Hamilton’s 24th Annual Gandhi Peace Festival

Within Hamilton’s City Hall gardens stands a six-foot tall statue of Mahatma Gandhi. The statue was a gift from the Government of India and the Indo-Canadian community of Hamilton in 2012 and was unveiled at the 20th Gandhi Peace Festival. October 2, 2016, will be the 147th birthday of this inspiring man, and Hamilton will celebrate once again on Saturday, October 1 at Hamilton City Hall during the 24th Annual Gandhi Peace Festival.

The festival, which advocates non-violence, peace, and justice, is the longest running of its kind. It was initiated by the India-Canada Society in 1993 to foster relationships between community organizations and the public. Since its foundation, it has grown significantly from fifty attendees to over five hundred.

Some of the Organizing Committee members who plan the festival have been there from the beginning. Rama Singh, an evolutionary biology professor at McMaster University, is the founder. One of the experiences that led him to create the festival was his educational background. With the recognition that humans have moved beyond their biological limits to make changes to their environment and way of living, he sees the festival as doing just that: “The Gandhi Peace Festival, I reasoned, would be essentially an experiment in learning how to control our own destiny in the most constructive possible way: by promoting non-violence as a way of seeing the world.”

DSCF4727Khursheed Ahmed is another founding member and a retired professor from McMaster. When asked why he became involved in the Gandhi Peace Festival, he said, “We have seen too many destructive wars, and the impact of armed conflicts on humans and all other living things is devastating. In my mind, nonviolent conflict resolution is the only sane way to resolve problems and we need to adopt this as the only practical approach to solving conflicts between individuals and nations.” It is clear that the organizers not only have a passion for Gandhi but also a drive to make positive change within our community.

Each year’s festival has a theme that highlights different aspects of Gandhi’s philosophies in relation to current events. With the world facing one of the largest refugee crises, this year’s theme will be “Refugees and Sarvodaya.” Sarvodaya is Gandhi’s principle of “universal uplift” or “the progress of all.” Hamilton’s welcome to hundreds of newcomers and attempts to help them start a better life in this city is certainly a practice of this philosophy. Ahmed hopes that this theme will help him and Hamiltonians “to have a better understanding of how the refugees are faring in Hamilton, [and] what possibilities exist to help them integrate better into the Hamilton community.” It will be the festival’s aim this year to help connect with refugees to inspire peace and belonging when many parts of the world are at war.

The keynote speaker this year is Nora Melara-Lopez, a social worker and the coordinator of the Emergency Support Committee for Refugees North Hamilton Community Health Centre. Her talk, titled “Refugees in Hamilton: Stories of resilience, challenges, and giving back,” will speak to her own experiences as a refugee as well the stories of those that she has worked with more recently through the North Hamilton Community Health Centre.

Festivities will start at 1pm on Saturday, October 1, and will include a number of cultural performances by local Hamilton talent, including poets, dancers, and drummers. A number of community organizations will be in attendance to inform the community of the work they are doing with refugees, among other issues within the community. Following the Peace Walk around Hamilton City Hall, a free Indian meal provided. There will also be programming for children, making it an activity for the whole family. As always, admission to the event is free.

The event itself is a peaceful call to action. Ahmed says, “We need to emphasize this to members of the public and national leaders all over the world. I hope that our actions in Hamilton reverberate the message of peace and nonviolence around the world.

More information on Gandhi Peace Festival as well as past issues of the festival booklets entitled “Living Gandhi Today” can be found HERE. A Facebook page for the festival is also active. Email hamiltongpf@gmail.com for further inquiries.