Fresno State students, faculty, staff and community members gathered at the Peace Garden Friday to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi’s 146th birthday and also to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the dedication of the Gandhi Memorial.
Gandhi was the primary leader of India’s independence movement in British-ruled India and encouraged nonviolent civil disobedience. He inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world and influenced a number of other civil rights leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Sudarshan Kapoor, professor emeritus of peace studies, who has helped organize the event since it started in 1990, was heavily influenced by Gandhi when he was growing up as a young man in India. Kapoor was so deeply moved by his message that he started teaching courses related to Gandhi and his life.
“The message of Gandhi was to stop the hate, stop the violence and build a culture of peace and nonviolence,” Kapoor said. “That is the message that we want to get across, and it is very relevant even today.”
Kapoor said that he doesn’t think we’ll ever get rid of violence completely, but that we have to learn to reduce it because it is becoming more prevalent by the day.
“We want to reduce violence, because violence is not the way to solve our problems,” Kapoor said. “We want to teach people how to get along with each other, how to solve the issues and problems in a peaceful manner and learn how to coexist in spite of the things that we may not like about each other.”
Friday’s birthday celebration started with the Indian Student Club’s performance of Gandhi’s favorite song, “Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram,” which was followed by proclamations read by Provost Dr. Lynnette Zelezny on behalf of University President Dr. Joseph Castro. The event ended with brief statements by students from Kapoor’s peace-building class during a candlelight vigil.
Manuel Andaverde, a senior majoring in criminology, said he had never been to a Gandhi birthday celebration before and was amazed by how much of an impact he still has on people today.
“It was pretty cool,” Andaverde said. “I am a Mexican-American, so this is actually the very first time I have seen anything like this.”
Andaverde said he hopes Fresno State does more celebrations like this one because he feels they send out a great message and bring the community closer.
“I know it is about peace, but I never realized how in-depth it can get,” Andaverde said. “I think we need more of this because it was a good message.”
Abhijit Suprem, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, has participated in Gandhi’s birthday celebration for four years on campus and many more in India. He said he believes it is important to keep Gandhi’s message alive for future generations.
“It is very important to keep focus on the teachings of Gandhi because those are universal,” Suprem said. “They have been applied in various scenarios from Martin Luther King to Cesar Chavez, and the purpose of this celebration is to promote the idea of searching for truth in a nonviolent and peaceful way.”
Jerry Ramirez, a senior majoring in criminology with a focus in law enforcement, said he enjoyed being a part of a group of wonderful people and celebrating the birthday of an icon.
“It ended up being a cool experience, and I enjoyed myself out here,” Ramirez said. “Just be nice to people and don’t disrespect each other. That is like the best way to spread peace around.”
Kapoor said he hopes the celebration will inspire others to go out to the Peace Garden more often and study the lives of all the great people such as Chavez, Jane Adams, Gandhi and King.
“We want people, especially from the community, to come and visit the Peace Garden and learn about their lives, their work and their legacy,” Kapoor said.
A photo exhibition, “Life of Gandhi,” is now on display through Monday at the Henry Madden Library.