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Special Event to Commemorate the 'International Day of...
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Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, Minister of External Affairs Address at the Special Event to commemorate the International Day of Non Violence on October 02, 2014 at the Trusteeship Council of the United Nations

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Your Excellency Mr. Sam Kutesa, President of the General Assembly,

 

Your Excellency Mr. Jan Elliason, Deputy Secretary General,

 

Distinguished Excellencies,

 

My dear children from the UN International School,

 

Artists from Carman Moore's Ensemble,

 

Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

 

I feel privileged to preside over the celebration of the International Day of Non Violence at the United Nations today.

 

It is an honour to be here at this temple of multilateralism, to celebrate the ideals of some one, who was perhaps the best possible proponent of Vasudhev Kutumbam -the world is one family, a thought that breathes life into international solidarity and gives meaning to the idea of multilateralism, as contributing meaningfully to the lives of ordinary people.

 

Friends,

The world has known greatness in many forms and there have been innumerable greats who won celebrated military victories, and have had the title of - 'the great' - added to their names for eternity, be it Alexander the Great and many other conquerors of his ilk, since times immemorial.

 

However, there is only person who won the world's greatest battles of protest, of struggle, of emancipation and empowerment, not by waging war but by waging peace.

 

His arsenal included no arms and ammunition, but only  truth force or satgyagraha, which he described as, 'a force born of truth and the love of nonviolence, his moral equivalent for a war.

 

When he was evicted from a moving train at Pietermaritzburg station in South Africa for being a non white on 7 June 1893, a spark was lit which was to change the course of world history, and espouse an ideal, that we have all gathered to celebrate here today.

 

Let me also admit, that the greatness of the Mahatma lay in a very curious yet ideal amalgam, of so many opposing yet inspirational traits, he had to his persona.

 

He respected tradition, and yet he was an iconoclast. He was deeply religious, but his was a religion that drew from every faith, a religion that was all inclusive. He embodied spirituality, but his was a spirituality rooted in an abiding concern for the poor and the deprived, of service to and empowerment of the disadvantaged and underprivileged.

 

He was impatient for change. Yet, he shunned violence in any form as an instrument to force the pace of change. In his own words ‘nonviolence is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction, devised by the ingenuity of man’.

 

I would like to briefly touch upon a common thought that is much debated today when we discuss Gandhian thought, word and deed, that today's world is dramatically different from the one Mahatma Gandhi lived in, and therefore it would be naive and unrealistic to expect his methods to succeed today.

 

I humbly beg to differ.

 

It is true that the world of today is vastly different from the world that Mahatma Gandhi lived in. The fundamental issues he was confronted with, namely colonial subjugation, has disappeared from our world. Racial discrimination too has been blunted significantly.

 

At the same time, new threats to peace, harmony and stability have emerged. And it is one of the paradoxes of this century that while the establishment of peace has become the world's single greatest imperative, the traditional instruments of preserving peace are being found to be increasingly ineffective.

 

Whether it is ethnic nationalism or religious chauvinism, economic inequality or military might or the increasing tide of fanaticism that you see today -- all of them are powerful drivers of conflict in todays world -- there is no doubt that we are in great need of a new paradigm for solving conflicts.

 

Today, we face the challenge posed by continuing confrontation in the name of religious fanaticism and ethnicity. At its worst, there is terrorism, which inflicts untold suffering on innocent women, men and children.

 

We confront also the challenge of growing inequality both within and amongst nations. Economic disparities are accentuated by lack of access to education, health and food security. To these are now added the new threat of environmental degradation and climate change, as well as new diseases that are caused by the Ebola virus.

 

The question is not whether Mahatma Gandhi is relevant or not. The real issue is whether we have the courage and strength of mind to follow his footsteps, whether we are prepared to live our lives by what he preached and most importantly, practiced.

 

The simple truth is that instead of diminishing in relevance, Mahatma Gandhi has actually become all the more pertinent in the 21st century. Whichever the challenge we confront, you can be sure that the Gandhian way is a real, live option, an option that informs and illuminates.

 

But we would be doing him great injustice if we didnt interpret, in contemporary terms, what he spelt out in the context of his times. He would have wanted us to experiment and find our own way without compromising our fundamental beliefs.

 

Mahatma Gandhi bequeathed to us three guiding principles: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satyagraha (force born of truth) and Sarvodaya (upliftment of all). It is the value of these principles that we have to rediscover if we want to deal effectively with today's challenges.

 

The political discourse, these days, is centered on a global war on terror. And indeed, terrorists who target innocent men, women and children deserve no quarter. But countering violence with even more violence does not provide a durable solution.

 

Whatever else Mahatma Gandhi may have done in our circumstances, surely strengthening the well-springs of discourse and dialogue must play a central part in it. And he would have gone even further. He would have also looked within himself. For him external engagement went hand in hand with internal interrogation. In reaching out, he would first and foremost have asked himself the question --- to what extent am I responsible?

 

If democracies are going to wage a war against terrorism, the measures that are adopted, should be consistent with and not contrary to the values of democracy. This is in keeping with the Gandhian consonance of ends and means. He said: ‘There are many causes that I am prepared to die for, but no causes that I am prepared to kill for’.

 

Conflict and inequality continue to be an inevitable part of the human condition. Mahatma Gandhis greatest lesson to the world was that this need not be destructively so. Conflicts can be resolved and inequalities can be contained. But without worthy means, worthy ends can never be attained. Will this century see the fulfillment of Mahatma Gandhi's vision? Or will nonviolence be viewed as outdated and utopian?

 

All around us, we witness that violent means do not bring about lasting change, that violence cannot bring about peace. Violence only begets violence and spirals on.

 

It is my fervent hope that the world will embrace Gandhian truth and action and that leading global multilateral fora, such as the UN, would be among its torchbearers.

 

It is a welcome coincidence for me that I am participating in this event today immediately after paying my homage to the memory of valiant peacekeepers, many of whom laid down their lives in the cause of securing peace, which was an article of faith for Mahatma Gandhi.

 

Today, what gives me hope is to see an increasing number of young people in India and globally, are turning to Gandhi ji and his life, to seek solutions to contemporary concerns through individual and collective action, and that is where I think our future lies.

 

And when I look up in this hall today, and see the yearning for love and peace in the eyes of the young children from the UN International School who have joined us here, I am imbued with optimism and hope that the message of the Mahatma would never ever cease to be relevant, and that is where I rest my case.

 

I thank you all for joining us at this annual commemoration of the International Day of Non Violence and look forward to hearing our distinguished Chief Guest, the President of the 69th UN General Assembly and the Deputy Secretary General's ideas on the Mahatma.

 

Thank You. 

 


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