How Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence influenced Bangladesh
In India, October 2 is celebrated annually as Gandhi Jayanti to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. In 1969, the year of Gandhi’s centenary, I was working as an agricultural volunteer in a Gandhian ashram in Bodh Gaya – the cradle of Buddhism – in Bihar.
This particular ashram had been founded by a devoted disciple of Gandhi, Vinoba Bhave and it was set up to study all religions. In the early morning prayers, we would have a reading of the Koran one day, the Bible the next day, then on successive days of the Gita, the Granth Sahib (holy book of the Sikh religion), the Torah (sacred to the Jewish people) and readings from Buddhist scriptures.
From this experience I have absorbed some teachings from all religions and try to follow what Gandhi said: “Let the doors and windows of my house be open and all the religions of the world blow into my house.
Friendship to all …
Although India was divided for religious reasons in 1947, it is very significant that as an independent country Bangladesh promised to defend and promote secularism. Even before Victory Day, December 16, 1971, I remember Tajuddin, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh in exile, telling me in Calcutta that Bangladeshis of all faiths suffered and fought in the liberation war and that Bangladesh would therefore be for all faiths. He further told me that Islam clearly teaches respect for all religions.
From the beginning, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman followed his foreign policy, and now that of Bangladesh, guided by “friendship towards all, wickedness towards no one”, a very non-violent policy.
Gandhi is of course remembered for his marches and fasts for peace in both parts of Bengal when he spent many days trying to stop the communal killings in Noakhali and Kolkata in 1946, before independence. from India. Gandhi’s marches or “padyatras” for peace inspired Vinoba Bhave to travel all over India in the 1950s and 1960s, persuading large landowners to donate land to the “bhoodan” (land donation) movement, the land then being distributed to the landless and the lowest caste. communities.
When a significant amount of land was donated in a village, it was declared a ‘gramdan’ or village gift, and so the Oxfam Gramdan action program was launched in 1968 in Bihar following the Bihar Famine of 1966/1967 and this program was based on four Gandhi ashrams in Bihar.
When we held quarterly meetings on the progress of the Oxfam Gramdan agenda, Jayaprakash Narayan occasionally attended to inspire us and make sure we were on the right track. Later, of course, he strongly supported the Bangladesh War of Independence. Another Gandhian leader, who supported the formation of Bangladesh and Oxfam’s work with refugees, was the late Narayan Desai whose father had been Gandhi’s secretary.
My life and my work have been changed for good and have benefited from the influence of Gandhian thoughts and beliefs. And it was at the Samanvaya Ashram in Bodh Gaya that as a young man of 23 I was influenced by the leader of the ashram, Dwarko Sundrani, who died last year at the age of 98. years. He was Gandhi’s last living disciple. He was very critical of how Gandhi’s birthday is celebrated each year.
A year before his death, Dwarko said in an interview: “Celebrating Gandhi’s birthday and then forgetting him until his next birthday is no way to express our gratitude and respect for him.
“We are not going to organize any events on Gandhi Jayanti this year, rather we will serve the helpless and in need in flood-stricken Bihar,” Dwarko said. “Why? Because that’s what Gandhi would have done if he was alive.
“Instead of celebrating Gandhi’s birthday, we will serve the people,” he said. “What good is organizing seminars and workshops and reading his autobiography if we don’t apply Gandhi’s teachings in our daily lives?
Although Bangabandhu’s life witnessed a lot of violence, and Bangladesh itself emerged after a bloody struggle, Bangabandhu certainly tried to follow Gandhi’s policy of non-violence during his lifetime. Sadly, he and his family members suffered the most violent deaths.
Julian Francis has been associated with relief and development activities in Bangladesh since the war of liberation.
This article first appeared in Dhaka Tribune.