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Gandhi brings non-violence to Australia

Mahatma Gandhi's philosophies of non-violence and passive resistance are essential to overcoming Islamophobia and terrorism, according to his granddaughter, Dr Ela Gandhi.

But the South African anti-apartheid activist and women rights campaigner warned that there is no “quick fix” to the array of problems facing humanity today, while addressing students and the public at the Annual Gandhi Oration at the University of New South Wales.

“Violence and hatred have a cyclical effect: I hate you, you hate me, I hate you, you hate me. The cycle continues unless we intervene,” Dr Gandhi said.

“Forceful control and beating up or even killing when there is a problem may seem to be a solution in the short-term, but one is then forced to live in fear of retaliation, leading to a position where we have to arm ourselves to protect ourselves and our families. In the long-term, we end up living a life of fear and uncertainty,” she said.

The former South African parliamentarian told attendees across three separate events in Sydney that people have the potential for good and bad; and in order to initiate change and overcome intolerance we must challenge ourselves to hate the sin and not the sinner.  

“What we see today is the opposite. We not only condemn the deed and the doer, but we also extend that condemnation to a whole group of people... This is how we give rise to Islamophobia, race hatred and other prejudices,” Dr Gandhi said. 

When asked how Australia can limit the influence of international terrorism and religious extremism on young people domestically, Dr Gandhi said that the Muslim community needs the moral support of the broader community to help counter the violent messages proliferating social media. 

“The more conversations we have about why non-violence is a better way of dealing with the issue, the more we talk about it, the more we can convince people. If we can influence five people in our neighbourhood we have done something,” she said.

Despite the threat of terrorism, Ela Gandhi argued that Australians should pressure the government not to strike back with violence and urged a move towards restorative justice instead of retribution. 

“If we use force to counter terrorism, I don’t think that we will be successful.”

Dr Gandhi said you cannot fight violence with violence. “We need to urge our leaders to practice nonviolent ways to bring about change, to begin to look at what are the causes... because these terrorism acts are the symptoms of something that is much deeper.” 

She hypothesised that the root cause for most crime and terrorism is founded in power and finance and said that non-violence and sustainable lifestyles are interlinked. She argues that poverty and the ever-growing gap between the “haves and the have nots” causes people to become agitated and feel deprived, which subsequently leads to violence and war.

“Our hope lies in young people.”

– Dr Ela Gandhi

Gandhi’s non-violence reaches the student mass

At a second event at the University of Technology Sydney, Ela Gandhi drew crowds of students from all disciplines, ages and backgrounds. 

Himali Dave, a project management student, said she will take on board Gandhi’s principles to resolve conflicts within her own circles and understand others beyond the constraints of social media. 

“Right now we have everybody on the virtual platform, like Facebook and Twitter... We keep talking and keep discussing but we don’t see any results,” she said. 

Ahmed Faheem, a civil engineering student from the University of Sydney, said that he was pleased to hear Ela Gandhi push for an understanding that Islam preaches peace.

“It was a very nice and well dictated perspective from her - that the religion itself is about peace. So it is the extremism, this specific group of people, that brings violence and it is very important to differentiate them from the rest of us,” Ahmed said. 

Mariyam Ashfar Hamdi, a student from the Maldives, said that just as Gandhi studied the motivations of the british colonialists during his peaceful movement towards India's independence, she will look to understand the perspective of those who use violence.

“It is a technique to actually know the person who is aggressive and stand in their shoes for once,” she said. 

Young hope

Despite her hushed tone and gentle demeanour, Dr Gandhi spoke passionately about the various forms of non-violent actions that can be utilised by students - from economic boycotts to strikes and protests. She encouraged “future leaders” to look towards these alternative methods to achieve long-term change, without endangering human life.   

“Strength comes from numbers. If we want to be successful we have to begin to mobilise, get people together and talk to people, (and) develop organisations and strengthen organisations,” she said. 

Dr Gandhi, who founded the International Centre on Non-Violence, says the teaching of non-violent principles during formative and pre-primary years is crucial to eliminating the vices we have in the world today. 

“We have had our turn... (Now) it’s the next generation that has to do the work,” she said. 

“Our hope lies in young people.” 

The Point

Dr Ela Gandhi has brought her grandfather's message of non-violent conflict resolution to Australia

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