The best of Indian and African worlds

2010-09-28 00:00

WHEN Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi arrived in India via London on January 9, 1915, no one knew that he would become India’s greatest pravasi. He had spent 21 years in South Africa, working as a lawyer committed to end discrimination, especially of Indian people by the white colonial elite. He had formed the Natal Indian Congress on August 22, 1894. He served as the first honorary secretary of the organisation and led petitions, marches, boycotts and general civil disobedience in an attempt to bring about progressive change without the use of violence.

On his return to India, Gandhi, through his philosophical and practical approach, leading by example, went on to lead India to freedom in 1949 and in so doing, earned his reputation as the Mahatma. By leaving India and then returning on January 9, 1915, Mahatma Gandhi became a pravasi bharatiya, a term used to describe an Indian who has left India and then returns. It is in honour of Gandhi that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) Conference is held in India every year between January 7 and January 9. This homecoming celebrates the success of the overseas Indian community and attempts to integrate them through the use of their skills, expertise and capital into contributing to development processes in India.

The first PBD was held in 2003 from January 9 to January 11. In 2007, the first mini PBD was held in New York to accommodate people of Indian origin and non-resident Indians, who did not have the opportunity to attend PBDs in India.

Mini PBDs have the added advantage of including local communities that may not be of Indian origin, but which would like to engage with Indians or with India in the quest for sustainable development globally.

It is in this context that PBD Africa will be held in Durban on Friday and Saturday. After an opening ceremony on Friday, the conference will take place on Saturday under the theme “India, Africa: Building Bridges”. October 2 is significant because it was on this day in 1869 that Gandhi was born, and who later

pioneered the building of anti-colonial, anti-democratic and developmental bridges between India and Africa.

The international community, through a general assembly resolution that was passed at the United Nations in 2007, honoured Gandhi by pronouncing October 2 as the International Day of Non-violence. It is an occasion, according to the United Nations, to disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness. The resolution re-affirms the universal relevance of the principal of non-violence and the desire to secure the culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence.

Gandhi said that “non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of [hu]mankind”. It is mightier then the mightiest weapon of destruction revised by the ingenuity of man. As Gene Sharp points out in The Politics of Non-violent Action, “non-violent action is a technique by which people, who reject passivity and submission and who see struggle as essential, can wage their conflict without violence. Non-violent action is not an attempt to ignore or avoid conflict”. One key tenet of the

theory of non-violence is that power of the rulers depends on the consent of the population, and non-violence therefore seeks to undermine such power through the withdrawal of the consent and co-operation of the populace.

• Dasarath Chetty is the first international vice president of the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) and is the president of GOPIO South Africa.

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