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Granddaughter of India’s Father of the Nation

The only person in the world who has gained the title ‘Mahatma’ (greater soul) is the Indian freedom fighter, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

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 interview.

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 destruction.

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 parties.

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 said.

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