Commemorating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, the University of Hyderabad (UoH) organized a one-day international Webinar on “Peace from within to a Global Peace in Gandhian perspective” on August 31, 2020. The webinar was conducted in collaboration with Gandhi-King Foundation, Hyderabad and Gandhi-King Global Initiative, Stanford University, USA.
The event was spread over two sessions: 08 AM to 11 AM consisting of the Inaugural session followed by the first session; and then 06 PM to 08 PM consisting of the second session. Eminent delegates, speakers and scholars from across the world, participating in the webinar emphasized peace as the central principle of life and Gandhian perspective about it. The morning session began with Dr. Prajna Paramita Mishra welcoming the guests. Then the inaugural session, presided over by Prof. Appa Rao Podile, Vice Chancellor, UoH, began with the welcome address by Prof. Shiv Kumar, Director, Office of International Affairs, UoH and webinar coordinator, which was followed by explaining the webinar’s objectives by Prof. Naresh Kumar Sharma, also webinar coordinator.
Prof. Prasad Gollanapalli, the Managing Trustee of Gandhi-King Foundation, Hyderabad addressing the webinar, explained about the relevance of Gandhian philosophy in today’s world. A Gandhian scholar, he has spent around four decades spreading the peace and non-violence dialogue around the world through Gandhian ideology. “We selected the theme peace for our today’s discussion in order to explore on how Gandhian philosophy can help an individual to develop peace within themselves, in their family, in the society, in the country and then in the whole world. Unless we change ourselves, we cannot change the world. It has to start with us.”
We have a long way to go, he said adding, “There is violence in the food we eat, violence in the clothes we wear, violence in the words we use, violence in our deeds. So, first we need to work on ourselves and stop cultivating violence in ourselves, in our children who grow up playing with toy machine guns.”
The keynote address was delivered by Professor Clayborne Carson, Director, The Martin Luther King Jr Research and Education Institute, Stanford University, USA. “Whenever students ask me that what is the one thing that they can learn from King’s ideologies, I ask them to read Martin Luther King’s last book, “Where do we go from here?” We haven’t answered his question. Ask yourself the same question, try to get the answer.”
He added, “King was 19 when Gandhi got assassinated. Gandhian philosophy of ‘non-violence’ had a great influence on King and he thought that non-violence was the most potent weapon. King saw non-violence as an expression of love and peace for all.”
Emphasizing on the need for global conversations to work for establishing global peace based on Gandhian and King’s philosophy, Prof Carson suggested, “We should have specific courses dealing with the history and philosophies of Gandhi and King in the universities for higher education. We can bring together the historical and technological knowledge to train individuals about the non-violence and perseverance.”
Appreciating the idea of proposing Gandhian philosophy for global peace, Dr Sriram Sonty said, “I am very much transformed by what happened to Mahatma Gandhi on June 07, 1893. During the world wars 1 and 2, Gandhi’s presence was not well recognized. But after a particular incident in South Africa, the third fourth and fifth world war were avoided, because of his alternate philosophy of coming to the table and discuss the issues. Thus, we need to bring back Gandhian philosophy in life and politics both at the same time.”
In his Presidential address to the webinar, Professor Appa Rao Podile, Vice Chancellor, UoH mentioned, “Ministry of Education, Government of India has been very keen to organize various events for celebrating 150 years of the Mahatma Gandhi and the webinar was an effort in the that direction from University of Hyderabad’s end. When it comes to establishing peace in today’s world, I think, it is an uphill task to unite the society that has ramified. It is certainly not easy to bring it back to the non-violence days and promote peace in the society.” Prof. Appa Rao also welcomed the suggestion given by Prof. Carson on introducing courses to educate youth on values for life. He observed that although the society may have moved away from the ideals of Gandhi, we must be prepared to make efforts to bring it back together even though it is an uphill task.
Later in the webinar, Prof Anamik Shah, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, highlighted the principles on which Gandhi founded Gandhi Vidyapeeth in the year 1920. “I think, world peace is a very relevant subject for today. Gujarat Vidhyapeeth is a very different university in comparison to other universities. We silently practice Gandhian activism with the truth and non-violence. Peace in terms of all round well being and in terms of shared prosperity and ahimsa is the central idea of our university.” The inaugural session concluded with a vote of thanks proposed by Prof. Phanindra Goyari.
Thereafter, the first session, chaired by Prof. Prasad Gollanapalli, began with a talk by Prof. Paul Bueno de Mesquita, Director, Centre for Peace & Nonviolence Studies, University of Rhode Island, USA, who detailed the story of intellectual inner journey of Dr. King to peace, and its relevance to today’s world. “There is a great link between Gandhi and Dr King. Dr King himself reported that Gandhi had a great influence on him. Dr King believed that peace begins from within. Internalization of non-violence is important but another important thing is to learn and live with these principles by heart. He also believed that non-violence is meaningless unless manifested in an active outward expression.” He dwelt upon King’s pilgrimage to non-violence, and the impact of Gandhian concepts of Ahimsa and Satyagraha. Outlining the six principles laid out by King in his struggle for black rights, Prof. Mesquita concluded by highlighting the importance that King gave to educating the masses about non-violence.
Dr. Sarada Purna Sonty, who spoke after Prof. Mesquita, gave useful insights into how Bapu weaved his ideology with respect, peace, non-violence, truth and love. She observed that even after 100 years, Bapu stands as a lighthouse for those wishing to lead rewarding and purposeful lives even during challenging times like today. Drawing parallels between Bapu’s day and age and today’s times, she emphasized the importance of Mahatma’s teachings to today’s youth. Relating the relevance of Bapu’s literary works, she explained how every word was used purposefully by Bapu to bring about social transformation. She ended her talk by calling for greater collaborative efforts to act as “connecting tissues”, so that the next generation could imbibe the Gandhian values.
Prof. Michael Honey, University of Washington Tacoma, began his talk with a song on freedom, before talking about the ideas of Martin Luther King Jr. and James Lawson. The latter spoke of 4 practical principles of non-violence, which are similar to those given by King. He then stressed on the importance of linking different movements across the space and time so that the ends of equality and liberty could be achieved through peaceful methods.
Prof. David Kirschbaum, Director, Non-violence International explained the origins of Satyagraha and Ahimsa in the very nature of the self, before quoting Gandhi on the basis of Swaraj in self-reliance and self-sufficiency. The final principle advocated by Bapu, Sarvodaya is rooted in the welfare of all instead of profits and big business, Prof. Kirshbaum said.
Continuing after Prof. Kirshbaum, Prof. Isao Takagi, Soka University, related the relevance of the Bodhisattva concept to world peace, and how it blends very well with Gandhian works. He quoted from the works of the Japanese philosopher Dr. Daisaku Ikeda, who related the two approaches to peace through four concepts, namely optimism, gradualist activism, paternal populism and holistic vision. Having faith in humanity to uphold non-violence and justice and a spiritual practice wherein one practices humanity as the only religion, are central to the concept of Bodhisattva, he said. Pursuing value creation only for advancing the goal of peace, dependent coexistence of all beings, creative coexistence and sustainability could enable the world to natural well-being through the path of Bodhisattva.
Prof. Prasad Gollanapalli made his concluding remarks. Prof. Debashis Acharya proposed a vote of thanks.
The evening session of the webinar began at 6 P.M with Prof. Naresh Kumar Sharma, welcoming the speakers and the participants. Prof. Raja Shekar Bellamkonda, Pro Vice-Chancellor of the university, presided over the session.
The session brought the insights of five international speakers working on bringing global peace and the relevance of Gandhi’s principles in achieving it. The five speakers included Dr. Wendy Sternberg, Founder & Executive Director of Genesis at the Crossroads, Chicago, USA; Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh Director at Biblical Apostolate – Claretians, Cameroon; Prof. Carl Kline from Satyagraha Institute in South Dakota, USA; Mr. Michael Beer from Nonviolence International, Washington DC, USA; and Dr. Seema Rohmetra from Jammu University.
The first speaker, Dr. Wendy Sternberg spoke on the need for managing emotions to be peaceful. Drawing parallels with her experiences in the medical field, she drew attention to the need to centre oneself to have a chance to deal with the division and vitriol presently rampant in the world. Noting that Gandhi’s message needs to be viewed in local and global contexts, she further spoke regarding the importance the Mahatma gave to assisting the youth in their overall growth and promoting leadership. She emphasised on the role of tools that equip one to centre one’s own self, gather strengths and maintain composure, so as to be able to deal with any adversity with a calm mind. She highlighted mediating, engaging in physical activity, artistic expression, writing as a medium of expression, spending time with nature, and cultivating humour as tools for achieving inner peace and for readying ourselves to travel on the Gandhian path.
Prof. Carl Kline spoke on the need to enrich one’s inner life. He began his talk with his experiences during his trip to India in the 1970s to explore Gandhian philosophy. He said, “The biggest lesson during this trip has been that non-violence was not an action but in fact, a way of life.” He quoted Gandhi from Young India on the importance of prayer from the heart in promoting peace. He further noted the significance of silence, the act of envisioning one’s adversary as a partner and also exploring one’s limits. Prof. Kline observed that Bapu worked throughout his life with his inner voice as his core substance. He then narrated an incident from his experiences in India, wherein a notorious landlord in rural India could be persuaded to offer several acres to landless workers by talking to him about the soul. He noted that this incident proves the vitality of the soul in establishing peace. He elaborated on some of the techniques followed in his university to achieve inner life. “How to increase the depth of our inner life’, this has to be our search,” he added.
Michael Beer spoke of developing mindfulness to achieve mental peace, engaging in non-violent communication and using power to attain peace without hurting others as the skill set needed to lead a peaceful life. He stressed the need to prioritize constructive methods of promoting well-being over others and harnessing energy towards building inner peace, and eliminating poverty, nuclear weapons and human rights abuse.
Dr. Seema Rohmetra presented a paper titled “Gandhian philosophy of non-violence: The only way of life”. She began her presentation by differentiating positive and negative approaches to peace and pointed out that the present COVID-19 pandemic is a wakeup call to humanity that somewhere, we have gone wrong in our lifestyle. In this context, Gandhian philosophy of non-violence is the only way of peace, she said. Noting how Gandhi prioritized the spiritual journey over the physical self, she contrasted Bapu’s works with those of economists wherein economic structures and institutions are given centrality. Gandhi’s struggle against materialism, greed and his restraint on pleasures formed the core of her talk. She quoted Gandhi and said, “There is no end for human greed.” In her presentation, she also highlighted Gandhi’s means of Satyagraha. She also dwelt on the need to recognize the innate interconnectedness of the world and to develop unconditional love towards all. She concluded her presentation by distinguishing the Mahatma from other reformists, wherein Gandhi is the only one to advocate the role Dharma or righteousness as the basis of life. In consonance with the other speakers of the evening, she said, “A non-violent approach will entail global peace.”
Fr. Jude Thaddeus Langeh, who has done extensive work on Gandhi’s relevance in Africa, reiterated that “Africa needs Gandhi”. Recalling the African roots of Gandhi’s societal work, he emphasized the importance of invoking the principles of Satyagraha, Sarvodaya and Ahimsa in the conflict-ridden Africa of the present times. He drew the attention of the participants to how the Sustainable Development Goals propagated by the United Nations were advocated by Gandhi through constructive programs. He concluded by calling for efforts to relive Gandhian philosophy in the world in general, and in Africa in particular.
In his comments, Prof. Prasad from the Gandhi King Foundation, Hyderabad, reminded everyone that it is high time to import Gandhi’s relevance back to India. Highlighting the importance of reviving the Gandhian legacy in India, he, also urged to take this as an opportunity to further spread Gandhian values in the country.
Prof. Raja Shekhar, the Chair of the session, succinctly summarized the proceedings. He said, in closing remarks, that, “Not just Africa but the world needs Gandhi.”
Prof. Naresh Kumar Sharma, a Coordinator of the Webinar, proposed the vote of thanks.
Contributed by Soumya Sharma & Nimisha S Pradeep from Dept. of Communication and Erra Kamal Sai Sadharma & Sourav Mahanty from the School of Economics.