The threads that connect India and the United States run deep and strong and the two countries continue to strive to make the lives of their citizens better and brighter, New Delhi’s top envoy here told university students.
Delivering the prestigious “King Gandhi Lecture” at the Howard University here, India’s Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu said the edifice of India-US relation is built on the values of democracy, liberty, freedom, non-violence, and rule of law.
“The threads that connect India and the United States run deep and strong. The values of democracy, liberty, freedom, non-violence, and rule of law, that we cherish and nourish, form the strong foundation, on which the edifice of India-US relations is built,” Mr Sandhu said in his address to the students of private, federally chartered historically black research university.
Even before India gained independence, many of the leading lights of its freedom struggle, including Lala Lajpat Rai, Sarojini Naidu, Rabindranath Tagore, BR Ambedkar among others, had visited several universities in the US, including Howard, Mr Sandhu said.
“We shared and shaped each other’s vision. You and I owe our allegiance to our respective Constitutions, which both start with, ‘We the People…” he said.
Dr Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered the ”Gandhi Memorial Lecture” at Howard University in 1963 and 1966. Dr. William Stuart Nelson, dean of the School of Religion and vice president for special projects at Howard University established Gandhi Memorial Lecture in 1958.
He was an exponent of the philosophy of nonviolence, who had been a friend of both Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had walked with both in protest marches.
In his address, Mr Sandhu noted that the story of Howard was closely tied to America’s history; recalled how leaders from India and the US influenced the thoughts of each other and the impact it had in shaping the history of both countries.
The Ambassador also highlighted the concept of trusteeship, principle of non-violence, devotion to truth and journeys as key aspects of Mahatma Gandhi’s work. In his address Mr Sandhu underlined how Mahatma Gandhi’s principles have shaped India’s vision for development and prosperity.
“The pandemic has once again taught us, how interconnected we are, how intertwined, our lives are. ‘World is one” is not just a hashtag, but a reality today. Our future will depend on, how we treat each other, and work with each other today,” he said.
“As the largest and oldest democracies with pluralistic societies, India and the US continue to strive, to make the lives of our citizens better, and brighter, each day. While doing so, we also strive towards shaping a world which is healthier, and happier,” Mr Sandhu said.
“If you ask me, what is the most significant contribution of Gandhi ji and MLK, I would say: They showed to the world, that mankind can shape its own destiny, no matter how high, the odds are, no matter how huge, the challenges are, no matter how adverse, the circumstances are. It is a very powerful message, and gives unflinching hope to humanity at large.”
“They also proved that ordinary men and women are capable of achieving extraordinary feat through sheer grit and determination. And the journey starts with a small step: an urge to think beyond self,” Mr Sandhu said in his address.
India and Howard University are connected through visionary leader Howard Thurman, who visited India in 1935 on ‘pilgrimage’ and met Mahatma Gandhi, and whose ideas influenced and shaped a generation of leaders including Martin Luther King Jr. Thurman was a dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University from 1932 to 1944.
Prior to Thurman’s visit to India, Mahatma Gandhi’s disciple Mira ben had visited Howard University.
Towards the end of 1936, Benjamin Mays – a friend of Martin Luther King’s father and the dean of Howard University’s School of Religion – also met with Mahatma Gandhi.
Former President of Howard University, Mordecai Johnson, had long urged his students to follow Mahatma Gandhi’s example. Mr Johnson’s lectures influenced Martin Luther King.
Howard University is holding a year of celebration of India in 2021-22. Several initiatives, including the Art of Kolam; visit of students to Mahatma Gandhi Memorial and interaction with the Embassy of India have been undertaken and others are in the pipeline.
The Indian Embassy here has regular outreach to African American community; Congressional Black Caucus; and institutions such as Howard University in the past 18 months.
As part of his outreach, Mr Sandhu has spoken to all senior members of the Congressional Black Caucus as well as Vice Chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and others.
The embassy has also engaged with Freshman members of the Black Caucus.
Mr Sandhu also visited the King Center in Atlanta in July 2021 where he also met with senior members of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a co-pastor.
There was strong support from Congressional Black Caucus for India during the Covid surge earlier this year. The Caucus also advocated for the TRIPS waiver proposed by India and South Africa in the WTO.
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