By Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor
“Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth.”—Albert Einstein
Mahatma Gandhi, the great spiritual, social and political leader of India, is considered the most revered figure of the 20th century. He is and will remain so because of his message of peace, love and the universal relevance of the principle of nonviolence. In 1964, Thomas Merton, a renowned Trappist monk and author, singled out Gandhi “as a great leader, one of the noblest men of our century, because he was truly and sincerely committed to peace politics. Gandhi’s life was marked by wholeness and wisdom, an integrity and spiritual consistency.” Gandhi was a bridge between humanity and spirituality.
Recognizing his immense contribution to peace and freedom struggles across the world, human rights and novel method of mass mobilization (Satyagraha) to fight oppression, the UN General Assembly on June 15, 2007, designated Oct. 2, Gandhi’s birthday, as the International Day of Nonviolence and it is now observed by 193 member nations.
Gandhi, who led India to achieve its independence through nonviolent means from British Rule in 1947, influenced and inspired many minds and leaders such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Dalai Lama, Cesar E. Chavez, Lech Walesa, Aung San Su Kyi and others who carried their struggles based on the philosophy of nonviolence. His moral and novel methods brought down colonialism, imperialism and dictatorships and strengthened the roots of popular sovereignty of civil, political and economic rights.
Gandhi is regarded as the father of the human rights movement of the 20th century and the patron saint of peace and environmental justice oriented struggles of the modern era. The original phase of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement in the United States got inspiration from Gandhi and used nonviolent tactics in their overall approach.
Though born in India on Oct. 2, 1869, and known as the Father of the Indian Nation, Gandhi really belongs to the whole humanity because of the universality of his message and teachings, which have special significance and relevance in today’s troubled world mired in religious hatred, political division, racial prejudice and human exploitation. Dr. King said of Gandhi: “Gandhi was inevitable. If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”
Though Gandhi’s birthday has now become an international observance, Fresno State has been commemorating his birthday since 1990 with a powerful message of “Stop the Hate, Stop the Violence, Build a Culture of Peace. This year, the 25th anniversary of the Gandhi Memorial Dedication will be observed. In his proclamation, Dr. Joseph I. Castro, president of Fresno State, declared that our campus community will join the world community to honor Mahatma Gandhi on his 146th birthday on Oct. 2 with a candlelight vigil for world peace and through the community celebration that starts at 6:30 p.m. that evening in the Peace Garden.
The celebration at Fresno State includes a garlanding and flower ceremony, a musical tribute, cultural dances, a guided meditation and a pledge against hate. Many community and civic leaders have been invited. Join us to celebrate the life and legacy of Mahatma Gandhi on his 146th birthday. Gandhi is also known as the patron saint of the peace movement and the father of the human rights movement in the 20th century. Admission is free, and parking is relaxed. For more information, call 559-435-2212, 559-862- 9663 or 559-223-4133.
Sudarshan Kapoor is professor emeritus, founder and former director of the Peace and Conflict Studies Program and professor of social work and community development at Fresno State. Dr. Kapoor is the former co-executive editor of Peace & Change, published by the Peace and Justice Studies Association, and the chair of the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.