Gandhi's grandson to speak here on peace in Middle East
By Cindy Larson
At 78, Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, is still working and thriving, living a self-described “crazy life.”
Last week he traveled to Tokyo, returned to the states on Sunday and faces a full week of engagements before coming here Saturday to speak at a benefit for the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace.
“I'm blessed with good health and good friends,” Gandhi said in a telephone interview from his home in Rochester, N.Y.
Gandhi was with his grandfather on and off for 18 months between the ages of 12 and 14 in India. At first he didn't realize the significance of his grandfather, who led India to independence from Great Britain through non-violent civil disobedience. Mahatma Gandhi is remembered today for his commitment to non-violent resistance.
“He was wonderful, a very loving, compassionate grandfather,” Arun Gandhi said. “In the beginning I didn't know how important he was. Hundreds of people would be outside the house to get a glimpse of him. When I saw that kind of adulation I realized he was somebody great. To me he was just a grandfather.”
Arun Gandhi grew up in South Africa under its discriminatory apartheid laws. According to his biography, he was “beaten by 'white' South Africans for being too black and 'black' South Africans for being too white.”
He became angry, but his grandfather “taught me how to deal with my anger,” Arun Gandhi said. “I wanted eye-for-an-eye justice. The first thing he taught me was that anger is just like electricity. It can be used for the good of humanity, rather abusing it and causing death and destruction.”
Based on his philosophy of nonviolence, Mahatma Gandhi taught his grandson not to react in a moment of anger, but to resolve the issue that caused the anger.
“I think that lesson was a very powerful lesson,” Arun Gandhi said.
Arun Gandhi spent most of the first 23 years of his life in South Africa. When he was 23, Arun's father died, and he had to take his ashes to India to immerse in the River Ganges. While there he fell ill with appendicitis and then fell in love and married the nurse who took care of him. He and Sunanda tried to go back to South Africa, but the government wouldn't allow her to come back with him, so they settled in India. Arun spent 30 years as a journalist and during that time he and Sunanda did social work for the poor and oppressed.
They eventually moved to the United States. Sunanda died in 2007.
Arun now spends much of his time on the speaking circuit. When he speaks of unrest and violence in the Middle East, he traces it back to colonialization, followed by dictatorships, and now the introduction of fragile democracies. Couple that with “so many diverse religions, beliefs and ideas all living together, you're going to have a lot of chaos.”
Regarding the current unrest, triggered by a YouTube video offensive to Muslims, Arun said it was “insensitive and not right. The result is innocent people die. If we value our rights, we should also value our responsibilities.”
Yet he doesn't defend the perpetrators of the violence. “I'm not saying that what they did was right. That part of the world is already inflamed. There's a lot of anger and frustration and then you go and light another match there, you're going to have an explosion.”
He said the concept of rights and responsibilities is especially important when using social media. “Certainly social media has made it possible for people to voice opinions freely,” he said.
In the past an editor of a newspaper or TV or newsmagazine would prevent something incendiary from appearing in print or on the air, Gandhi said. Now with social media those editorial restraints aren't there, and anybody can put anything online.
He said people often attack the person rather than the problem. “Today we get angry and kill and assassinate people because of things they have said or done,” he said.
But killing the person can't kill an idea. He cited three examples: Hitler, whose ideas of hate and prejudice are still thriving; Jesus, whose ideas of love and forgiveness are still thriving; and his grandfather, whose ideas of nonviolent resistance are still thriving.