before the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forest and Lands
on H.R. 1390, establishing a memorial to honor Mahatma Gandhi
Tuesday, May 12,1998
Chairman Hansen and Members of the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests & Lands,
I am grateful to you Mr. Chairman and the Members of the Subcommittee for having scheduled this hearing for the consideration of HR 1390, a Bill under the Commemorative Works Act for authorizing a Memorial to MK Gandhi on Federal Land in Washington DC. This is a proposal close to the hearts of all Indians, including US citizens of Indian origin, and India's friends. As we celebrate 50 years of India's freedom, and as we commemorate the 50' year of Gandhi's martyrdom, the proposal has a distinct timeliness.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948), known to Indians and followers across the world as the "Mahatma", the great soul, led India's nonviolent freedom struggle against British rule and against all forms of social and religious discrimination. He is famous for launching the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He is known as the Father of the Nation in India, the world's largest democracy. He is also held in high regard by all people who aspire to freeing themselves from injustice and oppression.
The area proposed for locating the memorial is plot number 58 under Area II of the Commemorative Works Act (hereafter referred to as the Act), as described in the House Bill. This is a suitable location in Washington DC and close to the Embassy of India. Area 11 has been selected for the proposed memorial to Mahatma Gandhi as it would be consistent with the criteria prescribed by the Act for location of 'subjects of lasting historical significance to the American people'.
The proposed legislation, inclusive of the site recommended, has been unanimously endorsed by the National Capital Memorial Commission in its meeting of June 10, 1997.
Mahatma Gandhi not only led the movement to bring freedom to his own country, but also provided the inspiration to many a movement in various parts of the world that led to the end of the colonial era. He pioneered the application of nonviolent action and peaceful protest as instruments of struggle as alternatives to violent revolution, and won the overwhelming support of people all over the world. By 1920 within a brief period of his return to India from South Africa, he converted the largely elitist movement, then a movement of intellectuals and the elite, into a national movement involving all sections of people and without preaching hatred for the oppressor. His example and teachings inspired many leaders around the globe, particularly in the US. Among these was the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who emulated Gandhi to give a civil, nonviolent direction to the Civil Rights movement in this country. In a tribute to the unity of thought of these two great persons, a statue of the Mahatma was dedicated on January 24, 1998, at the King Center in Atlanta. I wish to submit Mrs. Coretta Scott King's message, issued on the occasion, for the record.
Gandhi has continued to prove an inspiration to those who have struggled for peace and democracy across the globe such as Mr. Nelson Mandela and Mr. Leech Walesa. His methods have been widely respected and adopted with success, avoiding undue bloodshed or acrimony. Institutes of nonviolence and peaceful resolution of conflicts have continued to multiply across the world, many acknowledging their having been inspired by Gandhi. Several Nobel Peace Prize Winners like the Dalai Lama of Tibet and Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar have acknowledged their debt to him.
Gandhi's relationship with the American people goes further. Albert Einstein described his own ideals as those of Gandhi. "Gandhi," he wrote, "the greatest political genius of our time, indicated the path to be taken. He gave proof of what sacrifices man is capable of once he has discovered the right path. His work on behalf of India's liberation is living testimony to the fact that man's will, sustained by indomitable conviction, is more powerful than material forces that seem insurmountable."
The ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson were a great source of inspiration to Gandhi from earliest times. Of Thoreau, Gandhi wrote in Indian Opinion (October 6, 1907) : " David Thoreau was a great writer, philosopher, poet and withal a most practical man, that is, he taught nothing he was not prepared to practice himself He was one of the greatest and most moral men America has produced. At the time of the abolition of slavery movement, he wrote his famous essay 'On the Duty of Civil Disobedience'. He went to gaol for the sake of his principles and suffering humanity. His essay has, therefore, been sanctified by suffering. Moreover, it is written for all time. Its incisive logic is unanswerable "
Gandhi saw in the US Constitution a model worthy of emulation for free India's Constituent Assembly. He admitted proudly to having advised on borrowing abundantly from the philosophy and wording of the Constitution of the United because, as he stated, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery".
The reform of civil rights, fought for by Martin Luther King Jr. with public acknowledgment of his debt to Gandhi, was brought about through largely peaceful means. Ms Juliette Morgan wrote thus in the Advertiser at the time of the Montgomery Bus Strike: 'Not since the first Battle of the Marne has the taxi been put to as good use as it has been this week in Montgomery. However the spirit animating our Negro citizens as they ride the taxis or walk from the heart of Cloverdale to Mobile Road has been more like that of Gandhi than of the "Taxicab Army" that saved Paris. During the historic bus boycott and after, Gandhi became to King the measuring rod of his own social philosophy.'
On Gandhi's martyrdom George C Marshall US Secretary of State summarized
his life succinctly:
Gandhi statues have been erected at many places in the US, for example, in New York City, in San Francisco, in Atlanta and in Salt Lake City. At many Capitals of the world too such memorials have been established. At the inauguration of the statue in London, the Queen, unable to be present personally, specially deputed the Prince of Wales to represent the Crown.
Many great persons who have transcended national boundaries in their influence and standing among the world's people and have been admired in the US, have been recognized with memorials in Washington DC. Some examples are memorials to Simon Bolivar on Florida Avenue, to Lebanon's Kahlil Gibran on Massachusetts Avenue and to Ireland's Robert Emmett, also on Massachusetts Avenue. The latter was in fact installed in commemoration of Ireland's 50th year of independence. This brings home the widely acknowledged truth that Washington is not merely another national capital, but among the most important cities of the world. Having a memorial to Gandhi in this city would be very much in keeping with the growing international stature of Washington, DC.
The design of the Memorial will be finalized in consultation with the National Park Service, or as directed by the National Capital Memorial Commission.
The costs of the Memorial will be borne by the people of India. The Embassy of India would be happy to meet the cost of maintenance of the memorial in addition to making the deposit as may be required.
In conclusion, I thank you once again Mr. Chairman, for having brought
this Bill to hearing before the Subcommittee. I also take the opportunity
to thank the honorable members of the House who have taken the initiative
to cosponsor this Bill in order to facilitate the building of a fitting
memorial to a noble son of India and a citizen of the world.
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