By Miranda Morton
On 2 October 2014, the Permanent Mission of India hosted a unique celebration commemorating Mahatma Gandhi. By no coincidence this day also marks the International Day of Non-Violence, which the United Nations General Assembly instituted in 2007.
The Trusteeship Council room was charged with a reverence for Gandhi, the man who practiced non-violent civil disobedience and led the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India. The Mission of India honored each guest with a stole (a long shawl worn around the neck reaching almost to the knees) fringed with the Indian national colors of saffron and green, and embroidered with a powerful message from Gandhi: “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.”
An opening audio-visual presentation depicted Gandhi’s life and was followed by remarks from two representatives of India to the UN, Asoke Mukerji and Sushma Swaraj. The chief guests in attendance were Sam Kutesa, President of the 69th UN General Assembly, and Jan Eliasson, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN. Mr. Kutesa and Mr. Eliasson both addressed the audience and expressed their deepest admiration for Gandhi’s life and his enduring legacy. The special event concluded with a rendition of Gandhi’s presumed favorite hymns by students of Carman Moore’s Ensemble.
Several times throughout the celebration, the term satyagraha was mentioned. In global peace and justice studies, this is a vital piece of language to know and understand. Satyagraha literally means “truth-force”, but its significance goes much deeper than that. Gandhi’s application of satyagraha implies the method of working ceaselessly towards the discovery of truth, while converting opponents into friends in the process. Gandhi did not simply want to change the outward behavior of his opponents—he wanted to change their inward values, which could then lead to a lasting outward change in behavior.
Coming off of the momentous events at the UN last week and the week before (the Climate March being a prime example), this occasion conveyed ideals inherent in Article 33 of the UN charter: “The parties to any dispute, the continuance of which is likely to endanger the maintenance of international peace and security, shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation, enquiry, mediation, conciliation, arbitration, judicial settlement, resort to regional agencies or arrangements, or other peaceful means of their own choice.” Though language and discourse is naturally interpreted differently by all, and thus disputed by most, I do believe that Article 33 is touching upon Gandhi’s creed of steadily working towards peace (or in other terminology, the discovery of truth) with someone rather than against someone.
Spread the word! Satyagraha. International Day of Non-Violence. Millennium Development Goals. The World We Want.