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Relevance of Gandhi, A View From New York

Relevance of Gandhi, A View From New York

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Published by Enuga S. Reddy
An article on relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to the situation in the United States today. Written in 2009
An article on relevance of Mahatma Gandhi to the situation in the United States today. Written in 2009

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Published by: Enuga S. Reddy on May 20, 2009
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10/02/2012

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RELEVANCE OF GANDHI – A VIEW FROM NEW YORK 
I HAVE LIVED IN THE United States for over sixty years as a student, a United Nations official and, after retirement, a writer.When I arrived here, there were very few people who had studied Gandhi and veryfew books on Gandhi though the life and thought of Gandhi had a significantimpact on the United States since 1921 when the Reverend Dr. John HaynesHolmes preached a sermon that Gandhi was “the greatest man alive in the worldtoday”.Pacifists like him were greatly encouraged by the success of Gandhi in rallyingmillions of people in the nonviolent non-co-operation movement and later the civildisobedience movement in India. Though few in number they were pioneers inmovements for civil liberties, racial equality and other causes. African-Americansfelt proud that a “Coloured man” challenged the mighty British empire and wishedfor the emergence of their own Gandhi to lead them in a struggle for freedom andequality. Nonviolent direct action against racial segregation was attempted by afew brave activists, white and black. Paul Keene, a former missionary in Indiainspired by Gandhi, began organic farming and helped develop it into a major industry. Richard B. Gregg, an associate of Gandhi who sought to interpret Gandhito the West, published
 Power of Nonviolence
and
The Value of Voluntary Simplicity
which became textbooks for civil rights and simple living movements. SeveralAmericans who were acquainted with Gandhi – including prominent churchmenlike John Haynes Holmes, E. Stanley Jones, Howard Thurman and BenjaminMays, as well as Louis Fischer, Vincent Sheean and Edgar Snow - wrote and spokeabout his life and philosophy.
 
The civil rights movement led by the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in the1950s, as well as much of the resistance to the Vietnam war, were inspired byGandhi. Many hundreds of volunteers went through training in nonviolence. Thesuccess of these movements demonstrated that active nonviolence was not for Indians alone but can be practised by people of all religions and racial origins inAmerica. There was an explosion of interest in Gandhi among activists, academicsand other scholars. Numerous books and articles are being published here sincethen, and they include some of the best studies on Gandhi. They have dealt notmerely with the philosophy of satyagraha or the methods of nonviolence resistance but with the wide range of experiments of Gandhi. More and more people began tostudy Gandhi, visit his ashrams in India and practise aspects of his teachings.It would be wrong, however, to exaggerate the influence of Gandhi in America. If we look for “Gandhians”, there are but a few. But hundreds of thousands of Americans have derived inspiration from the life and thought of Gandhi whileattached to their own faiths and traditions. That is as it should be.For Gandhi was opposed to any cult about him and disliked the term “Gandhism”.He was inspired by Jesus Christ, Count Leo Tolstoy and John Ruskin, but did not become a Christian or a Tolstoyan or a Ruskinite. He absorbed their philosophiesinto his own Hindu and Jain religious background and evolved, through strenuousexperiments in personal and public life, the path to a new civilization based on loveand cooperation rather than hatred and greed.The message of Gandhi encompasses not only ethical principles like truth andnonviolence but also guidance on practical aspects of life such as dignity of labour,simple living and thrift, healthy diet, trusteeship of wealth, cooperative
 
communities, and protection of the environment. These are all in the Americantradition but have been overwhelmed by the legacy of slavery, the urge to conquer the land, the greed for wealth and arrogance of power. The result has been socialills like the drug abuse, violent crime, an epidemic of obesity and corruption in business and public affairs. There has been an undue reliance on force in foreign policy. Encouragement and support of terrorists abroad, as in Pakistan andAfghanistan, have come back to haunt the country. The excesses of the so-called“war on terror” have led to a dead end, and in fact increased the threat of terrorismin the world. The economy became dependent on excessive consumer spendingand growing indebtedness. Globalisation has caused growing disparities not onlyglobally but within America. Unbridled capitalism and unlimited greed of a fewhave now led to an economic crisis in which millions of people have lost their life’s savings, homes and jobs. The country has lost much of the enormousgoodwill it enjoyed in the world. A search for new directions has becomeimperative.More and more people have begun to press the authorities to control the trade inguns, provide healthy food in schools, and help the dispossessed. They aredemanding morality in public life. There is an urge to look ahead and consider thekind of world that is being left from this generation to the next. Means to curb theemissions that cause global warming and develop sustainable sources of energyhave gained greater support.I believe that the thought of Gandhi was a significant influence in the formulationof many of the ideas articulated during the presidential campaign of Barrack Obama. Some of his actions since the assumption of Presidency must cheer followers of Gandhian ideology. He has projected the vision of a nuclear freeworld, departing from the doctrines of his predecessors. He has taken steps to end

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