Internationally renowned social activist and granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, Ela Gandhi has visited Melbourne to engage with women victims of domestic violence and visit other institutions aligned with her and her grandfather's belief of non-violence.
The eminent South Africa-based thinker and advocate of Gandhian non-violent solutions participated in a program of events framed around the theme Global Problems, Local Solutions which included a visit to Collingwood Children's Farm, the Hanover Welfare Services shelter for homeless people, and the University of Melbourne’s Early Learning Centre.
At the Collingwood Children's Farm, the only farm in the Southern Hemisphere recognised by the European Federation of city farms, Ela milked a cow, demonstrating a skill she gained during 35 years living on the Phoenix Farm settlement in South Africa, and also fed pigs and goats.
Farm Manager Andrew Phillips said Ela is the first person of such international social and human rights standing to publicly visit the farm.
"We’re really honoured and the amazing thing is the connection with the Mahatma and his founding of the Phoenix Farm and our work here building community through farming, which is quite unique.”
Ela also visited the Victorian Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service (WDVCS) at North Melbourne to discuss domestic violence against women and what to do about it, following the recent rape case in India.
On non-violence Ms Gandhi believes early childhood intervention is important and spoke of educators setting good examples to ensure children are brought up in alignment with principles of non-violence and that genders are equal.
"If our generation has failed (in adhering to non-violent principles), we can set the next on the right path," Ms Gandhi said.
Ms Gandhi has spent her life as the custodian of his legacy in South Africa, as well as the caretaker of Gandhi’s farm known as the Phoenix Settlement.
In 1893, Mahatma Gandhi arrived in South Africa as a young attorney looking to launch his legal career. However, after he experienced a traumatic incident of racial discrimination in Pietermaritzburg, he dedicated himself to the pursuit of social justice and equal rights. During the 21 years he lived in South Africa, he founded Phoenix Settlement, a communal ashram that served as the location for much of his socio-political and spiritual work.
When Gandhi returned to India to join the Freedom Struggle he left behind his son, and Ela’s father, Manilal Gandhi, to run the Phoenix Settlement and edit the Indian Opinion newspaper that his father founded in 1903.
Of her grandfather, Ela Gandhi, now aged 72 but still full of energy, recalls “He had time for me as a granddaughter and listened to me seriously.” Her grandfather went on to inspire world leaders such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, as well as ordinary citizens of the world.
During South Africa's struggle against apartheid, Ela Gandhi spent nine years under house arrest. Today, she is a prominent peace activist and served as a Member of Parliament in South Africa from 1994-2004. In 2007, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan award from the Government of India, which is India's third highest civilian award.
Ela Gandhi on violence, women and children, and sustainability
“We witness massive ecological destruction because of planning that does not take into account the essential values of environment but goes with the values of greed. Certainly, one realises the truth in Gandhiji's words: “The world has sufficient to meet the needs of all but not enough to meet the greed of anyone.”
ON VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
“The Gandhi Development Trust is saddened by the alleged murder of model Reeva Steenkamp by gold medalist paralympian, Oscar Pistorius.
Steenkamp's death by the hands of her boyfriend has reinforced the unfortunate fact that South Africa is battling with the deep-rooted culture of violence… possession of arms such as a gun lead to these kinds of irreversible consequences. Fifty six percent of female homicide victims are killed by their intimate partners. A third of those victims' partners demonstrated a prior history of violence in the relationship.”
ON THE RECENT DELHI RAPE CASE AND CORRUPTION
“Capital punishment itself will not change the attitude towards gender, nor (the) Anna Hazare-led stir on bringing a law against corruption alone will change the system.”
ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION
“Children learn values from what they see and experience at home and at school … About 100,000 children in South Africa live in child-headed households. About 9 million children live in homes with absentee fathers.”
Ela Gandhi in the Media
ABC Radio National: