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Peace icon Mahatma Gandhi’s message of ‘mutual understanding, equality’ reverberates on Day of Non-Violence

UN Postal Administration-issued stamp of Mahatma Gandhi in Commemoration of International Day of Non-Violence. (2 October 2019)
UN Postal Administration-issued stamp of Mahatma Gandhi in Commemoration of International Day of Non-Violence. (2 October 2019) credit: UN

On Wednesday, the global community marks the International Day of Non-Violence, which this year coincided with the 150th anniversary of the birth of the global peace icon who led India to independence, Mahatma Gandhi.

“His vision continues to resonate across the world, including through the work of the United Nations for mutual understanding, equality, sustainable development, the empowerment of young people, and the peaceful resolution of disputes”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message commemorating the day.

“In today’s turbulent times”, he continued, “violence takes many forms: from the destructive impact of the climate emergency to the devastation caused by armed conflict; from the indignities of poverty to the injustice of human rights violations to the brutalizing effects of hate speech.”

Moreover, the UN chief pointed out that both on and off-line, “we hear loathsome rhetoric directed at minorities and anyone considered the ‘other’”. To address this growing challenge, the United Nations has launched two urgent initiatives.

The first is a global plan of action against hate speech and the other a plan for the benefit of Member States, to protection and secure religious sites.

“Last week, I issued a global call for a decade of action to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our roadmap away from violence and towards peace, prosperity and dignity on a healthy planet”, Mr. Guterres said.

He recalled that before his assassination in January 1948, after the bloody partition of India the previous year, Gandhi constantly highlighted “the gap between what we do, and what we are capable of doing”.

“On this International Day, I urge each and every one of us to do everything in our power to bridge this divide as we strive to build a better future for all”, concluded the UN Secretary-General.

Back in 2007, the General Assembly established the day, which is marked annually on 2 October, to "disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness” and reaffirm the desire "to secure a culture of peace, tolerance, understanding and non-violence".

The three main categories of non-violent action are protest and persuasion, including marches and vigils; non-cooperation; and non-violent intervention, such as blockades and occupations, according to the United Nation.

150-year pillar of peace 

"There's no better hero than anyone who says no to violence ", General Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande of Nigeria told a commemorative event at UN Headquarters on Tuesday. 

And Gandhi’s message not only resounds on the international day, but always, as was illustrated just last week during the launch of a UN-issued commemorative stamp to honour the global leader on the 150th anniversary of his birth. 

“Gandhiji’s vision and philosophy are pillars of the work of the United Nations”, said the Secretary-General. “Part of his genius lay in his ability to see the interconnectedness and the unity between all things”.  

While his political achievements included using peace, love and integrity to lead the movement ending colonial rule in India, Mr.  Guterres outlined how Gandhi’s vision went “far beyond politics to encompass human rights and sustainable development”.

“Gandhi promoted non-violence not just as a philosophy and a political strategy, but as a means to achieve justice and change”, he said.  “Many of his ideas foreshadow the holistic thinking behind the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”.  

The UN chief gave the example of his advocacy and action around the issue of sanitation for clean drinking water and hygienic facilities – when the issue was still “deeply taboo”, and stressed that Gandhi’s ideas drive the work of the UN for “equality, empowerment and global citizenship every day”.  

“Gandhi’s enduring legacy is his continued relevance to our thinking and action on a broad sweep of issues, from protecting the environment to promoting justice, from education to inequality.  His teaching remains fresh and thought-provoking, including his emphasis on the importance of facing up to the truth with courage”, Secretary-General Guterres concluded.

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