By: Dale King
Ela Gandhi, granddaughter of famed human rights advocate Mohandas Gandhi, is a peace activist who has endured many of the indignities her grandfather did. Both were scorned by racists and persecuted by unfeeling government bureaucrats, Ela Gandhi told an audience Oct. 21 at Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus.
In her speech, “A Life for Peace, from Apartheid to Democracy,” she touched on much of what she had gathered during a lifetime establishing democracy and using nonviolence to overcome a segregated Apartheid South African regime. She was born in South Africa, fought against discrimination and faced maltreatment and house arrest by the Apartheid regime that she helped to defeat.
A daughter of one of Gandhi’s sons, Ela Gandhi shared with guests in FAU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Center auditorium the message of non-violent struggle against the snags and complications of South African Apartheid government.
Ela Gandhi talked to the crowd while seated in front of a massive drawing of her grandfather. Her appearance at FAU and in South Florida last month was part of the Gandhi King Global Initiative led by the King Institute at Stanford University along with the Gandhi 150 Celebration marking the peace movement leader’s 150th birthday.
Named Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi upon his birth in India in 1869, Gandhi – a lawyer, politician, social activist and writer who became a leader of the nationalist movement against British rule of India – earned the title “Mahatma” meaning “Great Soul.”
Ela Gandhi’s battle for peace covered ground where her granddad had once trod. “Mahatma Gandhi was only 23 when he came to South Africa, where he was confronted by a racist regime. He could feel the hostility. He became aware of the different ways that different people are treated.” The elder Gandhi accepted a job at a less-than-attractive law firm as a means of moving away from India, where he had also faced personal struggles.
The second generation Gandhi alluded to the troubles her grandfather had suffered in South Africa. Recalling these troubles, the internet states that in a Durban court, he was asked by the European magistrate to take off his turban; he refused and left the courtroom. A few days later, while traveling to Pretoria, he was unceremoniously thrown out of a first-class railway compartment and left shivering and brooding at a train station. In the further course of that journey, he was beaten up by the white driver of a stagecoach because he would not travel on the footboard to make room for a European passenger.
“He was left with three choices,” said Ela. “Return to India; stay and accept it; or stay and do something about it.” He opted for the latter, and soon learned “the power of negotiations,” Ela said.
During a question-and-answer session at the end of her talk, Ela was asked to describe moments spent with her grandfather. “He gave us individual attention,” the activist said. “Today, parents are so busy and stressed out. They are not able to put that aside and give their undivided attention to their children. But they should respect and listen to them. These are the two most important things.”
Asked what Gandhi would think of digital violence today, Ela responded: “My grandfather would not have liked this at all. We are impacted by media today. Gandhi used media to promote peace and better understand the world. He used newspapers in a very big way. Today, he could go on a computer and call up 10 newspapers.”
She did note that the media today “have been the biggest culprits in violence, racism and women’s issues. We have to encourage the use of the media in a positive way.”
Ela Gandhi’s address included a meet-and-greet with FAU students and local peace and justice teachers and organizers who held VIP tickets. In honor of Gandhi’s simple lifestyle and spiritual disciplines, the reception included a vegetarian meal, water, tea and coffee.