Michael Kirby delivers annual Gandhi oration | Connect Asia

Michael Kirby delivers annual Gandhi oration

Michael Kirby delivers annual Gandhi oration

Updated 31 January 2013, 14:56 AEDT

It's 65 years since Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated, but the former Australian High Court Justice Michael Kirby says the Indian leader's ideas remain remarkably current.

Delivering the annual Gandhi oration, Michael Kirby considered how Gandhi might have responded to the Delhi bus rape case and women's rights.

And in his typical provocative style, the former Judge didn't shy away from another extremely sensitive topic - the issue of Gandhi's sexuality.

Correspondent: Will Ockenden

Speaker: Arun Goel, Indian Consul General; the Honourable Michael Kirby, Former Justice of the High Court

WILL OCKENDEN: More than 1,000 people turned out in Sydney to remember the man known as the father of the Indian nation.

Among them the Indian consul-general Arun Goel:

ARUN GOEL: Just as commemoration of the ideals and the teachings which Mahatma Gandhi stood for, as they have universal appeal.

WILL OCKENDEN: It was standing room only as the former justice of the High Court, the Honourable Michael Kirby, delivered the annual Gandhi Oration.

MICHAEL KIRBY: Fallible, humorous, witty, playful, determined, sometimes ruthless, unpredictable, rabble-rouser, guru. Occasionally misguided, deeply spiritual - a human, like the rest of us.

WILL OCKENDEN: Michael Kirby speculated on how the revered and complex character would view today's issues - including the recent gang rape of a young woman on a Delhi bus.

MICHAEL KIRBY: What would Gandhi, father of the nation, have said about such an offence, save to condemn the brutality and disrespect for women that it evidenced?

Gandhi wrote a great deal about women and about their role in the India that he hoped for.

Thus he said, "I am firmly of an opinion that India's salvation depends on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women."

WILL OCKENDEN: Michael Kirby said Ghandi might have asked Indians to consider some of the reasons why so many decades later, many women were still struggling for respect, quoting research which found:

MICHAEL KIRBY: At the turn of the millennium, Indian census figures showed 111 boys born for every 100 girls.

WILL OCKENDEN: Michael Kirby saved his most controversial issue for the end of this speech - the nature of the guru's relationship with his friend Hermann Kallenbach.

But Michael Kirby said there was no doubt it was an intimate one.

He drew on letters Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach, in which he referred to Vaseline being a constant reminder of his friend.

MICHAEL KIRBY: But in earlier times Vaseline and long after was commonly used by heterosexuals and homosexuals for sexual purposes. A century on, who can tell what Gandhi meant.

WILL OCKENDEN: Michael Kirby ended the speech by saying Gandhi's central message was to challenge, to disturb, and to shake us out of our complacency.

It's a philosophy the Honourable Michael Kirby himself has always lived by.

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