Unlikely places

The state of Gujarat forms the southernmost segment of India’s border with neighbouring Pakistan.

The state of Gujarat forms the southernmost segment of India’s border with neighbouring Pakistan.

Almost exactly halfway down its deeply indented coast lays the port of Porbandar.

By Indian standards this town on the Arabian Sea barely rates mentioning.

In a country of well over a billion inhabitants, recent estimates set Porbandar’s population at just over 150,000 citizens.

Porbandar has a long history.

The first traces of settlement there date to well over 3,000 years ago. But it is not its early Harappan inhabitants or later Mughal rulers that rate global notice.

Its claim to fame is that on October 2, 1869, a boy was born to a Karamchand and Putlibai Gandhi there. They called their son Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

Mohandas Gandhi grew up in a devote Hindu family. Their value base provided the strong footings for his moral development.

Studies in England widened his horizons and offered him his first experiences in organizing.

His personal exposure to racism and social injustice during his legal practice in South Africa turned him towards social activism.

In 1915 Gandhi returned to India with his still evolving concept of ‘satyagraha,’ holding to the truth. This strategy of non-violent resistance to injustice would in his own words come “to mean vindication of truth, not by infliction of suffering on the opponent, but on oneself.”

Long years of marches, protests and fasts would lead, eventually, to the independence of the Indian sub-continent.

The Gandhian revolution would also inspire decolonization and civil rights movements around the world.

Of course, there are critiques of his approach to societal change.

“If Gandhi’s enormously powerful and successful strategy of nonviolent resistance had met a different enemy — Stalin’s Russia, Hitler’s Germany, even prewar Japan, instead of England,” argues Hanna Arendt in her classic 1969 essay Reflections on Violence, “the outcome would not have been decolonization, but massacre and submission.”

Curiously Arendt continues her argument by saying that “Rule by sheer violence comes into play where power is being lost.”

European powers, like England, had to face up to the reality of collapsing empires.

Their options were stark: “decolonization or massacre.”

If England didn’t move as it did, other commentators have suggested that the ultimate consequence would have been the erosion and eventual loss of democratic rights in the United Kingdom itself.

This is what Arendt referred to as “the much-feared boomerang effect.”

The “government of subject races” … meant that rule by violence in far-away lands would end by affecting the government of England, that the last “subject race” would be the English themselves.”

Arendt didn’t live long enough to see the collapse of the Soviet Union. She died in 1975.

If she had, would her opinions have changed about the efficacy of non-violent resistance?

The parallel with our current global situation is marked.

“The combination of huge standing armies, almost continuous wars, an ever growing economic dependence on the military-industrial complex and the making of weaponry, and ruinous military expenses as well as a vast, bloated ‘defence’ budget, not to speak of the creation of a whole second (US) Defence department (known as the department of Homeland Security), has been destroying our republican structure of governing in favour of an imperial presidency,” said Chalmers Johnson, author of Nemesis, the Last Days of the American Republic.

“We are on the brink of losing our democracy for the sake of keeping our empire,” Johnson continues in an article available on the www.antiwar.com website.

“Once a nation starts down that path, the dynamics that apply to all empires come into play — isolation, overstretch, the uniting of local and global forces opposed to imperialism, and in the end bankruptcy.”

What is the impact on countries that just play a supporting role in the imperialistic project?

Gandhi died 60 years ago this coming week. He inspired a planet yearning for justice. An obscure corner of our planet, Porbandar, an unlikely place far from centres of power or prestige produced Gandhi.

Will the values we are instilling in our youth today here in the Yukon provide the world’s next Gandhi?