Gandhi Jayanti Celebrations Marked on Oct. 2

By Dr. Nidhi Trehan

It is a rare event in the diaspora when members of the social justice community congregate and celebrate visionaries such as Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, (known as “Mahatma” or “Great Soul”) and Martin Luther King Jr. on the same platform, but Austin-based community group, Friends of India, Texas (FIT) did just that on October 2nd of this year!

Sharing with the audience the importance of “Gandhian Civil Disobedience in Today’s World”, guest speakers Tushar Gandhi (great grandson of Mahatma Gandhiji, based in Mumbai) and Pastor Jennifer Cumberbatch of Full Measure Ministry of Austin, Texas shared their knowledge over zoom. Tushar ji highlighted the critical importance of standing up for social justice in India today. He discussed the continuing caste-based antipathy faced by Indians from Dalit backgrounds, the alarming rise of hostility and violence towards Indian Muslims, and examples of resiliance and resistance such as the anti-CAA protests (Citizenship Amendment Act, a controversial law which fast tracks citizenship for refugees to India, but excludes Muslim refugees from the same, for example, Rohingya from Myanmar or Ahmediyas from Pakistan) led by women in Shaheen Bagh as well as the farmers’ protests against the three farm bills (which the current Government ultimately had to revoke).

Pastor Jen Cumberbatch

Just as his illustrious descendant Gandhiji had fought against British imperialism, Tushar Gandhi himself invoked the principles of nonviolent social action to fight for India’s “Second Freedom Movement”, a struggle to preserve Gandhiji’s legacy, including India’s secular values, and respect for all, regardless of caste, creed, religion, region, linguistic affiliation, etc.

Pastor Jen spoke equally eloquently on how nonviolent civil disobedience was essential for the success of the American civil rights movement.  Indeed, Howard Thurman, an African American theologian met with Mahatma Gandhi in India in the mid-1930s, and brought his philosophy of civil disobedience to the Howard University community in Washington DC, where he was the first dean of Rankin Chapel in 1932. In 1935, Thurman led a group of African-Americans to India, where in Bardoli, Gujarat, they had the opportunity to meet with Gandhiji and had intense discussions about the meaning of satyagraha (truth-force or ‘holding firmly to truth’). Thurman and others had a profound impact on the development of Martin Luther King Jr.’s thoughts when he was a seminary student at Howard University in 1949, a year after Gandhiji’s assassination.

Tushar Gandhi

This was how the message of Gandhian nonviolent social action came into being in the United States and was applied successfully by civil rights leaders such as Dr. King and others.  Jawaharlal Nehru, an anti-colonial Indian nationalist and secular humanist who was India’s first prime minister in 1947, had invited Dr. King and his wife Coretta Scott King on a trip to India in February and March 1959.  MLK Jr. was so moved by his trip, he referred to it as a “pilgrimage” and also said of nonviolent direct action, “Christ showed us the way, and Gandhi in India showed it could work.” Incidentally, in 1969, India was the first country to issue a postage stamp in honor of Dr. King, even before the US! Both speakers closed with a discussion of cross-community solidarity and how important it was to learn about the legacy of both Gandhi and King to continue the struggle for social justice globally today.

Some more background: