Even with Mohandas K. Gandhi as a grandfatherly example, historian and human rights advocate Rajmohan Gandhi can be tempted to despair by the state of the world decades after the man popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi led India to freedom through nonviolent resistance.
But Gandhi finds reasons for hope and faith in events large and small, he said in an interview Monday before delivering a lecture at Creighton University.
“The temptations of despair are very frequent,” said Gandhi, a former member of India's Parliament who is now a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But I do see the daily evidence of the triumph of goodness.
“This daily evidence is related to tiny issues — it could be in my classroom, in my neighborhood, on my bus ride, on my walk — signs of mutual respect and care and support, defense for the vulnerable. It is enough to keep the fire going, enough for me to maintain my hope and faith.”
Monday night, Gandhi spoke on Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Gandhi. At the Asian World Center's Presidential Lecture, Creighton's President, the Rev. Timothy R. Lannon, presented Gandhi with the university's presidential medallion.
Gandhi spoke in an interview at the west Omaha home of his friend Dr. Sanjay Singh, chairman of the department of neurology at the Creighton University School of Medicine.
Gandhi, 76, is a grandson of the founder of modern India. The Mahatma (Sanskrit for “great soul”) was one of the world's great practitioners of nonviolent resistance. He was assassinated in 1948, one year after India achieved independence from Britain through the methods he advocated.
Rajmohan Gandhi was born in New Delhi. He has pursued his grandfather's goals of trust-building, reconciliation and democracy for many years, including through a nongovernmental organization called Initiatives of Change International.
He served in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He led the Indian delegation to the U.N. Human Rights Commission in 1990. He also worked as a journalist in India, including resisting government repression when he edited an opposition magazine.
Rajmohan Gandhi's books include a biography of his grandfather, “Gandhi: The Man, His People, and the Empire,” and “A Tale of Two Revolts,” about the Indian rebellion in 1857 and the U.S. Civil War. At the University of Illinois he is a research professor in the Center for South Asian & Middle Eastern Studies.
On Monday he was asked: If the Mahatma were alive today, what might he make of the state of our world and, in particular, of south Asia?
“He would certainly be glad that scores of millions, even hundreds of millions, have been lifted out of poverty,” Gandhi said. “He would be glad that the laws guaranteeing equality and human rights are implemented more of the time, and in some places much of the time. He would be sad, however, that India and Pakistan are spending these huge sums on armaments and bombs, and we're not taking care of one another in that part of the world.”
India is growing as an economic power. It is pressing for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. But he said those things would be less important to Mohandas K. Gandhi than what the grandson views as Indians “not being sufficiently disturbed by” the nation's tremendous inequalities and lack of education and health care “for so many millions.”
Of course, those problems are not limited to India.
Gandhi said Americans are “amazingly successful in being able to identify problems and solve them. Neighborhoods, teachers in schools, police ... they can sit together and find a consensus and find an answer.”
Being American, he said, “is not a matter of race, nationality of origin, bloodline, religion, ancestry.”
Instead, it's shared values of liberty, equality and opportunity, and “a willingness to share the responsibility of living together.”
Those abilities and traits, he said, are the exports “that the world needs from the United States. Not guns and bombs. ... It is not possible for the United States to fix the world's problems from afar with the gun and the bomb and the drone.”
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