International Conference on Gandhian Perspectives on Contemporary Conflicts and Peace
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 14 Nov 2016
The Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at the Hindu University of America, Orlando, USA, organized a two-day international conference on November 3 and 4, 2016, on the theme Gandhian perspectives on contemporary conflicts and peace. Speakers from Europe, Canada and India, besides the US, participated in the conference and focused on various aspects of Gandhian philosophy and its relevance for conflict resolution.
The two-day conference deliberated on the Gandhian principles and practice, and focused on their relevance for the 21st century. For Gandhi, the most potent weapon to fight oppression and injustice is non-violence, which emanates from the courage to stand against oppression and injustice. Violence begets violence, and if the principle of ‘an eye for an eye’ is applied, ‘the whole world will become blind.’ From a Gandhian perspective war is an acute form of violence motivated by greed, prejudices and historical animosity and the results are devastating with socio-cultural, economic and political consequences. Whether it is conflict at the level of groups or communities or at the international level, a trend can be deciphered in which the conflict actors have prioritized their narrow interests over collective interests and peace.
Gandhi’s ideas influenced common people as well as leaders from across the world. Martin Luther King, Jr. referred Mahatma Gandhi as “the guiding light of … nonviolent social change,” and, during his India visit in 1959, said, “In a real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of the universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the law of gravitation.” About five decades later, Nelson Mandela, while unveiling a Gandhi Memorial in South Africa, in 1993, stated, “The enemies that Gandhi fought – ignorance, disease, unemployment, poverty and violence are today common place…Now more than ever is the time when we have to pay heed to the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi.” The participants unanimously agreed that the time has come to revisit the Gandhian principles and apply them in daily life and conduct and in community to community, and state to state, relations, to make the world a better place to live in the 21st century.
The organization of the conference in Orlando which experienced violent incidents like Pulse in June 2016 appeared significant. Though Gandhi is popular in academia and among public in the East and the West, there have been a few attempts to make an in-depth study of his principles and their application to resolve contemporary global problems. The conference aimed to fill this gap. It was not only interested in theoretical aspect of Gandhian philosophy, but also its practical and educational aspects. The inter-disciplinary conference brought together scholars from diverse fields and featured academic presentations, favorite songs of Gandhi, Yoga exercises and many other events.
Shri Suresh Gupta, CEO, Park Square Homes, inaugurated the conference and Professor Johan Galtung, noted scholar of Peace Studies, delivered the keynote address. Galtung in his address titled “Two Indias: Gandhi and Modern India”, brought forth the contrast between the principles Gandhi stood for and the principles and practices followed in modern India. He argued that India, which is highly diverse and which has problems like caste, can benefit from Gandhian principles of dialogue and reconciliation. The USA Congresswoman, Tulsi Gabbard, in her message to the conference, wrote, “As we think about how each of us can affect positive change in our community, across the country, and in the world, let us always remember the lessons of Mahatma Gandhi, who said, ‘The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.’” Prominent Gandhian and Chancellor of Gujarant Vidyapith (India, the only university founded by Mahatma Gandhi), Ila R. Bhatt, in her message advocated for building ‘100-mile communities,’ communities which are local, sustainable and in harmony with nature, and hoped, these communities “spread, grow, and overlap like oceanic circles and create peaceful relationship worldwide. That is the world we can build; as individuals, as a family, as a society, and as spirits embracing all creation.”
There were eighteen speakers in the conference representing academic institutions, think tanks, inter-faith organizations and business houses. Scholars from academic institutions such as University of Wisconsin, University of South Florida, University of Southern New Hampshire, University of North Carolina, University of New Brunswick (Canada), Ambedkar Marathwada University (India), and Gujarat Vidyapith participated in the conference. The speakers focused on a diverse range of topics including Gandhi and international conflicts, war and peace, gender inequality, Gandhi and tribal development, Gandhi and Tolstoy and King Jr., Gandhi and veganism, Gandhi in oral tradition, Gandhi and Boddhisattva way, Gandhi and ethno-religious conflicts, and Gandhi and Krishnamurthy. Participants enjoyed Gandhi’s favorite song Vaishnav Jana to Tene Kahinye (with English subtitles), rap song ‘Be the Change You Want to See’, and classical song ‘Golden Dreams of Gandhi Ji,’ and excerpts from Satyagraha Opera.
Participants unanimously agreed that relevance of Mahatma Gandhi for the contemporary world is undisputable. There is a need for an in-depth study of Gandhian principles and their potential to resolve global problems ranging from ethno-religious conflicts, gender inequality, environmental degradation, class and race problems, and so on. Though the conference explored theoretical aspects of Gandhian philosophy, it emphasized on practical application of Gandhian principles in day to day life. The two-day conference ended with the resolve to continue the learning experience and evolve a community of problem solvers. The Mahatma Gandhi Center would continue such activities and provide a forum for deliberation, dialogue and reconciliation for peaceful resolution of conflicts at multiple levels.
Dr Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Director of the Mahatma Gandhi Center for Non-Violence, Human Rights and World Peace at Hindu University of America in Florida, and a Fellow at the Center for Peace, Democracy and Development, University of Massachusetts Boston. He is an Indian commentator and his areas of interest include conflict transformation and peacebuilding in South and Central Asia. His edited book Conflict and Peace in Eurasia was published by Routledge in 2013.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Nov 2016.
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