Remembering Arun Gandhi, Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi
Photo : Paul Chavez (3rd from L) and Arun Gandhi (3rd from R).
By SUDARSHAN KAPOOR
Professor Emeritus, Fresno State
FRESNO, CA – Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and older brother of Ela Gandhi, passed away on May 2, 2023, in Kohlapur, India at the age of 89.
Arun Gandhi was an author, journalist, social worker, and peace activist. He was very gentle in his manner of speech and was a great storyteller that made people feel comfortable in his presence. He was a good role model as a practitioner of nonviolence and treated people with due respect and dignity. His passing is a great loss to Gandhi Parivar (Gandhians) all over the globe. He will be deeply missed.
Born in Durban, South Africa during apartheid, Arun Gandhi experienced discrimination and bullying as a young boy. He recounted being beaten up by white children because he was too dark but also beaten up by black children as he was not black enough. Saying he was angry as he was roughed up, Gandhi wanted to retaliate and sought revenge — an eye for an eye of justice. Soon he learned from his parents and from the teachings of his grandfather Mahatma Gandhi that justice does not come through revenge. It comes by transforming your opponent through love, compassion, and suffering. Later, he wrote about his experiences and feelings in the book “Gift of Anger”.
Arun Gandhi, along with his wife Sunanda, moved to the United States in 1987. At the invitation of Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, he established the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence in 1991. Later, the Institute was moved to the University of Rochester, New York where he spent his last years before deciding to relocate in India to continue Gandhian Constructive Social Work for rural development and education. He died while he was engaged in establishing a school for girls from poor families in the village where his wife came from.
The principles of nonviolent social change and the Sarvodaya Philosophy (dedicated to the raising and uplifting of all) developed and emphasized by Mahatma Gandhi were principals Arun Gandhi committed himself to. He was the author of several books including “The Untold Story of Kastur, wife of Mahatma Gandhi,” the only authoritative book published so far on the elder Gandhi’s wife. He was a frequent speaker at schools, colleges, and universities in the United States.
Arun Gandhi visited Fresno on three different occasions. I have fond memories of his visits.
On the first visit, Gandhi dedicated the Gandhi Memorial on October 2, 1990, in what is now known as Peace Garden at Fresno State.
In the second visit, he was the major speaker during a week-long observance titled ‘Stop the Hate. Stop the Violence and Build a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence.’ During his last visit to the valley in September 2019, he expressed his desire to visit La Paz, Keene where Cesar E. Chavez spent his last years of peaceful life. I had the privilege and honor of taking Arun Gandhi to the National Chavez Center to meet with Paul Chavez, son of Cesar E. Chavez and President of the Cesar E. Chavez Foundation along with other members of the Chavez Family. He paid his tributes to the legendary civil rights leader and Helen Chavez at the sacred shrine established in their honor. Arun Gandhi shared with me that he was very happy to make this trip, to my immense pleasure because it was my dream to get the two historic families connected.