Malik, Charge d'Affaires, Indian Embassy, Bangkok

Text of speech at event commemorating International Day of Non-Violence at the UN Economic and Social Commission of Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, October 4, 2011

[Editor’s Note: Although the UN Day of Non-Violence is marked on Oct 2, the ceremony was held on Oct 4. Travel Impact Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil was one of the few journalists invited to the event.]


We are gathered here today to commemorate the International Day of Non-Violence; the birth anniversary of an extraordinary and great man – Mahatma Gandhi – who preached, and practiced, non-violent means of struggle for freedom from oppression of all kind. He also led India to freedom leading a mass uprising of a peaceful and non-violent character scarcely seen before then in the world.

In India, we have observed this day for decades as a day of prayer and thanksgiving. But Bapu’s message was not just for India. Nor was it just for the times he lived in. His message – of love and peace, of truth and non-violence, of equality of all people, of harmony between all religions, is a universal message. It is a message for all times, for all societies and for all peoples.

On the 11th of September 1906, a young lawyer, dissatisfied with the idea of mere passive resistance, unveiled the concept of ‘Satyagraha’ in Johannesburg, South Africa. The young Gandhi described satyagraha as ‘a force which is born of truth and love of non-violence”. For him, it was the end of a quest for a moral equivalent of war.

The Satyagraha movement changed the course of history. It first won respect, though limited, for Indians living in South Africa. It then brought freedom to India from the mightiest colonial power of the day.

It went on the serve as a guiding spirit to some remarkable personalities in their own struggles. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa, are some that come to mind.

Nelson Mandela called Gandhi ‘the sacred warrior’, saying that “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 theaters. His strategy of non-cooperation, his assertion that we can be dominated only if we cooperate with our dominators, and his non-violent resistance, inspired anti-colonial and antiracist movements internationally in our century”.

The power of Satyagraha was amply demonstrated in my own country recently, when it was used to start a constructive debate on some key challenges we face. Millions of people all over the country, from all sections of society, joined this debate and conveyed their feelings forcefully and effectively, without resorting to violence.

Several commentators noted that those who began the Arab spring through their non-violent protests in early 2011 were in Gandhi’s camp; they only needed to more completely apply his strategy of active non-cooperation.

There are other ideas of Gandhiji that are also of great relevance today. Gandhiji foreshadowed the worldwide move towards and concern with environmental conservation and sustainable development. Gandhiji famously said “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” In his insistence on living close to nature and on taking from the earth only what is needed and not one bit more, even in his predilection for working on the land with his own hands, Mahatma Gandhi captured the very essence of a sustainable lifestyle. The concern for our environment, that now energizes civil society and governments across the globe, is best articulated by these words.

Gandhiji spoke and wrote on the equality of all religions in general and on Hindu-Muslim unity in particular, promoted vegetarianism, stressed the importance of working with one’s own hands, elevated action above talk; he is known for saying “a pair of hands raised in serving others is worth a thousand heads bowed in prayer”, actively worked for women’s rights, in fact Indian women joined the freedom struggle in their hundreds of thousands in answer to his exhortation and thanks to that early involvement, women continue to play a crucial and visible role in the Indian economic, social and political life today. Thus, many of the causes dear to him are espoused by millions today.

Today, Gandhiji’s message continues to resonate throughout the world, invoked in the furthest lands, providing solace and inspiration to people battling discrimination and intolerance everywhere.

I would like to end with a powerful quote from a world leader who has captured the imagination of people around the world. US President Barack Obama paid his ultimate homage to Mahatma Gandhi during his visit to India last year. In a speech to India’s Members of Parliament in November 2010, he said – Quote – “I am mindful of the fact that I might not be standing before you today, as President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world” – Unquote. President Obama went on to say that he had throughout his life, including in his work on behalf of the urban poor, always found inspiration in the life of Gandhiji and in his simple and profound lesson to BE the change we seek in the world.

I think that is the message that holds true for each of us – “to be the change we want to see”.

We in India are grateful that the international community has declared the day of his birth as the International Day of Non-Violence. I thank the UN, all its agencies, and ESCAP in particular, for helping spread the message of Mahatma.

We are happy to screen today excerpts from a short documentary titled “A Force More Powerful”, about how an American town, Nashville overcame the problem of segregation in the 1960s by using Gandhian methods of non-violence. Nashville’s experience symbolizes the innate resilience of the great democracy of the United States, and I am happy to note the presence of its representative here.

The film is narrated by Ben Kingsley, who is remembered for his portrayal of Gandhi in Richard Attenborough’s epic film. Thank you for joining us today.