Gandhi at check­point

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Mridula Ghosh

Mridula Ghosh on Ma­hatma Gandhi's legacy

Hail­ing Gandhi as the “Ma­hatma” (the Great Soul), Tagore wrote a fa­mous song, which marked Gandhi’s jour­ney: “When no one an­swers your call, walk alone!” Gandhi never had to walk alone. The world fol­lowed him. Sim­i­larly, in Ukraine, a call to study and dis­cuss Gandhi even be­fore his birth­day Oc­to­ber 2, was made the In­ter­na­tional Non-Vi­o­lence day by the UN, was met with over­whelm­ing re­sponse by many Ukrainian in­tel­lec­tu­als, ac­tivists and me­dia since 2006. I am proud to be part of these events held un­der the lovely slo­gan: “An Eye for an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind.” The tra­di­tion con­tin­ues. Ir­re­spec­tive of the fact, whether or not of­fi­cially cel­e­brated, ar­ray of speeches de­liv­ered, events re­ported and Gandhi re­mem­bered ev­ery year only on this day more than any other day, I think, ev­ery year, this day comes to us to an­a­lyze, re­ca­pit­u­late and again eval­u­ate the im­por­tance of Gand­hian ideas rather than the mere per­sona of Ma­hatma. In fact, not a day, it’s a week, with Va­clav Havel be­ing bon on Oc­to­ber 5th and John Len­non on Oc­to­ber 9th. The trans-con­ti­nen­tal merid­ian for peace and non-vi­o­lence calling.

I got used to Al­bert Ein­stein’s words that, for many years af­ter Gandhi, hu­man­ity will con­tinue to won­der that such an in­di­vid­ual in flesh and blood re­ally ex­isted and walked among us. But, a decade ago, Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin, who has not re­sisted to re­sort to vi­o­lence sev­eral times, sar­cas­ti­cally re­marked “there is no one to talk to af­ter the demise of Ma­hatma Gandhi”. It sent shock­waves to me. Equally shock­ing was to hear from my Gam­bian friend, a Hun­gar­ian cit­i­zen, res­i­dent of Bu­dapest, chair­ing the Ma­hatma Gandhi Foun­da­tion there, “I was in Ukraine. You know that place in the Carpathi­ans? No, not Bere­govo. We call it Bereskas! It was ours. And it still is. Every­body is Hun­gar­ian.” And count­less such un­seen un-Gand­hian ref­er­ences made in Gandhi’s name! My po­lite ex­pla­na­tion could help my Gam­bian friend un­der­stand, he re­gret­ted the colo­nial state­ment. But the global waves of cyn­i­cism and vi­o­lence are be­yond our con­trol and dampen the spirit. Dom­i­na­tion of big­ger pow­ers and colo­nial­ism in very dif­fer­ent forms is still some­thing that smaller na­tions have to chal­lenge and ad­dress. Smaller economies grap­ple with crises and face po­lit­i­cal un­rest.

This is es­pe­cially so, in the wake of pop­ulist politi­cians all over the world. Pop­ulists get ready for earn­ing votes, throw­ing gen­er­ous prom­ises that will never be ful­filled. PR com­pa­nies ac­tively en­gage in sup­port­ing them pro­fes­sion­ally. Noth­ing wrong. Frame­work of democ­racy al­lows the right to par­tic­i­pate to all. And it is here that Gandhi emerges and warns, “The means are as im­por­tant as the end. Use un­fair means to achieve even a good end, and you will pol­lute the end it­self.” How­ever, there are eth­i­cal voices. Ac­tivists in Ukraine para­phrase this and say, “Think be­fore you vote. Why did we sac­ri­fice more than ten thou­sands of lives?”, though they know per­fectly, there is lit­tle room for Gand­hism in elec­toral pol­i­tics.

No doubt that post-war his­tory in the world is in­spired by Gandhi. 65 years ago, the Ukrainian Gandhi, fear­less Yevhen Hryt­siak, led the non-vi­o­lent No­rilsk up­ris­ing in 1953, calling an end to the in­fa­mous Gu­lag sys­tem. Since then, hun­dreds of Gandhi per­ished in their non-vi­o­lent strug­gle against to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism, while many oth­ers could get free and win their bat­tle. The dis­si­dents’ move­ment was essen­tially Gand­hian in spirit. Even to­day, we see the same trend is re­flected as Oleh Sentsov, Ro­man Sushchenko and many oth­ers suf­fer po­lit­i­cal in­car­cer­a­tion in Rus­sia.


To­wards the 150th an­niver­sary of Ma­hatma Gandhi, the world is cel­e­brat­ing, so is the In­dian gov­ern­ment. Topi­cal has been the clean­li­ness cam­paign in­side In­dia. Of all the events around the world, the most sig­nif­i­cant is the one held in Ber­lin, at the Mauer­mu­seum at Check­point Char­lie, where a memo­rial stamp was re­leased. In ad­di­tion to per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tions on the di­vi­sion of Ger­many, Europe and the world, the his­tory of the Wall, the suc­cess­ful es­capes from the GDR and the his­tory of NATO since its foun­da­tion, there is also a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion “From Gandhi to Walesa — Non­vi­o­lent Strug­gle for Hu­man Rights” on dis­play since 1984. The most valu­able ex­hibits are 14 orig­i­nal ob­jects by Ma­hatma Gandhi, in­clud­ing Gandhi's di­ary from 1916 and 1917 and a bronze statue of Ma­hatma Gandhi, a gift from the gov­ern­ment of In­dia in recog­ni­tion of the mu­seum’s hu­man rights work. Cross­ing the Check­point Char­lie sev­eral times in my young days, I could never think that I will see the wall break, take a piece of it as me­mento and a mu­seum will be there.

Gandhi at Check­point Char­lie is sym­bolic of how his phi­los­o­phy has gone be­yond the bound­aries of time and space and con­tin­ues to in­spire peo­ple around the world. Sit­ting in Ukraine, I do not cross the check­points to oc­cu­pied parts of East Ukraine or Crimea. But I have my dreams. Per­haps some­day, when the po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers are freed, and a peace­ful res­o­lu­tion al­lows Ukraine to gain con­trol over her lost ter­ri­to­ries, the check points in Kher­son and Don­bas will be­come such mile­stones on time, show­ing the fu­til­ity of Rus­sia’s ag­gres­sion and the re­silience of the Ukrainian peo­ple?

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