New Delhi : The nation and the international community paid rich tributes to Mahatma Gandhi Tuesday, celebrating his 138th birth anniversary with peace marches, hymns and pledges, and recalling his credo of non-violence in an era of marked violence.
At the United Nations in New York, the world community leaders dedicated the day to the Mahatma as the International Day of Non-Violence, pledging its annual observance.
In New Delhi, many solemn ceremonies were held at Gandhi’s memorial Raj Ghat and elsewhere, and President Pratibha Patil launched a nationwide campaign to save the girl-child.
People from all walks of life thronged Raj Ghat after Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paid floral tributes early in the morning.
“For as long as there is temptation to resort to violence in the human mind, the Mahatma’s message of non-violence will tug at our hearts. The fact that the international community has today come to observe this day as the International Day of Non-Violence in memory of Mahatma Gandhi, should ensure that generations to come would never forget the eternal message of the Mahatma,” the prime minister said at a function in Vigyan Bhavan.
Several dignitaries and hundreds of common people visited Raj Ghat to offer floral tributes. The memorial was decorated with flowers and Gandhi’s favourite hymns were played in the backdrop. A large number of foreigners also turned up.
The president attended an inter-religious meet at Raj Ghat and later hosted three events on the occasion at Rashtrapati Bhavan. She launched a campaign to save the girl child, released special commemorative medallions on 60 years of India’s independence and inaugurated the 58th Tuberculosis Seal Campaign.
Among the dignitaries who visited the memorial and attended the prayer meeting were Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony, Home Minister Shivraj Patil, Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit and former prime minister I.K. Gujral.
Indian-American astronaut Sunita Williams, along with her father Deepak Pandya and other family members, also visited the memorial.
“I respect Gandhiji. He stood for entire humanity and is eternally relevant,” Williams said as she came out of Raj Ghat along with veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande, after paying floral tributes.
The prime minister flagged off a peace march and released a commemorative postage stamp to pay homage to the Father of the Nation who had fallen to an assassin’s bullets on Jan 30, 1948, while preaching peace.
He informed the gathering at Vigyan Bhavan that Congress President Sonia Gandhi was representing India at the UN General Assembly to celebrate the first International Day of Non-Violence.
“Mahatma Gandhi’s message lay in some key words associated with him — tolerance, truth, transparency, non-violence and self-respect,” the prime minister said. He stressed that Gandhi was not some “lofty saint” but a great “political leader”. “He was regarded as a Mahatma because he practised what he preached. Because he cared for the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak,” Manmohan Singh pointed out.
Earlier, while flagging off a march from the Congress party headquarters to Raj Ghat, the prime minister said that if democracy has grown in India it is because of the country’s belief in non-violence. He also rued that in today’s world Gandhi’s principles were being ignored and forgotten.
In his brief address to the marchers who had assembled in the traditional white Congress uniform, Manmohan Singh said: “Non-violence is essential and of extreme importance in our daily lives and for conducting day-to-day affairs. The Congress has a responsibility of taking forward both democracy and non-violence. Whatever challenges come in our way, we will adopt non-violence and face them.”
“It is a weapon with the help of which the weakest become stronger. Mahatma Gandhi had proved that it is not only for the saints but also for everyone to practise non-violence. It is for the brave and not for the cowards,” he stressed, reminding people how Mahatma Gandhi had used non-violence as the most effective tool for winning independence.
The scene at Raj Ghat, even amid the flocks of people, was soothing to the senses.
For most it might have been the umpteenth visit to Raj Ghat. But there were many, especially among the younger lot, for whom this was their first visit.
“Although I am from Delhi, this is my first visit to Raj Ghat,” said 16-year-old Geetanjali Arora, who had come with her mother and sister.
“We might not think of Gandhiji in our everyday life, but I think that even if we think of him one day and try to abide by his teachings on that day, it is a good step,” said Shalu Gosain, who works in an NGO that supports underprivileged children.
Surrounded by nearly 10 enthusiastic kids, eager to chip in with their comments, Gosain said that moments like these, when kids get to see people talking about Gandhi, have discussions and use the spinning wheel, have a deep impact on their impressionable minds.
In the vast green lawns, under the shade of the trees and shamiana (marquee), there were scores of people having animated discussion about Gandhi.