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Claremont High School Academy

Recollections and reflections

Miss Patel remembers the day she and a group of Year 13 students met an inspiring historian and leader

On 18th October, Mr Schmidt, Ms Gammanpila and ten Year 13 History A Level students went to the headquarters of Initiatives of Change UK in London to hear Miss Patel, Claremont High School’s Head of Teaching and Learning, interview Professor Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of the eminent Mahatma Gandhi, about the Indian independence movement.

Professor Gandhi is an Indian biographer, historian and research professor at the Center for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Illinois. He also served as President of Initiatives of Change International in 2009 and 2010. Through writing, speaking, public interventions and dialogue, Professor Gandhi has been engaged in efforts for reconciliation and democratic rights for sixty years. His latest book is called India after 1947: Reflections and Recollections.

The interview was conducted in front of a live audience of fifty-plus people. The first question Miss Patel asked was, ‘Why was India partitioned in 1947?’ Professor Gandhi gave an insightful answer, drawing on both short and long-term reasons for why India was divided into India, East Pakistan and West Pakistan over seventy-five years ago. She then asked him a series of questions relating to this, such as his thoughts on the role both women and young people played in the independence movement. Professor Gandhi’s knowledge was astounding. He was able to answer questions in huge depth with reference to specific dates, people and events.

Students from Sudbury Primary School had also prepared questions. One of the most touching was, ‘Do you have anything that reminds you of your grandfather?’ Professor Gandhi said he had two things still in his possession: one was a letter from his grandfather telling him he loved him; the other, a piece of wood that his father wore round his neck while in prison. This piece of wood reminds him of his grandfather and the struggles he faced every day in fighting for peace and justice.

The students asked fantastic questions as part of the ‘Question and Answer’ session, including queries about the relevance of the caste system today and the extent to which religious divisions hindered the road to independence. They were brilliant ambassadors for the school and Professor Gandhi was incredibly impressed by all of them.

And the students were clearly equally impressed by him. ‘Hearing Professor Gandhi speak was deeply inspiring,’ reflected Year 13 student Janvi Solanki. ‘He was so obviously educated on the matters he spoke about, especially on the topic of religious divides in India at that time. It reminded me of the importance of breaking down the barriers between us. I was struck by one phrase in particular: “The world is in London.” This highlighted to me the privilege of living in such a diverse and tolerant city. Gandhi's wisdom has definitely contributed to my motivation to create positive change in society.’  

Initiatives of Change UK, whose headquarters hosted the event, is a global movement and charity active across sixty countries. They believe that everyone has the power to create personal and global change and that this can 'be the change' they wish to see in the world. They work on different projects, such as the Agenda for Reconciliation, which started as a series of international conferences on peace-making. Today, around a quarter of all people worldwide live in countries affected by conflict. This project therefore supports refugees who are working to reconcile their diaspora communities and contribute, where possible, to reconciliation in their countries of origin. This work is co-ordinated through weekly open online meetings to share news from home countries and report on developments in trust-building projects.

Following the event, students filmed content about World Kindness Day for the charity - another great opportunity for them. Overall, this was a terrific afternoon where students got to meet an incredibly charismatic and inspiring historian and leader.