“In an age of rapid change, characterised by exponential economic growth, increasing population, rise in violent extremism, climate change, migration and refugees, globalisation and rising inequalities, the 21st century poses a unique set of challenges,” stated a report by UNESCO’s Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP), New Delhi.
MGIEP was established with the support of the Government of India and is an integral part of UNESCO. It is the first and only category 1 Research Institute in Asia-Pacific and focuses on “achieving the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4.7 towards education to foster peaceful and sustainable societies.” In this, the Institute is guided by its vision of “transforming education for humanity“.
On August 24, 2019, a British Sikh man, Amitpal Singh Bajaj, was reportedly choked to death by a Norwegian tourist in Phuket, Thailand. Bajaj confronted the tourist for making too much noise because his wife and child wanted to sleep. Roger Bullman, a Norweigian martial arts expert, was drunk and causing so much noise that hotel security had to warn him twice.
The second example is that of the acquittal of all the six accused in Pehlu Khan’s lynching case by a sessions court in Alwar (Rajasthan), giving them “the benefit of the doubt” on August 14, 2019, once again refreshed our memories to the incident of religion-based vilification.
Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old native of Haryana’s Nuh, had left his village to purchase cattle for milking purpose and after purchasing some cows from a cattle fair, he along with his two sons and a few others were transporting the cows to his native village, as claimed by his family members. But, they were allegedly surrounded, stopped, and thrashed by a mob of cow vigilantes on the Delhi-Alwar highway on April 1, 2017, which led to Pehlu Khan’s death.
A total of nine persons were accused of lynching Pehlu Khan, among which three of the accused are reportedly juveniles, who are being tried separately. The remaining six were acquitted on August 14, 2019. Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had assured Khan’s family of justice, and that the state government would appeal against the verdict.
Also, on August 5 this year, the Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha had passed the Rajasthan Protection From Lynching Bill by a voice vote, amid much protest by the Opposition BJP, which wanted the bill to be referred to a select committee.
The BJP’s opposition to the bill on lynching in the Rajasthan Assembly and their inaction in passing any such bill at the central level is very telling. Despite the Supreme Court’s recommendations that the parliament should enact a special law to deal with cases of mob lynching, the BJP-led central government has not acted upon the court’s advice as alleged by advocate Mohammed Asad Hayat.
In an interview with The Caravan on August 13 ,2019 , Mohammed Asad Hayat, a Prayagraj-based criminal lawyer who is representing victims in at least fifty cases of mob lynching and other hate crimes said, “In July last year (2018), the Supreme Court recommended that the parliament should enact a special law to deal with cases of mob lynching. The court passed a detailed judgment in Tehseen Poonawalla vs Union of India, issuing directions on the preventive, remedial and punitive measures to be adopted by the central and the state governments. The judgment also recommended that the special law by parliament should ‘create a separate offence for lynching’ and impose ‘adequate punishment for the same.’ Yet, the home ministry has consistently stated in parliament that only state governments have jurisdiction over matters involving the police and public order—effectively washing its hands of the responsibility.”
Another incidence of cruelty, violent extremism, intolerance, and religious vilification which grabbed the attention of the world was the mob lynching of Tabrez Ansari. The Hindu reported how 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari, a Muslim daily wager in Pune, succumbed to his injuries on June 22, 2019, after he was beaten up on June 17 by a mob in Dhatkidih village in Jharkhand. He was lynched because of rumours of theft, and later the mob forced him to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’.
In response to the lynching of Tabrez Ansari, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom “(USCIRF) Chair Tony Perkins issued a statement on June 26 condemning the incident and calling for action by the government. “We condemn in the strongest terms this brutal murder, in which the perpetrators reportedly forced Ansari to say Hindu chants as they beat him for hours. Ansari later died from the injuries he suffered due to this horrific attack. We call on the Indian government to take concrete actions that will prevent this kind of violence and intimidation by a thorough investigation of Ansari’s murder as well as the local police’s handling of the case. Lack of accountability will only encourage those who believe they can target religious minorities with impunity,” the statement said.
History shows that cruelty towards humanity, intolerance, racial and religious vilification are not problems limited to India, but these are toxic for the whole world. America had to wait for centuries to frame a bill against lynching. The text of the bill reflects the heinous extent of the crime in the USA. According to the bill, at least 4,742 people were reportedly lynched in the US between 1882 and 1968. It says 99% of all perpetrators of lynching escaped punishment.
Only on December 19, 2018, the US Senate unanimously passed legislation that made lynching a federal crime. Proposed by Senators Cory Booker, Kamala D. Harris and Tim Scott, the Justice for Lynching Act classified lynching as “The ultimate expression of racism in the United States,” and as a hate crime. In its findings, the bill states that at least 4,742 people, mostly African-Americans, were lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968 and that Congress had considered nearly 200 anti-lynching bills in the first half of the 20th century without passing any of them.
Addressing over 1,000 youth from over 27 countries from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Europe in the first World Youth Conference on Kindness in New Delhi on August 23 , 2019 under the aegis of MGIEP, the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind said that “the strife and violence that we see in the world today is often based in deep-rooted prejudices. These make us see the world through the binary of ‘us versus them’.”
“Following Gandhiji’s footsteps, we must let ourselves and our children interact and engage with those whom we tend to define as ‘them’. Greater interaction is the best way to develop a sensitive understanding, which can help us overcome our prejudices. Stating the importance of education in developing understanding, President further said that education too can play an important role in overcoming our prejudices,” he said.
“Education needs to go beyond mere literacy. Education must facilitate and challenge the young to search deep within themselves and build their inner strength to sympathise or relate to the suffering of others. We need to educate young people such that they can defy and transcend boundaries of class and race. We need them to be educated and creative to find solutions to entrenched structural injustices and inequities. We need an education that can touch our emotions and our spirits,” the President added.
Explaining the relevance of Gandhiji in present-day situations, President Kovind said that Mahatma Gandhi was not just a great leader and visionary, he was one who personified certain timeless ideals and values. We could place Gandhiji in a time machine and transport him to any period of human existence and we would find him to be relevant. This is also true of the times we live in. Gandhiji remains extremely relevant to our present-day concerns such as the need for peace and tolerance, terrorism and climate change.
The President noted that this conference brought together youth leaders from around the world. He said that these youth leaders and millions of young men and women like them have the biggest stake in making our world kind, compassionate and peaceful. He expressed confidence that what the youth leaders learn and experience in this Conference will inspire each one of them to be the ambassadors of kindness for the rest of their lives.
A staunch preacher of communal harmony, Gandhiji believed that anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding and nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence, forgiveness is more manly than punishment.
Gandhiji said “For me, the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden, or they are branches of the same majestic tree. Therefore, they are equally true, though being received and interpreted through human instruments equally imperfect“.
Another revered figure in the realm of human rights, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “If humanity is to progress, Gandhi is inescapable. He lived, thought, and acted, inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward a world of peace and harmony. We may ignore him at our own risk.”
U Thant, the third Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1961 to 1971 said, “Many of his (Gandhi’s ) principles have universal application and eternal validity, and I hope the passing years will show that his faith in the efficacy of nonviolent pressure as an agent for peaceful change is as justified today all over the world as it was in his time in India.”
On Gandhiji‘s legacy, the Dalai Lama said “What is the relevance of nonviolence and compassion to the future of humanity? As Mahatma Gandhi showed by his own example, nonviolence can be implemented not only in politics but also in day-to-day life. That was his great achievement. He showed that nonviolence should be active in helping others. Nonviolence means that if you can help and serve others you should do so. If you cannot, you must at least restrain yourself from harming others.”
The spiritual leader went on to say that, “I believe that it is very important that we find positive ways in which children and adults can be educated in the path of compassion, kindness, and nonviolence. If we can actively do this I believe we will be fulfilling Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy to us. It is my prayer that, as we enter this new century, nonviolence and dialogue will increasingly come to govern all human relations.”