California – Within days of mass protests demonstrating against the brutal choking to death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement gave way to nefarious forces which resorted to looting, burning, and desecrating and toppling iconic statues and monuments. One such dastardly attack occurred on the night of June 2-3 on Mahatma Gandhi’s revered statue located outside Indian Embassy in Washington D.C. Held in contempt by these ‘cancel culture’ warriors for his anti-black opinions, Gandhi was declared racist, and his statue defiled with spray painted profanities. In the blink of an eye, the man whom Einstein hailed in glowing terms had been dismissed from the annals of history by this new batch of arrogant self-declared ‘historians’. “Generations to come, it may be,” Einstein had written, “will scarce believe that such a man as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon the earth.”
It is natural for icons and iconic events of bygone ages to be revisited and assessed in the light of current values and sociopolitical agendas. But the revisionist perspective has to be posited in terms that are fair equally to the earlier as to current times. A slave owning Washington or Jefferson cannot suddenly become discards of history precisely because their legacy is infinitely more than their ‘heinous crime’ of slave owning. Likewise, Gandhi’s derisive view of Blacks in Africa cannot eclipse what he did to liberate more than half of mankind, including browns and blacks in India and in other colonized countries, and eventually, through the medium of Martin Luther King and his adoption of Gandhi’s tactics, inspire the resurgence of blacks in America. The weaponry Gandhi left for all to use depended not on arms and munitions but on individual’s courageous ability to stand up to peacefully oppose oppression. He devised and was the first in modern times to apply on a mass scale this novel principle of using non-violence to confront and triumph over violence. The strategic tenet underlying the efficacy of peaceful protest is simple. The oppressor can fight peaceful protesters with weapons only so far, but then, brutality overtakes the oppressor’s credibility eventually causing the oppressor to give up.
To be a good soldier of peace, you have to be an angel of love and mercy. You are required to and must support an equal love of all human beings. No one in Gandhi’s approach is less or more “touchable” and “untouchable”. We are all equal before God, and therefore before laws made by humans. Gandhi’s notion of equality extends from races and socioeconomic classes to encompass faiths and religions which Gandhi upheld as the unity of the Godhead.
Furthermore, as a soldier of peace, you are not permitted to take even a single adversary’s life whatever the extent of oppression, or to tear down iconic statues and monuments, or attack places of worship and followers of different faiths. Gandhi strongly opposed tearing down British Raj structures and buildings or setting fire to British soldiers and civilians. He took responsibility for any violent and deviant act committed by his followers. If Muslims were slaughtered or Hindus butchered, Gandhi went on a hunger strike, fasting without food and sometimes even without water, until peace was restored. Beaten and arrested time and again along with his masses of followers, he never surrendered to violence or retaliated with aggression, a lesson extremist groups and violent protesters on right and left can well imbibe today.
The keystone of Gandhi’s never ending peaceful fight for justice was his doctrine of satyagrah or soul-force, which he demonstrated time and again through his own personal example. Simply stated, satyagrah is the exact opposite of martial force. As Gandhi held, it is easy to subjugate others to your will through the show of weapons and physical power. But the true challenge is to bend someone to your will by persuasion and consensus, and through the use of your inner spiritual force, mental strength, and physical endurance.
As we commemorate Gandhi, we can see a chain of similarly peaceful warriors walk across the bridge of oppression including MLK in America, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, and so on. The world is filled with unsung heroes who put down their lives but never their zest for freedom. These warriors invariably were principled, disciplined and committed to end oppression whether by a mother country on colonies, by a race against another, or by one class or caste against the others. To truly honor them, we have to do more than paper homage. We need to recall their style of warfare and let it fashion ours.
With America’s 2020 General Election approaching, it is important to recall how John Lewis – another acclaimed peaceful warrior –- viewed voting. Deeming it both precious and sacred, Lewis upheld voting as “the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.” Most pertinent to the coming election, threatened by some to be the most apocalyptic of all times, is Lewis’s astute warning,
“Ours is not the struggle of one day, one week, or one year. Ours is not the struggle of one judicial appointment or presidential term. Ours is the struggle of a lifetime, or maybe even many lifetimes, and each one of us in every generation must do our part.”