historian | journalist | peacebuilder

Interview with Rajmohan Gandhi in 'Kompas', Indonesia

A major feature on Rajmohan Gandhi, President of Initiatives of Change International, appeared in Kompas, one of Indonesia's biggest newspapers on 19 March. (see the original here) A translation of the article appears below:

KOMPAS – Friday, March 19, 2010

RAJMOHAN GANDHI, CONTINUES THE AHIMSA (nonviolent struggle)

By Fransisca Romana Ninik

Like his grandfather, Rajmohan Gandhi believes that a fight without violence will take a long time to succeed. However, one thing is sure: using violence will not lead to success.

This belief has brought Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson to campaign for trust, reconciliation, and democracy for more than half a century.

'Of course, sometimes I feel disappointed and frustrated. However, there’s always something to raise my spirits, so the disappointment and frustration don’t last long,' said Rajmohan after giving a speech at the Gandhi Memorial International School, Jakarta, Friday (12/3).

He is visiting Jakarta and other cities around the world to encourage positive change, with the Non-Governmental Organization Initiatives of Change International, which he currently leads. In Jakarta, he gave a speech about why Mahatma Gandhi chose the path of non-violence.

‘Why am I here? Because I am Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson of course,’ he said, to laughter from the audience.

He thinks it is a human nature to want to rule over something. ‘Was Gandhi born to reject violence, and was he always non-violent?’ he asked.

Rajmohan told how, as a young man, Gandhi was angry towards British colonial rule. However, from various things he experienced, things he saw, heard, and read in history, he came to an understanding that violence never works.

'Gandhi saw that any Indian action against the British army was very brutal, and vice versa. When an Indian did something to hurt the British it not only affected that person, but also his whole village. Innocent mothers and children were also victims,' he said.

It is now proved that through ahimsa (non-violence), India was finally able to free itself from Britain’s colonial rule.

Rajmohan wrote a biography about his grandfather, Mohandas: A True Story of a Man, His People and an Empire (2007). The book is Rajmohan’s memories of one of the most influential people in the world, about Gandhi’s life journey and the life of his closest people.

Protecting his grandfather

About his grandfather, Rajmohan has a memory of sitting next to Gandhi in multi-faith prayer sessions. Gandhi used to quote verses from various holy scriptures. This often raised objections from the Hindus.

‘They were often angry with Gandhi. I, as a young boy sitting beside him, could only think how I can protect this old man from the angry crowd. Apparently, although skinny, that old man is very brave,’ said Rajmohan.

Rajmohan brought along his latest book, A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 & the American Civil War (2009) on his international tour. From there Rajmohan continues Gandhi’s struggle to spread non-violence to all people in the world.

‘To change the world, we have to start with ourselves. Remember that when we point fingers at other people, one finger is pointing at them, and the other three are pointing back at us,’ he said.

Rajmohan has consistently worked for India-Pakistan reconciliation. In an interview in 2009, he said that when he was 16, three years after Gandhi was murdered in 1947 and when India and Pakistan were already separated, he heard the news that the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Liaquat Ali Khan, had been shot. To a man who delivered the news, Rajmohan said that he hoped that he would soon hear that the PM was dead.

‘The man froze and I was embarrassed at my silly and ugly remark about someone who had never done me any harm,” he said.

Since then, Rajmohan has worked to promote better relations between India and Pakistan. He is a frequent visitor to Pakistan. His thoughts are expressed in two books, Eight Lives: A Study of Hindu-Muslim Encounter and Reconciliation & Revenge: Understanding South Asian History.

India-Pakistan.

Asked about the current state of Indo-Pakistan relations, Rajmohan stated firmly that the relationship is not one of conflict, but of misunderstanding.

‘Right now talks are going on, which is good thing, of course. But the dialogue needs to be not just between governments, but also between people and communities,’ he said.

The talks between India and Pakistan are one thing that really boost Rajmohan’s spirit. ‘However, the climate is still not good. Mistrust remains. I want to see that changed,’ he said.

Last January when the Mumbai terrorist attacks were allegedly linked to terrorist networks in Pakistan, Rajmohan was one of the Indian and Pakistan intellectuals who said that ‘war is not an option’.

In a country where Gandhi is still highly respected, Rajmohan’s statement was noteworthy. But, Rajmohan’s authority is not only because he is Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson. His hard work as journalist, social reformer, and academic have led to many awards.

In 1963, Rajmohan held a 'March on Wheels' across India inspiring thousands to work for a clean, strong, and united India. Afterwards, Rajmohan also developed a training and conference centre for ‘Initiatives of Change’ named Asia Plateau in Panchgani in 1968.

Rajmohan is currently a research professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois, US. He is the author of eight books.