Mohandas Karamchad Gandhi, as known as the Mahatma (“Great Soul”), came to Paris in 1931 and held a conference there, answering an invitation by Louise Guieysse, of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF).
Back from the Round Table Conference on the future of India which had just ended in London, Gandhi came to Paris on December 5th, 1931. A huge crowd was waiting for him at the Gare du Nord. Gandhi had become a international media figure the previous year, while leading the Salt March. After a meeting with the Indians living in Paris at the Hotel of the Gare Saint-Lazare, he gave a lecture to 2500 people at Magic City, a popular amusement park for adults on the Quai d’Orsay. Big balls were organised there, such as transvestite balls, and political and trade unions meetings were occasionally held.
As the unchallenged leader of his people against the British coloniser, Gandhi spoke to his audience about his satyagraha campaigns, based on civil disobedience and non-violence. He encouraged people to choose non-violence as well, and not to engage in wars. “The methods I spoke about, he said, are applied by a population which represents one fifth of mankind. They can be applied on a universal basis”.
On the following day, he left Paris to Switzerland where he was to meet pacifist writer Romain Rolland, who received the Nobel Literature Prize and who was also Gandhi’s biographer. He then went back to India via Italy. India gained its independence in 1947 and Gandhi was murdered in January 1948. That year, the Nobel Peace Prize was not awarded, as the Nobel committee considered that no living person was worthy to receive it.
Gandhi has inspired numerous movements and figures of the fight for civil rights, freedom and the resistance to oppression: Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Dalai Lama and many others have reclaimed his heritage. In 2007, the UN paid tribute to him and declared that October 2nd, his date of birth, was now the International Day of Non-Violence.
Magic City was destroyed in 1942 and there is no plaque paying tribute to Gandhi’s visit to Paris in December 1931, even though an avenue was named after him in the Bois de Boulogne. In 2013, the French Parliament introduced a training to non-violent conflict resolution in the teachers’ education programme, a world first!