We must become the change we want to see

Ghandi's grandson speaks of nonviolence in a violent world

By Thomas Wilson

   JOHNSON CITY -- Speaking before a standing-room only crowd at East Tennessee State University, Arun Gandhi, the grandson of the late Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi, said nonviolence remains the only legitimate alternative to stemming the decay of an increasingly violent world.
   "We have to admit the culture of violence that has surrounded us and is dominating us is destroying us and eroding our humanity," he said.
   Gandhi presented his lecture entitled "Lessons from Grandfather" to a crowd of over 1,000 people in the D.P. Culp University Center ballroom Wednesday night.
   Gandhi is founder and director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at Christian Brothers University in Memphis. He authored the book "Legacy of Love: My Education in the Path of Nonviolence." He spoke about his grandfather's philosophy of nonviolence concerning problems ranging from human relations and parenting to prisons and the use of the earth's natural resources.
   He related several anecdotes of life with his grandfather as well as his parents while growing up amid a climate of violence in South Africa. As a child of Indian heritage, he was beaten up by black and white youths. Angered and intent on revenge, Gandhi subscribed to Charles Atlas' bodybuilding magazines preparing to fight back.
   "I reacted in anger," he said. "I started pumping iron and doing exercises."
   However, his parents intervened and sent him to India where his grandfather was leading one of the greatest social revolutions in human history. Mahatma Gandhi was leading the people of India in the revolutionary, nonviolent struggle for independence from British rule.
   The young Arun spent 18 months learning insight that would shape his philosophy of nonviolence and develop the foundation for his life's work. Among the lessons taught to him by the Mahatma was the constructive use of anger for benevolent rather than malevolent purposes.
   "The first lesson my grandfather taught me was using anger that existed for positive change," he said. "We must channel the energy of anger intelligently so we can use that anger for the good of humanity."
   He related a story of trying to secure his grandfather's autograph. To fund many political programs, the Mahatma took to selling his autograph to the public for five dollars. Gandhi said he often collected autograph books and the $5 fee from crowds. When he sought his grandfather's autograph without paying, the Mahatma refused.
   "He said, "You should know I don't make an exception for grandchildren," said Gandhi, who encouraged Arun to earn the money to pay for the autograph. However, the grandson pressed on - often coming into political meetings to ask for his grandfather's autograph. Arun's guess that his grandfather would rebuke him and sign his autograph to get rid of him did not pan out.
   "He would cover my mouth with his hand, press my head to his chest and go on talking politics," he said. Arun said the lesson came in his grandfather's refusal to become upset but to continue to teach his grandson how nonviolence equaled discipline.
   Sadly, his grandfather's life ended in violence. After leading India to independence, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a Hindu fanatic.
   Physical violence had its roots in passive violence, Gandhi said. His lecture also cited behaviors of mass consumption and materialism that drains the planet's resources to the world's richest countries while other nations suffer. He said this type of violence often lays the foundation for the physical violence of war.
   He referred to the culture of terrorism during a question-and-answer session with the audience after the lecture. He said terrorism is "not something that happened overnight" but brimmed following years of passive violence. He also criticized the notion of declaring war not on a nation, but on a group of people referred to as "terrorists".
   "If we are not able to identify these people, how can we wage a war against them?" he said.
   Gandhi added that he believes in violence when a person must defend himself or herself or another against harm from one person. He also said he advocates the need for prisons to house people willfully violent toward society. However, he noted the failures of the prison systems around the world to protect society or heal people.
   He said prison systems offer two things: gyms where inmates lift weights and law libraries where they "find loopholes in the law they can exploit" once released. "Neither of these is constructive," Gandhi said. "Justice is not retribution; justice is reformation."
   Arun Gandhi came to the United States in 1988 to complete research for a comparative study on racism in America. In 1991, he and his wife, Sunanda, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to promote and teach the philosophy and practice of nonviolence.
   Gandhi appeared as part of the Nicks Lecture Series, named in honor of former ETSU President Dr. Roy S. Nicks, sponsored by the ETSU College of Education's Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. The lecture was co-sponsored by the Student Government Association, ETSU Leadership House, the College of Education and Alpha Xi Delta Sorority.
   He closed the questions recalling the philosophy of his grandfather and the famous quote he pressed upon lecture attendees to remember.
   "We must become the change we want to see in the world," he said.