2015-02-03 / .

Mahatma Gandhi more relevant today than ever: Ela Gandhi

Melbourne: Mahatma Gandhi's philosophy of non- violence and simple life-style is more relevant today than ever before as Islamophobia, terrorism and climate change stand in the way of peace, his granddaughter has said. 74-year-old Ela Gandhi, a peace activist and former South African MP, said ideals of her grandfather held key to solving some of the modern society's biggest problems, including the cycle of extremist violence and environmental destruction. "Perhaps some important questions are how much respect do we have for life? How much faith do we have in ourselves and in others? What do we teach the next generation?" she said while delivering the Fourth annual Gandhi Oration of University of New South Wales in Sydney last week. Ela lamented that humanity had not heeded the Mahatma's warnings 82 years ago about overconsumption.

"Today, we would not be suffering the effects of climate change and worrying about how to conserve our planet. I have often wondered, when we talk of water shortages, facing the world, yet do nothing about the number of private swimming pools being built all over the world as the middle class expands. Is this sustainable?" Ela said. She said Gandhi constantly said that it was important to differentiate between the deed and the doer. "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 with whom we associate the doer. This is how we give rise to Islamophobia, race hatred and other prejudices," Ela said. "Gandhiji's training was that God didn't ask to be imprisoned in any one building, whether it's a temple or a mosque or a church. He didn't ask to be imprisoned, he's everywhere. He or she," she said. Ela said the world was increasingly looking for quick fixes to complex problems and her own experience with South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was that lasting change required patience and faith.

"Whilst there were many people who forgave and were able to shake hands and live together with the perpetrators, and perpetrators who felt really guilty about what they did and changed their own habits, it takes a long time for that to happen," she said. Asked what her grandfather would have thought about the modern world of weapons, drones and social media, she said he never would have armed himself but "absolutely, if there was a Facebook I think he would be using it very wisely." Though sports boycotts had helped to end apartheid Gandhi may not have approved of the modern world's sports mania, she said. "Gandhiji didn't like competition. Although he had a football team, his games were more about enjoyment and not about competition. He felt that, once you begin to compete, then it leads to antagonisms and violence," she said. Ela spent nine years under house arrest during the struggle against apartheid in South Africa.

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