February 13, 2012

Arun Gandhi, Mahatma’s Grandson, Urges Nonviolence in Speech at University

Print More

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, delivered the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Lecture Monday night in Sage Chapel, linking his grandfather’s theory of nonviolence to King.

“I changed the two words, ‘non-violence’ to one word, ‘nonviolence,’” Gandhi said during the speech. “It stands on its own [and] it is not the opposite of violence. Nonviolence is very positive. It brings out the good in us.”

According to Rev. Kenneth Clarke, director of Cornell United Religious Works and chair of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee, Mahatma Gandhi’s theory of nonviolence inspired King during the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“King visited India soon after his Montgomery speech and saw that nonviolence was more than a social change movement,” Clarke said. “In King’s case, [the visit] reinforced and augmented his Christian commitment to nonviolence.”

Clarke said that Arun Gandhi was a fitting speaker for the commemoration, because King’s perception of nonviolence was shaped by his trip to India and the principles of Mahatma Gandhi.

“[Arun Gandhi] grew up in South Africa, but spent 18 months between the ages of 12 and 14 with his grandfather,” Clarke said. “That experience laid the foundation to his own commitment to nonviolence.”

He went on to explain the theory of nonviolence, interspersing anecdotes about his personal experiences with Mahatma Gandhi and stories about his own efforts to exemplify the principles of the theory.

Gandhi emphasized the idea that active physical violence originates in “passive violence” and anger. He told a story of his grandfather teaching him the significance of throwing out a small pencil to illustrate how even the smallest actions can be construed as violent.

“Even in the making of a simple thing like a pencil, you use a lot of the world’s natural resources, and if you throw it away that is violence against nature … We over-consume the resources and because we over-consume we are depriving people of their property and that is violence against humanity,” Gandhi said. “These small acts are violence.”

Gandhi told the audience that the solution to global problems is giving people confidence to create their own solutions, citing his experience in helping impoverished Indians in Bombay raise money for economic self-empowerment.

During the speech, Gandhi promoted what he called “universal solution-seeking.”

“We must learn to channel anger to help humanity; when you become angry, write it down in a journal and make the journal as a way of finding the solution to the problem,” he said.

After a private meeting with Gandhi, Clarke said he is “a very serene man who exemplifies what he promotes, as did Dr. King.”

“My hope is that exposure to a world citizen like Arun Gandhi, who has established his own commitment to working on issues, will inspire people to see how King’s legacy is operative in these days,” Clarke said.

The lecture has been held every year by the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Committee since 2003, and previously by Cornell United Religious Works since 1999, according to Clarke.

The lecture is traditionally held in Sage Chapel “in keeping with our basic philosophy of Sage Chapel, where spirit and intellect meet,” Clarke said.

Gandhi began the lecture by recalling his most recent visit to Sage Chapel — three years ago, when he attended his grandson’s wedding.

While the selection process of the speaker varies, this year it was Clarke who suggested Gandhi for the commemoration.

“I heard Arun Gandhi speak at Penn State,” Clarke said. “I was impressed by his presentation.”

According to Clarke, about 150 people on average attend the speech each year. Sage Chapel was filled with spectators for this year’s lecture.

Several audience members said that they were pleased overall with the lecture.

“I though it was inspiring. I think he had some good advice that everyone could learn from,” Christian Higgins ’14 said. “I liked the part about the poverty, he challenged those who didn’t have anything to make something of themselves.”

Adam Goldberg ’12 echoed Higgins’ sentiments, adding that Gandhi’s lecture gave him an important perspective he would not necessarily have learned through his courses.“It was intellectually captivating and rewarding,” Goldberg said. “The best part of college learning is outside the classroom.”

Original Author: Erica Augenstein