BY MAHADEV DESAI
The Gandhi Foundation of USA (GFUSA), a national organization based in Atlanta committed to spread the message of peace and non-violence of the two greatest apostles of peace Gandhi and King, celebrated Mahatma Gandhi’s 139th Birth Anniversary at the MLK Jr.National Historic Site on a beautiful clear, sunny afternoon, Thursday, October 2. “October 2, Gandhi’s Birthday, has a special significance to the world”, said Subash Razdan, Chairman of GFUSA. Razdan added, “Today, Presidential candidate Obama issued a commemoration tribute from his campaign office honoring Gandhi.” Senator Obama, in his tribute wrote, Quote: “Gandhi’s significance is universal. Countless people around the world have been touched by his spirit and example – his victory in turn inspired a generation of young Americans to peacefully wipe out a system of overt oppression that had endured for a century, and more recently led to velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe and extinguished apartheid in South Africa. Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke of their great debt to Gandhi. His portrait hangs in my office to remind me that real change will not come from Washington - it will come when the people, united, bring it to Washington.” Unquote.
The Executive Director, GFUSA, Antony Thaliath who succeeded Late Giriraj Rao, welcomed all gathered in reverence for the Mahatma, especially the representatives of Georgia Organizations, social and community activists, university students and visitors from outside Georgia, and officers of GFUSA. Thaliath gave a brief background about the vision of and the struggle to get the Statue of a foreign leader in the USA. Adding, “The Statue is proving to be a big magnet as more than 800,000 visitors come to the King Historic site annually to marvel and pay homage to the invaluable bond between MLK Jr. and the Mahatma.”
Razdan, thanked all those who had taken valuable time off from their busy schedules to attend the homage at the majestic Statue on a working day. Razdan welcomed some out of country visitors to join in the celebrations at the Statue. He narrated a brief history of the dedication of the Gandhi Statue and the endeavor to make the dream come true, adding, “The installation and dedication of the Gandhi Statue in the M.L. King. Jr., National Historic Site is significant and important because it is the first time that the U S Department of the Interior, which administers the National Park Service and historic sites, has permitted such a memorial on Federal lands. The National Federation of Indian American Associations (NFIA) - the largest grassroots national umbrella organization in the USA, with the support of the Embassy of India, the Government of India, the City of Atlanta, the State of Georgia, the King Center, and the Georgia Human Relations Commission, along with a number of Indian-American, Asian-American, African-American and other mainstream community organizations all came together in harmony and enthusiasm for this memorial to fructify. The dream became a reality with the installation and dedication of the statue of the Mahatma on the cold and windy morning of January 24, 1998 by the Honorable Andrew Young.” He exhorted the visiting guests to spend some time in the Visitor Center, Ebenezer Baptist Church, the crypts of Dr.King and Coretta Scott King, the Freedom Hall, including the Gandhi Room and Dr.King’s Birth Home.
One of the visitors, Johannah Duffy, a research Fellow and a lecturer at the University of Nottingham, England said that she was very happy to participate in today’s Gandhi Birthday anniversary celebrations. “It has been a very rewarding and inspiring experience for me and I will always cherish the memory,” she said.
GFUSA Board member, John Naugle, commented about how Atlanta can be the world’s biggest Global Peace Garden with the triangle formed by the Carter Center, King Center and the Gandhi Center in the larger Historic District. He reminded the gathering that last year, United Nations had declared 2nd October as an ‘International Day of Non-Violence’, so he felt happy to be celebrating not only Mahatma’s birthday anniversary but also second anniversary of ‘International Day of Non-Violence’ and that too at the most revered Statue.
Following the floral homage to Gandhiji at the resplendent Mahatma Gandhi Statue, Arunaben Patel and Raju Gokarn led the gathering into singing Gandhi’s favorite bhajans’ Raghupati Raghav’ and ‘Vaishanava Janato’
On this occasion, the gathering also remembered and paid tributes to Late Giriraj Rao for his selfless service to promote the awareness of the message of Gandhiji. “This is the first time Giribhai has not been with us for Gandhi Birthday celebrations”, said Thaliath.
Razdan led a moment of silence and prayers to remember Hon. Terrell Slayton, former Asst. Secretary of State of Georgia and Chair of the 100 Black Men who had passed away a few days earlier. “Hon. Terrel Slayton Jr. had an enviable track record of selfless and uplifting social and community service. He was very cheerful, inspiring and humble. He was a great friend of the Indian-American community and also Gandhi Foundation of USA. He will be greatly missed. He and his family will be in our thoughts and prayers. May God rest his soul in peace”, prayed