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Commemorating the Gandhian Satyagraha centenary

The Indian High Commission in partnership with the Foundation for Co Existence is organising an exhibition to commemorate the centenary anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha campaign which will be held at the National Art Gallery from September 2 to 5.

NON VIOLENCE: The exhibition will feature nearly 350 photographs depicting the different facets of the life of Gandhi, donated by the Gandhi National Museum in New Delhi.

In addition, documentaries and films of Gandhi will be shown at the exhibition. Visitors will also have the opportunity of purchasing many interesting books on Gandhi, non violence and other related subjects.

A unique aspect of this exhibition will be a display of personal belongings of Gandhi such as the plate, cup, spectacles, walking stick and slippers used by him. Thus, this exhibition would provide the ideal opportunity for all Sri Lankans to learn about Mahatma Gandhi and his philosophy.


Mahatma Gandhi

This exhibition came about as a result of the discussions held at the Conference on Peace, Non-Violence and Empowerment, Gandhian Philosophy in the 21st Century, organised by the Indian National Congress held in Delhi from January 29 -30, 2007.

The celebration of the 100th anniversary of Satyagraha was to commemorate the beginning of the Satyagraha movement inaugurated by Mahatma Gandhi in the campaign against the registration of Indians in South Africa in 1896.

The meeting was also to re evaluate and refashion Mahatma Gandhi’s thinking for the 21st century; whether his philosophy of non violence was still relevant to the 21st century, particularly after the events of 9/11, when suicide terrorism became the order of the day.

It was debated whether the concept of Satyagraha and its meaning could be relevant to a world in which terror and violence dominates the realist landscape of power politics and how the principles of Satyagraha can be applied to situations of terrorism and counter terrorism which we now witness in most parts of the world, including in Sri Lanka.

The influence of Gandhi

There is no question that Gandhi had a profound influence in the reshaping of world history. In India, Gandhi was an inspiration for freedom and independence around which the Indian National Congress converged.

He was the spiritual leader of the country. His values of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya, and Self Rule had a profound influence in the struggle against British Imperialism and continue to have an enduring value in India.

Gandhi not only propounded an ideology but lived his talk and focused on the inner self. The totality of Gandhi’s teaching and example inspired millions of people in India and gave pride to its local cultures and traditions.

Through Gandhi, India has been able to find its own centre of gravity and values. To quote from Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India “the ideas that Mahatma Gandhi is remembered for are based on universal ideals”.

Many “isms” battle in our minds, but few succeed in touching our hearts. Many political ideologies have come and gone over the past century, some with doubtful legacies and others with terrible consequences.

The only political philosophy that I believe will remain relevant for as long as humankind seeks peace, peace in our societies, peace between nations and peace with nature, will be the ideas and values we associated with Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi no doubt also had a profound influence in the world. He influenced Nelson Mandela during the early phase of the African National Congress and it was only in the last phase, given the brutality of the Apartheid regime that the ANC resorted to limited forms of violence.

It certainly influenced Archbishop Tutu and a host of others in South Africa and his philosophy of reconciliation determined the final outcome of the solution where Nelson Mandela and De Klerk were able to agree on a non violent transformation.

Pragmatic politics avoided a bloodbath in South Africa. The influence of Gandhi was equally important for Martin Luther King, who through his non violent approach was able to steer the frustrations and anger of the black community into constructive engagement.

Gandhi and his teachings were a primary inspiration in the so called velvet revolution in Eastern Europe against Soviet domination.

Will Gandhi however remain an icon to be adulated and honoured or are there in his teachings and practice, spiritual and social guidance that can be adapted to the requirements of the 21st century? The Marxist doctrine which co-existed with Gandhian philosophy has come to its demise, as prophesied by Mahatma Gandhi.

When Gandhi was confronted with the Bolshevik Revolution, he replied that the Revolution showed great promise in its struggle for equality but suggested that we have to wait 50 years to see the results.

Today, the Soviet Union has collapsed and some of the leading figures in the anti Soviet movement were themselves Gandhians such as Lech Walesa of Poland and V clav Havel of Czechoslovakia.

The question is whether the younger generation and the poor will embrace Gandhian methods in their struggle against oppression and inequity.

Will Gandhi’s values provide a value framework for steering the destiny of our personal goals as well as the nation? The challenge is how Gandhian values can inspire and motivate the youth towards social change.

Significance of Gandhian philosophy to Sri Lanka

Now, it may be the time to reflect on the future of Sri Lanka, in the context of India and the Gandhian movement of Satyagraha.

Sri Lanka received its independence from the British easily and our founding fathers were to a large extent from the westernized elite. Sri Lanka never had a Gandhi, although there were those who were influenced by him.

Our primary source for social change came from the Marxist and Trotskyite Left movement which had its origins in the Bolshevik Revolution.

Then the two major youth insurgencies in the South were also were informed by half baked Marxist discourses coupled with a mixture of populism and with a creed in violence and destruction.

True there were efforts at non-violent protest campaigns and Satyagraha movements such as the early resurgence of Satyagraha by the Tamil National Movement, which were brutally suppressed by the Government of the time.

The non violent and democratic concerns expressed by the Tamil parties were also ignored by increasingly intolerant Sinhalese governments.

In their efforts to redress the injustices committed against the Sinhalese by the British, the Tamils suffered the consequences and were marginalised.

It was then the turn for the Tamil militant movement to take to arms and a creed of violence and intolerance became the hallmark of the militant movement.

Eventually, Tamils started killing each other in a never ending fratricidal war and for the last two decades the country has been torn by violence and all forms of terrorism.

It is only when the citizens in all parts of the country realize the futility of war that an alternative can be found.

The problem in Sri Lanka is not only the war, for the war is only a manifestation of a deeper crisis which is deep rooted. There is a crisis of confidence and no value frame which can unite the entire country.

This requires an alternative vision for Sri Lanka and this requires that citizens are imbued with values of non violence and organize themselves.

In Sri Lanka, we have voters to show their protest through the vote, but thereafter become bystanders. What is required is a citizenship, where people decide that they wish to be an agency of social transformation.

It is hoped that this exhibition would form the base which will provide the necessary inspiration and guidance for such an initiative.

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