Mahatma Gandhi’s Concept of Peace is generally perceived as the mere absence of violence. Shattering this popular misconception, the Gandhi Peace Prize has revived the constructive dimensions of the concept of peace propagated by Gandhi ji
The Committee under the chairmanship of Prime Minister Shri Modi announced the prestigious Gandhi Peace Prize from the years 2015 to 2018. Vivekananda Kendra, Kanyakumari has been conferred with the award for the year 2015 for its contribution in the field of rural development, education and the development of natural resources. For the year 2016 it has been conferred jointly to Akshaya Patra Foundation for its contribution in providing mid-day meals to millions of children across India and the Sulabh International for the contribution in improving the condition of sanitation in India and emancipation of manual scavengers. The Ekal Abhiyan Trust has been honoured for the year 2017 for its contribution in providing education for rural and tribal children in remote areas pan India, rural empowerment, gender and social equality, while Shri Yohei Sasakawa has been honoured for the year 2018 for his contribution in leprosy eradication in India and across the world.
On January 16, the jury headed by PM Shri Modi and comprising of Chief Justice of India Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Speaker of Lok Sabha Smt Sumitra Mahajan, Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Shri Mallikarjuna Kharge and MP Shri LK Advani unanimously decided to select the these organisations/persons in recognition of their outstanding contributions in their respective fields.
The 25th Year of Award
The annual award was instituted by Government of India in 1995 during the commemoration of 125th Birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The award carries an amount of Rs 1 crore, a citation in a scroll, a plaque as well as an exquisite traditional handicraft/handloom item.
As per the Code of Procedure that was amended in 2015, “The Award may be made to a person who has worked selflessly for peace, non-violence and amelioration of human sufferings particularly of the less-privileged sections of the society contributing towards social justice and harmony irrespective of whether he holds a high public office or not”.
The Award is open to all persons regardless of nationality, race, creed or sex and meant to recognise individuals or organisations/institutions that are working selflessly and have made an outstanding contribution in promoting the ideals of Peace and Non- violence to which Mahatma Gandhi was devoted throughout his life. The important question that needs to be addressed while giving the award is what are those Gandhian ideals of Peace and Non-violence on which the awardees would be judged.
Enlarging the ‘Peace’
Though Mahatma Gandhi never limited his concept of ‘peace’ to mere absence of violence, popularly ahimsa is equal to peace is the perception that has been politically perpetuated. The amendment to the code and actual awards was an attempt to realise the true Gandhian peace. Gandhi’s satyagrah included his constructive programme, and it was an open-ended list. From communal harmony to education, many people-centric activities were involved in the process of satyagrah. Peace also means eliminating the situations that lead to conflict, lighting the lamp of ‘selfless-service’ for the people that are deprived also constitute the Gandhian idea of peace. What would have been the better time to put that content back in the popular discourse than his celebration of 150th birth-anniversary?
If we have a look at the general list of awardees from 1995, we get the impression that this prestigious award is meant to recognise the efforts to bring peace in a politically or socially torn environment at the global level. Of course, political efforts to bring peace are important, and there are honourable exceptions like Ramakrishna Mission and Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan that were recognised during the NDA-I regime, the key question of realising Gandhi’s concept of peace is not served through that limited approach.
Take the example of Vivekananda Kendra. The memorial that was created in early 1960s at Kanyakumari with the contribution of common people from all over the nation to reignite the teaching of Swami Vivekananda. The Kendra did not limit it to the creation of the magnificent structure with a participatory approach but also inspired and trained many to dedicate their lives for the ideals taught by Swamiji. The work that Vivekananda Kendra has been doing, especially in the Northeastern states, is not directly related to peace-building but certainly creating the foundations for peace. The same is true with Ekal as it is taking education to the unreached with single-teacher schools and taking support and involvement from innumerable volunteers globally. Akshaya Patra Foundation is the torch-bearer of true Bharatiya tradition and provided a model of mid-day meal scheme through social participation. The same can be said about Yohei Sasakawa whose Nippon Foundation has made an immense contribution for leprosy eradication in India and across the world.
From February 3, 2019, there will be another unique initiative in the series of celebrating 150th year of Gandhiji, and that will be dedicated to the road-safety. A drive will be undertaken by 60 participants, on 15 vehicles, for 22 days and covering 7250 km distance. In the changed, context this also should be seen as a peace initiative as accidents kill more people than wars.
As we celebrate 150th anniversary of the man that has inspired not just our freedom movement by recontextualising our ancient values but also guided many in the world to approach problems from a different point of view. Recognising people and organisations who have undertaken a unique satyagraha and consistently trained many satyagrahis with a constructive approach should become an inspiration for all of us to take up some cause and add new dynamism to the Gandhian concept of peace.