Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK in India: His Address on All India Radio

Martin Luther King, Jr. visited India in 1959, an event which is described in detail at the King Encyclopedia. King, as is well known, modeled his approach to civil rights in the United States on Gandhi's successful mass non-violence/civil disobedience campaign for Indian independence.

On NPR last week, there was a story about how All India Radio has recently discovered in its archives the recorded version of the address given by Dr. King at the end of his visit to India.

Through a little bit of digging on Google, I found the actual recording posted on the internet, at the website of the Indian Consulate of Chicago.

For me the highlight of the address is the closing, which I'll take the liberty of including here:

Many years ago, when Abraham Lincoln was shot – and incidentally, he was shot for the same reason that Mahatma Gandhi was shot for; namely, for committing the crime of wanting to heal the wounds of a divided nation. And when he was shot, Secretary Stanton stood by the dead body of the great leader and said these words: “now, he belongs to the ages.” And in a real sense, we can say the same thing about Mahatma Gandhi, and even in stronger terms: “now, he belongs to the ages.”

And if this age is to survive, it must follow the way of love and non-violence that he so nobly illustrated in his life. Mahatma Gandhi may well be God’s appeal to this generation, a generation drifting again to its doom. And this eternal appeal is in the form of a warning: they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword.

We must come to see in the world today that what he taught, and his method throughout, reveals to us that there is an alternative to violence, and that if we fail to follow this we will perish in our individual and in our collective lives. For in a day when Sputniks and explorers dash through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war.

Today we no longer have a choice between violence and non-violence; it is either non-violence, or non-existence. (link)

Perhaps the meanings of King and Gandhi's respective messages have changed as times have changed. India is no longer a country with a colonial chip on its shoulder, and minorities in the U.S. have a shining example of success in President Barack Obama (among many other signs of progress). It is probably a bit too easy and nostalgic to simply savor those past struggles without continually seeking to apply them to our messy current situations; with too much familiarity and Big Talk, these two icons of struggle risk becoming bloated relics. (For example, by the 1970s, Gandhianism in India had become an easy symbol, devoid of substance -- one thinks of the overweight Congress politicians in homespun, happily siphoning off crores of Rupees for Swiss bank accounts.)

Concomitantly, it may be that rigorous non-violence cannot mean the same thing for us today as it did for African Americans who demanded a seat at the American table, or Indians who demanded sovereignty -- a seat at the table of nations. Perhaps King and Gandhi's shared dream of a total, worldwide movement away from a social order based on violence, active or potential, is one we'll have to put away for the foreseeable future, as simply not in keeping with human nature. Satyagraha is a brilliant strategy for mobilizing the Indian masses to defeat the most powerful, thoroughly armed Empire the world has ever known, without bloodshed. But in my view it is neither effective nor appropriate as a response to Jihadists on the streets of Mumbai, or Maoist rebels in eastern India, to name just two examples. (I am not a pacifist myself for this reason.)

And yet, is it not still chastening to hear these words, even in these times? (Listen to the speech.) As I say, some of the diacritics may have changed, but I think King's warning still stands: "they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword." Gaza*. Sri Lanka. Iraq. India-Pakistan. Isn't that still the truth we need to hear?

[* Update: Just to be clear, I'm using the name "Gaza" here as a short-hand for the current Israel-Palestinian conflict, not as a way of suggesting that the Palestinians need to hear this message more than the Israelis. Both sides might benefit from hearing this message.]

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A somewhat forgotten figure is Rustin Bayard ( I think he had a significant role in MLK transformation as well (according to one account MLK kept a gun within easy reach in his house for self-defence, Bayard convinced him to get rid of it). Just thought to add a note on someone who actually visited India and tried to meet Gandhi in person.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Felipe Santos said...

I would definitely agree. Bayard was one of those lesser known social entrpreneurs who was overshadowed by King in later life. Definitely worth checking out.

waikiki weddings

2:23 PM  
Anonymous Archana said...

What a great find, and yes, how appropriate for our times...

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those who link MLK with Gandhi need to go through this link:

Also a book by GB Singh and Tim Watson 'Gandhi Under Cross-Examination' claims that an incident where Gandhi claimed that he thrown-off a train in South Africa actually never happened.

And when Oprah mentioned MLK and Gandhi together, here is a response from Baldev Singh:

Finally, here is Richard Grenier about Gandhi:

Gurtej Singh
Wellington-New Zealand

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A great find indeed. I was moved in December when on Democracy Now! Krishnammal Jagannathan recounted how MLK visited her and her husband (and what she cooked for him):

11:02 PM  
Anonymous B said...

It was an interesting comment on Bayard Rustin and MLK's gun. Here's Bayard Rustin's modest take on the issue, from Howell Raines's "My Soul is rested", pg 53:

"[...] and within six weeks, [MLK] demanded that there be no armed guards and no effort at associating himself in any form with violence. ... I take no credit for Dr. King's development, but I think the fact that Dr. King had someone around recommending certain readings and discussing these things with him was helpful to bring up in him what was already there. "

6:29 AM  
Blogger Amritbir Kaur said...

I agree : "they that live by the sword shall perish by the sword."
After all, we get only that what we give.

6:40 AM  
Blogger meryy said...

there was a story about how All India Radio has recently discovered in its archives the recorded version of the address given by Dr. King at the end of his visit to India.

6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

M L King and M K Gandhi must be twisting and turning in their grave after seeing the world of today!! Look at the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team, seige of Mumbai, attacks in india..
Peace after all is just a word now..

1:54 PM  

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