Arun Gandhi, grandson of slain Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi, explained the philosophy of nonviolence to about 100 people in the Music Building Concert Hall last Thursday. Gandhi stressed the need for nonviolence in times of conflict.
“The events of Sept 11 caused a lot of anger,” Ghandi said. “Instead of focusing that anger positively, we reacted negatively. Sept. 11 should not have been a time for revenge, but introspection.”
Ghandi traced the history of nonviolent resistance back to his grandfather, who suffered under the apartheid system in South Africa and British oppression in India.
“The British were outnumbered in India by a ratio of 4,000 to one,” Gandhi said. “If anyone had put a flame to the spark of anger, they would have been wiped out in days. Instead, my grandfather realized that to defeat them, we could not sink down to their level. We must be better.”
After using the Indian struggle for freedom to show the effectiveness of nonviolence, Gandhi pointed to the rise of the Nazis as the triumph of violence.
“Hitler did not happen overnight,” he said. “After the first World War, the German economy was in shambles. This created a lot of anger. Instead of channeling that anger positively, terrible atrocities were committed.”
According to Gandhi, further atrocities will happen unless we abandon our culture of violence. He cited General Omar Bradley and President Dwight D. Eisenhower as those who lived through war and were still able to condemn it.
“We have realized the problem,” he said. “But we have not changed.”
Gandhi advocated his belief that such change begins on a personal level. He spoke of his childhood in South Africa, where he “was beat up by the whites for not being white and the blacks for not being black.” In response to this treatment, Gandhi started to lift weights and exercise in hopes of exacting revenge upon his tormenters. When his parents found out what he was up to, he was sent to live with his grandfather in India.
“Grandfather taught me many things,” he recalled. “He taught me that violence is not only active, but passive as well. When we consume, we are violent against nature. When we are wasteful, we are violent against our less-fortunate fellow man.”
Gandhi pointed to selfishness as the cause of passive violence and the weakness of many relationships. He identified prejudice and hatred as the byproducts of passively violent thoughts and urged the audience to avoid labeling.
“Nonviolence is the appreciation of humanity,” he explained. “We must recognize the people behind the labels.”
Despite his firm belief in the power of nonviolence, Gandhi said societal change was not something that could be achieved by one person alone. Instead, he compared peace to a seed that must be planted in the minds of others so that a field may grow.
In addition to speaking around the world, Gandhi received acclaim for his studies on race in America and India. He first came to the United States in 1988. In 1991, he and his wife, Sunanda, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence in Memphis.
The event was sponsored by the Asian American Association, in conjunction with the Islamic Society, the Caribbean Student Association, the History Club, Catholic Campus Ministry, Amnesty International, the Black Student Union and Union Latina.