UKZN-ASRA Host Mahatma Gandhi Lecture
The Association for the Study of Religion in Southern Africa (ASRSA) recently hosted the Gandhi Memorial Lecture at Howard College campus, during its annual congress. It was one of the most informative and intellectually enriching items on their programme for this year.
The Memorial Lecture was delivered by world-renowned Gandhi scholar, Professor Judith M Brown, who is a South Asian History specialist from Oxford University.
Titled, Mahatma Gandhi, 1869 – 1948: Interrogating the Practice of Politics, Brown’s lecture objectified and analysed some of the details of Gandhi’s own interrogation of the politics of his time (early 1890s – 1948). The three main historical contexts or phases of Gandhi’s life; his development of an alternative politics, as well as his alternative political praxis through his notion of satyagraha, through which he put his ideas into practice, were the main focus areas of Brown’s lecture.
Parallel to his critique of the violence and coercive nature of the ‘modern state’, Gandhi opted for a programme to build communities from the ground up through creating ‘small scale self-sustaining and self-determining, rural communities which could resolve their problems through face to face solutions.’
Brown said Gandhi was idiosyncratic, which she said was evident in the ways in which he interrogated the colonising politics in South Africa, and that of late imperial India, throughout his life. It is also evident in the ways in which he creatively constructed relevant political agendas, ideas, ideals, and related actions, events and practices through which he confronted the powers and political challenges of his time.
Not only was he unwavering in his search for truth and his non-violent truth-practices, he was ‘an experimenter with ideas and practices’ as well as ‘a synthesiser willing to learn from anyone whose own ideological struggles spoke to his own concerns.’ Above all, she said, ‘Gandhi was a man with a passionate commitment to understand what truth might be in any given situation and what that truth might demand of him, or her.’
Brown said that, historically, ‘Interrogating the foundations of political thinking and practice among his contemporaries, Gandhi worked to rethink the political enterprise, its goals in India, and the modes of action which would achieve a new society.’
Dr Ela Gandhi, Gandhi Development Trust Founding Chair sincerely thanked Brown for her presentation, especially her analysis of Gandhi Philosophy, of self-reliance, independence, and the promotion of self-sustaining communities founded on agriculture and local small-scale industries. Quoting Brown, she said, that Gandhi’s emphasis on ‘communal unity, removal of untouchability, home industry, prohibition of alcohol and drugs, village health, industry, basic education, gender, and language,’ is indicative of the challenges facing the developing world today, not least South Africa.
In her response, Professor Kalpana Hiralal, UKZN Academic Respondent thanked Brown for her excellent historical analysis of Gandhi’s incisive interrogation of the political formations of his time, both in South Africa, and in India as well as her analysis of his creative engagement of the challenges of his time. She said that it is well-known that Gandhi, like all the South Africans of his time, was still part of the racial and gender historical social formations of his time. Yet, with his satyagraha philosophy, that he developed in South Africa in the 1910s, he paved the way for numerous resistance and liberation movements of the twentieth century, as well as for empowering people for independence, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-support.
Mahatma Gandhi’s endeavours served as examples for numerous non-violent activists and movements, such as former President Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jnr. and the numerous non-violent mass democratic social movements of the twentieth century.
Photograph: Albert Hirasen