Since 2007, under an initiative by Indian authorities, the United Nations established Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday, the second of October, as the International Day of Non-violence. The Forum for a Secular Bangladesh decided to join the initiative with an online seminar. I am most grateful to both Shahriar Kabir and the Forum for inviting me to join this worthy initiative.
Gandhi was an Indian humanist and patriot; his message is an Indian one – mostly brewed before the horrors of partition. However, it was also always a universal message, from someone who lived and worked throughout various continents, creeds, and ethnicities; someone who through his action and words understood and fashioned what humanism means in our present time.
And yes, we are reminding his message now – as Europe is confronted with a Russian invasion threatening to go nuclear, as Myanmar witnesses a military dictatorship persecuting ethnic minorities and causing over a million refugees in Bangladesh, as the Taliban continue to occupy Afghanistan and impose repression, censorship, misogyny, and misery on that country.
However, dear friends, the most important struggle for freedom, equal rights and democracy is now developing in Iran, where women resistance to the fascist dress-code imposed by the theocracy led to a revolt of the whole nation against the clerical dictatorship.
Paraphrasing Mahatma Gandhi, Iranians may not ‘be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed’, yet they started their war of liberation through the most peaceful means – in demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people against the forced veil.
Iranian women have been repeatedly bravely defying rulers through civil disobedience to dress regulations, and these acts of bravery were met by brutal murders in prisons and even shooting in the streets.
Iranian women and the whole of the Iranian people do not need anyone else to make the revolution on their behalf, yet they do need our support. They need us to follow another of Gandhi’s most important principles: non-cooperation with those who usurped power in Iran.
It is high time for the international community to refuse any contacts with Ebrahim Raisi, one of the master minders and butchers of the 1988 massacre of political prisoners (with thirty thousand victims). It is high time to stop the disgraceful charade of pseudo-negotiations on nuclear arms, which only serves as a cover-up for further aggression against the Iranian people and neighbouring countries – and, obviously, will pave the way for the regime to create its own atomic bomb, if Iranians do not topple it in time.
We must all demand the immediate liberation of the tens of thousands of people arrested for protesting the religious dictatorship in Iran! We must all demand accounts for the hundreds of current assassinations as well as for the past tens of thousands of assassinations. We must all support the right of the Iranian people to self-determination, free and democratic rule in a republic free of illegitimate control by the clerics.
The fight for freedom in Iran is the fight for freedom in Afghanistan, Burma, China and anywhere else in the world; it is in the present day the best way to pay homage to Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy!