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Gandhi's grandson brings message of peace

Date: 6/9/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi, said his grandfather would be happy if he could see the spread of his non-violence philosophy to social change, but wouldn't approve of how some people approach it.

"It's not a strategy that you can use when it is convenient and discard," he told a Springfield audience last week. "It's a way of life."

Arun was the featured speaker at an award ceremony at Tower Square presented by the Pan African Historical Museum and Local businesses and individuals were recognized for their leadership in the community, according to Janine Fondon of

"This global leadership celebration and awards recognizes those individuals from Springfield and beyond who actively encourage the understanding of diversity and inclusion," Fondon said.

Local area awardees who will be saluted for their leadership in our communities include the following: Bobbi Rentas and Diane Evans the owners of the Something To Talk About shop in Tower Square; Andrew Keaton of Brotherhood/Sisterhood On the Move organization; Jean Denton, a civil rights freedom rider; Amy Hughes, board member, Robert M. Hughes School; Student Arianna Curtis, local student; Carol Moore Cutting, owner of WEIB radio; health activist Mable Sharif; Aimee Griffin Munnings, president of the New England Black Chamber of Commerce; Connie Chin of Jacobs Pillow; Dani Monroe of Center Focus International; Charles Clemons of 106.1 radio in Boston and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People official Yvonne Brown.

Arun said he could speak for several hours about what he learned from his grandfather. He lived with his grandfather and grandmother for about 18 months starting when he was 13 years old.

He said his grandfather taught him there are two kinds of violence -- physical and passive.

"It is passive violence that fuels physical violence," he said.

The casual tossing of a used pencil taught Arun the meaning of passive violence. He recalled his grandfather made him look for two hours in the dark for a short pencil Arun had thrown. Mohandas admonished him that the pencil still could have been used and its needless disposal was an act of passive violence -- squandering natural resources and keeping them from people who need them.

Once Arun found the pencil his grandfather asked him to make a "family tree of violence," noting acts of passive violence Arun witnessed and the physical ones they inspired.

"He told me you have to understand violence before understanding non-violence," Arun said.

In several months he had filled the papers hanging on his wall with acts of violence.

"It has to begin with us," Arun said. "We have to do introspection to see how we contribute [to violence.]"

A resident of Rochester, N.Y., Arun has been a journalist and social activist. He had been the director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence until January 2008 when he resigned after an essay he wrote was criticized as anti-Semitic. He founded the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute in May 2008 and has recently written a book about his grandfather and grandmother.

He said that his grandfather would have been unhappy to see the state of India today as half of the population still live sin dire poverty.

For more information on his work, go to