Even though Mahatma Gandhi never visited the United States, his noble work as a communicator, spiritual seeker and social reformer still resonates with Americans. After all, he spent his life writing and highlighting subjects he believed deserved a voice.
“He was fighting for justice and fighting for freedom,” said author Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, on Monday evening inside the Graham Tyler Memorial Chapel at Park University.
Sometimes his commitment to tackle injustices even led to his arrest and imprisonment. But by anyone’s measure, Gandhi had immense principles and great integrity as a man and journalist.
“He was always trying to see how he could make himself a better human being, but also how Indian people could face their weaknesses, their feelings and become stronger and truer to their real calling,” said Rajmohan Gandhi.
As a journalist, Gandhi strived to open lines of communication between conflicting parties. He frequently wrote about inequality and urged societal discussions to solve these injustices.
Rajmohan Gandhi discussed how his grandfather became “infuriated” with certain realities of Indian culture, “especially, this notion of being born into high and low” families. Even behind bars, said Rajmohan, Gandhi witnessed some Indians who refused to be placed in an area with somebody deemed to be from a “low family.” Gandhi addressed this inequality in a journal urging Indians to “join a movement” and engage in a non-violent resistance to combat this injustice.
In addition to raising awareness about “Indian faults,” he also shed light on “undeserved and unjust visibilities in South Africa, with articles he published in his Indian Opinion publication.
This mindful and passionate approach to journalism continued over his 60-year career as a journalist.
Early years Gandhi grew up in India and lost his father before the age of 18. Before he left home to study law in London, his mother urged him to take a vow to not eat meat. This was not easy for him, said Rajmohan, but he found several vegetarian restaurants and even wrote in the journal The Vegetarian.
At age 23 he moved to South Africa, where he began submitting letters-to-the-editor of several newspapers addressing political affairs.
“All of them were advocating for the Indian community in South Africa, which he thought was repressed,” said film producer and writer Cynthia Lukas.
One of his early political submissions to the paper was “misrepresented” by a London newspaper and evoked a mob of angry men to try to kill him, said Lukas. “He learned early on the power of words and how writing on political topics could stir up controversy and conflict, but also he learned the power that can be used for the good of bringing people together,” said Lukas. “And that was why he was so civil and polite in his journalistic writing. He was always leaving the door open for the two sides—whatever they happen to be—to talk and negotiate later.”
In Gandhi’s autobiography he reflected on his writing in the Indian Opinion claiming, “I cannot recall a word in those articles sat down without thought and deliberation or a word of conscious exaggeration or anything merely to please.”
In his 21 years in South Africa and more than three decades in India, historians say, Gandhi used journalistic writing to encourage an open dialogue to unite the Indian people and to liberate India.
Spiritual seeker Gandhi is also known as a visionary with “great passion and discipline,” said Lucas.
“We are also aware that he had very deep spiritual hungers and longings, and many people think of him as a spiritual seeker. Somebody who tried to tap the great power of the spirit of the almighty possibility in life,” said Rajmohan Gandhi.
Peace Journalism During the more than one-hour program, Steven Youngblood, a director of the Center for Global Peace Journalism and an associate professor of communication arts at Park University, informed the audience about peace journalism and explained why he believes Gandhi was a peace journalist.
“Peace journalism is all about giving a voice to the voiceless,” said Youngblood. “Talking to everyday people, to under reported people, to the kinds of people for whom Mahatma Gandhi was champion.”
Youngblood said peace journalism offers “counter narratives” and gave an example of how it might address today’s inaccuracies on the Muslim community.
“What a peace journalist would do would be to try to tell different stories about the Muslim community,” said Youngblood. “Stories that would provide more nuance, stories that provide more balance, stories that would more provide a more three-dimensional view of who Muslims are and what they are about.”
Youngblood said Gandhi saw journalists as “public servants,” intending to bring both parties together to de-escalate conflict.
“He believed that newspapers, in fact, should serve the public. Gandhi’s journalism was a product of his approach to life. A life that shows a concern for humanity and a deep commitment to the poor,” said Youngblood.
The event focusing on Gandhi commemorates the 150th anniversary of his birth. Gandhi was born Oct. 2, 1869 in Porbandar, India.