The life of Mahatma Gandhi was not fragmented by prejudice, consumerism, and an obsession with making money. Instead, his life was full of spirituality and values such as compassion, truth, and self-discipline. And his message is as relevant today as ever, according to his granddaughter.
Ela Gandhi gave a keynote address, “The Crises of the 21st Century – Some Gandhian Solutions,” at the Student Union Oct. 4 to mark the start of Asian American Heritage Observance month.
During her talk, she identified and reflected on 10 issues she feels are the most significant problems in the world today. They include the dehumanization of people, the power of the media, and warfare.
“Life now revolves around how to make as much money as we can, instead of helping as many people as we can,” she said.
“The focus of education has shifted from a value-based education about the body, mind, and soul to an approach for the world of the work technocrat.”
Ela Gandhi emphasized the importance and power of nonviolence, noting that it requires greater courage than the use of violence.
“Gandhi gave us the weapon of balance,” she said. “Nonviolent action is based on love, and on violence inflicted upon self rather than on one’s opponent.”
Violence is a spiral, she said. It is usually third parties that go to the front line who are taught to hate, to kill, and to take orders as “patriotic citizens.”
“If they come back alive, they come back with psychological trauma and bitterness,” she said. “Hate and violence continue to grow, and people have to constantly watch their backs.
“Nonviolence provides lasting solutions,” Ela Gandhi said. “If you tackle the same issues on a nonviolent basis, you stop the violence.”
She advocated education as a way to combat violence. At a young age, children should be required to take a course in nonviolence, she said.
“The issue of war is ever present,” she added. “We have to find peace in our own communities by ways of nonviolence.”
Ela Gandhi, a prominent peace activist who served in the South African Parliament from 1994 to 2004, is now chancellor of Durban University of Technology.
She developed the Gandhi Development Trust, which gives awards to those who work toward peace, and also created a 24-hour domestic violence hotline.
She was invited to speak at UConn for the fifth annual Ahimsa (“non-violent”) Seminar, after Bandana Purkayastha, an associate professor of sociology, met her in South Africa.
“Ela Gandhi had the privilege of having exclusive time with Mahatma,” Purkayastha said.
The talk was co-sponsored by the Asian American Studies Institute, the Women’s Studies Program, the Women’s Center, the UNESCO Chair and Institute of Comparative Human Rights, the India Studies program, the history department, the Office of Multicultural and International Affairs, the Asian American Cultural Center, and the Jain Center of Greater Hartford.
Fay Delos-Santos, program specialist at the Asian American Studies Institute, said the Asian-American community rallied to create a larger forum for Ela Gandhi.
“There is no question the message and teachings of [Mahatma] Gandhi traverse all lines,” Delos-Santos said.
“Gandhi’s granddaughter … is the living embodiment of his teachings. She can remind us in our busy world of the things we already know from Gandhi.”