Aug 15, 2016. Today marks India’s 70th Independance Day.
A billion people on our planet will celebrate today - the victory of the ancient Indian philosophy of “ahimsa” or “nonviolence” - triumphing over centuries of colonial oppression, social injustice and violence. The epic freedom movement was led by many including Mahatma Gandhi whose work had subsequently inspired many world leaders including Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
Recently I was invited to a meeting organized by the African American community in San Francisco, California. The meeting was meant to discuss how the community can support five local residents who were then on a hunger strike to protest against the prevailing social injustice and violence in the city. I was humbled when these five people showed me Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography that they were carrying with them and shared that he was their inspiration. At this meeting, Mrs. Gwedolyn Woods spoke about of the social injustice and violence that her son Mario had been subjected to. Her sharing touched my heart. I was profoundly disturbed that day. I was surprised to observe that I was the only person of Indian origin amongst a room full of African American brothers and sisters that day. The next day, over dinner, I shared my experience of being at this community meeting with my Indian friends in the Bay Area. All of them were very successful software engineers working and living in the Bay Area for over two decades. I was even more disturbed when I saw the apathy from them towards what I was sharing.
It struck me that day that unless a problem or issue “directly” relates to us, we, as a society have become so immune that we will not go out and do something about it. Indeed we are all busy with our personal life, our kids, our projects at work and other social responsibilities. And of course we can also blame the media for not creating more awareness of prevailing social issues and delivering empathetic content that would encourage us to take action and participate in socially responsible behavior. But then, as a social activist, I quickly realized that there was no point complaining and I need to be part of the solution.
The reason I was invited to the meeting in San Francisco was because just a few weeks prior, I had led a delegation of Americans (who had suffered from violence) on a pilgrimage to India. We had followed the intent behind the trip taken by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1959 when he had visited India to deepen his understanding of the teachings of nonviolence of Mahatma Gandhi. I was producing a documentary film that would capture the story of their transformation over the 10 day pilgrimage. The visit to San Francisco was to meet local activists and to document how the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr is being kept alive.
The documentary film project was a unique endeavor. I had never done anything like this before - so the challenge had excited me and overwhelmed me at the same time. What unfolded during the India trip was truly magical. During the 10 day pilgrimage, I had the following insights:
- The land of India and its Hindu civilization had survived centuries of war and invasion and has somehow managed to preserve its roots - the ancient Hindu culture and traditions.
- India had selflessly shared the science of yoga, ayurveda and meditation with the world - all sustainable technologies to overcome stress and misery and achieve happiness, joy and inner peace.
- India has always been a land of diversity where people of different traditions, cultures, religions, languages and philosophies of life have lived harmoniously with each other thereby showcasing that we, as humans, can peacefully coexist amidst our differences.
- For centuries, India’s seers had shared their bold vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” - that the whole world is one human family. This vision seemed to have become a reality today with the advent of social media that has dissolved boundaries and connected us as a global society.
- India’s timeless epics - the Vedas, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita have provided the world with insights about self knowledge and how that can help to conquer darkness, misery and ignorance.
- In spite of our differences, no matter where we were born within India, we shared a common thread of culture that united us as one civilization - a culture of love, nonviolence, peace and harmonious co-existence. And strangely, we had not received this gift of culture through any formal education but merely through our birth on this land of India and also via knowledge transfer - the morals taught to us by our parents and teachers, the stories shared by our grandparents, when we were kids, from the Ramayana and Mahabharata that had taught us that ultimately truth always triumphs - “satyameva jayate” if we do self-effort and follow righteousness (dharma).
The trip had convinced me that India (its people, culture, heritage and wisdom) had the power to provide solace to those who had been the victims of senseless violence. It also had the power to transform our way of thinking and inspire us to choose love over fear and hatred and that 'an eye for an eye' is not the solution to end systemic violence. For more details of the film project please visit www.fromindiawithlove.org. If you feel inspired, please reach out to help in any way you can or donate for the cause (donations are tax deductible in USA)
I now think that if the whole world is a home, India had always been the prayer room - for reflection and transformation. As the senseless violence continues, especially in America, we need more prayer than ever before.
- As one of the most ancient civilizations on our planet, can India rise to the occasion knowing that the world needs its gift of peace more than ever before?
- As the torch bearers of the great culture of India, can Indians participate more in community issues and act as catalysts for enabling greater happiness, peace, love, harmony and nonviolence in the towns and communities where we live or even at our place of work?
We only need to feel proud of our Indian culture and heritage and dare to imagine. I know that we can do it.
If not us, who will…
In gratitude and hope, I pray:
Arise O India! Arise my dear Indian sisters and brothers
To that Mother India, I bow down in love and respect today.