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International conference: Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century

By Guest Blogger, on 5 May 2017

Written by Narinder Kapur, Visiting Professor of Neuropsychology

Gandhi Fellows, their families, UCL's Dr. Caroline Selai and Sreemoyee Chatterjee, a Times of India journalistThe year 2015 saw the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square and 2017 is being celebrated in Britain as the India-UK year of culture to mark 70 years of Indian Independence.

These events provided an ideal opportunity to uphold and renew Gandhi’s ideals for the promotion of his principles of nonviolence, tolerance and justice, and for a focus on the problems of the poor and needy in the world.

With these aims in mind, on 28 April 2017 we held an international conference at UCL entitled – Mahatma Gandhi in the 21st Century: Gandhian Themes and Values.

The purpose of the conference was to raise awareness of Gandhian ideals, to encourage people in India and the UK to think about Gandhian issues and values, and to encourage innovation in producing solutions to problems such as poor healthcare, education access and violence in society.

Topics that were covered included Gandhian perspectives on justice, education, nonviolence, and health, as well as a focus on village India and how innovations, such as frugal medical innovations, can be cheaply produced and help common conditions.

Pro-Vice-Provost South Asia Professor Marie Lall (UCL Institute of Education) outlined some of the key collaborations that UCL has with India, and we enlisted eminent speakers from the UK, India and the USA to speak on a range of topics related to Gandhian issues and ideals.

In parallel with the conference, we held a major exhibition of Gandhi-related items, including:

  • Frugal innovation devices in healthcare, to parallel the talk given by Professors Prabhu and Bhargava. This included devices jointly developed by the All India Medical Institute in Delhi and Stanford University, as well as the Jaipur Limb
  • A set of 100 unique photographs provided by GandhiServe in Germany
  • Interactive displays where delegates explored issues related to global citizenship, altruism and moral judgment
  • A virtual reality app built specifically around the Taj Mahal and Gandhi, where delegates could feel what it is like to be at the Taj Mahal and also ‘in the skin’ of Gandhi
  • A Gandhi in Sight and Sound powerpoint presentation that had key speeches and video clips about Gandhi, including a Gandhi ‘Rap’ song by MC Yogi.

In the tradition of Mahatma Gandhi, and in order to have maximum participation in the conference, we did not charge for attendance. Since Gandhi was keen for his values and ideals to permeate throughout India, as well as countries such as the UK, we funded five fellowships to enable young Indian citizens to attend the conference.

They were selected as part of an essay competition, with the essay including a focus on how Gandhi is relevant today, and how he can be made more relevant.

Around 100 delegates attended the event, including a journalist from the Times of India.

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