Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Mahatma stands at UWI

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller shows appreciation after unveiling a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the Inspiration Garden of the Faculty of Education and Humanities at the University of the West Indies, Mona. The statue is a gift from the people of India. Speaking at the unveiling, Minister of Foreign Affairs Senator A J Nicholson said that the presence of the statue will help to foster appreciation for the university’s motto “a light shining from the West” on the campus, and foster deeper thinking among students about the teachings of non-violence that were promoted by Gandhi.- Observer photo   
 Excerpt from Jamaica Observer column | by Jean Lowrie-Chin | 16 July 2012

It was  moving to be at the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at the UWI, whose peaceful activism against injustice began in the very homeland of Nelson Mandela  – South Africa, as mentioned by Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Clive Nicholson. Twenty-four-year-old Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893, 25 years before the birth of Nelson Mandela, to do legal work for Indian Muslim traders. It is said that the prejudice he and fellow Indians faced in South Africa resulted in his lifelong struggle for justice.

His tenacious activism angered white South Africans, a group of whom tried to lynch him and later had him imprisoned. His method was known as Satyagraha, meaning “devotion to the truth”. He returned to India in 1915 and used this method to mobilise millions of his countrymen, leading to his country's eventual independence in 1947.

It was personally moving to see the statue kindly donated by the Government of India through their High Commissioner Mohinder Singh Grover, in the quadrangle of the UWI Humanities and Education Faculty. There I had spent many  years studying literatures in English, Spanish and French where each novel, essay or poem was judged by that yardstick of truth. The best works confirmed that the human spirit can soar beyond the ugly barriers that
lesser humans build to cheat others of their rights.

And so the Mahatma stands proudly in an Inspiration Garden, an idea born of a discussion involving three distinguished UWI professors of blessed memory: Ajai Mansingh, Rex Nettleford and Barry Chevannes. There are plans to also erect statues of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Marcus Garvey and Nelson Mandela.

Mr Grover pointed out that the statue, created in India, is an exact replica of that placed in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, where Dr Martin Luther King Jr was the pastor. It was MLK who said of his struggle, “Christ furnished the spirit and Gandhi furnished the method.”

Gandhi and MLK were martyrs for their cause, their immortal spirits keeping us strong in defiance of their ugly assassins. My friend Arun Sethi explained that after India gained Independence, the Mahatma (which means “great soul”) continued to fight against the caste system, India's own sad culture of apartheid.  It is said that Gandhi was murdered by those who wanted to protect this backward system.

Jamaicans, we have friends and role models at every turn  – let's promise ourselves to embrace the goodwill, learn from thee inspiring individuals and take Jamaica on a mission of truth, justice and peace.

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