Talk touts Gandhi’s tenets as still relevant

Gandhi aficionados from all across the University gathered at Luce Hall on Thursday night for a savory Indian meal — and a meatier discussion about the Mahatma himself.

About 50 members of the Yale community attended a talk hosted by the Council on Southeast Asia Studies about the influence of Gandhi in the 21st century. Following a traditional Indian dinner in Luce Hall, retired Indian Ambassador to the United States Pascal Alan Nazareth delivered a talk in the MacMillan Center auditorium as part of “Celebrating Gandhi” week at Yale. Nazareth, a former Indian high commissioner for foreign affairs, discussed potential applications of Gandhi’s principles of nonviolence in current world affairs.

Former Indian Ambassador Alan Nazareth speaks about Gandhi at the MacMillan Center as part of “Celebrating Gandhi” week at Yale.
Andrew Liotta
Former Indian Ambassador Alan Nazareth speaks about Gandhi at the MacMillan Center as part of “Celebrating Gandhi” week at Yale.

Nazareth began his talk by crediting Gandhi for the successes he achieved during the 20th century. The “absurd proposition” of facilitating the transition of power through nonviolence worked surprisingly well for Gandhi, Nazareth said. In addition to advocating a nonviolent quest for Indian independence and seeking what he called an “end of an empire, and a friendship,” Gandhi fought for social justice in India, as he encouraged the “emancipation of the Untouchables” and “the empowerment of women,” Nazareth said. Nazareth compared the dismantling of feudalism in India to similar processes in countries such as Russia and France and said Gandhi’s peaceful methods stood in stark contrast to “how much blood had to flow” elsewhere.

“Unless we find nonviolent ways of solving our problems, we will destroy ourselves,” Nazareth said.

Gandhi’s legacy should not be forgotten in 21st-century political encounters, Nazareth said. He listed terrorism, the threat of violent nationalism, the use of religious fervor as a means for mobilizing a people, the destruction of the environment and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as global problems with potential Gandhian solutions. In each case, Nazareth said, Gandhi would emphasize principles of respect and peaceful behavior.

Nazareth said Gandhi believed fervor and self-sacrifice are best employed to “conquer with love.” He encouraged audience members to seek their own personal senses of truth.

“Truth has become a rare commodity,” he said, referencing cases of corruption in the Indian parliament. “God is truth.”

The best way to find this truth, he said, is to sample from other systems of belief while keeping the best parts for oneself, as did Gandhi, whose Hinduism included tenets of Christianity and Islam.

Many audience members said they enjoyed the opportunity to talk about Gandhi and found the discussion engaging.

“Personally, I think it’s important to understand what Gandhi did,” Parmeet Shah ’11 said. “In my life, he’s my role model. I think what he did was otherworldly.”

But others in attendance left the talk feeling less than satisfied.

“It was really interesting how Gandhi talked about finding the best of all religions, since religion is one of the major points of conflict in today’s world,” said Raphaella Friedman, a high school senior visiting from the University School of Nashville.

But Friedman said she was skeptical about whether Gandhi’s principles could work in today’s world, she said.

Rebecca Trupin ’11 said she found Nazareth’s examination of militant nationalism fascinating, but she was similarly doubtful about the practicality of Gandhi’s peaceful principles. Even if Gandhi’s ideals might be impractical in counteracting the problem of terrorism, however, they could be used to prevent violent conflict in the future, she said.

“Nobody could get anything done the nonviolent way today,” Trupin said. “It’s more of an ideal. It’s nice, but in our situation, nobody could do that … A nonviolent movement today would have to be pre-emptive.”

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