Mumbai: Nearly six decades after American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr visited Mani Bhavan in Gamdevi and took Mahatma Gandhi’s message of non-violence back home with him, the USA has once again turned to India – in fact, the same leader and venue -- for answers.
A team of American policemen, currently in India to try and find solutions to the rising violence back home, visited Mani Bhavan on Friday.
Mr. King, an American Baptist leader, had visited India in 1959 to understand the Mahatma’s civil disobedience movement that aided India’s independence, and stayed in the country for five weeks before returning home.
Earlier this week, a delegation of serving and retired police officers, members of the United States Police Foundation were in India to take a fresh look at Gandhian principles. The initiative is the brainchild of the India-born Mandar Apte, who now lives in the US. Earlier this year, Mr. Apte started the From India With Love initiative to promote peace, non-violence and yoga, and later approached the US Police Foundation with the idea. Over the past several months, Mr. Apte has conducted sessions with a wide range of people, including police officers, community leaders and former gangsters.
“This visit presents us with a unique and important opportunity to explore Gandhi’s principles of non-violence and work with the police and community to counter violence and extremism,” James Bueerman, president of the National Police Foundation, said.
Mr. Bueerman served as Chief of Police, Redlands, California till his retirement in June 2011.
The delegation will be touring Mumbai from September 28 to September 30 where they will learn about Indian spiritual wisdom and techniques like meditation and Sudarshan Kriya.
“An act of violence brings out compassion from all of us. This initiative is to build a bridge between those of us who have suffered as a result of violence and to bring about peace together,” said Dilip Mehta, a 26/11 survivor who represented India at the International Congress on Victims of Terrorism in 2011.
The U.S. policemen spoke about a variety of issues they have been witness to, including the 9/11 terror attacks, gun-related violence and police brutality.
Assistant Commissioner Frank Straub with the New York Police Department, a 9/11 survivor, recalled how he was rescuing victims of the first tower when the second one came crashing down.
“I managed to run and hide but the man running behind me didn’t make it,” said Mr. Straub, who is also the Director of Strategic Studies and Centre for Mass Violence Response Studies, US Police Foundation.
He added, “Sitting here in this home of Gandhi, I think we have much to learn from India.” Learning about Gandhi’s life, his compassion and his non-violent methods are essentially what we need today. I hope we can replicate and rebuild that energy and create mass change positively.”
Chief of Police Larry Juriga, Miami Police Department, spoke of the racism that still exists in the USA. “Gandhi faced discrimination in South Africa and also back here in his home. Thousands face it still, but if we, as law enforcement officers can show respect and remain professional, we can bring about a change in the existing system,” Mr Juriga said.
Mr. Apte has been witness to precisely such a change, even if at a micro level. One workshop he will not ever forget was for Los Angeles Police Department officers, and former gang members. “A former gangster from LA [Los Angeles} wrote to me a month ago fully inspired by how the breathing exercises had helped him to destress and improve his clarity and energy levels, and offered to host more trainings in his neighborhood. It was soulful and humbling,” Mr. Apte said.