By Nereshnee Govender

The Satyagraha Centenary International Conference on “Globalization of the Gandhian Way: Sociology, Politics and Science of Satyagraha” was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University(JNU)  in New  Delhi from the 13th to 16th November and in the village Bithiharwa in the Champaran district of Bihar from the 17 to 19 November.

Bithiharwa is the place where Gandhiji lived with his wife Kasturba for more than six months. Conference convener Professor Anand Kumar said, “It was here that Gandhi built an ashram amidst the atrocities of the White indigo planters and fought for the rights of the peasants. It is the village where the first set of satyagrahis were trained on the Indian soil by Gandhiji.”

Delegates from seventeen countries, including Pakistan, Nepal, Bangaldesh, South Africa, Iran, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Ukraine and United States participated in the seven day conference. The event was an interface between practitioners of Satyagraha and analysts.

The conference was inaugurated by Tibetan spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His Holiness spoke about the importance of implementing the concept of ahimsa. In his opening address the Dalai Lama said, "India must export Ahimsa (non-violence) in political field and religious harmony more to the outside world. I think the world really needs that." He said he admired Gandhi for using ahimsa in the political struggle and expressed his pleasure over the young people taking an interest in Gandhian philosophy.

A special essay by JNU Chancellor Yash Pal was presented to the Dalai Lama. His Holiness was also tasked with the giving away of prizes to the winners of Satyagraha Essay Competition and also released a book of the Eight Best Essays. The purpose of the essay competition was to spread the concept of Satyagraha among the Indian youth.

Professor Kumar said, “Dalai Lama is one of the living examples in the present day world who symbolizes altruism, love and compassion. He is one of the great teachers of non-violence and Satyagraha. Gandhi’s life inspired him greatly. He is tirelessly making efforts to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and we are thankful to him for accommodating this event in his schedule.”

Many dignitaries attended the conference including social activist Medha Patkar, Rajendra Singh and Gandhi Peace Foundation President Radha Bhatt. Student leaders of various organisations also addressed the gathering. Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, Chairman of Council of Ministers of Tibetan Government in Exile, presented a special lecture on Satyagraha. Rinpoche a passionate Gandhian was presented with a poster of the Burmese Nobel Laureate Aung San Su Kyi by a Burmese Satyagrahi.

Professor Kumar said that Gandhiji showed the world that non violence was an effective mechanism to deal with oppression. In outlining the aims of the conference Kumar said “We want to examine all the genuine issues of satyagraha.” Various research papers were presented at different sessions at JNU and in Champaran. At one of the sessions, leaders of national political parties presented their views on “Truth, Satyagraha and Parliamentary Politics”, while representatives of various students’ organisations like the Students’ Federation of India, All-India Students’ Association and National Students’ Union of India had a discussion on “Terrorism, the Gandhian way and Youth of Today”. Satyagraha In Pursuit of Truth’s Hassim Seedat presented a paper at the plenary session entitled “Trajectories of Satyagraha and Non Violent Movements since gandhi and the organization was also represented at the “Terrorism, the Gandhian Way and Youth of Today” plenary session. Several films on Satyagrahas in South Asia were also screened during the event.

Professor Kumar emphasized the need for dialogue about globalization of the Gandhian way in the last century. “Satya (truth) and Ahimasa (non-violence) have been integral parts of the Gandhian philosophy. They have been propagated and further evolved after Gandhiji by a number of people and the Gandhian way has been pursued through creative engagement of many people in different parts of the world including Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan in Pakistan, Martin Luther King in USA, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar and the Dalai Lama of Tibet,” said Kumar. 
Kumar added “Sayagraha has generally been acclaimed as the most revolutionary contribution of Mahatma Gandhi to political thought and action. Gandhiji developed truth and non violence into an infallible technique of social change which can be used both for removing the existing evils from society as well as ushering in a new order free from all the ills that plague the present social order.” “Problems like conflicts, destruction of natural resources, poverty and hunger can only be resolved through human effort, understanding and a development of a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood,” said Kumar.

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