Mohandas k. Gandhi (October 2, 1869 – January 30,1948) was born in Asia, educated in Europe, and after a period of political apprenticeship matured in Africa. He never touched the soil of the Americas yet his influence was global and it would be a dim perception to conclude that his life and message was restricted to a few continents.
His impression on the USA is indelible. President Barack Obama stated in India in 2010 that he would not have been President had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the rest of the world.
Martin Luther King who also lived and learnt in India stated in 1955 “Christ gave us the goals…Gandhi gave us the tactics…he influenced my life in terms of action more than anybody”. Cesar Chavez used non-violence strategy to protest the exploitation of California farm workers and showed patience when he stated the rich has money but we have time.
In Canada there are a number of organisations supported by peoples of all races, religions, nationalities and cultures that hold events at least annually to promote the philosophy and practice of non-violence.
Similar acknowledgement of Gandhi’s inspiration in Latin American and the Caribbean may not be so well known but has been documented.
Argentine activist Adolfo Perez Esquivel founder of Serpa (peace and justice) with many branches across Latin America was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1980 for advocating non-violence. Pietro Ameglio Patella from Uruguay translated Gandhi’s SWARAJ into Spanish and the Zapatistas used it as a guide to seek local autonomy from the nation state. The greatest disciple however may have been Guiseppe Lanza Del Vastos (1901 -1981) who lived with Gandhi in Warda, Maharashtra in 1936 and was baptized Shantidas. After the death of his guru he tried to promote the Ashram lifestyle by establishing Community of the Arc. Brazil has a peace organisation called Filhos de Gandhi, and one of that country’s famous teacher and feminist, Maria Lacerda de Moura was a great admirer. Mexico has a chain of bookshops under the name Libererias Gandhi.
After the violent Cuban revolution of 1959 Ernesto Che Guevera visited India where he observed similar problems that caused him to join Fidel Castro, grinding poverty and grossly unfair land distribution. However he understood that India was unique and its non-violent methods to redress social injustice worked because she had Gandhi and an old philosophical heritage both of which was absent in the new world.
GUYANA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Indentured Servants who were sent as labourers from India to replace slaves on the many plantations across Caribbean and Guyana (British Guiana) was one of the Mahatma’s concerns since he observed the treatment meted out to them in South Africa and was involved in the massive anti indentureship campaign waged in India from 1910 to 1917. Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America, has historical and emotional significance as it was the first country in the West where the ships The Whitby and the Hesperus landed on May 5,1838 with 396 workers. Some died while others were born during the journey but this process continued until 1917 after over half a million left from the ports of Calcutta or Madras for the Caribbean and Guyana (British Guiana)
And what did Gandhi do for them?
His emissary was Reverend C. F. Andrews referred to in the movie GANDHI as Charlie. Born in England but his missionary activities in India exposed him to blatant arrogance and racial discrimination against Indians so he immersed himself in the struggle for freedom. He was sent by Gopal Krishna Gokhale to assist Gandhi in South Africa. On their return to India he joined the nationals who vehemently opposed the indentureship system in Natal and Fiji.
Rabindranath Tagore won the noble peace prise for Literature in 1913. He and Reverend Andrews toured Vancouver in 1929 from where the latter left for British Guiana as the guest of the British Guiana East Indian Association formed in 1916 with political objectives similar to the freedom movement in India. The Indian National Congress introduced him as the man who Gandhi considered a younger brother and gave him the name Deena Bandu, friend of the poor. During his three months sojourn he obtained information about the inhumane conditions of some villages and also some that functioned well.
His presence in the country mirrored the treatment and activities of Gandhi in India. The children of Bharat turned out in huge crowds to hear him waiting long hours for him to finish in English and then complying with their request to speak in Hindi making them nostalgic for Mother India. A dinner in his honour would attract over 500 people. The situation he described in his report IMPRESSIONS OF BRITISH GUIANA, 1930 reveals similar problems among the East Indian communities in South Africa, Fiji, and even India some of which bedevil these nations even today.
They include child marriages, illiteracy, non registration of religious marriages resulting in children deemed illegitimate; nominal priests not qualified to raise the moral standards of the society leading to gross superstitions and demoralization; religious conversion, government encouraging missionary work instead of practicing religious neutrality; absence of Indians on the police forces who did not speak or understand Indian language or customs; buildings unfit for human habitation; overcrowded classrooms with few girls while Hindu and Muslim children compelled to say Christian prayers in government aided schools; few Indian teachers in Christian run schools since many refused to change their religion in order to be employed; abundance of rum shops and excessive alcohol consumption unlike the lifestyle of Indians from northern India; non registration of voters particularly East Indian women who could not read not write the form which was only in English; poor race relations.
On the positive side he was impressed with a few leaders there, prominent among them Dr. Jung Bahadur Singh, president of British Guiana East Indian Association, medical practitioner, and member or legislative assembly who had travelled 24 times on ships between India and Guyana and the first Hindu to be cremated there. Andrew’s visit lifted the national consciousness of the people and enabled the few leaders to pursue their goals with greater determination. Many came over from neighbouring Suriname to meet the Mahatma’s best friend in the hope that he could persuade the plantation owners and the authorities to improve the working and living conditions there also. On July 14, 1929 he official opened the Dharam Sala in Georgetown established by Pandit Ramsaroop Maraj in 1921. This is perhaps the longest humanitarian mission in Guyana and possibly the Caribbean.
Reverend Andrews left his mortal body on April 5, 1940 in Calcutta but his balanced remarks are still relevant today. “I am not forgetting that conditions in large over-populated malarial areas in India are even more distressing than those I have found in Guiana. But when people leave their mother country to come abroad and make sacrifices of habit and tradition it should at least be expected as an axiom that the material conditions to which they come, by Immigration, must be superior to those they left behind”.
Recent events have served to remind the world of Gandhi’s insightful perception: TRUTH IS GOD. If mankind had any difficulty with the depth of his thoughts, the words and deeds of a few in the most powerful positions of influence and power has shockingly reminded us of the damage that can be done to well established institutions in any civilization by those who feel that the truth does not matter.
There are many statues of Gandhi all over the globe and more are going up every year yet more must be done to promote his message of truth and non-violence. We can meet this duty by taking his lessons to the children in every classroom in this global village. At the same time we can prove the great Einstein wrong by ensuring that generations to come will never doubt that “such a one as this, ever in flesh and blood, walked upon this earth.”
RAMNARINE SAHADEO (email@example.com) born in Guyana, now a retired lawyer in Canada.
Author: MOHANDAS K GANDHI, thoughts, words, deeds;
EDITOR: the Bhagavad-Gita in English with quotes, comments by Gandhi: (PDF INITIATIATED: GANDHI SCHOLARSHP AT McMaster UNINVERSTY, HAMILTON, ONTARIO, Canada.