The Danish Peace Academy


Collected by E. S. Reddy and Holger Terp. Editors and publishers E. S. Reddy and Holger Terp.


One of the early Danish Gandhi publications
by Margrete Thorborg, 1925.

By Holger Terp.

Until 1921 Mohandas Gandhi and the Indian non-violent struggle for freedom in South Africa and in India was unknown in Scandinavia, except - as we shall learn - for a little band of Danish missionaries in India and their friends back home.

The first article about Gandhi appeared in Danish newspapers on August 25, 1921: “There is a revolt against the English in India. The revolt is led by Gandhi”, the readers learned. A pacifist corrective to the newspaper articles came in the next number of the magazine of the Danish chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. A five-page article by the Ceylon-born Reverend Ariam Williams - “Gandhi-Bevægelsen og dens Principper” - introduced Gandhi and his policy of non-violence to the members of the peace movement. Within a few years all who wanted to know about the development of the political situation in India could read about it in the news and in the writings of Gandhi himself.

However, it was another person who sparkled the interest of the Scandinavians for the Indian scene. In 1913 the Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and a few of his books were published in Danish. In May 1921 he was on a much publicized visit in Denmark where he told the press about Gandhi. At the same time Esther Faering wrote an article about Tagore’s school (Højskolebladet, 1921 colums 665-668 and 691-695). The breakthrough came with the publication of the French writer Romain Rolland’s biography of Gandhi in 1924, together with an anthology of articles from Gandhi’s magazine Young India. Rolland linked the philosophy of Gandhi to anti-imperialism and to a hope for a future of unity and cooperation. In the late twenties the first meetings about Gandhi and non-violence were held in Copenhagen. The snowball started rolling and grew much bigger when the journalist Ellen Horup established the Friends of India Society in Copenhagen in October 1930. She also established the first monthly magazine devoted fully to Mahatma Gandhi outside South Africa and India.

Until about 1920, Gandhi was little known outside India, South Africa and Britain.

Probably the only book about Gandhi, published outside India, was a biography “Gandhi : An Indian Patriot in South Africa” by Rev. Joseph J. Doke, published in London in 1909, with a foreword by Lord Ampthill. In fact, Gandhi carried the manuscript to London and the publication was intended to secure understanding and support for the struggle of the Indians in South Africa against oppression.

In London, there were also news reports about the Indian struggle in South Africa, then a British colony, and Gandhi's two visits to London on behalf of the Indian community. An article by Professor Gilbert Murray in Hibberts Journal (January 1918) attracted some attention, especially from pacifists. Another early Gandhi biography was Henriëtte (van der Schalk) Roland Holst: “De Revolutionaire Massa-Aktie”, Een Studie (Rotterdam, 1918);

Gandhi became a leader of the national movement in India by 1919, but the strict British censorship prevented news of the movement from reaching other countries. In Denmark, however, Gandhi received some early publicity because of a few liberal Danish missionaries who admired him – especially John Bittmann, Anne Marie Petersen and Esther Faering.

Mahatma Gandhi biography written by the Scandinavians

For more than two hundred years, the English ruled over India and took away riches which weren’t theirs. The “white man’s burden” destroyed the traditional economy of India and made the country depend upon foreign commodities, especially from Britain. This dependency caused enormous unemployment and poverty and led to a loss of dignity of the people under Rule Britannica. However, this began to chance, when a little Indian barrister arrived in South Africa in 1893.

“Those who back home in Denmark have followed the fights in South Africa, not the Boer war, but the race war and the fight for just laws for the Indians who emigrated to South Africa, will have noticed the name of Mr. K. Gandhi, the leader of the great "passive resistance" or "love and soul force" movement as he himself calls it. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born in the princely state of Porbandar in western India, where his father held an office of high standing. After his studies in India, he went to London to study law, and was enrolled as a barrister. Characteristic it is for his home that, before agreeing to his journey "across the sea", his mother took three promises from him: that he would desist from eating meat and drinking wine and from women. This triple promise the son kept faithfully during all the temptations that a young student is exposed to in the big city of London.
Shortly after his return to India, Mr. Gandhi went to South Africa in 1893 to assist an Indian merchant in a lawsuit. There he saw the injustices to which his fellow countrymen were subjected. Mr. Gandhi made it to his duty to improve his fellow countrymen's conditions, but not by force or power as he believed that only love can conquer hatred and unjustice. It cost him and his followers prison and all sorts of privations and sufferings, but they keept on faithfully, and in the end love was victorious: The laws for the emigrated Indians in South Africa were improved and Mr. Gandhi returned home to India to serve his native country in a more direct manner; but never will his performance in South Africa be forgotten, and for ever his name will, both in Africa and India, be remembered and spoken about with gratitude and pride”
(Faering, Esther: Et besøg i en indisk Ashrama. Dansk Missions-Blad, 1917 pp. 771-772).

Gandhi on religion

Gandhi was a Sanatani Hindu who believed in the theology of service and liberation, not only based in the Scriptures, but in the traditional values and concepts of Hinduism (Khanna, Suman: Gandhi and the Good Life. New Delhi : Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1985 p. 1). “I consider myself a Hindu of Hindus. I believe that I have a fine perception of the truth of Hinduism and the priceless lesson I have learnt from it is that I should not wish that others may become Hindus but that they become best specimens in their own faith”, wrote Gandhi to Anne Marie Petersen, January 13, 1920. “In my opinion, Christianity or the message of Jesus is a response to the human want even as are the messages of Krishna, Buddha, Muhammad and Zoroaster. Though they were designed and delivered at different places and at different times, they have also a universal value”, explaned Gandhi to Emilie Bjerrum, May 11, 1928.

For Gandhi the Hindu concept of ahimsa, non-violence, meant “the largest love, the greatest charity. If I am a follower of ahimsa, I must love my enemy”“This active ahimsa necessarily includes Thruth and Fearlessness“ and “ahimsa means something more than the “Love” defined by St. Poul. It includes the whole creation, and not only human”. The Law of Love can thus in the defination of Gandhi be defined as “conscious suffering”, where ahimsa “inspires the induvidial and the nation to achieve complete harmony with all the impulses of human nature”, Khanna p.36 and 157.

The God-fearing Gandhi had in South Africa done comparative studies of religions, including Christianity and Tolstoy. “Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You overwhelmed me. It left an abiding impresison on me”, wrote Gandhi in “My experiments with thruth”. Through Tolstoy Gandhi became aware of the pacifist tradition within Christianity. And “though I took a path my Christian friends had not intended for me, I have remained for ever indebted to them for the religious quest that they awakened in me”. Gandhi did not fit into any theological system, but his strong personal moral and religious ethic was shared by his close Christian missionary friends, whereas the majority of the Christian missionaries in India, including those of the Danish Mission Society, were critical:

“Mr. Gandhi is for instance mentioned in Klokkerne kimer 1917 pp. 80 ff. He has with great self-denial struggled for the cause of oppressed Indians in South Africa and now has a school in North India. Certainly, he is a excellent man, but Christian he is not” (Excecutive committee decisions : Dansk Missions-Blad, 1919 pp 921-924).

The Indians discovered that it was possible to be Christians without the culture of the West, wrote the American missionary Eli Stanley Jones in Christ of the Indian Road. Christ was becoming naturalized Indian (pp 21). (Martin Luther King Jr. learned about Mohandas Gandhi, through the writings of Eli Stanley Jones, among others.).

“May we know what form in your opinion missionary work should take if the missionaries are to stay in India?” Hans and Emilie Bjerrum asked Gandhi in 1928. He answered:

“Yes. They have to alter their attitude. Today they tell people that there is no salvation for them except through the Bible and through Christianity. It is customary to decry other religions and to offer their own as the only one that can bring deliverance. That attitude should be radically changed. Let them appear before the people as they are, and try to rejoice in seeing Hindus to become better Hindus and Mussalmans better Mussalmans. Let them start work at the bottom, let them enter into what is best in their life and offer nothing inconsistent with it. That will make their work far more efficacious, and what they will say and offer to the people will be appreciated without suspicion and hostility. In a word let them go to the people not as patrons, but as one of them, not to oblige them but to serve them and to work among them”.
Anne Marie Petersen around 1930. ©
In the files of Holger Terp.

“We (the Christians) go on crucifying Christ while we long to proclaim the power of His resurrection by which He has conquered untruth and unrighteousness. If we who bear His name were true to Him, we would never bow ourselves before the Powers of this world, but we would always be on the side of the poor, the suffering and the oppressed”, wrote Anne Marie Petersen to Gandhi in 1920 (Anne Marie Petersen was quoting the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard: "It is the only part we have in the cross, that we all are crucifying Christ, either by doing it personally by our sins or by rejecting him and escaping, letting others do their evil deeds").

As a Hindu and a social reformer, “Gandhi enters the great and admirable fight for the untouchables. He fasts for their right to get into the temples for which he is subject to attempted assassinations, and he gets the entire priesthood on his back. Gandhi has declared that there is no such thing as an untouchable in the holy writings, and even if there was, it would conflict with all humanity and therefore could not be divine truth. Everybody enthusiastically follows him on his Harijan-tour. But the untouchable is a by-product of the caste system, and Gandhi fights for the untouchable but wishes to keep the caste system”, said Ellen Horup as one of the few contemporary Scandinavian friends of Gandhi who dared to voice criticism of Gandhi.

Gandhi and policy

“Through Gandhi” concluded Esther Menon in her biography of Gandhi in Danish, published in 1930, “God has shown us the first right of suffering and the glory of service”. The poor were used to show the structural errors of the rich and by pointing at the suffering of the poor Gandhi found a way for their liberation. The tool in the process of liberation was satyagraha - active or non-violent resistance. When he started the non-cooperation movement against British imperialism in 1920, Gandhi, inspired by Anne Marie Petersen and others, explained in the article, “The Inwardness of Non-Co-Operation”: “the movement for non-cooperation is neither anti-Christian, nor anti-English, nor anti-European. It is a struggle between religion and irreligion, powers of light and powers of darkness.” (Young India, September 8, 1920). India should resist the crimes by the use of non-cooperation without violence. The poor themselves had to break away from the dependence on British imperialism. The spinning wheel, the flag and the salt march (in defiance of the tax on salt which was oppressive to the poor) were not only symbols in the process of turning the personal ethic of civil disobediance into a mass movement for the first time in history. They offered hope and income for the poor and the oppressed, who through the teaching of Gandhi, in the words of Romain Rolland, “are inflamed by the triple energy of love, faith and sacrifice”, (p 38 Danish translation).

Anne Marie Petersen at Porto Novo around 1950.

The moral and ethical Gandhi became a visionary politician solidly founded in the reality of the Indians and the Indian National Congress Party. The political and the social works were twins, which could not be separated. In a speech on “voluntary poverty” given at the congregation of Maude Royden during the time of the Second Round Table Conference in London, on September 23, 1931, Gandhi said: “But I found also that the politics of the day are no longer a concern of kings, but that they affect the lowest strata of society. And I found, through bitter experience that, if I wanted to do social service, I could not possibly leave politics alone.” Also “I came to believe in the necessity of voluntary poverty for any social worker or for any political worker who wanted to remain untouched by the hideous immorality and untruth that one smells today in ordinary politics… I came definitely to the conclusion that, if I had to serve the people in whose midst my life was cast and of whose difficulties I was witness from day to day, I must discard all wealth, all possessions” (Speech at Guildhouse Church, London, September 23, 1931. From: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi).

At a meeting at Liselund from January 16-19, 1921 Fonnesbech-Wullf asked Esther Faering: “Is not the goal of Gandhi home rule? Mrs. Faering: Yes. Fonnesbech-Wullf: If this goal succedes, do you believe that India will be the scene for internal riots? Esther Faering: I believe that there will come a sinfull chaos in India” (Højskolebladet, 1921 colums 220-221).


Gandhi on education

Their common interest in education was the reason why Anne Marie Petersen first met Gandhi in January 1917. The poor had to be educated both in order to be able to protest against their conditions of slavery and also to support themselves, but there was no common education in India at that time. “In my opinion the present educational system is absolutely bad! At any rate it is no good for us here in India. All these exams which you have to take are of no use whatever except for a few people who want to make their way in the world. The students are filled with a whole lot of knowledge which they had better forget again. I personally have had to unlearn a good deal of my English education“, said Gandhi to Bokken Lasson and Ellen Horup. Gandhi developed a national school and educational program, taught at the Wardha Ashram; basic craft education, where the children learn through the work of their hands. Basic craft education was divided into three parts: 1) pre-basic for small children, 2) children’s schools for pupils aged 7-14 and 3) post-basic, general education, which included the universities and problems relating to the enlightenment of the masses of whom only a few were able to read and write (Anker-Møller, Rasmus: Porto Novo Missionen p. 26).

The seed of liberation

Letter from Ellen Horup to Cathinca Olsen,
In the files of Holger Terp.

When Anne Marie Petersen came to India in 1909, she left a country with a poor common education system. Militaristic Danish governments had in the 19th century used a more than half of the public funds for paying for past wars and the militarization of Denmark. Progressive teachers and churchmen established from 1844 free schools for children and folk high schools for adult peasants and workers with the goal that the pupils became good citizens. The schools became part in the political process which made Denmark more liberal before and after the turn of the twentieth century. In the words of Anne Marie Petersen to Gandhi: “Only by indigenous education can India be truly uplifted. Why this appeals so much to me is perhaps because I belong to the part of the Danish people who started their own independent, indigenous national schools. The Danish Free Schools and Folk-High-Schools, of which you may have heard, were started against the opposition and persecution of the State. The organisers won and thus have regenerated the nation”. When she arrived in India in 1909, Mrs. Petersen had a vision of establishing a Christian National School, a home school for children and women. Her school at Porto Novo was one of the first national schools in India build on the ideas of Gandhi.

Why a national school? The school at Porto Novo should become a Christian part in the process of the liberation of India, beginning at the basic, children and women. All education and upbringing should be for the life. There were special conditions in India. When the Western schools came to India, knowledge and examinations became somewhat of a idol. “As one of India’s great leaders said to me”, wrote Anne Marie Petersen in “Vor Skole” (1918) where she quotes Gandhi: “India suffers from brain fever; we are running after literary knowledge and despising the work of the body. But India is a big agriculturel country; there the progress has to be made. The work of the hand must be honoured and aided forward equal with the spirit” pp 18 1.

Anne Marie Petersen, together with a young missionary Esther Faering, undertook a research journey in India investigating Christian and Hindu schools. They were in Guntur at Dr. Kugler; Poona at Professor Karve; Mukti near Poona at Pândita Râmabai; and Ahmedabad at Dr. Taylor and Gandhi. Mrs Petersen liked the educational philosophy of Gandhi, but did not feel at home in his Ashram. “I spoke with Mahatma Gandhi about what he thought and would advise me to do (with the school plans). “Yes”, said he, “when you ask, I will answer, that my demand for a national school first and foremost is that it is independent (self-supplying), and therefore it should be established in response to a demand from the people. Ask the nationalists you to begin at Madras, recieve the offer! But”, he added, with a roguish twinkle in his eyes, “if I know you right, after all you act not after the advice from others, but only according to what you believe is right for God”, wrote Anne Petersen.2

First visit to Gandhi

Drawing done tn the Ashram of Mohandas Gandhi around 1930 by Cathinca Olsen.
Finally we reached the ashram of Gandhi. He had expected us every day, but we had been thinking that he wasn't home and therefore had postponed the visit to his school.
Gandhi is one of the strangest and best men of India. He had studied in England, took a fine degree and already as a youth had a good employment as barrister of high court. But while he in South Africa witnessed the injustice the Indians and the coloured suffered, he sided himself with his poor, emigrated people in the struggle for, not even like the Europeans, that much they didn't expect to gain, but at least acceptable human conditions to live in. He became their leader in this struggle, which they conducted in this way, that they all gently not obeyed the unjust laws, which were given to destroy them. He shared poverty and prison with them and travelled first home to India, when that, they suffered for, was accomplished..
His school or ashram as it is called, therefore is partly made after the old Rishi-schools or Rishi-Ashrams. The work of the hand is made equal to that of the spirit. They weave, grind corn, cook, clean, and make all the work themself. They live as sisters and brothers together under a strict discipline, which shall educate them to a self-denying mind of a servant and a life for their country's upbringing; brothers and sisters - -. Yes, it is maybe strange in a country like India. But there is no caste here. Everybody is welcome here from the Paria to the European. We sat upon the floor in the kitchen eating together. Clean and neat it was in all its simplicity. But it was hard for me, as it is hard for many of the visiting Hindus, to eat it. It was made in its own way, without seasoning and spices. But my fellow? She could. She got the most strange ability to submit herself everywhere, especially among Indians. And she were treated as one of their own - even though she had just came to the country. Early 5 pm all arose, also the little missionaeremissi, while the old laid tired and turned on the hard bed, cold and hungry. No, asceticism suited her not.
Then she heard the grinding mills turning: - hur - hurr. 6. 30 pm all gathered to perform morning devotion. Still it was dark, so they met with a couple of lanterns and a Indian lamp. The master sat himself on an old rug on the floor behind the low desk. The children gathered around him as tiny twittering young birds. A little they crawled together in the cold of the morning, rubbing shoulders, but chirped and talked with the master just as delightful. Around in circles sat the grown-ups so on mats or without mats. The morning devotion was simple and beutiful. First they sang a song on the native language, then a Sanskrit hymn; then Gandhi read from the Râmâjanam for the children, asked and explained. Finally he said: »Shall we sing a English song«, and then we sang a Christian song. We sang many of the best of the English hyms, and he said: »It is the most beutiful song, I know«.
Finally seven pm you got the first meal, which only consisted of some dry, unfermented flat bread without something to drink. Then hard labour all day, also school lessons, until late in the evening they finished with a evening devotion, something like that in the morning.
Thus the life continues in the ashram of Gandhi. They are considering getting agriculture, procure land themselves - they have also brought it now, I hear. India is a agricultural country, and to educate the peasants, the simple people, to improve their methods, to gain the most from the earth and stand together, and then bring them the necessary enlightens in the native languages, are some of the needed in India, Gandhi said. The work of the hand shall be honoured, respected. Now everybody wants examinations to hold an office. India suffers from brain fever. To serve their country, is much talked about, but few only are ready to sacrifice something.
Anne Marie Petersen: Vor Skole, 1918.
Drawing by Viggo Bang
Gandhi is everybody's servant and everybody's master. This is the Indian ideal of educator and disciple. He only east once a day. - »Many in my poor country don't get more, then why should I,« he says. It is repulsive for me. Asceticism, suffering may, forced by life itself, become the hard reality of life accepted by the hand of God. But in my opinion it is impossible to endure suffering, when one takes it upon himself” (Petersen, Anne Marie: Løse Blade fra min Billedbog. Klokkerne kimer, 1917 pp. 80-83).

Anne Marie Petersen commented upon the Indian national schools:

“Of the national schools I have seen, I think, the Ashram of Gandhi paid too much attention to physical labor. Gandhi maintain, that at the present, it is needed.
The Ashram of the poet Tagore Shanteniketan [established in 1902] was a school for poets, a school created by a man of genius, artist as educator, but maybe not with enough attention to the work of the hand.
(Se also: Fenger, Svend: Rabindrath Tagore. Højskolebladet, 1922 colums 981-982).
The Syrian church of the Jacobian’s national school for young men, »Bethany«, had understood to catch and strongly emphasize the Indian ideal, the life of Asceticism. The place of their Ashram was wonderful in the solitude of the forrests and mountains of Travancore. They owned 500 acres land, which they themselves was cultivating.
Panditha Ramabais great home - or rather colony - has never recieved subsidies from the government. »We will stay independent,« she says. But the weakness of the school is, that it has a staff of American and other Western teachers, and thereby the development towards independence is obstructed in, I belive, doing an realy important contribution in the new creation of a national Indian school.
Then there is the university for women of Professor Karve (also in Marathi, near Poona). Professor Karve already had many years ago, when this was perfectly new, strongly recommended the use of the native language as educational language, not only in the schools of the children, but also in the universities. Some of the most remarkable about his school is that he has been able to assemble so big an audience of adult Hindu women. This indicates that the Indian women wants to parcipitate in the creation of the new India, not only as a mother, but also within the society. A weakness, as he himselves pointed out, is, that the leader as well as most of the teachers and professors are men. Only a women can in India create a true national school for women.
-- Also there was, I think, in the school of professor Karve, too much work of the brain and too little of the subjects of the heart and spirit; but maybe it also is there, the great contribution of women shall be done. The common school of India, is for the women concerned being created, must certainly be aware not to repeat the mistakes of the West, but with the help of God try to create an heart- and spirit based school” (Petersen, Anne Marie: Skolespørgsmaalet, pp. 41-42).

Anne Marie Petersen had hoped her national girls’ school at Porto Novo would attract attention in India, but it became controversial within the Danish high school and missionary circles. Out of the heated debates grew a wider knowledge of Gandhi in Denmark. On June 21, 1921 her school project was named the Mission at Porto Novo / Portonovomissionen (P. Riemann: Portonovo. Højskolebladet, 1921 column 977).

Before the laying of the foundation stone of Sevamandir, September 17, 1921, Gandhi wrote an article about National Education in Young India. Anne Marie Petersens friends in Denmark published his article and her comments to it.

The school was opened on January 20, 1924. The pupils got an interculturel education which combined the work of the hand with the work of the spirit. They learned to spin in order to produce their own clotches; grew their own food and learned to read and write as well as they had lessons about the Indian history, religions and culture. Anne Marie Petersen and Esther Menon traveled from Porto Novo to Poona to tell Gandhi the happy news. On February 5, 1924, Mrs. Petersen wrote: “Then I nevertheless came to congratulate the Mahatma with the release. When I came to the hospital 9 pm and they told it, it was about to overwhelm me. May it now be to happiness for India and may an wall of love- and intercession be build around Mahatma Gandhi, so he is allowed to live as a free man - not only free from prison - for that he is - but free from the burden of being him who shall lead and carry India ” (Porto Novo, 1924 no. 2 p 6)

During the All India Teachers Conference in 1930 Anne Marie Petersen spoke about her school. Mrs. Visalakshi visited Porto Novo according to The Voice of Youth (Porto Novo, 1930 no 4 pp 87-89).

“When I, on April 1, [1933, wrote Anne Marie Petersen] visited Gandhi in the Yeravda prison, he looked so happy and easy of mind, as ever I have seen him. We talked a great deal, both about, what we, what our little mission could do for those untouchable - here with us in South India - the so called Parias edifying. I also included the question, which so long has burned in me, and I wanted to recieve a direct answer from the great reformer of India: if he during Svaraj would have compulsory school attendance or not. To this he answered, that he was against all compulson, but namely was a hater of compulsory school attendance “I want good schools and freee schools for all, so all children and young ones can have an opportunity to recieve the best possible enlightenment. But even the best school attendance is destroyed if it is compulsory. But,” he added, “ I know, I am in a pitiful minority in this, as well as in so many other questions.”
“Bapu, It does not matter if you ever are so alone, You have the justice and the thruth on your side, and we few, which believe in the victory of freedom, will be victorious. So poor as she is, it is impossible for India to carry thrugh compulsory school attendance; this will help us.” When I left him, I asked, when I should see him again. He laughted and said: “When you return back from Kashmir.” But I cryed: “Here in the prison? God forbids it!” “Why not,” he answered, “I have,” and he showed his five fingers, “so many years left! I am completly happy here.” “But the question is not, if you are happy or not; but if we are happy with you in prison, if we, if India can do without you.” That Gandhi admitted, and we parted agreeing, as the will of God is, so will it turn out ” (Porto Novo, 1933 no 6 pp. 80-81).

The education system of Gandhi adopted in 1937, was called The National Basic Craft Scheme of Education (Porto Novo, 1949 no 5. p. 92). As a member of the Rural Reconstruction Workers Association, Anne Marie Petersen was in 1939 invited to speak at the conference for the rural reconstruction workers at Kengeri. She was the only women at the conference. Mrs. Petersen spoke of the need for educating women teachers and suggested that her school in Porto Novo was developed into a women’s teacher training college which it became in April 1949 (Joshus, Sara: Kengeri-Mødet for Landsby-Genrejsnings-Arbejdere. Porto Novo, 1939 no. 4. pp 92-97 and Petersen, Anne Marie: Kvinden og Hjemmets Plads i Arbejdet for en ny Skole og for Landsbylivets Genrejsning. Porto Novo, 1941 no. 5 pp. 113-117).

Communication between Denmark and India became difficult, during World War II, after the German occupation of Denmark on April 9, 1940. Even though the support group continued to collect money for the Indo-Danish Mission, it couldn’t send it to India. In August 1940 as the school at Porto Novo was recognised by Talimi Sangh and Mahatma Gandhi as a Basic Craft School, Anne Marie Petersen had to send most of the pupils home for lack of money. Gandhi showed solidarity. He mailed Mrs. Petersen 200 Rupees (Petersen, Anne Marie: Brev fra Anne Marie Petersen. Porto Novo, 1941, no. 1 p 1.)

In January 1945 Anne Marie Petersen attended the “All India National Basic Craft Educational Conference” at Sevagram. On the last day of the meeting she visited Gandhi and got a smile from him (Anker-Møller, Rasmus: Porto Novo Missionen p. 25 and Petersen, Anne Marie: To Møder. Porto Novo, 1946 no. 3. pp. 57-70). A short while thereafter she was invited to parcipitate in the Constructive Workers Congress in Madras, where she met Gandhi again.

Seva Mandir photographs around 1949.
Source: Kamala Satish Kulkarni 2006.
Kamala Satish Kulkarni: My mothers name was Sharada Narayanaswamy. I guess that she may have been at Seva Mandir between the mid 30's and maybe around 1949. She may have been about 12 or so. I do know that she finished her matriculation, learnt to drive a jeep, (she had already learnt cooking, classical music and the veena in her home), used to have her hair combed by Periamma sometimes! (She lost her mother when she was 4). She spoke very good English and was quite a firebrand. She would also sing a lot of hymns ..."Rock of Ages" was her favourite. She had developed a deep appreciation for christianity & it's simplicity and this was to influence her later life & the way she reared her children - Seetha (now Seetha Abraham) & me. Probably her stay at Seva mandir gave her all this exposure.
I remember her saying that she would often be very naughty, but that Periamma was quite tolerant (eg squeezing lemon juice into a sleeping person's mouth).

Back in Porto Novo from Denmark, on December 11, 1947, Anne Marie Petersen was welcomed by half the town. More than 1000 people, mostly Harijans, greeted her. Seva Mandir had expanded with two Harijan schools, with more than 80 children; Seva Mandir was buying fields to grow their own rice to feed the pupils during the hunger periods.

The murder of Gandhi came as a shock for Anne Marie Petersen as well as many others. Mrs. Petersen’s work continued. Her school was recognised by the Distrect Educational Officer. Also she made a village shool. Memorials for Gandhi were suggested. Anne Marie Petersen saw herself going into local politics of the town. She rejected plans of a statue and suggested as alternatives: 1) building of a waterworks, 2) establishing a centre for Khaddar, 3) help to the untoushable, 4) developing Sevamandir into a common school by employing Hindu and Muslim teachers, and 5) establishing a hospital for women. The governor of Madras came to the school June 19 1948. Anne Marie Petersen wanted the school to remain independent.

In April 1949 Serva Mandir got the permission to educate the first 60 women teachers.

Telegram from Porto Novo, January 9, 1951:


Within the framework of the struggle for Indian political and social liberation Anne Marie Petersen and Gandhi pioneered a North-South dialogue. They were in India, but came from different cultures. Also it was an early North-South dialogue including development aid, because Anne Marie Petersen couldn’t have made her school (as big) as it became, without financial support from Christian friends and friends from the Folk High school movement in Denmark. Some of the concepts and terms they used in developing an national Indian school were later used in the development of the pedagogy of liberation, based upon “the ethical indignation, the preferential option for the poor and finally the liberation of the poor and oppressed - and of the oppressor”. (Jacobsen, Marina: Fra Barbari til værdighed, RUC, 2001 p. 271). The educators of the oppressed and the poor Latin Americans who have learned from Gandhi might also benefit from ideas from the Danish Folk High School movement.

Gandhi to Denmark?

Anne Marie Petersen: Danmarks Verdensmission. Militant mission on the outside, but inside a friendly educator.

In 1919, Anne Marie Petersen mentioned Gandhi for the second time in a Danish publication: “The great Indian reformer Gandhi, said to me: Yes, I would like to go to Denmark. It is one of the countries in the world we can learn most from. India is a large farming country; we need to learn from Denmark agriculturally, we need good public education, and we need unions, loan banks and co-operative societies as in Denmark” (Petersen, Anne Marie: Danmarks Verdensmission, 1919 p. 64).

He said the same to her in 9124 and also told it to Carl Vett in 1925. Two years later Gandhi suggested in a interview to Hans and Emilie Bjerrum, that Denmark should give development aid to India: “Let them (the Danes) teach us their life-giving industry of cooperative dairy and cattle-breeding”. In 1963 India was among the first ’underdeveloped’ countries to recieve development aid from Denmark, the cattle-breading project Hessarghatta in Karnataka.

There was censorship on news from India after the Salt March of 1930. Carl Vett, a Norwegian barrister of the Supreme Court and his wife, an American barrister from Boston, Ellen Horup and Caroline (Bokken) Lasson “created a little self-constituted commission, whose members all travelled to India on their own”, meeting once in a while in India. The journey of Ellen, Caroline and Carl to India lasted from November 1930 to April 1931. The American was Edward Holton James.

Edward Holton James, Ellen Horup and Bokken Lasson

Edward Holton James, a lawyer from Massachusetts, USA, and a radical, travelled all over India in 1930 and took a special interest in evidence of severe repression against the Indian freedom movement during the civil disobedience movement led by Gandhi.

He was at a prayer meeting of Gandhi in the mansion of the Nehrus in Allahabad after the death of Motilal Nehru, a leader of the freedom movement and father of Jawaharlal Nehru. Ellen Horup and Bokken Lasson were also at the meeting.

From there James went by train to Bombay (now Mumbai) or Ahmedabad. He wrote:

“I was travelling at that time with two ladies, one from Copenhagen, Denmark, and one from Oslo, Norway, or to put it better they were travelling together and I was travelling separately. They were heroically wearing Gandhi buttons, and later in Bombay and Karachi the Young Women's Christian Association refused to take them in because they were wearing these buttons. We agreed in Allahabad that if Gandhi would give us a mandate we would form a committee to investigate the misdoings of the dear police. They charged me to go to Gandhi with the matter, which I did, and Gandhi was never more splendid and magnificent in my eyes than when I took from his lips and wrote down the following words, in Delhi…”James, Edward Holton: “I Tell Everything: The Brown Man’s Burden (A Book on India)” (Geneva: Imprimerie Kundig, n.d.), p. 196.

Gandhi was in favour of a committee of people of status, which would be absolutely impartial. But the investigation was not undertaken because shortly thereafter Gandhi and the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, reached an agreement which led to the suspension of the civil disobedience movement.

Gandhi did not leave India from 1915 to 1931. A possible visit of Gandhi to Scandinavia was the motive of many letters to Gandhi, but Gandhi did not come. Some Scandinavians met Gandhi in London.

The International Committee for India

The International Committee for India was established by Ellen Horup in 1933. It published the magazine the “Indian Press”. The last number of the “Indian Press” quoted the Modern Review (Calcutta): “It was a mistake on the part of the Congress to have given up foreign work… It is true, we must win freedom mainly by our efforts. But the sympathy and at least the moral support of foreign nations are valuable” (August 1935). Ellen Horup then wrote, “Because of the decision taken by the National Congress of India, we have decided to suspend the publication of our magazine for the time being. We will take it up again as soon as the Indian organizations themselves recognise the necessity of a propaganda campaign in foreign countries”.

The first formal nomination of Gandhi for the Nobel Peace Prize was by Ole Colbjornsen, Labour Party member of the Norwegian Parliament, in 1937. The nomination was repeated in the next two years. "The initiative for the nomination appears to have been taken by the Friends of India Society, of which Madame Colbjornsen was the vice-president. The president of the society, Bokken Lasson, was reported to have claimed in the press that the society ’shall not give in until Gandhi receives the Nobel Prize.’"

In 1948, Gandhi was nominated by a large number of people - including Norwegian professors Frede Castberg and Kristian Oftedal. Also Emily Greene Balch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, who had received the prize earlier.

Gandhi statue in Copenhagen, given by Indira Gandhi on her visit to Denmark in 1984.

Mahatma Gandhi’s influence continued in Scandinavia after he was assassinated in 1948. The pacifist Norwegian professor Johan Galtung and philosophy professor Arne Næss wrote about Gandhi’s political ethic in the nuclear age.

The soul force of satyagraha, the theology and process of liberation, is not confined to India alone. It can be used by all who are poor, oppressed and suffering.

This is not merely a collection of letters of one of the world’s great ethical and political leaders. It is also the story about some of the people outside India whom he inspired in religious and political work. Many of them are nearly forgotten today, but recent research has given great insight into some of these personalities. It is our hope that younger historians and idealists continue this story, when we leave it…

We have tried to make this collection of correspondence of Mahatma Gandhi and Scandinavians as complete as possible. Mr. Reddy has looked through the 100 volumes of Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, which includes all the letters by Gandhi that they could find after extensive research for many years. He has also looked through the indexes to all the correspondence in the Gandhi archives at Harijan Ashram, Ahmedabad, and the National Gandhi Museum, New Delhi - which include letters received by Gandhi.

However we know that many letters are missing. Gandhi did not want to preserve all the letters. He wanted to throw away letters which were merely praising him. The backs of some letters were used as writing paper in the Ashram and discarded. Thus many letters are lost for ever. But some may still be available in the archives or homes; hence this appeal for any information about letters not included here.

Some of the personalities mentioned in Gandhi and Nordic Countries, namely Johan Bittmann, Esther Faering (Menon) and Anne Marie Petersen, are mentioned in the Danish thesis of Bent Smidt Hansen: Dependency and Identity / Afhaengighed og identitet : Problems of Cultural Encounter as a consequence of the Danish Mission in South India between World Wars I and II, Aarhus University Press, 1992, - ISBN 87-7288-355-3.


CW= Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi
My Dear Child=Esther Faering, My Dear Child. Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad, 1956.
SN= Serial number of the document in the Gandhi archives at Harijan Ashram, Sabarmati, Ahmedabad


1"Som en af indiens Førere Mr. Gandhi, siger: "Indien lider eller har lidt af Hjærnefeber; man gav sig til at rende efter boglige Kundskaber og foragte legemeligt Arbejde. Men Indien er et stort Agrikultur Land; der maa Fremskridtet derfor gøres. Haandens Arbejde maa æres og fremhjælpes ligestillet med Aandens".

2Jeg talte med Mahtma Gandhi om hvad han synes, og vilde raade mig til. "ja", sagde han, "siden De spørger, vil jeg svare, at mit Krav til en national Skole er først og fremmest, at den skal være selvstændig /selvunderholdende), og derfor skal den komme som Svar paa et Krav fra Folket. Beder Nationalisterne Dem derfor at begynde i Madras, tag da endeligt imod det! - Men", føjede han til med et af sine skælmske Blink i Øjet, "Kender jeg Dem ret, handler De, naar det kommer til Stykket, ikke efter andres Raad, men kun efter, hvad De selv synes Ret for Gud" (Porto Novo, 1922 no. 22 pp 11).


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