Arun Gandhi was 14 years old when his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, the most prominent leader in India’s independence movement, was assassinated. It was 1948, just one year after the country gained independence from Great Britain. Two years prior, Arun’s parents had sent him to live with his grandfather in India from Durban, South Africa. They feared he would succumb to violent retaliation following two incidents in which white and black South Africans had brutally beaten him. From age 12 to 14, Arun lived with his grandfather, who imparted his teachings of nonviolence, anger, spirituality and discipline. Today, Arun Gandhi is the co-founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence, a nonprofit organization based in Rochester, New York, dedicated to fostering knowledge and principles of nonviolence in individuals and organizations. Earlier this year, Gandhi published his ninth book, Grandfather Gandhi, which follows the abiding relationship between Arun and Mahatma and the lessons Arun learned from his grandfather.
In a conversation with The Nation, he shared his thoughts on nonviolence, his grandfather, his new book and activism. This interview has been edited and condensed.
N’Kosi Oates: What is violence and nonviolence?
Arun Gandhi: Violence is not just the physical violence that we become concerned about but it’s the passive violence: the non-physical violence that we commit every day. Exploiting people, discriminating against people, wasting resources, creating disparities in society—some people are rich, some people are very poor—all those things are all forms of violence. It’s that kind of non-physical, passive violence that generates anger in the victim, and the victim then results to physical violence to get justice.
A nonviolent society and nonviolent individual would be one who lives in harmony with all of creation; one that has a lot of love and respect for everybody considers everybody to be equal, learns to share things with other people, and not to be selfish and self-centered.
NO: What gave your grandfather the strength to continue his work?
AG: I think it was his desire to get independence, and the realization that independence is the only way to create a better world for the Indian people. Also, the commitment and humility he had—believing that he could achieve what he could achieve and not be disheartened by things he couldn’t achieve. Every one of us has limitations. We can’t change the whole world or get the results we expect. We have to accept that and do our best.
NO: What do you think is your grandfather’s legacy?
AG: I put it in one sentence: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” He expected every individual to be the change. If we want the world to change from what it is today to something better, then we have to become that change…. A lot of people today feel that change will be legislative [or] come from the government. That can’t happen. [The] kind of change he was envisioning is not something you can legislate and force by law. It has to come from within, from realization and understanding.
NO: What’s your view of the protests happening in Hong Kong and Ferguson?