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On September 27th, Rajmohan Gandhi received the Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Award at the Krannert Center in Urbana, IL. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his journey to reconciliation.
On September 27th, Rajmohan Gandhi received the Champaign-Urbana International Humanitarian Award at the Krannert Center in Urbana, IL. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of his journey to reconciliation:
Dear Mayor Jerry Schweighart, City Manager Steve Carter, citizens and leaders of the Champaign-Urbana community, and friends:
I feel greatly honored. Equally, I feel surprised. To some extent, at any rate, I know myself; and I wish I could say that the humanitarian needs and human rights of neighbors, and of the wider world, occupy as much as they should of my thinking, doing, and living.
Anything I have been able to do in this regard has been my fortune, not my forte. And yet good and discriminating people have thought it fit to recognize me with this prestigious award. I cannot quarrel with them; I can but once more thank my good luck and the aforementioned good and discriminating people, the Champaign-Urbana community, the committee that selected the awardees, the City’s Human Relations Commission, and the City of Champaign.
Also, I must thank my wife Usha, without whose encouragement, support, and partnership my record would have been immensely poorer.
It is true, all the same, that during my teens two related goals for friendship, between Hindus and Muslims and between India and Pakistan, captured me. A role was doubtless played in this by my grandfather's life and by his death in 1948 at the hands of Hindu extremists who thought he was friendlier than necessary to Muslims and to Pakistanis. From his boyhood until the last breath of his life (I was twelve-and-a-half when he was killed), Mohandas Gandhi had worked for Hindu-Muslim amity.
Another factor was a sobering, humbling recognition that despite my grandfather's teaching I harbored ill-will against India’s neighboring country, Pakistan. This showed itself in 1951 when as a sixteen-year-old I heard in my New Delhi home that Liaqat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan, had been shot at. "I hope we will hear that he is dead," I said to the man bearing the news. He froze, and I was embarrassed at my silly and ugly remark about someone who had done me or mine no harm. Later the realization that the subcontinent was overflowing with the sort of ill-will I had entertained got me thinking.
In the decades that followed, it has been my privilege to write and work without ceasing for dialogue and reconciliation between India and Pakistan.
I also have had yearnings for reconciliation across other divides, and have worked for this goal in several parts of the world, often in association with the NGO known as Initiatives of Change, formerly called Moral Re-Armament or MRA.
From the Fall of 1997 I have lived steadily even if not continuously in this wonderful Champaign-Urbana community, which has been warm, friendly, and encouraging to me, to someone who flew in from beyond the seas and continents, and which has given to me a great many times more than what I may have contributed to it. Now this evening you give me a prestigious recognition as well. As I said, I am lucky.
May I express my appreciation for the existence of the Award and the thought behind it, heartening indications of America’s engagement, and of the engagement of Champaign and Urbana, with the world? Even more, I thank God for the existence of this precious community, and for America as a whole, which, more than any other nation in this world, turns humans of all races and backgrounds into one free people.
Let me mention something that most in the state of Illinois take for granted but not those coming from outside. For a person like me, the realization that I live in the state of Abraham Lincoln triggers a great feeling. Writing a hundred years ago in a journal he had started in South Africa, my grandfather Gandhi said that Lincoln was the world’s greatest nineteenth-century figure, and he is certainly a great hero of mine.
Let me end by saying that any angels of my nature are certainly stronger for having been nurtured for some years in this community, and by praying that the better angels of all our natures work together for reconciliation and freedom in the world.
Thank you once more.
Who we are: Initiatives of Change (IofC) is a world-wide movement of people of diverse cultures and backgrounds, who are committed to the transformation of society through changes in human motives and behaviour, starting with their own.
Purpose: We work to inspire, equip and connect people to address world needs, starting with themselves, in the areas of trustbuilding, ethical leadership and sustainable living.
Omnia Marzouk, President, IofC International
'Nothing lasting can be built without a desire by people to live differently and exemplify the changes they want to see in society.'