“Gandhi had the fearlessness we need today”

Friday marks 140 years since Mahatma Gandhi was born in the state of Gujarat in India. Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya, his granddaughter, has joined RT for an exclusive interview.

Widely considered as the father of India, Mahatma Gandhi remains a powerful symbol in his homeland and abroad. And more than 60 years since his death, his non-violent stance continues to inspire people across the globe, including current world leaders.

RT: Thank you very much for joining us on this program. What does October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, mean to you personally?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: It’s a national holiday in India. And today, as you know, the United Nations has declared it as the International Day of Non-Violence. So, he belongs to the whole of humanity. Actually, it is because he belongs to all of humanity that the United Nations has chosen this day for his message. For me, it is participation in an international festivity, a day of meditation, and also a day very special for the family.

RT: What is the key message that Mahatma Gandhi has in today’s world?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: It is probably the first time in the history of humanity that people over the world are celebrating the abstract concept of truth, love, and non-violence. These are great topics in all the great religious books of the world. But Gandhi took them out of the books and practiced them in the dailyness of his life. So, his message is, for me – I haven’t read very much – I think the message, if I have to say it in one sentence, it is the message of compassion, truth. But truth by itself is very difficult, a difficult subject, and is very harsh also. But you combine truth with love and compassion, and non-violence – and that is what Gandhi stood for.

RT: How relevant is Mahatma Gandhi in today’s world?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: The flow of compassion is a part of nature. And when we say it’s not relevant, it means that we are not accepting our own truth, our challenge. Gandhi’s challenge is not for the world, for the society. How do I change society? I have to be this change that I want to see. So, I start with myself. It’s a direct challenge to my consciousness. And that is why it’s difficult, and that is why it’s easy also. Because, let us remember, Gandhi did not have a Gandhi before him. He had his own consciousness. Every day he fought with his arguments. Why are we doing this? Why is this happening in society? Why should it not happen this way? Whether it was the underprivileged of the society, whether it was South Africa? Whether it was the way people lavished cloths on themselves – whether it was unnecessary expenditure? Or whether it was a foreign rule? Gandhi fought against every injustice with the force of his truth, with love – not to start hating enemies with the desire to harm the enemy, but to make them see reason through love.

RT: This message of living within one’s means, in a sustainable way, do you think is even more relevant in the today’s world, where we are facing an economic slowdown, where corporate greed was largely responsible?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: Of course the whole world knows that there’s enough for every man’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. But, apart from that, I read from Gandhi’s passage somewhere that for economic reasons one should consider one’s village, one’s community around oneself as the world. Start with that first. What I grow should sustain me, my family, and the neighborhood, then to the village, and then outside. It should not be seen as cultivating something against exporting – “first my people.” That is for economic need. “I am making my clothes for myself, for my family, for my society around me. Then I think of exporting.” But, for your spiritual need the world is my village: I take everywhere and I give everywhere. So, if to look at it that way… Because India is not a country of mass-production, when in one hour we can make so much that thousands of people will go without jobs. It has to be a system: production by masses, not mass-production.

RT: Recently Barack Obama mentioned that he was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, because Mahatma Gandhi, in turn, had inspired Martin Luther-King. In what way does Mahatma Gandhi still inspire world leaders and statesmen across the world today?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: Gandhi inspires everyone. He inspires everybody in Europe and America – all over the world. And of course Barack Obama has expressed his love and admiration for Gandhi.

RT: In what way could Mahatma Gandhi inspire America?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: I don’t know America. I don’t know the problems of that great land. But human beings always have one problem, two problems, the same problems, the same choice. A mother wants to see her children well settled, happy. We want to see people around us in a certain way, and yet we all today are inflicted with one kind of sentiment. That is the sentiment of fear. If today in India we have the fear of so many people whether they will be able to have the next meal or not, there is another kind of fear somewhere else. When you don’t trust your neighbors you can’t go and knock on your neighbor’s door. If you are stranded on the road you can’t knock and go into somebody’s house. There is another kind of fear: a lack of trust. It is this lack of trust that also leads to experimentation with atomic bombs. Why do we talk about terror? We are forgetting the terror of everyday violence in people’s lives. So, the sentiment of fear is of course encircling the whole world.

Gandhi was also an example of fearlessness. His fearlessness was very different from the fearlessness of people who terrorize. Gandhi’s fearlessness made the next person love him and speak truth before him. You could approach Gandhi and say “I don’t agree with you.” As a 14-year-old, when I knew Gandhi in this place… and Gandhi was a guest here, I remember so many people coming to Gandhi and saying “We don’t agree with you.” And Gandhi would only laugh and explain. So, that is the fearlessness we need today, that we neither fear the terrorism, nor we terrorize.

RT: How relevant is Mahatma Gandhi in India today?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: The independence of India, the political independence 62 years ago was, of course, a political independence. But, Gandhi was ready after that for another struggle, non-violent struggle, for another liberation of the society – a society free of exploitation, without exploiting either man or nature, in harmony with all life, with nature and life. And this vision was known as “Sarvodaya.” I don’t think our first steps have even started in the direction of Sarvodaya. And that is true liberation, not just of India, but everywhere.

RT: And what practical forms could that take?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: Every country has its own context. What is applicable here is probably not the problem there, in America or in Europe, or in China. But, this liberation is the reawakening of the spirit in harmony with the environment. You know, I remember Gandhi – one thing that struck me always – that when he touched something, even an inanimate object as wood, it was like as though he was touching the life inside it. So, when he worked, it was with respect for everything that was around. In his thoughts, in his deeds, and in his words.

RT: There are 144 descendants of Mahatma Gandhi. How easy a legacy is it? Is it an advantage to be a descendant, or do you have to carry this legacy with you?

Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya: I don’t know what to say to that, because I was born like that. I can’t think of myself without that, you know. Can you think of yourself without your parents and grandparents? No. That is the very reason for my existence. I don’t know. But, towards our society – sometimes yes. A lot more is expected of us. Whether it’s in brilliance, or whether it is in other things, service. And probably we are failing people all the time. We are not up to the mark. And we are not grandchildren of Mahatma Gandhi. We are grandchildren of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi – biologically edited. Outside India it’s a different thing again, because he belongs to the whole of humanity now. Maybe our challenges are more in our own country for us than outside.

RT: Thank you very much for joining us on Russia Today.