International Centre of Nonviolence



Inspired by and with the support of Ela Gandhi, Gandhi Development Trust and ICON (International Centre of Nonviolence) Durban, we formally launched the International Centre of Nonviolence (ICON) Australia on 27 February 2013 at the New South Wales Parliament House in presence of Federal and State Ministers, diplomats and a host of academic, community and religious luminaries.

Ela Gandhi graciously agreed to come from South Africa for the launch and visited a number of schools and institutions in Melbourne and Sydney over 6 days and was engaged extensively with the Media ABC TV and Radio, SBS and a number of community Radios and TVs. A detailed program of Ela Gandhi’s sojourn in Australia is indicated in the attached document. Full speeches by Ela Gandhi delivered at the Australia India Institute (Melbourne University), University of New South Wales, at the launch and at SokaGakai International Centre at Sydney Olympic Park are included in another document attached.

Hon. Victor Dominello(New South Wales Minister for Citizenship and Communities, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs):

We are in the presence of humanities royalty here tonight; Ela Gandhi is a true successor to the mentor of her grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi. And we are very privileged to have her here today for the launch.  This is an important organisation in our State the International Centre of Nonviolence Australia, ICON. Any organisation inspire by a member of the Gandhi family should be one worthy of support. And when the organisation’s goal is to promote nonviolence in our lives, it cannot be ignored.

My support goes automatically to groups who are reaching out across ethnic boundaries to combine their individual strengths. While Gambhir Watts and the Bhavan Australia are setting out to do, the International Centre of Nonviolence will bring together some key leaders from our diverse range of backgrounds to promote this wonderful ideal of nonviolence. I think this centre can send a very powerful message to the world because we have in this state an almost incredible diversity of race, of faith, of language in our communities, yet we live in harmony. If we can exploit that harmony to promote lives of nonviolence we will have something to show the rest of the world, where for sure there is way too much violence. And I congratulate you again for this outstanding initiative and when I look in front of me and I see students here and I’ve heard what the MC said in relation to education. Particularly in my travels as a Minister of Citizenship and Communities I realise how important it is in that educational framework to make sure the message beyond that, the culture of nonviolence is taught. If we don’t get that right at the educational level then it’s far harder later on to bring the genie back into the bottle. So I really encourage it because this going to be a movement, a lighthouse, for where the world needs to be if we want to truly get to that enlightened stage.

SENATOR LISA SINGH (Federal Government of Australia), Acting Chair of UNICEF Parliamentary Association

I was delighted when Gambhir invited me to be part of this tonight and I think this is a night that will stay with me for a very long time. To be in the presence of Ela Gandhi is certainly something very special to me.

As someone that grew up with an understanding of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, of his values, of his words and I try in my 41 years of life to live out those principles, words and values of him to then have his granddaughter here with us tonight, to be part of this opening of ICON here in Australia is indeed a fantastic and a very auspicious moment in all of our lives. There is also no better way to celebrate Mahatma Gandhi than through the opening of this ICON because here in Australia like anywhere in the world we are not immune to violence. We also have our own share of violence that occurs here in Australia and I think that if we can pick up from what Moksha said it is through education that we can try to change and turn that around. It is through not only the current generation but their children and their children’s children that we hope that one day will have a country and a world that is free of violence.

Briefly this week the Four Corners program on the ABC which very much focused on an hour  documentary on violence, it look at alcohol feud violence, it looked at violence of young men and for me in my previous political life when I was a member of the Parliament and a Minister in the state Parliament in Tasmania I was landed with a portfolio that perhaps not all Ministers particularly want to put their hands up for and that was the portfolio of corrections, of dealing with our correctional system. And there of course I was landed with how to approach, how we stop the recidivism rate of those violent men who ended up in our prison system coming out and repeating that action and I found myself looking at the values of Mahatma Gandhi and looking at how in some way we can ensure that they come out more peaceful than they’ve been in in the first place.

Of course I think that the other aspect that Moksha also picked up on is the fact that women are often the more targeted gender, not always, but there are statistics that reveal that women will be more subject to violence, to sexual violence, in their lifetime and I think that again is something that in Australia we are certainly not immune to.

On behalf of the Australian government it is a complete honour for me to stand here tonight and to welcome to Australia and to be here with you at this opening of ICON which is something that the whole country will benefit from in the future.

DR PHIL LAMBERT   (Regional Director, Sydney Department of Education; Adjunct Associate Professor (University of Sydney); Adjunct Professor (Nanjing University)

What a day it’s been. I have to say this will go down as one of the highlights of my career. Before today I think I would have said the two most wonderful women that I spent a day with are my wife and my daughter, I’m going to extend that to three because I had the absolute privilege of spending the day with Ela Gandhi.

From the moment, I actually met her yesterday we talked through the arrangements for today, but met her this morning and talked with her throughout the car trip to Ashbury Public School, one of our fabulous public schools, where we had the most delightful program. It’s one of our schools that have been doing some sub standing work in White Ribbon, combating violence against women and girls and we also have there our Indian Calling Program which opens clearly the eyes of our students, the majority clearly are not from Indian background joined up by video conferences with six other schools who regularly learn about Indian culture and learn to appreciate and respect India and its culture. Then we had a trip to Fort Street High School, we happened to hear their fabulous band outside, and that was a wonderful program meeting with the senior students there and also a major assembly. Apparently the students at the school, the representative council of the school, ordered the executive of the school that I had to be a whole assembly, there couldn’t be a few privileged students to meet Ela. There had to be the full student population and there were so many excited students and the questions were fantastic.

I actually have to say that Miss Gandhi tonight will go to sleep with a big smile on her face; I’ve never seen paparazzi like I’ve seen throughout today. There were cameras everywhere, flashing everywhere and she was charming. She accepted every request, every single request. I can tell you my legs are giving away I am going to flop tonight when I get home. She has so much energy I kept asking her if she’d like a little rest that was for me actually. She is a wonderful ambassador, a wonderful woman to hear about her work with Nelson Mandela, with the party, her timing in government and what she’s been doing since her commitment. She’s an amazing woman.


Senator Lisa Singh, Mr Gambhir Watts, dear friends I think this a very unique occasion, we are very honour to have with us here today Ela Gandhiji who has devoted her life to continuing the message, the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi. South Africa was the laboratory in which Gandhiji refined his techniques. In a sense when he left India the nationalists politics in India had begun in 1885 with the founding of the congress party but the technique that the congress party and his leaders like Gandhiji’s political group used was constitutional they tried to agitate for self-improvement within the institutions of the community department. When Gandhi came to South Africa he was called to South Africa by a prominent member of the Indian community. Gandhiji faced several disabilities and discrimination in South Africa and he began to experiment with his technique of nonviolence and passive resistance. To Gandhiji this was not just something which was a physical manifestation of action; it was nonviolence, so if you faced nonviolence towards your interlocutor and you did not act violently it was not good enough. That is you have to exercise self-control and have love and affection for the person you were dealing with and it was not just nonviolence in action it was nonviolence at heart and that I think is very difficult to achieve which is why when he went back to India and when he let the mass seek this disobedient movement against the government he offered … at the time when it seemed to be doing very well, it seemed to be succeeding because for him the means to the end was very important and for him the adherence to the discipline of nonviolence was very important.

Professor Emeritus Stuart Rees(Professor Emeritus of the University of Sydney, Chair of the Sydney Peace Foundation)

Stuart Rees delivered the theme lecture PRACTICING NON VIOLENCE: GANDHI LEGACY, INTERNATIONAL PRIORITIES. Prof Stuart said that Mahatma Gandhi advocated ahimsa – nonviolence – as a way of living and as a law for life and that his principles of nonviolence inspired civil disobedience towards governments and other representations of oppressive authority. Through skills in organizing, through the clarity of his philosophy as expressed in letters, articles and speeches and often through his courage in fasting, Gandhi led by personal example.  He lived and breathed the principle later embraced by feminists and others that the personal is the political.

The ideology of nonviolence and the cues for practice are contained in the language of Shelley and Thoreau, of Gandhi and King. They painted pictures of justice and human rights. They knew the ideals of a freedom which would enhance everyone’s fulfilment without interfering with others’ freedom of expression.

The language of nonviolence is crucial. It conveys people’s interest and appreciation, their gratitude and creativity, laughter and love. Such words contrast with the language of violence in politics, in the crafting of economic, defence or security policies and in individuals’ behavior, whether in families, in schools, on the streets, in public or private organizations. Such violence is crippling and self-defeating.  It has nothing to do with visions of humanity and cues about conflict resolution contained in Gandhi’s notion of ahimsa.

Full lecture is included in the attached document.

Ela Gandhi

In the last four days she learnt so much in Australia, by visiting so many schools, so many centres and so many wonderful things that are happening in the country and I’m taking back with me a lot of lessons from here. So I’m not sure how many lessons I’m going to bring to you but I can only invite you to come to South Africa, have exchange programs and let’s learn from each other because that is the most important thing about ICON.

I want to say that on behalf of Gandhi Development and Trust and ICON South Africa I want to congratulate you on this initiative. Indeed we must work together to build up a rise of awe of knowledge and respectful models so that it can be replicated throughout the world and we can make a difference.

Ela Gandhi giving a brief background to the formation of ICON in South Africa said that inspired by Gandhiji’s work in South Africa and his nonviolent movement a group of volunteers began to look at how to address the rising violence in the country and globally.

Ela Gandhi said that while the tendency is to look for solutions in a stringent justice system approach we look for solutions in Gandhiji’s ideas. Clearly his approach to nonviolence was much broader than the strategy to be used in certain situations.

For Gandhiji nonviolence was a way of life. What end is the composition of this way of life and how can we promote it?   We brainstormed and came up with many issues and I know Professor Rees has talked about many of them already but among them access to basic needs, universal access to basic needs such as housing, work, education, healthcare, equity, learning universal values, nonviolent communication, all of nonviolent language and a less consumer society. Those were some of the issues brought up at this brainstorming session.

ICON positioned itself for a new and holistic approach because we found that a lot of the peace education programs look at study of values, we also looked at our history syllabus and everybody knows about Hitler, very few people studied about Gandhi or studied about Martin Luther King or any of the peace movements, and there have been many peace movements before and after Gandhiji we heard about them but our history books don’t reflect on those. Gandhiji also emphasized the need for learning about other cultures and other languages to broaden the perspective

In her concluding Ela Gandhi said: we look forward to a long and healthy relationship with ICON Australia, a relationship which will share ideas, which will share information and knowledge, and grow from that networking and that relationship.

Full lecture is included in the attached document.

Gambhir Watts

Founder and Chief Coordinator

International Centre of Nonviolence Australia