On a chilly morning of January 21, 2019, Foundation for India Studies (FIS) participated in the 25th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Grande parade for the eighth consecutive year. Volunteers from FIS carried a banner featuring pictures of Gandhi and MLK which featured a message saluting both the apostles of non-violence. Marching in solidarity with FIS were over thirty students, community members, and volunteers from across Houston.
This year, new participants marching together with FIS included international students from the Houston Community College (HCC) and student volunteers from the Youth Leadership Development Program (YLDP).
This year, Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is especially significant because of the yearlong observance of Mahatma Gandhi ji’s sesquicentennial birthday.
FIS’s participation in the parade was coordinated by FIS event-chair, Nischay Bhan and Assistant Event Chairs, Vinisha Vasan and Divya Yadavalli of YLDP, and ably supported by FIS directors Sahil Verma and Raghu Nednur.
In a pre-event VIP/Honors Reception held at the Mercer HiRise on January 19th, FIS and its founder, Krishna Vavilala, were honored by the 25th MLK Grande Parade organization. Some prominent Houstonians were also among the Honorees: Texas A&M University System regent and trial lawyer Tony Buzbee; Houston businessman Bill King, who sponsored the event; and two-time Emmy Award winner Kim Gagne, a former Supervising Producer of the Steve Harvey Show.
Both Mr. Buzbee and Mr. King have already announced their candidacy for Houston Mayor in the 2019 elections.
The event was hosted by Radio personality Amanda Sapp and Dr. Richard Johnson, III.
Krishna Vavilala, Chairman of FIS, and Event Chair Nish Bhan thanked the organizers for the recognitions and recalled the earlier MLK Parade Grand Marshall Award bestowed on FIS in 2015.
In his speech, Vavilala discussed the important connection between Dr. King and Gandhi ji. For example, he explained that, although it is well known that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was greatly influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence and passive resistance, not many are aware that Dr. King and his wife, Loretta Scott King, had in fact visited India in 1959, four years before Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, made at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Aug. 28, 1963.
During his 5 week long tour of India, Dr. King even slept in Gandhi ji’s Bombay (renamed “Mumbai”) residence. Dr. King wrote in the guest book that “to have the opportunity of sleeping in the house where Gandhi ji slept is really an experience I will never forget”.
At the beginning of his tour, upon landing at Delhi’s Palam airport on February 10th, 1969, Dr. King told a group of reporters that “To other countries I may go as a tourist, but to India I come as a pilgrim.”
Dr. King also visited Gandhi ji’s Sabarmathi Ashram in Ahmadabad, from where Gandhi ji began his 1930 Salt March to the sea to protest against British taxation on salt which is essential for a poor man’s food. [The Gandhi statue in Herman park, sculpted by famous sculptor Ram Sutar illustrates that historic moment.]
On the eve of his departure from India, Dr. King reflected on his trip in a radio address: “Since being in India, I am more convinced than ever before that the method of non-violent resistance is the most potent weapon available to oppressed people in their struggle for justice and human dignity. In real sense, Mahatma Gandhi embodied in his life certain universal principles that are inherent in the moral structure of this universe, and these principles are as inescapable as the laws of gravitation.”
Vavilala finally suggested that people should go and visit Herman park where the statue of Dr. King was installed very close to Mahatma Gandhi’s.
Fundamentally, FIS’s participation in the MLK Grande Parade is to celebrate this connection between India and America these two important civil rights leaders. FIS remains committed to exploring both men’s message of peaceful resistance and non-violent struggle for being.
Contributors to this report are: Nischay Bhan, Vanisha Vasan and Divya Yadavalli. FIS would like to specifically thank high-school volunteers from YLDP for providing help at the event, and for their instrumental role in pre-event organizing.