A statue of Mahatma Gandhi greets you as you come out of the Wellington Railway station in Aotearoa New Zealand. Mahatma means great soul.
Mahatma Gandhi is famous the world over for leading the Hindu resistance of Bharat (India) through Ahimsa and Satyagraha (non-violent demand for justice from oppression and exploitation).
However, use of the principles of Ahimsa and Satyagraha against the same coloniser in Aotearoa by the Maori community predates Gandhi by almost half a century.
This strong parallel between the thinking of Maori and Hindu Mahatmas started off the fourth New Zealand Hindu Conference held in Auckland last month. The conference was organised by the Hindu Council of New Zealand (HCNZ).
Judith Collins, Minister of Ethnic Affairs, and David Shearer, Leader of Opposition, along with parliamentarians Dr Rajen Prasad, Kanwaljeet Bakshi, Su’a William Sio and Melissa Lee were present at the conference.
Earlier, the same talk had been presented at the fourth International Conference of Elders of Ancient Cultures held in Haridwar, India, when the first Maori delegation to India participated in a big number.
The presentation “Maori Leader Te Whiti o Rongomai: Dharmic principle of ahimsa (non-violence) in the resistance of 1870s Aotearoa New Zealand” was jointly made by Dr. Rajiv Chaturvedi of the HCNZ and Dr. Ihakara Porutu Puketapu, himself a keeper of the legacy of Te Whiti through disciplic succession that Hindu culture recognises as Guru-Shishya parampara.
Post 1850's, colonisers in Aotearoa were employing various subterfuges to confiscate land from the indigenous Maori, just like they were doing in other parts of the world including Bharat. Their methods included, as usual, inflicting war and violence on the indigenous holders of land. Parihaka, at that time the largest Maori village, took the lead in a major campaign of non-violent resistance against the European colonisers.
Te Whiti-o-Rongomai (c. 1830 – 1907), the Maori leader who founded Parihaka in the Taranaki region of Aotearoa, inspired Maori people to resist the Europeans for their rights to land without using violence even in the face of violent provocation. In 1881 he led 2000 Maori to oppose trigger happy colonising soldiers by courting arrest as the means of opposing the violent army of the coloniser.
Te Whiti's words in March 1880 in the face of British guns expresses the courage of strong conviction of age old Maori culture and an exceptionally strong human spirit. "Let not the Pakehas think to succeed by reason of their guns ... I want not war, but they do. The flashes of their guns have singed our eyelashes, and yet they say they do not want war ... The government come not hither to reason, but go to out-of-the-way places. They work secretly, but I speak in public so that all may hear". The parallel with similar thinking of Hindu Dharma and other ancient cultures is unmistakable.
Hindu Council of New Zealand has proposed a lasting tribute to the Mahatma of Parihaka, Te Whiti O Rongomai, through his presence in an equally prominent place in Wellington as is Mahatma Gandhi. Is it not a fitting tribute to this important chapter of the history or Aotearoa and the world?
Dr. Ihakara Puketapu, ex Secretary of Maori Affairs, says: “It is important to add to the legacy of our ancestors for our future generations”. Should not the nurturing spirit of Te Whiti be acknowledged with his statue present next to Mahatma, and this fascinating story of the eternal Dharmic soul whose legacy constructed the modern New Zealand be known more widely?
The conference deliberated on a very wide range of topics. The opening session saw discussions on Hindu-Maori relations, with HCNZ proposing wider recognition of the Maori resistance leader Te Whiti O Rongomai, who introduced non-violent civil disobedience against colonial rule about half a century before Mahatma Gandhi did it in Bharat (India).