TO you students, let me first give an outline of my presentation, as all good teachers should do, at the begining of their lecture. I would like you to think about the following:
1. Why are you students celebrating Gandhiji's birthday?
2. Who have been Gandhiji's great admirers in history? Tells you a lot about Gandhi.
3. What principles did Gandhi stand for? (head boys from MGM and RSMS have said a lot already).
4. The disagreements that Gandhi had with his colleagues and friends, because of his views
5. Most important of all, what would Gandhi stand for in Fiji, were he alive here today?
6. My acknowledgement of MGM alumni who I personally know — especially my four sisters.
Why are you celebrating Gandhi's birthday?
It is important that United Nations declared October 2 to be the International Day of Non-Violence- that is important, but that is not the main reason.
You students are celebrating this day, because your school founders named this school after Mahatma Gandhi. Therefore your first lesson at MGM should be: why did those who built this school, choose to name it after Mahatma Gandhi?
Students: just google with the words "the strengths and weaknesses of Gandhi" and a huge literature will jump out at you: literally "information overload".
Some information will be accurate, some not so. The biggest challenge of the Internet as a source of information, is to know what is good and what is bad information.
Nevertheless, it is fun reading the different and often conflicting views about Gandhi. I will give you a hint of the disagreements later.
First lesson for you students: Gandhi's teachers thought he was academically quite average, and very poor in sports. Then, when he obtained a British law degree from a famous law school, he was apparently very poor as practising lawyer.
This is a great lesson for all you students: how a skinny man in a dhoti, academically weak, professionally poor, became such a great person (a mahatma), purely by the strength of his ideas and commitment to truth, his principles and his views.
If he could do it, so can you all.
But holding to principles was not easy for Gandhi: especially when many of his good friends and colleagues, and leaders of India, strongly, and some violently, disagreed with his views.
Gandhi paid the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs, when he was assassinated. Yet millions admire him today, including some of the world's greatest leaders over the last century, including many Nobel Peace Prize winners.
Who were his admirers (many of whom have also suffered for their beliefs)?
* Martin Luther King: civil rights for black people in the US; assassinated.
* Nelson Mandela, who fought against apartheid in South Africa; jailed for 27 years.
* John Lennon, the pop singer for peace in the sixties; assassinated.
* Aung San Su Kyi: house arrest in Burma for decades, and still fighting for democracy against the military government there.
* Einstein, the creator of the mathematics that led to the ultimate symbol of violence in the world, the atomic bomb, was also a great admirer of Gandhi.
* Today, Barack Obama, the President of the US is one of his admirers.
Gandhi's great principles and beliefs
What was there about Mohandas Gandhi that led these great leaders to admire him so publicly?
The head boys from Ratu Sukuna Memorial School and MGM High School earlier spoke so eloquently about Gandhi, and the principal of MGM (Mrs Rajput) in her speech referred to Ratu Sukuna as an icon, after whom RSMS is so suitable named.
I remind you that we in Fiji are in desperate need of icons like Ratu Sukuna.
Gandhi is world famous for advocating "non-violence" in India's fight for independence from British colonial rule.
But Gandhi believed that you had to go beyond nonviolence: there also had to be resistance against the oppressors and injustice, through "non-co-operation" and other peaceful means.
Gandhi believed that India could be freed from British colonial rule by simply not co-operating with unjust rulers, even if it meant suffering personally.
Gandhi believed that injustice persisted because victims co-operated: the day that all victims stopped co-operating with unjust rulers — that was the day that the unjust rulers would have to depart.
But note, it is interesting that Gandhi believed that non-violent non-co-operation would be even more necessary after independence, because the "brown sahibs" (ie Indians themselves) might be worse economic exploiters of the common Indian people, more greedy and corrupt that the "British white sahibs" being expelled from India.
Gandhi became the leader of the Indian National Congress in 1921. Over the years he protested against excessive land taxes imposed by the British in India on the poorest of farmers; he called for boycott of British goods, British education, British titles and honours. He was often arrested by the British, charged for sedition, and often jailed, for years.
For Gandhi it also meant total uncompromising belief in TRUTH (which he saw as being the equivalent of God) even if it meant great personal cost to the individual. Satyagraha literally means "holding fast to the truth" regardless of consequences.
Where a deep principle was involved, people must fight to defend it, even with violence if necessary. Gandhi believed that to give up resisting injustice was cowardice of the highest order.
Gandhi believed that to close your eyes to the truth of injustice in front of you, meant that you collaborated with and supported the injustice.
Gandhi also opposed the economic exploitation of people, where greedy individuals took more than their fair share of resources.
Gandhi saw economic injustice and exploitation as one of the worst forms of violence because it happened "out of sight" and was not obvious like plain physical robbery.
He fought against poverty.
He fought for women's rights.
He popularised the plight of the untouchables.
He believed in economic self-reliance based on cottage industries.
He opposed politics based on religions; he was bitterly disappointed at the Hindu-Muslim conflicts and slaughter of millions that followed partition into India and Pakistan.
In the end, soon after Indian Independence in 1948, he was assassinated for his beliefs - not by a Muslim, or a Christian, but by a Hindu extremist, who thought he was "too friendly" towards Muslims.
What is not well known or publicised is that Gandhi himself thought that when non-violent non-co-operation did not work, it was better to use violence, rather than give up resisting injustice.
Vinaka vakalevu and dhanyabaad.
* The above are parts of a speech made by Wadan Narsey at MGM High School on October 2. The thoughts are his and not that of this newspaper.