Ela Ghandhi, granddaughter of Mahatma Ghandhi was in Australia at the end of January to deliver the annual Gandhi Oration at the University of New South Wales.
Ela Ghandhi is a former South African Parliamentarian who spent many years under house arrest for her anti-apartheid activism. In an interview on Radio National on 29 January she was asked by presenter Jonathan Green to comment on her grandfather’s legacy.
She commented that simple living and non-violence were central to Mahatma Ghandhi’s message and they are as important today as they were then. Ela Ghandhi said that many of today’s problems such as inequality, poverty and climate change are caused by people wanting more and more. If more of us had followed Ghandhi’s teaching 80 years ago then we would be living in a very different world.
Ela Ghandhi suggested that the increasing violence in our world is largely caused by inequality as more and more of the world’s wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a relatively small number of people. A recent Oxfam publication drew attention to the fact that by the year 2016, 1% of the world’s people will own as much as the remaining 99% and that currently 80 billionaires now have as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the world’s population!
Ela Ghandhi is an exponent of non-violence. She grew up in South Africa, was an associate of Nelson Mandela and spent nine years under house arrest for her anti-apartheid activism. From 1994 to 2004 she was a Member of Parliament in South Africa and she retired from Parliament to concentrate on campaigning against violence.
Ela Ghandhi’s is strongly opposed to the death penalty and was asked in the interview to comment on the impeding executions of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. Drawing on evidence from Austin Sarat’s book “When the State Kills”, she said that capital punishment leads to a more violent society. Studies have also shown that when the death penalty is abolished, the rate of violent crime actually decreases. Canada abolished the death penalty in 1976, and 27 years later in 2003 the murder rate had decreased by 44%.
A recent Information Sheet on the Death Penalty from Amnesty International Australia makes the point that there is clear evidence from around the world that the death penalty does not have a deterrent effect.
Ela Ghandhi raised concerns about the effect that capital punishment has on the executioner. In the case of Indonesia we can only imagine the impact on the young soldiers who carry out the executions.
It now appears that there is little hope of averting the execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. In a recent article in Eureka Street, Pat Walsh puts the current executions into context – “Indonesia has had the death penalty on its books since Independence, but has not employed it often. Capital punishment was not practised during Indonesia’s first 24 years and a de facto moratorium has been intermittently in place in recent years. The period 2009-2014 saw only four executions and there were none last year.”
Pat Walsh suggests one positive that might come out of this sorry affair is that it will support the cause of Indonesian human rights activists working for abolition of the death penalty.