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Gandhi, King Remembered at Anniversary Celebrations

March 2004
Gandhi, King Remembered at Anniversary Celebrations

On the sunny afternoon of Saturday, January 24th, the Gandhi Foundation of USA, Atlanta, supported by the National Federation of Indian American Associations, Washington D.C. (NFIA), and several community organizations of Georgia, organized a momentous triple celebration of the 6th anniversary of the dedication of Mahatma Gandhi statue, the Republic Day of India and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The celebration was held at the old Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where once Rev. M.L.K.King, Jr. preached as its pastor and which is looked upon as the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.

Dr. K. Thrivikraman, secretary, Gandhi Foundation, welcomed all and introduced the master of ceremonies, H. Shivadass, assistant executive director of the Foundation. The program began with the traditional lighting of the diyas (lamps) by Sanyasini Siddheshvari Deviji, a spiritual leader from Karnataka, India, and retired Baptist minister and civil rights activist, Reverend Happy Lee.

Next, everyone stood up and joined in enthusiastically singing "America the Beautiful", led by the young, charming Vinita Thaper (a former Miss India-GA and runner-up in the Miss India-USA contest), Sonya Thaper, Annie and Jennifer Ampat. World-renowned poet laureate, Guru Tagore's rousing patriotic song, "Jana Gana Mana", sung by Amitabh Sharma, vice president, NFIA, S.E.Region, Sandeep Savla of the Saakar Group, Krishanakali, Bakshi and Rachna Gupta followed the laudatory rendition.

Amitabh Sharma said that the Herculean dream-project of installing the Mahatma Gandhi Statue in the M.L.K.National Historic Site, conceived in 1992 at the Bi-annual Convention of NFIA, came to fruition on 24th January, 1998, through the praiseworthy cooperation of the National Park Service, the US Department of Interior, the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C., the Government of India, the State of Georgia, the City of Atlanta; the King Center; and several other community groups and organizations. He warned against being complacent, however, and urged everyone to practice the noble teachings of Gandhi and Dr King.

Robert Borland, senior supervisory ranger, National Park Service, thanked the Gandhi Foundation for its role in promoting the philosophy of Gandhi. He said that more than 600,000 visitors a year arrive at the National Historic Site to admire the imposing Gandhi Statue and to study the life and works of Dr. King and Gandhi. As they look at the statue, they begin to notice Gandhi walking from village to village, speaking with village elders and giving speeches to various groups on non-violence. It is no wonder that Dr. King found Gandhi as his role model for inspiration. The statue serves as a meaningful continuity to honor these two great souls, he said.

Dr. Sujatha Reddy, director, Gandhi Foundation, said that both Gandhi and Dr. King believed in the loving power of non-violent resistance, which raises the consciousness of both the oppressed and the oppressor. They showed how to conquer anger, hatred and injustice-not by retaliation and violence but by love.

Sanyasini Siddeshwari Devi Ji, lovingly known as Didiji gave a lucid and riveting discourse on the need for spiritual transformation in human beings. She said that though she had not met either Gandhi or Dr. King in person, she, like many others had felt an amazing closeness to these two world figures. Both had a magnetic aura, serenity and inner peace in them even though they constantly moved in hostile, tense and violent situations. "We live in an age of science and technology, but science is not a panacea for all social ills. Despite tremendous scientific accomplishments, the world witnessed two horrendous world wars.���Modern education teaches one to earn livelihood but sadly fails to impart spiritual values," she said and continued, "Gandhi said that non-violence starts from the mind, so look inside, introspect and keep Gandhi's and Dr. King's dreams alive in your hearts."

Her uplifting talk was followed by a scintillating, fast paced Rajasthani folkdance by the 10 year young Samta, daughter of Sandeep and Kumud Savla of Saakar Group, a creative performing arts group in Atlanta.

Well known music instructor and vocalist Krishnakali, winner of many musical awards and the director of a music school in Duluth, Georgia, first sang Mirabai's bhajan "Pag ghunghroo bandh" in her inimitable, honey sweet classical voice and followed it up with the ever-popular patriotic song "Ae mere vatan ke logo". Both the dance and the songs received well-deserved applause from the appreciative audience.

Dhirubhai Shah, founder of India Awareness Group and director, NFIA, delivered an erudite talk on the significance of the Republic Day of India, explaining the similarities between India's struggle for independence and the Civil Rights Movement in America. He said that despite various obstacles, in the small span of 56 years, India has made rapid strides on all fronts. Today, it has an enviable growth rate of 8% and visible progress in science and technology, engineering, agriculture, and other fields. Yet lot still remains to be done not only in India but also in the US, in especially helping the Afro-Americans in attaining economic freedom," he said. "The way to honor Gandhi and Dr. King would be for us to emulate their values and practices", he concluded.

Reverend Happy Lee shared memories of his difficult childhood, his life-long fight against racism, poverty and injustice and recounted his meeting and working with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said that Church was the center of his life, but there was a plethora of riven denominations, and a kind of ?fundamentalism', which left him confused. Dr. King helped him find a way out of this confusion and since then became his hero.���

Jacob Ampat, treasurer, Gandhi Foundation expressed the vote of thanks. Helen Lissimore, wife of Troy Lissimore of the National Park Service, led the audience in singing the Civil Rights anthem, "We shall overcome".

The joyous program concluded with a reception, with refreshments from the Palace Restaurant.

-Mahadev Desai

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