Category Archives: history

Gandhi’s Tryst with Destiny

and His Immense Contribution to Mankind

One hundred and forty-eight years ago, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on 2 October 1869 at Porbandar in the present day Indian state of Gujarat. Gandhi was often referred to and better known as Mahatma, meaning ‘ Great Soul ‘ in Sanskrit.

This term of endearment and high respect was first applied to him by that equally famous Nobel Prize winner and the first Asian to be awarded that prize in Literature, Rabindranath Tagore.

Gandhi was destined for success in the conventional sense.  But his tryst with destiny delivered a huge success of another kind. Gandhi is not only an iconic figure in India, he is also highly respected all over the world. His father was chief minister of Porbandar and other states in Western India. At age 19, Gandhi was sent to London to read law. He was subsequently called to the English Bar in June 1891 at the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple.

Sent To South Africa

He returned to India to set up a law practice in Bombay but met with little success. That led him to accept a position with an Indian firm that sent him to its office in South Africa. He was to stay in South Africa for nearly 20 years.

Gandhi used to dress well and carried out his work and struggles with dignity and decorum. He was, however, appalled by the discrimination he experienced as an Indian immigrant in South Africa. In one instance, although he had a valid ticket for a journey in a train in South Africa, he was rudely and unceremoniously thrown out of the train.

Unjust Measures and Policies

After witnessing racism, prejudice and injustice to Indians and other coloured people, Gandhi was determined to fight apartheid through passive resistance. When he returned to India, he was highly critical of the unjust measures and policies of the colonial authorities. His passive resistance involved non – violent protests, civil disobedience and symbolic acts to register the displeasure of Indians.

His bold and unusual actions against the British galvanised the Indian masses and he attained a revered status. He deliberately discarded his western attire i.e. suits and took to wearing khadi –homespun and home-woven cotton clothing all the time. The image of Gandhi clothed simply in a loincloth and plying a spinning wheel is all too familiar around the world. Even on a visit to London, that was his choice of clothing!

Churchill and Gandhi

Winston Churchill, a former British prime minister well known for his war-time role in marshalling the citizens against their enemies, however, did not like Gandhi and made that crystal clear.

This is one of his infamous quotes: ‘ It is alarming and also nauseating to see Mr Gandhi, a seditious Middle Temple (he got that wrong) lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the East, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace, while he is still organising and conducting a defiant campaign of civil disobedience, to parley on equal terms with the representative of the king-emperor’.

For Gandhi, simplicity was a way of life! Symbolism also mattered.

Passive Resistance and Civil Disobedience

Gandhi was involved in protesting Britain’s Salt Acts. Gandhi planned a new campaign that entailed a 240 mile march to the Arabian Sea where he could collect salt in symbolic defiance of the government monopoly. This march sparked similar protests and mass civil disobedience all over India. Over 60,000 Indians including Gandhi were jailed.

In 1942, Gandhi launched the ‘ Quit India ‘ movement that called for the immediate British withdrawal from the country. India gained its independence five years later in 1947.

Inspired Movements for Civil Rights and Freedom

Gandhi’s selfless actions and steadfastness in following through on the struggle was truly inspiring. In that manner, he was to inspire movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

The great Nelson Mandela was a true admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. He was particularly impressed by Gandhi’s philosophy of satyagraha and non –violent civil disobedience. Satyagraha actually means ‘ insistence on truth ‘ or if you like ‘ loyalty to truth ‘ as part and parcel of his effective passive resistance movement.

As president of the newly emerging rainbow nation, Mandela chose to forgive the past misdeeds of the oppressors. Mandela also chose to actively seek reconciliation in moving forward as a united nation. Such was this iconic figure’s magnanimity!

Another notable figure from history who strictly adhered to Gandhi’s philosophy of non – violence is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 1955, he began his struggle to persuade the US government to declare the policy of racial discrimination in the southern states unlawful. The racists responded with violence to the black people’s non-violent initiatives. The police in these states wielded batons ruthlessly and even used fierce dogs to frighten the protestors. Some in his group wanted to retaliate but Rev. Dr. King stood firm. The bus boycott, for instance, lasted 382 days. On December 21, 1956 the Supreme Court of the United States declared, as unconstitutional, the laws requiring segregation on buses.

A third influential figure is Diasaku Ikeda, president of Soka Gakkai International.  Daisaku Ikeda is a peace builder, a Buddhist philosopher, educator, author and poet. He is the third president of Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organisation in Japan and founder of several institutions promoting peace, culture and education. He has dedicated himself to bolstering the foundations of a lasting culture of peace. He is a strong proponent of dialogue as the foundation of peace. A core focus of Ikeda’s peace activities has been the goal of nuclear disarmament.

Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and Daisaku Ikeda are four men from different cultures and continents who have followed a common path. They chose the path of profound dedication and achievement in improving the lives of all people.

Some Profound Quotes

Here are some telling quotes that reveal the thinking and philosophy of these great men. Do take a moment to ponder and reflect on these quotes because they reveal the humanity that guided them even during a troubled and difficult period.

‘ In the moment of our trial and our triumph, let me declare my faith. I believe in loving my enemies ‘ – Mahatma Gandhi

‘ On the one hand I must attempt to change the soul of individuals so that societies may be changed. On the other, I must attempt to change the societies so that the individual soul will have a chance ‘ – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

‘ A great human revolution in just a single individual will help to achieve a change in the destiny of a society, and further, will enable a change in the destiny of humankind ‘ – Daisaku Ikeda

‘ When I walked out of prison, that was my mission – to liberate the oppressed and the oppressor both ‘ – Nelson Mandela

Gandhi Identifies with Uncanny Accuracy 7 Deadly Social Sins

In concluding, let me share with you the great Mahatma’s uncanny ability to identify 7 deadly sins plaguing our societies today. These are worth pondering over and deserve deep reflection and then, action on our part.

The havoc and mayhem caused by these deadly sins are taking a heavy toll in countries all over the world. Let me be clear: not just in the developing countries but also in the developed countries.

Deadly Sins

Wealth without Work

Pleasure without Conscience

Knowledge without Character

Commerce without Morality

Science without Humanity

Worship without Sacrifice

and

Politics without Principle

 

I acknowledge with gratitude that some of this information was obtained from the souvenir programme provided by the Gandhi Memorial Trust Malaysia on 2 October, 2017 at the Royal Lake Club in Kuala Lumpur.

 

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RAAF Base at Butterworth’s Historic and Supportive Role

Lest we easily forget

Many young Malaysians may be unaware of the important and defining role played by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) and its gallant airmen in Malaya, and later, Malaysia. When we progress as a nation and a people, it is always ever so crucial to know who were there to support and defend us when danger loomed on the horizon. In that respect, Malaysians should never forget the valuable services and sacrifices of the RAAF and its brave airmen.

What is the background to the involvement of the RAAF in this part of the world?

Only One Permanent Base Overseas

It is most interesting to know that the RAAF had an association stretching back to 1941! The RAAF Base in Butterworth was then used for care and maintenance purposes. The RAAF at some point during that period was the fourth largest air force in the world. Although the RAAF had some units based overseas, it had only one permanent base outside of Australia.

Butterworth in North Seberang Perai ( formerly known as Province Wellesley ) and within the state of Penang was chosen as the site for the RAAF Base. Although it was initially under the British, it was handed over to the Australians who managed the base. Later on, after we gained independence as a nation in 1957, it was technically jointly managed by both the RAAF and the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF).

Butterworth had a population of some 11,000 residents in 1910, and a century later, its population swelled to some 800,000 plus residents.

Commonwealth Strategic Reserve

In the mid-1950s, Britain, Australia and New Zealand agreed to set up a Commonwealth Strategic Reserve in Malaya. The primary purpose of this Strategic Reserve was for countering a growing and menacing Communist threat in South East Asia. The prevailing theory pedalled at that time was the Domino Effect.  It was the assumption, for instance, that if Thailand fell, then soon Malaysia and Singapore too would fall to the Communists.

Initially, the RAAF Base in Butterworth had two squadrons of Sabre jet fighters, a squadron of Canberra tactical bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and a flight of Dakota transport aircraft. The RAAF Base commenced operations in June 1958.

At its peak strength during the 1970s, it had 1200 Australian personnel together with their families living on the island of Penang as well as in Butterworth. The RAAF Base, in addition, also employed another 1000 local Malay, Chinese and Indian support staff.

Extended Support during the Vietnam War

Unknown to most Malaysians at that time, the RAAF Base in Butterworth played a behind the scenes role in supporting a squadron that was deployed to Ubon, Thailand. The squadron played a pivotal role there along with medical and transport facilities during the Vietnam War.

Some senior citizens may well remember Harold Holt, the Australian prime minister at that time. Harold Holt gave tremendous, unstinting support to Lyndon Baines Johnson during the Vietnam War. Lyndon Johnson was then president of the United States.  What was Harold Holt’s infamous quote: ‘ All the way with LBJ ‘. Harold Holt later disappeared mysteriously when he went for a routine swim at a beach. His body was never found.

Crucial Role in Defending Malaysia

When Malaysia was formed with the merger of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, the then fiery Indonesian president, made his displeasure and opposition to the idea publicly known. President Sukarno announced a Crush Malaysia campaign and proclaimed a period of Confrontation.

It was certainly a tense period for the new nation and things got much worse when over 100 plus Indonesian paratroopers were dropped into the state of Johor at the southern tip of peninsula Malaya. Thankfully, they were quickly rounded up.

The base, as such, was especially crucial between 1963 and 1966 during the period of Confrontation. The RAAF Base in Butterworth became the headquarters of the Integrated Air Defence System under the Five Power Defence Agreement. Its main role was to provide air defence for Singapore and Malaysia.

Australia’s Single Biggest Engagement with Asia

The RAAF Base in Butterworth was, without doubt, Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia. Most young Malaysians may not know about this chapter in our infancy as a nation. But they should know and appreciate it because it is easy to gloss over, pretend otherwise and forget such matters.

The RAAF Base in Butterworth existed from 1955 to 1988. During that thirty-three year period over 50,000 Australians were based there together with their families.

It was Australia’s single biggest engagement with Asia.

Integrated Well with the Local Population

To their credit, the Australian airmen and their families integrated very well with Malaysians of all walks of life. I remember meeting a few of them in the mid-sixties mainly at social gatherings in Penang while I was training to be a certified teacher at St Joseph’s Training College ( STJC ), a La Salle institution in Pulau Tikus, Penang.

They were humble, friendly, socially adept and helpful. In that process, these Australians contributed to the rich, local social fabric of Penang society at that time.  To add to that unique cultural melting pot, we also had a steady infusion of lovely, young and fashionable Thai lasses from Bangkok and Phuket who trooped to Penang for classes in typewriting, stenography and secretarial studies.

George Town, Penang and Adelaide, South Australia: Sister Cities

Australia became increasingly connected to Asia and particularly to Penang and Malaysia I believe, to a great measure, because of their presence and contribution through the RAAF for over those thirty-three years.

It is still quite common to see many Australian families holidaying in Penang. For some, it is like a yearly pilgrimage to Shangri La, both literally and otherwise. For good measure, there are three well-known high-class Shangri-La hotel properties in Penang, two in Batu Feringgi and one in George Town.

In February 1973, the city of Adelaide, on the advice of the charismatic and forward thinking Don Dunstan (then premier of South Australia) proposed the establishment of a sister city (or twin cities) relationship with George Town, Penang.  Don Dunstan, you may be interested to know, actually married a Malaysian journalist named Adele Koh who hailed from Penang.

In December the same year, Dr Lim Chong Eu, a long-serving chief minister of Penang signed a sealed scroll attesting to this sister city arrangement. The sister city relationship has resulted in many enjoyable yearly programmes being hosted in both cities much to the satisfaction of the citizens.

Social History of RAAF Butterworth Base

KampongAustraliaBookDr. Mathew Radcliffe recently completed a fascinating social history of the RAAF Butterworth Base.

I am no historian but if what little I have shared has whetted your appetite for more on this unique history and contribution, do get his book, ‘Kampong Australia‘ which was published recently. (Read the Sydney Morning Herald review of the book).

Mathew was incidentally born at the RAAF Base in Butterworth and served in the RAAF for seven years.

He later went to university and completed a BA majoring in history before earning a Ph.D from Macquarie University.

Lest We Easily Forget

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