December 25, 2004 to January 15, 2005
Pilgrimage to Gandhi's India
BY JOHN DEAR
December 25, 2004, Ireland
It’s Christmas day and I’m in Galway on the west coast of Ireland, staying with my friend Terry Howard, SJ and the Jesuit community, after visiting other Jesuit friends in Dublin, and Mairead Maguire and her family near Belfast. It’s cold, quiet and wet, but beautiful and refreshing to be here, to celebrate the coming of the God of peace into our world. Terry and I drove along the coast for a few hours, looking out at the Aran islands, then joined the community for Christmas Mass and dinner.
This is just a brief stop on my journey to India. I have dreamed of going to India since I was a boy. One night when I was five, I had a vivid dream about traveling through India. I told my older brother about it when I woke up. It has haunted me ever since. I always presumed that one day my dream would come true.
My interest in India has grown steadily over the decades as I have studied and pondered the life of Mahatma Gandhi. He remains for me the most significant peacemaker of the last century. I was greatly affected by the 1982 movie about him, began to study his life, and then professed a vow of nonviolence as he did in 1984. Reading the 95 volumes of his collected works a few years ago made a deep impression on me.
Now I’m on my way to India, with a “Global Exchange” tour led by Arun Gandhi, Gandhi’s grandson, who lives in Memphis and teaches nonviolence around the world. I go to India as a pilgrim in search of God and truth, to listen and learn about India and Gandhi, to meet the good people who are implementing his vision and constructive programs, and to deepen my own commitment to nonviolence. May the suffering people of India break open my heart and teach me anew the lessons of peace. I go with eyes wide open, including the third one.
December 26, 2004, Dublin, Ireland
Sometime around 8:00 a.m. this morning, an earthquake measuring 9.1 on the Richter scale struck under the Indian ocean about 190 km. off Sumatra, Indonesia setting off enormous 40 foot tall tidal waves that struck India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand and even Somalia. We watched the first news reports before driving back to Dublin. No one knows how many were swept out to sea. First estimates say 30,000 people are dead. I am overwhelmed with grief and sorrow. Lord, have mercy on them all. It is hard to believe that I am on my way to India, the day after this disaster.
Tonight, Terry and I had dinner with our friend Jim Corkery, SJ in one of the Dublin Jesuit communities. Everyone is shaken by the news.
December 27, 2004, London, England
I flew to London this morning for a layover before tomorrow’s 6 a.m. flight to Bombay. I spent the day walking around town, from Piccadilly and Leicester Square to Regent’s Park and St. John’s Wood.
I grieve the shocking loss of life from the tsunami. I grieve the arrogance, violence, and stupidity of the Bush administration, wreaking havoc on the world, bringing a veritable tsunami of violence and death to Iraqis, Palestinians, Afghanis, and not lifting a finger to help the suffering people of Darfur, Haiti and Colombia. Life is so precious and fragile, what with tidal waves, earthquakes, hurricanes and fires. Why do we have to bring so much pain to so many people around the world? Life is hard enough without our wars and injustices. Instead, we should spend our resources relieving pain, feeding the world, and protecting people from every natural disaster.
December 28, 2004, Mumbai, India
The tone of my Gandhian pilgrimage has changed with this disaster. I feel shocked, appalled, worried and sad. As I waited for the flight at Heathrow, scores of bedraggled people got off flights from Asia. The news had been reporting that survivors from the Thai resorts hit by the tsunami were beginning to return. I feel helpless and powerless in the face of this natural disaster, but as I fly across Turkey, Iran and Pakistan, I am determined again to listen. I go to India, not as a fan of Gandhi, not to idolize him, but to see India through his eyes and to hear the wisdom of nonviolence. Maybe, just maybe, some of Gandhi’s nonviolence will rub off on me and inspire me for the journey ahead.
I saw Richard Rohr last week in Albuquerque and he said he had visited India earlier this year for the first time. “You will not be the same after India,” he said. “Everyone is changed by India.” He told me that after seeing such widespread poverty and powerlessness, he could never be impatient again.
Bombay is now called Mumbai, and I stepped into 90 degree humidity outside the airport to be greeted by someone from the tour group. There was a mob of people and a sea of auto rickshaws, three wheeled, covered golf carts that serve as taxis. I immediately felt at home and knew I would love it. We drove across Mumbai through the terrible 11 p.m. traffic and passed by shacks and shops to Juhu Beach where the group is gathering.
December 29, 2004
I spent the day resting before meeting with the tour group tonight. I feel
a great sense of relief just being out of the United States, away from its
arrogance, imperialism, greed, and indifference. It is refreshing and sobering
to stand with the people of India, to witness their poverty, to meet their
dignity and courage, and to realize once again there is more to life than
George Bush’s America.
Reports now say that 65,000 people died in the tsunami and the number will rise dramatically. I mourn for them, and pray for them all, and try to grasp the magnitude and meaning of this event.
I went for a walk along the beautiful Juhu Beach, where Gandhi used to rest after his fasts and imprisonments, but I was immediately accosted by several starving mothers holding their babies and about twenty girls all wearing rags. They were touching me, holding me, and pleading for money. They surrounded me, so I eventually returned to the road. Along the way, I saw homeless beggars, speeding taxis and auto rickshaws, palm trees and the ocean. I realize that I feel at home because I have seen this before--in San Salvador, Guatemala City, Manila, Port au Prince, and Managua. I recognize this poverty. India is filled with pain, grief, sorrow, destitution and unspeakable poverty. It is an indictment of the Rich World’s greed, selfishness and injustice. What is so different about India for me is the sheer size of it. I have never seen so many people, most of them terribly poor.
India is one third the size of the U.S., with three times the size, over 1.1 billion people. Forty percent of its population are under 15 years old. About 70% live--and die--in some 600,000 villages.
Tonight, Arun Gandhi welcomed us and gave an introductory talk about Gandhi, our trip, and India’s poverty. He explained that Gandhi urged India to develop the villages, and figure out simple, sustainable cottage industries so the poor could survive. India rejected his vision, industrialized the cities, the villagers moved there and now the problems are immense. Gandhi’s dream remains the only viable solution, a return to simple village life, and a national program to support village sustainability.
December 30, 2004
I woke to the news that 100,000 have now been declared dead by the tsunami. Entire villages have vanished. Millions are injured or homeless. Unbelievable. Unimaginable. God have mercy on the dead and the survivors and us all.
Then, I watched in disbelief as the U.S. offered to contribute $15 million for disaster relief. I am speechless and appalled by this cold, callous. What an insult to India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia! Bush is about to spend $50 million on his inauguration party. Last year, he spent $150 billion to kill 100,000 Iraqis, and he plans to spend another $100 billion this year, yet he refuses any serious aid for the millions hurt by the tidal waves. On Christmas day, Bush called the American people to be more compassionate. But when the tsunami hit, he remained on vacation in Texas all week. He symbolizes the cold-hearted hypocrisy of the Rich World. We fund killing people, not saving people. Instead we should cancel all funds for war, and spend that $100 billion on tsunami relief, for water, food, medicine and shelters, and then work to eliminate hunger and disease everywhere.
But the slaughter of Iraq goes on. Dozens were killed in Baghdad these last few days. The only bright spot is the news of Yushchenko’s election in the Ukraine, thanks to the thousands of nonviolent resisters who shut down the country demanding re-election.
After breakfast, we drove all morning out of the city into the countryside passed thousands of shacks, barefoot children, women in saris, and auto rickshaws. At one point as we waited at a crowded intersection a three year old boy stood holding his father’s hand for five minutes, waving at us with a huge smile. So happy, at peace, full of joy, in the midst of poverty. He was blessing us.
We spent the day at the Women’s Indian Trust, a women’s program where they empower women to rebuild their lives, train them to work and help them get their own homes. They can jam, spin cloth, print materials, make clothes and produce children’s toys. They also manage day care and a crafts shop. These women confront India’s long history of patriarchy. Men do not allow women to leave home. But here women take responsibility for themselves. This program should be replicated throughout India. It’s just like the Sacred Heart Center which I used to direct in Richmond, Virginia. We spent time visiting their nursing training program, where they teach local women the basics of healthcare, and send them into the slums and countryside. Then, we visited the child care section and school before lunch.
I believe this tragedy was preventable. The world spent $20 trillion during the last century to kill 170 million people in wars. If we never went to war and used that money instead for human resources, we could wipe out hunger, disease, and poverty. We could clean up the environment and improve life for billions. With the extra money left over, we could set up a global tsunami warning system--which was not in place here--to get people out before the waves arrive. Sri Lanka had two hours before the wave struck. Everyone could have been moved inland within fifteen minutes; thousands could have been saved. We could likewise improve our earthquake, tornado and hurricane warning systems. But life is cheap. We do not care for the world’s poorest, only for corporate profits.
It is embarrassing to see Bush and Powell on the news. A United Nations official announced the day after the tragedy that the Rich nations were being “stingy.” Powell angrily denied that. Indian TV is more respectful, sensitive, mournful, and attentive to the reality of suffering.
December 31, 2004
The morning paper states that over 125,000 people are now confirmed dead from the tsunami. Meanwhile, Bush gave an angry speech against the U.N. official, saying that the U.S. is “not stingy,” that it is a “kind-hearted, generous nation.” He increased the aid to all of $35 million, still not even the amount he is spending for his inauguration party. What a scandal and an affront to the rest of the world! It is so painful to see the U.S. arrogance and selfishness. We are the Scrooge of the world. This morning, we visited the poorest slums of Bombay, and a Gandhian project called “The Marketplace,” led by a group of women who run simple programs to empower other women and children in the slums by forming cooperatives to make and sell crafts. The poverty is overwhelming, with the dogs, sewage, trash, shacks and pollution. We walk through the endless, narrow stone tunnel-like alleys between the crowded shacks and I felt I was back in Cite Soleil in Haiti or Guatemala City.
But the women are great. Though they are poor, they have selflessly given their lives to other poor women. They are true models of kindness, compassion and generosity--everything Bush claims for himself and the American empire, everything he and first world America are not. He could learn from them the meaning of compassion and generosity. “Empowerment for poor women,” one of them explains “begins by getting food so they can eat. Only then can they begin to work and earn an income. It was scary for these women to take a stand and join the cooperative. They are courageous.
We spent several hours listening to their testimonies, how they learned to stitch, organize cooperatives and managed to support themselves. They make all the decisions themselves. They clean up the slums. They promote good hygiene. They also teach inter-religious dialogue, respect toward others, and parenting skills. They offer vacation programs for children, and support groups for teenagers. Nearly 500 women are involved in these programs. As we walked through the endless alley ways, I was overwhelmed by the poverty, which was like a prison for half a million people, but these women give me hope. They are full of life and determination.
We spent time in one slum house which was a room about 8’ X 8’, with 8 people living in it. It reminds me of my jail cell with Philip Berrigan, or the family I stayed with in Palestine whose home was destroyed, who were given a cell by neighboring families. Everyone is unemployed, illiterate and sick. But the children smile and laugh. Through this program they share their resources, clean their alleys, and look after one another.
This poverty is unimaginable. No human being should live like this. Bush should see this. Everyone in the U.S. should know this. This is structural injustice, immorality, institutionalized evil. Where are the parks, the clean water systems, the large family rooms, the kitchens, the food, the doctors, the schools, and the sports fields? How do they survive? They don’t. They suffer early and unjust deaths, and the world looks the other way. Yet these women have taken Gandhi’s advice to stand up and sustain themselves.
To be human is to resist institutionalized inhumanity, confront the hypocrisy of the Rich World, to give our lives for those in need, and to receive from them the gift of hope.
Back at the hotel, we had a New Year’s Eve dinner followed by a lecture by Arun’s son, Tushar Gandhi, who runs the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. “Gandhi dreamed of a classless society living in perfect harmony, with no untouchability or drugs; with gender equality, and peace with all the world,” Tushar began. “This dream has not been fulfilled.”
“There is total disparity between rural poverty and urban wealth, because India chose to seek industry, and so the urban areas exploded leaving the rural villages in destitution. Many starve. Some farmers commit suicide because they cannot pay their interest. The rural areas are content with one day of electricity each week. Gandhi urged India to return to the spinning wheel because that would guarantee at least one meal a day to the starving masses. The government promotes technology and computers, but does nothing for the starving tribal peoples. So there are two Indias--the affluent, Westernized urban area vs. the poor, rural areas. The politicians are corrupt, and the economy is at the mercy of the United States.
“Meanwhile, the villages are segregated by caste, which is why Gandhi fought so hard to abolish untouchability, to get rid of vertical castes and leave a horizontal caste system, so that all castes are equal and there is no exploitation. Gandhi dreamed of an India without classes or castes, but people are still killed because of their castes.
“Gandhi dreamed of equality between women and men, and though India has had a woman president, female fetuses are often aborted so that boys will be born. In some villages, the birth rate is five to one for boys. Girls are deprived of education, told to stay at home, and require money for a dowry, so sexism thrives and kills in India.
“Finally, instead of becoming a peaceful nation as Gandhi dreamed, India has rejected nonviolence and built nuclear weapons. India’s military budget increased 35% this year. The government no longer even uses the word ‘nonviolence.’ India, as well as Pakistan, have been decimated by weapons sales and the threat of war. Gandhi did not fail,” Tushar concluded. “He proved that these points were achievable, but as a people, we have failed. The corporations have made India much worse. Nonetheless, India should take up Gandhi’s dream. Many people are working hard to create new economic alternatives and promote equality.”
“Materialism and morality have an inverse proportionality,” Mahatma Gandhi taught. “The more materialistic we are, the more immoral we are.” We have to reject materialism and strive for Gandhi’s dream of a more just, peaceful, moral society.
January 1, 2005
There is no comparing the Rich World of the United States with the poverty, starvation, homelessness and sewage of India. So I will not compare them. Instead, I begin the New Year open to the blessings of India, to see India through Gandhi’s eyes, and to welcome its many gifts and traditions. Everywhere I go now, I greet people by putting my hands together in a prayer gesture and say, “Namaste!,” which means, “The God of love within me greets the God of love within you.” Beautiful!
The New Year began at 5 a.m. when we set off to the airport and flew off
over Mumbai on a short flight to Poona. The view of Mumbai was shocking: an
endless sea of tin roofs marking the shacks where millions survive urban poverty.
Then, just as quickly, green fields, mesas, mountains, and dry barren desert
lands appeared below. We arrived in Poona and set off for an all day bus ride
to Sangli. We saw rural India, with the masses lining the broken road, the
sacred cows walking into the traffic, the green fields and yellow mustard
We arrived at 8:30 p.m. too late to visit a school project for slum children, but they were there to greet us. Two girls put marigold garlands around my neck and another painted the red dot, the kumkum mark, on my forehead, the first time in my life, to remind me of God, the duty of prayer and the purpose of life. Then, we drove to an auditorium for a session with area teachers, principals and politicians who spoke about their school projects and honored Arun by pledging to carry on Gandhi’s vision of education for the poor. I was interviewed by a local journalist, and met a young Indian priest, Fr. Paul, who runs 12 social centers and a huge parish with 12,000 active parishioners. I spoke with an elderly man dressed in full white khadi who told me about his time in prison and the day he met Gandhi when he was a teenager.
January 2, 2005
Yesterday, rumors of another tsunami led to panic along the coastlines.
We set off for another day in the countryside to visit Gandhian development
programs, founded by an extraordinary man, Arun Chavan, a former English professor
who gave up his university career to implement Gandhi’s vision and create
social programs that would help the poor lift themselves out of poverty.
He started the Verala Development Society, a community development program
that models and advocates natural
farming, education, housing, food distribution and Gandhian societies that
teach nonviolence and self-sufficiency.
We were brought to a beautiful farm, and gathered in a circle of chairs in a cool groove of trees to hear the farmers describe their natural farming experiments, how they can take one quarter of an acre of the worst land and transform it in three years into rich sustainable land that can feed five people. “The earth can sustain our needs,” they quote Mahatma Gandhi as saying, “but not our greed.” “Gandhi taught us that the earth can sustain us, so we do not need outside help from the government or any other nation. It won’t be coming anyway, so we turn to the earth. When we understand our connectedness with nature and work together with nature instead of exploiting it, we can live freely. But that means we must renounce greed.”
I feel a marvelous peace sitting under these trees listening to these heroic Gandhians taking responsibility for their lives and their impoverished neighbors. This whole region has suffered a drought in recent years, and many people have starved in this region. But they have 200 farmers working with them, creating self-sufficient farming communes.
At another rural cooperative, we heard how they build bricks and help people build instant concrete houses. Over 80 million people are officially homeless in India. Here they make bricks and homes to house one another. They served us a beautiful lunch and sang for us as well. They are thrilled to have Arun with them.
Then, we visited another village to watch a short outdoor play performed by a young theater troupe which they perform in villages around the country. The musical portrays Lord Krishna returning to earth because he is worried about HIV/AIDS. With jokes and songs, they teach people about the disease and how to avoid it. Huge crowds of children and adults watched and laughed throughout the clever performance.
Then, we were off to another village, to meet the local Gandhi society in a large auditorium. “We are all interrelated and inter-connected,” Arun told the crowd, “and we have to build relationships across the world, across the nations, to lessen the tensions and end the wars and injustice. Let us resolve today to work with every ounce of the strength we have for the rest of our lives for peace and a new nonviolent world.”
The sights and smells, the crowded streets, the speeding traffic, the cows and water buffaloes, the women carrying huge loads on their heads, the barefoot children. At the housing development compound, we were welcomed again with garlands of marigolds, jasmine and roses. Throughout the day, I was blessed by the people I met, and I pray for them all, all these beautiful, poor people, as well as the tsunami victims, India and the world, that we would help one another, empower each other, and create a new world full of justice and dignity for all.
In the afternoon, we visited an alternative school built on a thousand acres for hundreds of students. During our first outdoor session, we met some twenty “freedom fighters,” men in their 70s and 80s who were part of the Independence movement, and who had known Gandhi. Sitting outside in a large square, surrounded by hundreds of young people, Arun Chavan, the founder, spoke to us about the need to work for a new, more human world, “not a world market, but a world community, a family of human beings.” We don’t have cultures,” he said, “but vultures preying on humanity. Gandhi called us to live a natural life, not an artificial life. We want everyone to lead a happy life.”
After his talk, we were invited to plant trees on the school campus. A student gave me a banana plant and led me to a hole. Another showed us a boa constrictor and a cobra in a cage. One of the freedom fighters told me about meeting Gandhi in the early 1940s, and how he spent nine months in prison for nonviolent civil disobedience. I told him that I too had spent nine months in prison for civil disobedience against U.S. nuclear weapons. He could not believe it.
Finally, we were taken to an outdoor park and stage on the campus for a performance by high school students about the culture, songs and dances of India. It was spectacular. It began with a six year old boy in full custom, banging on a drum along with an old Indian song. A group of girls sang and danced to a tribal song, then one girl danced and lip-synched to a rock song. Finally a group of boys sang along to music. They were entertaining, funny, and inspiring. I was deeply moved, and after the poverty and pain I’ve witnessed, I felt hopeful for the first time, seeing not just the suffering and dying of the Indian people, but the rising, the hope and joy of India, beginning with its youth.
After dinner, Arun spoke to us about Gandhi and his teachings. “Nonviolence is not just a strategy, but a way of life,” he explained, quoting Gandhi’s mandate. “Nonviolence resists not just physical violence and killings, but all forms of violence, economic violence, psychological violence, religious violence. And so it must be practiced on all fronts, from every angle in order to create a new culture of nonviolence.”
January 3, 2005
A long, scary drive back to Mumbai, weaving through the speeding jeeps, trucks, motorcycles and cows.. Along the way, we stopped at a weaver’s cooperative and watched them make clothe, then had a meeting with the founder. Arun lit incense and put a garland on a beautiful portrait of his grandfather.
At 4:00, we drove through Poona to the former Aga Khan Palace, where Mahatma Gandhi, his wife Kasturbai and a few other associates were imprisoned from 1942 to 1944. I remember not only the movie scenes from here, but the many letters Gandhi wrote from here. We saw the rooms where they were imprisoned, their bathroom, clothes, prison utensils, and shoes. It was here that Gandhi’s secretary, Mahadev Desai had a heart attack and dropped dead, and then a few months later, Kasturbai Gandhi died in Gandhi’s arms. Arun led us to the back to the garden, beyond a wall, to the place where the two of them were cremated by Gandhi. I knelt down beside Arun to pray at Kasturbai’s samdedhi, the cremation place, and cried. I prayed too at the little white monument where a small portion of Gandhi’s ashes are buried. Suddenly, I am back before the graves of Dr. King, Dorothy Day, Phil Berrigan, Thomas Merton, Ita Ford and Jean Donovan, praying for the world, and for Gandhi’s intercession, that I too might be an apostle of nonviolence.
We walked the gardens, sat outside, took pictures and listened to Arun’s explanation of their imprisonment. It was like visiting Roebben Island where Mandela was imprisoned, or Martin Luther King, Jr.’s jail cell, which I saw only last month at the Civil Rights Museum in Birmingham. I vividly recall sitting with Philip Berrigan in our cell, suffering through our confinement, but concluding that at least we were not going to die in jail. We were both deeply moved by the death of Kasturbai who suffered the ultimate sacrifice of resistance, a perfect act of selfless love. I could not imagine getting seriously ill, much less dying in prison.
I am standing on holy ground, charged with grace, suffering love, power, the cross and the resurrection all in one. A mystical experience to walk the prison grounds where Gandhi walked, to pass through his rooms and the balcony where he lived for two years. The experience turns me back to the recent protest at the School of the Americas, and the possibility of crossing the line again some day and returning to prison.
Afterwards we took the train from Poona to Mumbai and arrived about 10 p.m. at the old Victoria Station where Gandhi was arrested in 1942. Outside, hundreds of beggars, hungry, homeless people, missing arms and legs, greet us as we catch the bus across Mumbai to the hotel.
January 4, 2005
It is immoral, even criminal, that the US continues to spend over $100 billion to kill Iraqis, as well as countless other billions to build weapons, instead of healing the tsunami victims, abolishing hunger and disease, and eradicating poverty.
My friend Lynn Fredriksson sent an email about the death of her friends in Ache, Indonesia, including her friend, a heroic woman political prisoner, who was holed in a crowded prison along the sea. The waves swept over the prison and all were lost.
I pray that God will inspire us to heal and help the world’s poor, especially these tsunami victims, that the Rich World will reject corporate greed, war, consumerism and weapons, and focus on the urgent moral demand of our time--the elimination of poverty, hunger, disease and war, that like Mahatma Gandhi, we will heed the wisdom of nonviolence and become servants of peace, justice and love.
Our first stop in crowded Mumbai was the Laundromat. I would not have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. Mumbai is the only city in the whole world with a city wide laundry system. Men collect your laundry, take it downtown to the outdoor, public facility, scrub clothes on open concrete slabs, hang them out to dry in the sun, and then later return them. No one can afford a washing machine, and everyone uses it. We stood on the street looking over the view of thousands of people scrubbing clothes.
Then we drove along Chowpatty beach where Gandhi led several political rallies and was arrested on several occasions, to the Prince of Wales Art Museum. I was stunned by the red stone Buddhas and Boddhisatvas carved in the fifth century. They sat in perfect peace with half smiles, inviting everyone to meditate and enter their peace. Upstairs, I looked at the stone carvings from the Indus civilization that were made around 1000 B.C. But the Buddhas seemed to follow me around. Looking at them, I felt centered again, and entered a new space, with new openings toward compassion. I felt disarmed and more peaceful. Can I learn to live and radiate such peace?
We spent the afternoon at Mani Bhavan, Gandhi’s Bombay house, two blocks from the ocean, where he lived and worked from 1917 to 1934. I spent a long time standing at the doorway to his second story room, which has a balcony overlooking the street. The room had only a bare white mattress, a large white pillow, two spinning wheels, a writing stand, his walking stick, a pair of wooden sandals, a bookshelf, and a little statue of three monkeys saying, “Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.” The first floor has a library of Gandhi books, a photo exhibit and a few artifacts, but the upstairs rooms and the balcony touched me deeply.
When Dr. King visited this place in 1958, he asked if he could spent the night alone in Gandhi’s room. So they locked him in and left him alone, and when he emerged the next morning he said, “Now I have the moral courage to return to lead a movement for liberation.”
In the meeting room, we watched a documentary film on the 1930 Salt March,
then discussed nonviolence with Arun. He told about his meeting last August
with Yasir Arafat in Palestine, his conversations with leading Palestinians
about nonviolent resistance, and his invitation to Arafat to join him in
a public demonstration against the new Israeli wall and the ongoing illegal
Israeli occupation. Arafat declined to join the protest because he said
he was afraid of being killed by the Israelis.
Tonight, we drove past the famous “Gateway of India,” where ships have entered India down through the centuries, and we boarded the 10 p.m. overnight train to Ahmedabad. It was crowded and claustrophobic, but comfortable.
January 5, 2005
After breakfast at the hotel, we drove through Ahmedabad, across the
Sabamarti River, to the Sabamarti ashram where Gandhi lived from 1917 to
1930. This ashram was the setting for all his major decisions in the freedom
movement that led up to the Salt March of 1930.
We spent time first in the museum, looking at the photo exhibit, his letters, his prison journals, sandals, walking sticks, watch, printing machines and spinning wheels. Then, I walked over to Gandhi’s house, overlooking the river. It has a large veranda. His bare room connects to the open porch. It contains only a mattress, a one foot tall wooden desk, a book shelf and a large, dark spinning wheel. Kasturbai’s room lies behind his, along with a small courtyard, kitchen and guest room. I was so moved to be in his house. I walked around the grounds, to the little hut next door where Vinoba Bhave lived in the early 1920s, followed by Mirabehn, the English woman who became Gandhi’s assistant. On the other side of Gandhi’s house is a marked off, sandy prayer ground. Here the community met every morning and evening for prayers, silence, hymns, and Gandhi’s reflections on nonviolence and the ashram vows. I walked around the guesthouse, where Nehru, Polak, Kollenbach and others stayed, as well as the house of Gandhi’s beloved nephew, Maganlal, who died suddenly in the late 1920s.
In 1989, some Gandhians gathered to create a new ashram community, so this sacred place would not just be a museum. Today, “Manav Sadhna” has 79 people on staff and runs a variety of programs, including schools and soup kitchens throughout the nearby slums of Ahmedabad. Last week, they walked into the slums and took up collections for the tsunami victims. People gave about fifteen cents each, 15% of their day’s wage. We joined them for their 11 a.m. prayer service, met the staff, and heard about their programs.
Then we drove across town to the new environmental sanitation center, built and directed by the ashram staff, on a beautiful green park, with model alternative toilets and plumbing systems. Only 36 percent of India has access to adequate sanitation, making India one of the lowest nations for sanitation coverage. It has 8 million dry latrines. Over 4 million children under age 5 die each year of diarrhea. Only 15% of schools have toilets. Eighty percent of all diseases occur due to lack of sanitation and safe water.
After a delicious outdoor lunch, we waited on the lawn for the dedication ceremony to begin. Finally, the President of India arrived, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. He was quite a character in a gray suit with long gray hair parted down the middle. He took questions, made jokes, and basically refused to commit the Indian government to any serious sanitation funding and instead urged people to teach their children basic cleanliness skills.
Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Sins (with an eighth, added by Arun):
* Wealth without work
* Pleasure without conscience
* Knowledge without character
* Commerce without morality
* Science without humanity
* Religion without sacrifice
* Politics without principles.
* Rights without Responsibilities
January 6, 2005
A beautiful day with a cool breeze and blue skies. It gets cold at night, but hot by noon. The headlines announce that the tsunami death toll has risen to 155,000. Nearly all of Ache province in Indonesia is gone. In Sri Lanka, 59 Buddhist monks were sitting in the lotus position in their temple by the beach when the 40 foot tall wave struck. Nine survived but the rest were carried out to sea. They were pondering the impermanence of life, then they experienced it.
We drove back to the ashram and spent the morning visiting several of their cooperative projects, first their paper, soap and yarn factories. I tried to use a spinning wheel much like Gandhi’s, but the string kept breaking. It is more difficult than it looks. Arun showed us how to use to do it. He was taught by Gandhi himself, who later wrote Arun’s parents that Arun had become faster than Gandhi. Here they apply Gandhi’s dream of appropriate village technology to empower rural villagers to support themselves.
I’m sitting alone under a tree on old stone bench looking out over the river at the “Beautiful House” on the ashram grounds, where Nehru and Abdul Gaffer Kahn stayed, just across from Gandhi’s house. The trees are full of noisy birds--black crows and green parrots. I’m soaking up the vibes of this holy ground, where they lived, loved, prayed and organized revolutionary nonviolence. Across is the steel bridge where the crowds heard Gandhi speak the night before he left from here on the Salt March to Dandi, 75 years ago this April. The house is boarded up now, but at the time, the guests loved the view.
God of peace, thank you for the grace, light and peace that radiates from this holy ground, from Gandhi and these holy men and women. Inspire me to carry on their work of peace, love, service and nonviolence that I too may be a satyagrahi, that I too may “love all and serve all” as their motto proclaims, that I too may be an apostle of nonviolence to our world of total violence, that I too may seek You through a life of service, prayer, community, solidarity and organized nonviolence. May the whole world adopt the wisdom and way of nonviolence and receive your gift of peace. Amen.
We drove through the slums where 150,000 people suffer in shacks and sewage. Right in the middle, we came upon an oasis, a free school for children, run by the ashram. Dozens of widows volunteer by cooking, cleaning and teaching. Thousands of children are served. The 22 year old director came from these streets at age 12. They make sure the children get one good meal a day. The abject poverty is depressing, shocking and upsetting, but their work is inspiring. When I was walking back to the truck through the alley way, a little girl came running toward me right through the sewage in the center of the alley. She was flying a ragged kite, about ten feet in the air, and she had a big, bright smile. She whizzed passed me, and I could not help but smile too. A glimpse of resurrection, even in the midst of this crucifixion.
Back at the ashram, we sat cross-legged on the floor and were presented with circular metal trays and served a variety of delicious, classic Indian dishes. It was the best food yet, spicy, home cooked vegetarian Indian food.
Later we visited the SEWA bank, a project of a credit union begun long ago by Gandhi, to help poor women save money, get food, and improve their lives. The bank now has 34,000 women members, most of whom are illiterate. We then went to the SEWA headquarters to meet with the director. “The status of women in India continues to remain low. Eighty percent of all Indian women are rural, poor, illiterate and unemployed. They have no jobs, stay at home in poverty, cannot read, and suffer under patriarchy and sexism. The goal of SEWA is the empowerment of women, which means, economic development--money and food. We try to organize women. We have over 90 women’s cooperatives, such as quilt makers. They follow Gandhi’s values. They pray every day, wear homespun khadi, practice personal nonviolence toward all those they meet.”
This evening, Arun told us his life story, about growing up on the Phoenix Settlement ashram founded by his grandfather near Durban, South Africa, and coming to India to live with Gandhi at the age of 12.
January 7, 2005
My friends Janet Chisholm and Judith Kelly and I skipped the long drive to the countryside to visit the rural SEWA project, and instead went back to the Gandhi ashram for a quiet day of retreat before tonight’s 19 hour train ride to Delhi.
I’m sitting alone on the porch of Gandhi’s house, meditating in the deep peace of this holy place. The tourists remove their shoes before stepping onto the stone slabs of the porch and exploring the bare rooms.
“Even a single lamp dispels the deepest darkness,” Gandhi once said. I look out at the river, the green parrots, and crows. The breeze blows through the trees and I take a deep breath and all at once feel a deep peace. It is the dream of a lifetime to be here, a great blessing, like my retreat at Thomas Merton’s hermitage. I recall Dr. King’s need to spend the night in Gandhi’s room at his Bombay house, and reflect that I too need time in Gandhi’s ashram house for strength to carry on the struggle for justice and peace. Here Gandhi lived and prayed and wrote and fasted and ate and slept. Here he planned the Salt March. From here, he left on the great walk expecting to be killed at any moment, or at least imprisoned for life. Here he let his light shine and dispelled the darkness of violence.
I pray that like Elisha after the death of Elijah, I may receive a double portion of his spirit. I pray for his mantle, to carry on his mission of active nonviolence. I know it is an absurd prayer, presumptuous and arrogant--who am I to ask such a thing?--but nonetheless, I want to carry on his work. Like Dr. King, I ask for the grace to fulfill the mission given to me to teach, promote and practice Gospel nonviolence, to do my part for the struggle for justice and disarmament.
“Up here is seen the New Testament,” Thomas Merton wrote from his porch. “That is to say, the wind comes through the trees and you breathe it.” Here I breathe in the fresh air of peace. I feel healed, blessed, disarmed, reconciled, and sent forth again on the mission of transforming nonviolence.
Right at this moment, there are no other tourists. It is silent. I look around and take in this holy place. I recall my own journey, especially the endless hours discussing Gandhi’s life, community, public work and teachings with my friends in the Jesuit novitiate 23 years ago.
I send forth a prayer for peace upon the whole world, for a new spirit of nonviolence upon the human race, for a renewed dedication to humanity, a new commitment of compassion and liberation for the poor and disenfranchised.
Being here washes away my doubts, fears, anxieties, worries, resentments and questions. All at once I feel restored, made whole. This is the culmination of a twenty five year, 9000 mile pilgrimage. I can now head back to my hermitage in the desert and take up the campaign for nuclear disarmament, the closing of Los Alamos, the end of the Iraq war and the Palestinian occupation and the neglect of the world’s sick and starving. I recall a 1922 letter in the museum where Gandhi writes from here hoping to be arrested, go to jail and gain “more triumphs of love.” May we pursue those same “triumphs of love,” and come to see our suffering, persecution, and arrests for justice and peace as “triumphs of love.”
On a stone plaque by the door is the prayer of Gandhi: “Lord of humility, dwelling in the little pariah hut. Help us to search for Thee throughout that fair land watered by Ganges, Brahmaputra, and Jamuna. Give us receptiveness. Give us openheartedness. Give us Thy humility. Give us the ability and willingness to identify ourselves with the masses of India. O God, who does help only when we feel utterly humble, grant that we may not be isolated from the people. We would serve as servants and friends. Let us be embodiments of self-sacrifice, embodiments of Godliness, humility personified, that we may know the land better and love it more.”
From 12:20 to 12:40, Judith and Janet joined me here on Gandhi’s porch for quiet meditation. This moment of deep peace is the heart of my pilgrimage. I feel I have touched the soul of India, and I am blessed for my return to the American empire. We stayed for several hours, reflecting on the trip, discussing what we have seen, sharing insights about Gandhi’s life and dreaming about what lies ahead in our own lives. Later back at the hotel, we heard reports from friends about their trip to the farming commune, then headed out to the overnight train to Delhi.
Gandhi’s house and ashram life stand in sharp contrast to North American power brokers, especially the great hypocrites Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Ashcroft. Here is real leadership, real vision, someone who understands true peace, who cares for all people, not just the rich, who intends to serve the whole human race, not just his “base.” This visionary leadership is completely missing in the United States. Our so-called leaders are really misleaders. They are blind, immoral, greedy and insane with power and violence, leading the massacre of Iraqis and the ongoing development of the world’s largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Gandhi, on the other hand, offers the example of a peaceful visionary who models the life of peace and shows us the path toward a future of peace.
January 8, 2005
We have to keep working to disarm the world, even though it seems like an impossible task. We do not know the results of our actions, as Gandhi pointed out; they are in God’s hands. But we have to keep working for justice and peace. We have to do what we can to make a difference, to be part of the global movements for nonviolent change.
We arrived in the crowded Delhi train station after a long night on the train, rested and then set off for the Birla Mansion, where Gandhi spent the last four months of his life, and where he was killed as he walked to his evening prayer service on January 30, 1948. The house is a massive white building where the millionaire industrialist lived. It now contains a museum, photo exhibit, bookstore and gift shop, surrounded by beautiful gardens.
On the front right side of the house, near the street, is a little wing where Gandhi stayed. In his room and the porch are some of his possessions--small tables, mattresses, spinning wheels, sandals, walking sticks, a knife, paperweight and his glasses. In the porch lies the cot where he fasted to the death on January 13, 1948 to stop the Delhi riots. Here over 50 Hindu and Muslim leaders pledged to stop the killing. His kidneys had shut down and he said it would not be enough. Then he burst into tears. But they begged him to live, and promised they would never support riots or violence again. So he broke the fast. The next day, January 20, 1948, a bomb went off during his prayer meeting.
Earlier, Arun told us that he thought the Indian government did nothing to protect Gandhi after he was nearly killed by that bomb. He believes they concluded that a dead, martyred Gandhi was better than a live, troublemaking Gandhi. Years later, Arun and his mother met twice with the brother of Gandhi’s assassin (who was executed), to learn why Gandhi was killed. Though they had forgiven him, they broke off the dialogue when they realized he still supported the assassination.
Through the door of this room, Gandhi walked to his death. The path is now marked by raised concrete footsteps to mark that final journey. The whole backyard is a magnificent lawn and garden. Gandhi held interfaith prayer services here every evening at 5:00. He sat on a raised platform against the far back wall, next to the servants quarters, so that everyone could see him. As he approached his seat, he was shot. A stone monument marks the place where he was killed.
We were brought to a large, covered auditorium for a prayer service of Hindu hymns which Gandhi loved. The elderly woman who led us had performed here for Gandhi when she was a teenager. She played a harmonium, while others played the bongos and a sitar. The opening instrumental music was the most heavenly, spiritual music I have ever heard. It moved me to tears. She concluded with Gandhi’s favorite hymn, Vaishnava Jana:
One who is truly virtuous feels others sufferings as his own. He serves others in distress, and lets no conceit enter his mind. He honors everyone in the world and speaks ill of no one ever. He preserves purity in thought, word and deed. He treats all alike. He has renounced all craving. Never does his tongue utter untruth. Never does he covet another’s wealth. He is freed of attachment and delusion and is abiding in renunciation. Ever devoted to the holy name of God, all places of pilgrimage he finds within himself. He is devoid of all greed and cunning. He has abdicated passion and anger. To revere such a one will bring salvation for generations to come.
Afterwards, I visited with the director of the museum, who told me about the large youth conferences she conducts to teach young Indians about Gandhi’s nonviolence. But then with great emotion, she asked me to do what I could to help stop the U.S. global domination and wars. “The U.S. is the greatest source of violence in the world today,” she said, “and we all need to be converted to nonviolence more than anybody else.”
“Just as the art of violence lies in killing,” Gandhi once said, “the art of nonviolence lies in dying, without a trace of violent retaliation.” I walk slowly, mindfully across the lawn up to the place where he was killed. All at once, I am transported back to Memphis to the Lorraine Motel balcony where I had gone to pray over Dr. King’s martyrdom, and to the chapel in San Salvador where Archbishop Romero was killed while saying Mass, to the remote field where four U.S. churchwomen were raped and killed on December 2, 1980, to the church in the old city of Jerusalem marking the crucifixion of Jesus. This beautiful, sad, mysterious place invites me into the mystery of the cross, to that sacrificial, suffering, redemptive love which dies and offers itself for humanity, rather than dominate or kill others, and I am summoned again to walk the path as Gandhi did, literally a path of peace to the prayer garden to meet the assassin’s bullet and face death. I pray to bear the same spirit of love and sacrifice that Gandhi bore as he walked the path of nonviolence to martyrdom that I too might share the love and gift of Jesus as he goes to the cross and the new life of resurrection.
January 9, 2005
Back on the morning train to Dehradun, sitar and drum music plays overhead and India’s countryside passes by. Green fields, palm trees, blue sky, but also barren desert, garbage piles, children in rags, thousands of people, dilapidated two story buildings, stray dogs, sacred cows, water buffaloes, goats, dirt paths, sewage, and auto rickshaws.
Watching India pass by, I hear Jesus call me once again to renounce my selfishness and become like him the servant of all and the least of all, to give my life in nonviolent, suffering love for humanity, to be a missionary of nonviolence, and apostle of peace. I say ‘Yes” with all my heart and beg for these graces, for his cross and creative nonviolence, that my life might bear good fruit and shine a bright light to dispel the utter darkness of these terrible times. Amen.
After lunch at the hotel, we were privileged to spend the afternoon with one of the world’s leading anti-globalization and environmental activists, Dr. Vandana Shiva, a brilliant, engaging scientist and Gandhian activist. “Gandhi’s legacy is a legacy of love, compassion and sacrifice,” she began. “In the 1970s, in response to deforestation, the women’s movement started hugging the trees, saying, ‘You will have to kill us before you cut the trees.’ In 1981, we had a terrible flood, and a four mile lake was formed because of deforestation, and after that, finally, the woman were listened to.”
“Gandhi’s Salt March was so imaginative, so inspirational. Unjust laws are meant to be disobeyed, to create a moral order. Dr. King and Mandela used that same philosophy. Gandhi shifted the mind of the world. Environmentalists started to do with forests what Gandhi did with salt. A huge forest satyagraha campaign was started. Thirty nine people were killed, but there are forest satyagrahas around the world now. Why? Unjust laws are not meant to be obeyed. We must have the courage to break them nonviolently to protect humanity and the earth.”
“When the new world order called ‘globalization’ was laid out, they wanted to create a monopoly on seeds, control all the farms, and claim patents for every seed. Five companies would control all the food in the world, and so all health. Gandhi opposed England with the spinning wheel by getting people to make their own clothe. So we grow every crop, save all the seeds, and build model farming villages so that we can take care of our own lives. Satyagraha is the courage to non-cooperate with injustice. Swadhesi means making your own things through your own hard work. Swaraj is the ability to govern yourself, not just on the state level, but at every level, personal, communal, regional and international. Instead of a pyramid, with the top crushing the bottom, Gandhi envisioned oceanic circles, where every person is the center of the world, where everyone relates with respect and dignity to everyone else. So we support satyagraha, swadhesi, and swaraj.”
Dr. Shiva spent studying and opposing free trade and NAFTA. “Free trade is meant only for a handful of business,” she said. “There is no freedom for a small people and shops. Walmart requires the disappearance of all small shops. This so-called free trade will lead to the total control of society, nature, economics and politics, a new economic totalitarianism. Today we no longer have a state, but a corporate state. All decisions regarding agriculture around the world are now run by the WTO. Globalization has reduced all agriculture to three crops--soy, corn, and potato, which creates disease. A billion people go hungry. Another billion get sick from these wrong foods. This crazy system leads to poverty. Gandhi urged us to work with the earth to produce for ourselves what we need and to non-cooperate with these injustices.”
“The WTO is wrecking the world’s agriculture,” she continued. “We have no farming communes. By 2004, 16,000 farmers committed suicide in India because of debts. The violence of chemicals used on earth are the new weapons of mass destruction. So this is war, and we are a peace movement, protecting the species and farmers and all people. We don’t call people consumers. Anyone who eats participates in the food chain. We have to be conscious about food and choose what to eat. So we have started three Gandhian movements. First, we started a campaign not to pay the unjust tariffs for water. When we announced this campaign, the government postponed the collection. Now we will protest the diversion of the rivers to Delhi, so that this water will remain for the villages. We work village to village, creating units of water democracy. We are fighting privatization and river diversation.
“Second, we disobey these new patent laws claiming ownership of all seeds. Gandhi collected salt. We grow indigenous seeds and collect them and save them, which is a crime. We violate the patent laws. A higher moral duty calls us to break these patent laws. We are starting seed banks and cooperate with the higher law that seeds belong to all six billion people, not six companies.
“Third, we protest Coke which uses toxic chemicals to wash bottles and leaves the chemicals in the ground water. So we targeted the Coke plant in Kerela. They shut down the plant. Some 87 other Coke plants pollute the water. We are trying to protect our water, and we have more protests coming up. These movements carry on Gandhian philosophy. Women have started these movements because the men are off washing dishes in Delhi. The environmental movement is more robust here in the Third World because the issues are so deadly. These are terrible times and exciting times and we do our best.
“The tsunami was a dress rehearsal for the disasters that are coming ahead. The ice caps are melting. There will be no more Maldive islands or coastal areas in a few decades. This is where we are headed. Around the world, people are doing Gandhian actions. These actions will never end. There’s always something we can do. But we have to take responsibility.” Dr. Shiva’s institute offers courses and farming programs, conferences and lectures, trains farmers and students, and organizes campaigns for justice.
After her extraordinary presentation, Bob Daniels and I went for a long walk through Dehradun to mull over her inspiring words and example. She is the greatest Gandhian we have met so far.
January 10, 2005
This morning, we drove north into “the foothills of the Himalayas,” to visit Navadanya Farm, Dr. Shiva’s farming commune ten miles north of Dehradun, and “Bija Vidyapeeth,” a
college for sustainable living and global alternatives to learn cooking,
gardening, composting, yoga, farming and anti-globalization organizing.
Navdanya Farm grows over 600 plants, with 250 types of rice and preserves
They speak here of Gandhi’s vision of oceans of love--interiorly, communally, nationally and globally. If you spend your life in selfless service of the poor and do good works, an ocean of love will grow inside you. Just as you can’t set an ocean on fire, so too nothing will be able to disturb you because you have an interior ocean of love. When we organize communities of love around the world, we transform the world with tsunami of nonviolence and truth and disarming love.
We visited the seed banks, dark rooms with walls of tin cans filled with every indigenous seed around. They are saving and reproducing the seeds. They are trying to create seed banks across the country. We also spent hours walking through the beautiful farm fields.
I was reminded of the Beatitude from the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Here, the meek, the gentle, the nonviolent, are saving the earth and inheriting the earth. Indeed, they are greatly blessed.
“The purpose of nonviolence is to create a culture of nonviolence,” Arun told us during our afternoon discussion. “We have to begin to build nonviolent relationships, to create a nonviolent society where conflicts are reduced, and create nonviolent institutions. We need to simplify our lives, share our resources with the poor and eliminate injustice.”
“It’s time to take extreme nonviolent measures,” the editorial in the Hindustan Times states today. “We have to keep reminding ourselves that the U.S. administration and people like Osama bin Laden actually love each other, need and feed off each other. In this sense, bin Laden’s archaic but simply delivered Arabic oratory outlining a shining ‘Islamic’ utopia and George Bush’s crude pronouncements proclaiming his desire to bring ‘freedocracy’ to all corners of the world, are two sides of the same coin. They are thinly disguised posturings for what actually turn both men on: the fantasy of absolute power, the love of spectacular violence and the free-flowing blood of innocents. Both sides love and preach violence. In this, their joint framing of the planet, the wreckage caused by the big waves is but a small blip in the larger story. Expect their fanatical tsunami to piggy-back on the geological one--and then try and figure out ways to get out of its path. Because though it may have receded into the background for the moment, their tsunami of violence is actually and potentially far more devastating than the churning unleashed by the tectonic plates below the Indian Ocean.”
January 11, 2005
We were up at 3 a.m. to catch the train back to Delhi, where we went first to Rajghat, the park that holds Gandhi’s cremation place. It’s a long walk through green lawns and flowers. You remove your shoes and enter the large courtyard and walk to the center in silence where there is a long black concrete slab, two feet off the ground, about ten yards by ten yards. An eternal flame is lit on one side. Tourists crowd around it. Some kneel. Others touch it. No one says a word.
Arun walks up and kneels down in prayer. I kneel beside him. I look up at the blue sky and lift a pray for peace, for the poor, for India, for the whole world.
“Nonviolence is not a garment to be put on and off at will,” Gandhi once said. “Its seat is in the heart, and it must be an inseparable part of our very being. There is no such thing as defeat in nonviolence. It shall be proved by persons living it in their lives with utter disregard of consequences to themselves. One person who can express nonviolence in life exercises a force superior to all the forces of brutality.”
Later in the afternoon, we tour Qutab Minar, the ancient historic Hindu-Muslim ruins, temples, and mosques on a large park that dates back over a thousand years. In the center stands a five story tower. After centuries of violence at the hands of the Hindus, the Muslims tore down the Hindu temples and used their stones to build these mosques. They are astonishingly beautiful and horrific at the same time. The history of Hindu-Muslim faith and violence is embodied in this one place.
Later, we drove through Delhi, passed the Gate, the Vice Royal palace, the parade grounds, and through the wide streets. We watched a dance troupe perform a variety of Indian dances for us, then enjoyed a farewell dinner. Sherrill Hogan from Massachusetts read a poem she wrote about Gandhi’s dream of a peace army, “shanti sena”:
This world of violence
you took down,
your message too strong, too true
for it to bear.
This world of violence
makes mothers cry out
makes even Fathers weep.
But we are building
your shanti sena
one project at a time.
We are marching under one heaven
carrying baskets full of food
buckets of clean water.
We are planting seeds and trees
and playing with the children
because neither hate nor greed nor death
can take you from us.
January 12, 2005
“The debate about the ‘stinginess of the American government’ should not be restricted to the ongoing tsunami relief operations,” The Times of India says in an editorial today. “The U.S agenda outlines increased defense spending, the need to challenge regimes hostile to American interests and the necessity of having an international order friendly to U.S. interests. Such an agenda is reflected in the initial tardy response to the disaster and also in U.S. assistance to developing nations. According to estimates, the U.S. gives only 15 cents for every $100 of national income which makes it rank last among the top 22 donor countries. The priorities of the U.S. administration become clear when one contrasts the aid for tsunami relief with the amount spent on Iraq.”
“The $350 million pledged for victims of the tsunami is loose change when compared to the $148 billion spent on Iraq. In fact the entire U.S. budget for assistance to developing nations works out to less than one-ninth of the cost of the war in Iraq. It can be justifiably argued that the neo-conservative agenda of attacking unfriendly regimes with the dubious aim of spreading ‘freedom’ undercuts American assistance for disaster relief as well as development projects in poor countries. Unless American foreign policy can break free from the neo-conservative straight jacket, this disparity between the money spent on aid and war will remain.”
We took the train to Agra and spent the morning visiting the ancient Agra Fort, built in the late 1500s by Emperor Akbar, with its huge red brick walls, colonnaded arches, and courtyards. The roofs were covered with green parrots and brown monkeys.
After lunch, we drove out to the countryside, through large brown walls and structures, onto the grounds of the Taj Mahal. We were overwhelmed by the white marble monument with its beautiful pools and gardens. As you walk up toward it, it appears to change, and becomes even more beautiful. It did not seem real, more like a living postcard. It is an astonishing work of art.
Afterwards, we had a six hour drive back to Delhi. We passed miles of mustard fields, green grass with bright yellow flowers on the top, as well as white birch trees and crowds of people. A big red sun took its time setting in the distance. The beauty and heartbreak and magic and tragedy and gift and horror and joy and injustice and grace of India seemed to surround me. Ultimately it is a land of love and peace because these poor people are people of love and peace, and I am blessed to be here.
January 13, 2005
As the tsunami death toll approaches 230,000, I know there is another tsunami of violence, injustice and corporate greed that crushes the world’s poor, leaving 40,000 people dead from hunger each day, and how many countless more sick from relievable disease or from war. 150,000 children die every month from malaria in Africa alone.
Though the terrible deeds of the United States government upon the world’s poor depresses me, I feel inspired with new hope, strength and energy by the people I have met in India who organize grassroots projects to empower the poor and resist injustice. They are living out Gandhi’s vision, in the face of overwhelming obstacles. I cannot let myself off the hook. They challenge me to do likewise, to be part of a global grassroots movement for justice and peace that will one day in the future transform the world.
“On the whole, in India, the prognosis is--to put it mildly--Not Good,” Arundahti Roy writes in one of her essays. “And yet, one cannot help but marvel at the fantastic range and depth and wisdom of the hundreds of peoples’ resistance movements all over the country. They’re being beaten down, but they simply refuse to lie down and die…What we need to search for and find, what we need to hone and perfect into a magnificent, shining thing, is a new kind of politics, not the politics of governance, but the politics of resistance, the politics of opposition, the politics of forcing accountability, the politics of joining hands across the world and preventing certain destruction. In the present circumstances, I’d say that the only thing worth globalizing is dissent. It’s India’s best export.”
“Christ died on the cross with a crown of thorns on his head, defying the might of a whole empire,” Mahatma Gandhi wrote. “And if I raise resistance of a nonviolent character, I simply and humbly follow in the footsteps of the great teachers.”
Janet, Judith and I spent the morning at the Gandhi National Museum in Delhi. We took our time walking through the huge photo exhibit and studying his personal effects, such as his copy of Ruskin’s book “Unto This Last” and Tolstoy’s “The Kingdom of God Is Within You,” the walking stick he used on the “Salt March,” his spoons, forks, false teeth, microscope, law books, clothes and yarn, and all the possessions from his last day, including the bed sheets, blankets and blood stained clothes he was wearing when he was killed. I was deeply moved by these relics, and prayed that I too might give my life for justice, peace and the world’s nonviolent transformation.
Later, we walked back to Rajghat. Now, I sit alone here on the top stone veranda looking down on the courtyard where the black stone cremation memorial is surrounded by crowds of tourists. I feel a cool breeze and watch hundreds of Indians pass by in silence. I look up at the blue sky and give thanks: Dear God, thank you for this pilgrimage to Gandhi’s India. Send me back now to the American empire as a pilgrim of peace, that I too may be an instrument of your peace, that I too may walk the way of nonviolence, that I too may shine the light of peace in a world of war, that I too may be a force of truth and love in a world of lies and fear, that my life too might bear the good fruit of peace and justice like Gandhi, that I too may be a disciple of Jesus and a servant of peace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
January 14, 2005
The flight from Delhi to Mumbai was delayed last night, and I did not get to my room until midnight. Then, I was up at 3 a.m. for the 6 a.m. flight to Paris. The waiting room in Delhi was filled with hundreds of bearded, elderly men wearing only white sheets. They periodically knelt down on the ground for prayers. They were on their way to Mecca for the annual Haj pilgrimage. We had a long layover at the Paris airport, then a long flight to Newark, New Jersey, where I arrived around 5:00 p.m. It has been an exhausting day, and my head is full of India and prayers and hopes and expectations for my return to New Mexico on Sunday.
January 15, 2005
After a good night’s sleep, I joined Steve Kelly, SJ for morning Mass at the local parish for his birthday. Then we took the subway downtown with Daniel Berrigan, SJ for the peace vigil and march in honor of Dr. King’s birthday. We gathered with anti-war banners and signs at noon at Times Square in front of the Armed Forces Recruiting Station. I handed out leaflets denouncing Bush’s war on Iraq and invoking Dr. King’s vision of nonviolence. Then, we marched in single file silence to the Hudson River and the S.S. Intrepid, the battleship turned into a war museum. Over twenty members of our group blocked the entrance and were arrested. Afterwards, Dan, Steve and I spent a few relaxing hours enjoying soup and coffee at a nearby café and catching up with one another.
Tonight, the West Side Jesuit Community threw a dinner party for Steve’s birthday and I spoke about my trip. I stayed up late with Dan talking about the country, the work ahead and our hopes and dreams. I’m glad to be back, eager to return to New Mexico, and grateful for this upbeat day of protest and friendship in honor of Dr. King. A good way to start my life back in the American empire. May my Indian pilgrimage and the examples of Gandhi and Dr. King push me further on the journey to peace and nonviolence.
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