Saturday, September 24, 2016

May Peace Be With You

I have sent this across to the editor

The United Nations marks October 2nd as the “International Day of Non-Violence” for a very good reason--it is the birthday of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi, who was born in 1869, led the independence movement that, in 1947, resulted in the creation of two new countries of India and Pakistan and, with that the end of the British Raj as well. The struggle for freedom, in which Gandhi passionately urged his followers to observe non-violence even against the colonizer’s brutal force, inspired many others, including Martin Luther King, Jr.

Life is full of tragic ironies--Gandhi and King, the champions of peace and nonviolence, fell to bullets that were aimed at them. Unlike Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1948, King had not lived long enough to live in the promised land of freedom.

Albert Einstein summed it up best for all of us when he wrote about Gandhi that “generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.” On Gandhi’s birthday, it certainly will help us all to be reminded of, as the UN puts it, the human desire for "a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence."

In the contemporary United States, any talk in the public space about peace and nonviolence is rare anymore. Politicians of all stripes want to prove how much they are tougher than the other, out of a fear of being labeled a wimp otherwise. This has been especially the case since the fateful events on September 11, 2001. At the national level, the “tough” ones smell blood when an opponent does not talk war. At this rate, even those running for the office of a local dog catcher will have to prove their toughness.

Of course, violence is more than merely about engaging in war. The political rhetoric over the past year seems to have been anything but peaceful and nonviolent. A new day begins with attacks on yet another person or group of people, based on whatever cultural trait is deemed to be the “wrong” one for the moment. So much so that even I, as insignificant as one can be in the political landscape, have been a target for those who are seemingly at ease with offensive words and rhetoric!

While words, unlike sticks and stones, do not break bones, the violence conveyed through words causes plenty of harm. In the noise and confusion of the violent rhetoric that surrounds us in the real and cyber worlds, we seem to have lost a fundamental understanding of what it means to be human,. One of Gandhi’s favorite prayers says it all about being human--it is to “feel the pain of others, help those who are in misery.” However, and unfortunately, the overall rhetoric and practice these days is far from that interpretation of humanity.

When it comes to the terrible humanitarian crises, like the situation in Aleppo, in Syria, it is depressingly shocking how quickly we closed ourselves from the “pain of others” and how easily we refuse to “help those who are in misery.” We have refused to budge even when the screens all around us flashed the images of Aylan Kurdi--the toddler who was dead, face down, on a beach--or the five-year old Omran Daqneesh, whose dust and blood covered face looked dazed and confused.

Meanwhile, all around the world, the number of people displaced from their homes continues to increase. The United Nations estimates that by the end of 2015, the number of people who have been forcibly displaced from their homes numbered 65.3 million. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, noted that “at sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.”

As I write this column, peace and nonviolence seem to be evaporating even in Gandhi’s old lands of India and Pakistan. Tension between the two countries is at such high levels that international media and commentators wonder, and worry, whether the neighbors are getting ready for yet another war. As often is the case with these sibling countries, this time too the fight is over Kashmir, but with plenty of nuclear bombs on both sides of the border.

We shall certainly overcome, in the long run. In the meanwhile, on the “International Day of Non-Violence,” like the stereotypical beauty pageant contestant, I too will wish for world peace.


Ramesh said...

Beautiful post superbly written. You've echoed what many of us feel. May I join in wishing for peace.

One of your best written posts.

Anne in Salem said...


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