At peace summit in India, police and activists from the U.S. learn from Gandhi’s legacy
December 18, 2018
By Mandar Apte and Suzanne Reardon
During October 2018, Mandar Apte, S-CAR visiting scholar, and Suzanne Reardon, S-CAR master’s student, accompanied a delegation of senior police officials and peace activists from across the United States to a unique summit on nonviolence in India hosted by the International Association for Human Values (IAHV).
The Summit on Countering Violence & Extremism was scheduled to correspond with Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday and was organized by Apte with the intent of exposing delegates to the ancient Indian philosophy of ahimsa (or nonviolence). The Summit kick-started the 150th birth year celebration of Mahatma Gandhi and was intended to inspire delegates to continue his legacy and promote Gandhian values of nonviolence in communities and neighborhoods across the world.
The rise of violence and extremism is one of the biggest challenges facing global society. Acts of violence can happen anywhere, anytime, and include domestic abuse, bullying in schools, communal riots, war, mass shootings, and global terrorism. Violence stems from the inability to transcend differences of gender, sexual preference, race, ideology, ethnicity, and nationality. Despite huge investments in violence reduction programs, law enforcement, and military spending, violence continues to plague our world.
In the United States, the recent spate of mass shootings in high schools, high suicide rates, and a growing tension between police and communities of color demonstrate the need for police executives and peace activists to bring new tools, wisdom, and inspiration to overcome these challenges.
Apte was motivated to be a part of the solution and strongly believes there is an urgent need to reinvigorate the practice of ahimsa in the world. Apte was familiar with the ancient philosophy of ahimsa due to his upbringing in India, and he believes the study of ahimsa can enable peacemakers and conflict resolution scholars to become more effective and efficient in building bridges of compassion. This was the motivation behind organizing the trip and hosting the delegation of senior police officers and peace activists to India.
During the trip, delegates were introduced to a curriculum of ahimsa based on the ancient practices of meditation and yoga. Delegates were inspired to bring these practices into their policing and peacebuilding activities in their own cities. “Yoga and meditation provide us with a healthy approach for managing our negative emotions so we can respond to situations [rather] than resorting to violence,” said Apte.
There was much interest among police executives to learn and apply these techniques for self-regulation and to improve office health and well-being, as well as to improve their use of force and community policing tactics. A memorandum of understanding was signed between the National Police Foundation and the International Association for Human Values to this effect.
Another highlight of the Summit was an intimate conversation that the delegates had with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar—an Indian humanitarian leader and peacemaker who is thought by many to be the Gandhi of today’s India—who recently played an instrumental role in brokering peace with the FARC guerillas in Colombia. The dialogue between the delegates and the guru covered a gamut of topics, ranging from stopping violence against women to improving community police relationships.
Dozens of international delegates from countries including Brazil, Argentina, Australia, and India attended the Summit as well, so in addition to immersive experiences in meditation and nonviolence practices, delegates had rich opportunities for cultural exchange and to share policing and nonviolence approaches in their own communities.
The first three days in Mumbai included workshops on meditation, yogic breath-work and nonviolence theory, as well as excursions to the U.S. Consulate to discuss U.S.–India relations; to Mani Bhavan (Gandhi's place of residence in Mumbai); and to the Chabad House (a Jewish center that was one of the sites of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai).
During the stay in Mumbai, a soulful event unfolded when Chief Frank Straub (9/11 survivor and now Director of the U.S. National Police Foundation) presented solidarity medals to widows and survivors of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The experience was surreal for the 120 people who attended the evening program and reminded them of the bravery of those who have sacrificed their lives in the call of duty. It also inspired the delegates to become stronger messengers of compassion and nonviolence.
Representatives of the police from the U.S. and India engage in a World Café session at the "Summit on Countering Violence & Extremism" in October 2018. (Photo credit: Suzanne Reardon and Mandar Apte)
Delegates from countries like Brazil, Argentina, Australia India, and the U.S. attended the "Summit on Countering Violence & Extremism" in October 2018. (Photo credit: Suzanne Reardon and Mandar Apte)
The "Summit on Countering Violence & Extremism" was held in India in October 2018 to kick-start the 150th birth year celebration of Mahatma Gandhi. (Photo credit: Suzanne Reardon and Mandar Apte)
The next three days in Bangalore were devoted to Summit activities, which included networking events, speeches, and World Café sessions focused on cultural exchange and peacebuilding strategies.
“As an S-CAR student and yoga and meditation instructor, it was inspiring to see people from so many walks of life come together to explore peacebuilding practices and learn from each other,” said Sue Reardon. “I plan to build on the work we did at the Summit by continuing to collaborate with U.S. police officials on strategies to measure the impact of yoga and meditation in policing.”
Apte hopes this story will appeal to the hearts and minds of students and faculty at S-CAR and that many will reach out to discuss how we can work together to amplify the message of compassion and nonviolence in communities across the United States.