Published:  12:00 AM, 03 October 2016

Role of youth in social change and Gandhian philosophy

Role of youth in social change and Gandhian philosophy
In 2007, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution initiated by India to declare the 2nd of October, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, as the "International Day of Non-Violence". As someone who was part of the team that spearheaded this initiative in the UN, I am particularly happy to be associated with its commemoration in Dhaka.

The decision of the United Nations reflects the universal respect for Mahatma Gandhi and the enduring relevance of his humane philosophy.  In Gandhiji's own words, "Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man". As we are all aware, Mahatma Gandhi's "novel mode of mass mobilisation and non-violent action" brought down colonialism, strengthened the roots of popular sovereignty and gave impetus to the demand for civil, political and economic rights.  Many great leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. and Albert Luthuli, the first President of the African National Congress, were inspired by the philosophy of non-violence to guide their movements for freedom and justice.  

Mahatma Gandhi not only led the freedom movement in India, but worked throughout his life for social change and the development of society.  Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy and works continue to inspire us today.  Last year, at a similar function to mark the International Day of Non-Violence at the UNESCAP in Bangkok, I had pointed out that in today's fast-paced world, there may be some who question the relevance of Mahatma Gandhi's role in contemporary life.  However, no matter how fast paced and technologically advanced our lives have become since Mahatma Gandhi's times, the essence of Gandhiji's truth had not changed, because human nature itself has not changed.  As we look around us, we see the omnipresence of violence - Violence against each other, including as reflected in the spread of terrorism; Violence against the poor and the vulnerable, against women and children, caused by social strife and inequities; and Violence against the Earth we inhabit reflected in man-made, climate changing activities and unsustainable lifestyles.

The ideals of truth, non-violence, peace, amity, brotherhood and cooperation remain as valid as they did at the turn of the 20th century.  A philosophy that could mobilize the complete commitment of not just a few, but thousands and even millions of people to pursue a just cause without any recourse to violence or conflict is an enduring one.  At the heart of Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence, was his belief that strength comes from righteousness, not force; power comes from truth, not might; and that victory comes from moral courage not imposed submission. He held that means and ends are inseparable, and that in fact the means themselves shape the ends. He believed unworthy means can never produce worthy ends.

Mahatma Gandhi had said that his life was a message to his followers. He looked at social welfare in his own unique way. His concept of the welfare of society was based on Ahimsa, and, in his view a votary of Ahimsa would strive for the greatest good of all and work to realise this ideal.  Gandhiji'is had the capacity of making a profound impact upon the masses and the secret of his success was his complete identification with them. He propounded theories of social work, and being a pragmatic person he translated them into action.  In all his activities, Gandhiji involved youth as an agent of social-political change in society. Young women and men took part in his socio-political programme enthusiastically.

Bangladesh and India both are countries of young people. Both countries share civilization linkages, as also historical, geographical, linguistic and culture links. On the other hand, challenges that our respective societies face are also similar in nature. Mahatma Gandhi's life and works continue to inspire and guide us to work incessantly to surmount these common challenges and ensure a better quality of life with dignity and basic human rights for each and every member of our society. Gandhiji felt that rather than feel that their situations have been bestowed on them, youth should seek justice and equality for all in the societies they live in by dint of their hard work.

Mahatma Gandhi firmly believed in creating from the youth a cadre of inspiring and competent role models and change agents with the courage of conviction, who in turn would catalyse the process of building a healthy nation. Gandhiji had a firm belief that the youth are the catalysts who would bring about necessary social change. As we progress into the millennium, the time may be ripe for the awakening of the youth in a non-violent way, much as they did when Mahatma Gandhi mobilised them in the last century to give new hope and direction; where everyone would have the means to realize his or her true potential and to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

At a more personal level, I have had the privilege to work closely with the Gandhi Development Trust, based out of the Phoenix Settlement in Durban, South Africa, where Gandhiji went through his formative years. More recently, I visited the Gandhi Ashram in Noakhali, where Gandhiji spent the last few months of his life working for peace and social harmony. I was very happy to see that the Noakhali Ashram has become a well known centre not only for the dissemination of Gandhijhi's teachings and ideals but also for developmental and extension services. It is creditable that with the support of the Government of Bangaldesh, the Ashram's developmental activities in 9 upazials of Noakhali, Lakshmipur, Feni and Comilla Districts have benefitted more than 125,000 families directly and over 1.2 million families indirectly. 

An exhibition of photographs on the 'Life and Times of Mahatma Gandhi' has been organized by the High Commission of India. This unique collection of photographs has been sourced from the Gandhi Memorial Museum, New Delhi and touches upon Gandhiji's early days, his stay in South Africa where he conceptualized and first employed the strategy of Satyagraha, and his leadership of the non-violent struggle for India's independence and the landmark events during this period. The exhibition also features two rare photographs of Gandhiji's visit to Noakhali in 1946. While the exhibition is currently at the new High Commission Complex at Baridhara, we propose to partner with other stakeholders to move this to a more accessible venue for easier public viewing, shortly.

We can say that Gandhiji, by his emphasis on truth and non-violence provided the basis for societal change. In view of the increasing incidence of terrorism and violence and societal disorder on a global basis and the failure of contemporary societies in comprehensively addressing these challenges, it may be time for us to actively revisit the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Their universalisation will pave the way for national as well as international peace and security. And the youth, by following Gandhian philosophy, may well become the instrument of this change we seek.

The High Commissioner of India in Bangladesh presented this paper on the occasion of 147th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and International  Day of Non-violence

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