February 14, 2000
Volume 52, No. 21
Gandhi, Young discuss peaceful confrontation
By Eric Rangus
If the panelists were to be believed, then the answer to the question posed by their Feb. 7 discussion, "Can Nonviolent Confrontation Work?" would be a resounding "yes."
And the two panelists knew what they were talking about. Each had intimate knowledge of two of the most successful nonviolent, direct-action protests in world history. One was the U.S. civil rights movement, the other the Indian independence movement.
Speaking for 90 minutes to a crowd of about 200 in Glenn Auditorium were former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, a top aide to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, and Rajmohan Gandhi, an Indian scholar and political commentator who is also the grandson and biographer of Mahatma Gandhi. Each presented opening remarks, responded to the other's statements and took questions from the audience.
"If the world has not seen enough successful nonviolent movements, then the world has seen enough unsuccessful violent movements," Gandhi said.
For many years the struggle for independence in colonial India was marked by violence against the British. In the end, though, the nonviolent protest led by Gandhi won out, and the country was better for it.
"If those who were willing to kill had managed to capture the freedom movement," Gandhi said, "it's fairly certain that after independence the government would've passed to these Indians with guns. I have a deep conviction that if the movement had been a violent one, India would not be a democracy today."
Much of the same could be said in America. "We had to overcome hatred with love," Young said of the civil rights movement, which often responded to even extremely violent actions with nonviolence. Young quoted King as saying, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will leave a nation of people who are blind and toothless."
One of the most interesting tangents of the evening was a discussion on the ties between the two movements. According to Gandhi, his grandfather was always interested in the civil rights movement, asking every African-American journalist he met how the struggle was going.
In his opening remarks, Gandhi related the story of his grandfather's first journey to South Africa in 1893. Since he wasn't white, Mahatma Gandhi had been thrown out of his railway car. The first person to help him in Pretoria was an African American and it was an act of kindness he never forgot.
"That was crucial to Gandhi's time in South Africa," he said.
Young said that the U.S. civil rights movement was "a direct descendent of Gandhi and the Indian freedom movement in every respect." Young said the idea for the march on Washington was born in Gandhi's Salt March in 1930, in which thousands of Indians marched to the ocean to gather their own salt to protest a British tax on the item. "Gandhi's contribution to America was through Martin Luther King," he said.
According to Young, the civil rights movement owed several of its practices to Gandhi. One was its openness, and another was its tenet that opponents needed a face-saving way to relent, such as Lord Mountbatten had when Britain granted India its independence.
The tone of the discussion was cordial throughout though Gandhi did raise his voice to answer a question regarding the violence in Kashmir, an area under dispute between India and Pakistan.
"If they feel what is happening to them is oppression, and they used the nonviolent approach, they could have a dialogue with the people of India," Gandhi said. "They cannot have that now because the movement is violent."
Audience questions ranged from nonviolent protest in Tibet, whether nonviolent protest would have worked in Kosovo and Bosnia, Sikh independence from India, and protests for animal rights and an end to animal testing. Gandhi said the latter problem was truly a dilemma because each side has legitimate arguments; the only way to resolve such a problem is through dialogue, he said, admitting that sometimes not everyone walks away happy.
Gandhi visited campus as part of the Distinguished Halle Fellow Program. He arrived at Emory on Jan. 24 and departed Feb. 11. He is a research professor at the Centre of Policy Studies in New Delhi, India. His biography of Mahatma Gandhi, The Good Boatman: A Portrait of Gandhi, was published in 1995.