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Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at the Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi in Switzerland event organised at Universal Postal Union, October 2, 2019

Posted on: October 02, 2019 | Back | Print

Remarks by Ambassador Sibi George at the Celebrating Mahatma Gandhi in Switzerland event organised at Universal Postal Union, October 2, 2019

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Evening.

It is my great pleasure to welcome Your Excellencies, Friends of India and representatives of Indian Diaspora on this glorious occasion when we celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of the greatest son of India – Mahatma Gandhi.

I thank the leadership of Universal Postal Union, particularly, Director General and Deputy Director General for joining hands with us in celebrating this occasion. I also thank and welcome my colleagues Ambassadors who have find time to come and join us today. Excellencies, on this solemn occasion, we greatly value your presence and greetings.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of two special guests today. Hon’ble Speaker of Gujrat Legislative Assembly Shri Rajendra Trivedi, who is currently on a visit to Switzerland. He hails from Gandhiji’s home State of Gujarat. Sir Welcome to this evening. I also acknowledge the presence of Mr. Nik Gugger, Member of Swiss Parliament who despite being in the middle of a highly contested election campaign has travelled from Zurich to join us today. Thanks Mr. Gugger for your presence.

My special thanks also to the panellists who are joining us today, the winners of the quiz competition and the members of the Embassy ladies Association who have been practicing the Bhajans of Gandhiji for several weeks now.

I will be failing in my duty, if I do not introduce to you the youngest fan of Mahatma Gandhi in Switzerland. Indira. I saw her looking at the photograph of Mahatma Gandhi and saying Gandhi, Gandhi, Gandhi. I thank her parents Anand and Jenni and her grandparents for imbibing in her the values of Mahatma Gandhi.

As Ambassador of India to Switzerland, I bring to you greetings from 1.3 billion people of India, which is almost 1/6th of the total population of the world. And also from over 30 million Indian diaspora spread all over the world. Today’s celebrations is not limited to 1.3 billion of us, Mahatma Gandhi’s’ birthday is being celebrated all over the world, by millions of people in all the countries.  

Yesterday I was in Vatican attending an event at The Holy See to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. While flying black from Rome last night, flying over the snow laden Alps, I was thinking about the world during the period when Mahatma Gandhi actually lived on this earth. The world then saw several wars, including two World Wars. That period produced so many war heroes, so many who built empires and ruled them. But we don’t see any celebrations on their birth anniversary, whether it hundred and fifty or more. But for over a year now, the whole world has been celebrating the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. His statues and busts are erected in almost all the countries in the world, postal stamps are issued by almost all countries. For the world he is a Mahatma, a Great Soul. For us Indians, he is more than a Mahatma. He is an embodiment of everything that India as an ancient civilisation and as a modern vibrant democracy stands for.

Let me share with you a story of ancient times that I heard many times. The story of Alexander the Macedonian, also called Alexander the Great. After having crossed Persia, he came to India, met a sage on the banks of the river Indus, who he referred to as a ‘wise man’. This sage sat on a rock and spent all day and night staring at the sky. Alexander asked him what he was doing. The sage replied, "Experiencing nothingness.” The sage asked Alexander what he was doing. Alexander replied, "I am conquering the world.” Both laughed. For Alexander, the sage was wasting his one and only life experiencing nothingness! For the sage, Alexander was wasting his time in violence trying to conquer a world that has no limits, with a sense of urgency that made no sense. It was a moment in ancient history when West and East met. The fact is that, the empire that Alexander built on violence and military power collapsed within a few years of his death. But Indian spirituality, its ethos, its values, continue to attract the world. For us Indians, Mahatma Gandhi is the embodiment of the values and ethos of India, and for the world he continues to be bridge connecting East and West.  

Last month, the President of India during his State visit to Switzerland, unveiled a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Villeneuve on the banks of Lake of Geneva. There President of India said, and I quote “Mahatma Gandhi believed in the oneness of humanity. He embraced all cultures and all peoples. He listened to Hindu religious songs and western classical music with equal ease and understanding. In Villeneuve, Romain Rolland played Beethoven for him. They had long conversations on the Great War that had ravaged Europe and how peace could be secured for future generations.” Unquote.

India as a civilisation gave rise to ancient religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism and also Sikhism. In fact, India is home to other many religions, including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. In fact, Christianity reached India and flourished there since 52 CE, in the first century immediately after the crucifixion of Christ, much before it reached most parts of Europe. We will be celebrating the 550th birth anniversary of Shri Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of Sikh religion later this year. I invite you to join these celebrations.

In India, today, we speak several hundred languages, we worship different Gods, we eat different foods, we wear different clothes, but there is a feeling of oneness and common consciousness, a civilizational bond, that keeps us together, make us proud as India. Every diverse culture in India flourishes, every region and religion in India flourishes. We have a constitution which guarantees liberty of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; equality of status and of opportunity. For us, I repeat, Mahatma Gandhi is an embodiment all that India represents, its tradition, its spirituality, its diversity, its mantra of Vasudev Kudumbakam, world is one family. A message of understanding and compassion. And also Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Vishwas, A message of togetherness with all, development of all, and trust of all.

Now from European and Indian history, let me take you to another continent, where Mahatma Gandhi spend considerable time of his life. In eighteen hundred and ninety three, standing in front of thousands of Indian laborers in South Africa, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, a young lawyer from India said, “There are several causes for which I am ready to die for, but there are no causes for which I am ready to kill for.” This was a vow of non-violence in body, spirit and mind. It is with this weapon of non- violence Mahatma Gandhi, defeated the mightiest nation of the world.             

Non-violence is a philosophy evolved over several centuries in India. It is part of the conscience of Indian life and society. Non-violence is not a weapon for the weak. It is the weapon for the strong. It requires greater heroism than of the bravest soldiers. It is the expression of the deepest love for all humans including one’s enemies. It is not only the lack of the physical harm towards others. It also lacks hatred and ill will towards them.

Challenging the British Mahatma Gandhi said, “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me, then they will have my dead body, not my obedience.” Non-violence is not running away from the challenges that we face. It is not running away from our responsibilities. It is facing these challenges with courage and discipline.

In a world dominated by violence and hatred, Mahatma Gandhi reincarnated the Indian concept of non-violence. His example influenced and inspired many later freedom struggles. He continues to inspire millions across the world. His catchwords, now or never, do or die continue to evoke fear in the minds of oppressors. His famous words, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind,” remains a guiding principle for humanity. It is in recognition of this contribution that, in 2007 the United Nations General Assembly unanimously, I repeat, unanimously adopted a resolution to observe October 2nd every year as the International Day of Non-violence.

I would like to conclude by quoting a Talisman that Mahatma Gandhi gave us. He said, I quote: “Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, try the following. Recall the face of the poorest and the most helpless man or woman whom you may have seen and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him/her. Will he be able to gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.”
Once again I wish you greetings of 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi.
Thank you very much.