of India’s Father of the Nation
only person in the world who has gained the title ‘Mahatma’
(greater soul) is the Indian freedom fighter, Mohandas
He is revered even today as a hero, spiritual leader and the
father of non-violent movements in the world.
For Ms. Ela Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, it was a
great privilege and honour to be his favourite granddaughter.
Ela Gandhi’s father was Mahatma Gandhi’s second son. “He was my
mentor and my spiritual leader. I try to follow his footsteps
all the time,” Ela Gandhi, told The Nation in an exclusive
Relaxing in a hotel in Trincomalee, Ela was free to express her
views and observations about Sri Lanka’s situation. She arrived
in the country to attend the International Conference of
Religious Leaders, organised by the World Conference of
Religions for Peace, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka and
National Council of Religion for Peace.
Born in South Africa in 1940, she has been living there
throughout. Today, she is the Founder of the Gandhi Development
Trust in South Africa.
A descendent of the great Mahatma Gandhi family and also
associating herself closely with freedom fighters like Bishop
Tutu, Ela is averse to violence and said she was deeply saddened
to learn about the ongoing conflict in Sri Lanka.
Born to an editor of a newspaper, for Ela, the soft spoken human
rights and peace activist, this was the third visit to Sri
Lanka. Her first visit to Sri Lanka as a tourist was in 1972.
Her main concern was the ongoing violence in the country.
Obviously feeling the pain of human suffering she said she was
‘really sad’ to realise that violence in Sri Lanka has led to
Commending the country’s achievement in introducing free health
and education, she said the people of Sri Lanka need to sit down
together as one family and find a solution acceptable to all
A person who has held several discussions with hosts of people
across the country, she said she felt there has been a lot of
injustice against the minority. Ela added that while both sides
of the divide – the government and the LTTE, have equally
violated human rights, a terrorist group cannot be just born
without a cause.
Commenting on the steps taken by successive governments to hold
negotiations with the LTTE with a view to finding a solution,
she said though some efforts had been made, nothing has happened
‘so far’ towards finding a solution. “Therefore, the people need
to re-consider,” she said.
“Norway tried to intervene and there was an agreement for a
ceasefire but it lasted for a short while. Now, there is a
feeling this whole problem can be solved only when the so called
terrorists are killed. But if one looks at the history and the
struggle in other countries it has been proved that problems
can’t be sorted out by just killing people.”
“If this takes place, more problems will arise with more anger.
Terrorists don’t come alone. They have friends and families. If
a child in your home is killed the entire family will become
angry and do what the child has been planning to do anyway. In
South Africa, we say that whenever our people are killed you
pick up the spear. This is to take up the cause left behind by
someone. Even those who go into the army are called the ‘spear
of the nation,’ ” she said.
She said Sri Lanka has so much to offer the world but continuing
violence against human rights has prevented this.
In keeping with Mahatma Gandhi’s preaching where he said; “There
is enough for everyone’s need but none for their greed,” Ela,
pointed out that the world is facing a lot of problems because
people wanted to enrich themselves more and more.
She expressed dismay over the conduct of the LTTE against the
innocent Muslims in the country. “People don’t have to be killed
to find solutions. There are non violent ways of finding
solutions to problems. When Nelson Mandela got freedom for us,
the people backed him and gave him the power and strength,” she
Making a poignant observation she said she was disappointed to
see only LTTE and the government doing the talking while the
rest of the country kept watching.
“The entire country should participate. This is what happened in
South Africa. The entire country backed Nelson Mandela.
“There is no motivation to actually find that solution. I think
that is one of the big causes for the failure of peace talks. I
think support groups make a big difference. The whole of Sri
Lanka is not sitting down to talk. It is people from the LTTE
and the government that are talking. What is the voice of the
rest of Sri Lanka?
“Is it being heard by the people? That is why groups like the
Inter Religious Organisations can help. We have to find a
peaceful solution,” she observed.
Asked whether a solution could be found under a federal set up,
she said: “It is a very difficult question. We went through the
same debate. Each country has its own dimension. In our country,
some asked for a federal set up. We also had a group asking for
a home land. And eventually we came to a final conclusion of
having a confederal set up.
“Those people who asked for a separate home land did not have
the backing of the entire country. I don’t think it is proper
for anyone to ask for a separate home land and then let their
own people live outside that ‘homeland.’
“So we asked the people who belonged to the group that demanded
for a separate home land whether they would like to settle down
in the particular region claimed as a home land. And they said
no. Therefore the debate on this argument was abandoned.
“Similarly, do the Tamil people want to go and live in one
province and live separately? If there is an answer to this then
that can be a solution also. In our country the people belonging
to this group who demanded for a separate state are living all
over. If we were to give them a separate state then it would
have meant that they would be uprooted from wherever they are,
and placed with those who demand a homeland. People didn’t want
that. They wanted to live in harmony. If the people of Sri Lanka
say that they want to live in their own provinces then that is
the solution,” she said. -WG