February 13, 2012

In Interview, Gandhi’s Grandson Weighs in on Contemporary Activism, Occupy Wall Street

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On Monday, Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, delivered the Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemorative Lecture in Sage Chapel. The Sun intervewed Gandhi before his speech.

The Sun: What brings you to Cornell to speak today?

Arun Gandhi: I was invited to speak on the subject of nonviolence by Cornell Religious Works.

Sun: What motivated you to follow in your grandfather — Mahatma Gandhi’s — footsteps as a sociopolitical activist?

A.G.: I had the opportunity of living with him and learning as a little boy many very important lessons, which it turns out gave me an insight into his philosophy and his thinking. I have found that it was a very important legacy — I felt I needed to share it with as many people as possible instead of keeping it all to myself.

Sun: What kind of other experiences have shaped your beliefs?

A.G.: It’s been basically all of the lessons I learned from my grandfather as a young boy and the upbringing I have from parents who also believed in the philosophy of nonviolence. All of that has contributed to making me who I am.

Sun: How old were you when your grandfather died?

A.G.: 14. I was with him during the last years of his life.

Sun: Was there anything about those last years you spent with him that particularly influenced you?

A.G.: Well there was on the one hand the euphoria that he won independence of his country without a drop of bloodshed, and [on the] other hand there was the division of the country which he didn’t want and millions of people who died in the process of dividing the country which broke his heart. So, there were these contrasting experiences.

Sun: How do you think the ideals of nonviolence and social harmony can be employed on college campuses like Cornell? What do you think Cornell students in particular can learn from your grandfather’s teachings?

A.G.: Well, philosophy of nonviolence is a very vibrant philosophy. It’s not only about protesting injustices, but it’s also about self-improvement, it’s about constructive action and speaking about all of these things. I think every student needs to become more compassionate and more understanding. They have to make that effort to improve themselves — to raise themselves. Simple education in a school is not enough. We have to make a conscious effort to become better human beings.

Sun: How have your ideals changed since you were a college student, or of college age?

A.G.: My ideals constantly change. It constantly changes as I constantly learn new things everyday, every person I meet, every group I speak with, I learn from them as they learn from me. So you keep changing and keep moving.

Sun: Where do you stand on today’s more prominent social movements, like the Occupy Wall Street protest?

A.G.: I think it’s a very constructive, positive thing. I’m very happy that they’ve stuck with the philosophy of nonviolence, but there are a couple of things I find lacking there which I think kind of sets back the movement a little bit. One of them being we know what they are against, but we don’t know what they are for — they haven’t made that very clear and I think they need to make that clearer because it’s okay to be against something, but then we need to know what you are for, what you stand for and that part of it is still unclear. The other thing is that they are attempting to launch a major movement without any leadership and I think in a nonviolent struggle it’s important to have somebody who’s accountable, who can answer questions and lead a group. Maybe not one individual, but we need to have a group of people who are responsible. You can’t just get a whole lot of people together and nobody is accountable for anything.

Sun: Do you see problems you’re attempting to solve, such as poverty and food insecurity, being alleviated — or at the very least, lessened — within your lifetime?

A.G.: I’m just trying to make people aware of what they can do. And if all the people become aware and they all take on responsibility, these can be things we resolve very quickly, but it needs some kind of commitment and that is what is lacking.

Sun: What do you hope students and faculty take away from your lecture today?

A.G.: Well, I’ve come here to plant seeds and I’m hoping that those seeds will be planted in their minds and that they will nurture those seeds and think about nonviolence, learn more about it.

Original Author: Liz Camuti