University of Leicester |

Home >> News and Events >> [eBulletin] >> Features


Grandson of Mahatma Gandhi's visit to the University of Leicester: in-depth report 

At the invitation of the University of Leicester’s Institute for the Study of Indo-Pakistan Relations (INPAREL), Mr and Mrs Arun Gandhi visited Leicester between November 28 and December 3, 2002. 

Mr and Mrs Gandhi were hosted at receptions/dinners held by the Lord Mayor of Leicester, by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester and by ASRA Midlands Housing Association. Among the personal visits undertaken, Mr and Mrs Gandhi were welcomed to the ASRA Midlands Housing Association sheltered accommodation project at Mahatma Gandhi House; the Shree Sanatan Mandir, Weymouth Street, Leicester, and the Keythorpe Street Mosque. Mr Gandhi gave numerous interviews to the local, national and international press, television and radio.

On Saturday, November 30, Mr Gandhi participated in an INPAREL Colloquium on Religious Fundamentalism and International Terrorism in South Asia held at the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre, University College London. He asked a deceptively simple and yet profound question: How does one respond non-violently to the events of September 11, 2001? 

Declaring a war on terrorism was not, in his view, the answer. The causes of terrorism have to be eliminated. There have to be drastic changes in the relationships between different parts of the world: states, like individuals, have to build relationships that were based on more than self-interest but included respect/ understanding/acceptance/appreciation. 

Mr Gandhi urged the concept of trusteeship: we are trustees of our talents and wealth, which we need to use for other people as much as for ourselves. If necessary we must reduce our own standard of living so as to help bring peace to the world. We must act towards others out of compassion, not pity; above all, it was on the poor of the country that the fundamentalists thrive. 

Like his grandfather, Mr Gandhi advocates a friendly study of the world’s religions. We all need a greater modesty in our belief that we ‘possess’ the truth. Mahatma Gandhi never argued that he possessed the truth; he argued that he pursued the truth. Individuals, communities and states needed to understand that violence proceeds from anger. We need to understand our anger, and channel its energy into positive action. Above all, we need to avoid the arrogance of power which leads to recklessness and violence.

In his lecture at the University of Leicester on December 2, entitled Defending and Restoring India’s Secular Credentials, which was delivered to a full lecture theatre representing the multicultural traditions of the city, Mr Gandhi commented: 

"The savage violence in Gujarat and the savagery of violence happening everyday around the world brings into question the very concept of 'civilization'. Is humanity moving closer to becoming more civilized each day or are we moving farther and farther away? An honest answer is that humanity is regressing. The inhuman violence in Gujarat is a painful reminder of the eroding respect and sanctity for human life all over the world. 

Arun Gandhi lecturing

"After Hitler’s holocaust we thought we would never see such savagery again but each new day brings with it shocking evidence of man’s inhumanity to man. Nations, and individuals, have become increasingly divisive, hateful, intolerant and violent. This is a result of the demonic 'culture of violence' that human society has built around itself to protect and preserve a highly exploitative and materialistic life-style.

"The culture of violence, at all levels, exerts control through fear which necessarily escalates periodically so that effective control can be maintained. The culture of violence also evokes the negative and the baser instincts and attitudes in human beings."

Mr Gandhi argued that "everyone in India is responsible for distorting and desecrating the meaning of secularism. Religious and political leaders have hijacked the Indian nation. In the name of God and religion people have been spreading hate and violence. It is only when Indians liberate themselves from Indian Imperialism and religious bigotry and end the policy of divide and rule that India will create the climate for harmony and peace."

"What would true secularism look like?" Mr Gandhi asked. "Secularism should not and cannot mean separate but equal", he contended. "It must mean equal in all respects. Secularism also does not mean allowing people to exploit each other in the name of God. It means living with each other with respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation."

Mr and Mrs Gandhi’s host, Professor Richard Bonney, Director of INPAREL, commented: "this visit was an extraordinarily positive occasion. In Arun Gandhi we have someone who sat at the feet of the Mahatma during a crucial period in 1946 and 1947, who has learned the core ideas of Gandhiism, and who seeks both to advocate and practise non-violence as the central message for our times. Gandhi’s doctrine of ahimsa is sorely needed in troubled parts of the Indian sub-continent and indeed many other areas of the world today."

About the Institute for the Study of Indo-Pakistan Relations (INPAREL), University of Leicester:

The leading international Centre was set up to encourage the exchange of ideas and the development of relevant policies and projects which strengthen cross-cultural relations. Its aims are to raise the level of public understanding through publications and conferences, and its hope is that the information it gathers can play its part in improving relations in area of conflict in South Asia.

Biographical note on Mr Arun Gandhi

Born in 1934 in Durban, South Africa, Arun Gandhi is the fifth grandson of India's late spiritual leader, Mohandas Karamchand (‘Mahatma’) Gandhi. Growing up under South Africa's apartheid for someone of Eastern heritage was difficult, humiliating, and often dangerous. Enduring bigoted attacks from European-African youths for not being 'white' and from Native Africans for not being 'black' served to increase the anger that Arun Gandhi bore as a young man. Hoping that time with his grandfather would help the twelve-year-old Arun control his rage and deal with prejudice through nonviolent means, his parents took him to India to live with The Mahatma (or ‘great soul’) in 1946.

Arun's stay with his grandfather coincided with the most tumultuous period in India's struggle to free itself from British rule. His grandfather showed Arun firsthand the effects of a national campaign for liberation carried out through both violent and nonviolent means. For eighteen months, while Gandhi imparted lessons to his grandson, the young man was also witnessing world history unfold before his eyes: this combination set Arun on a course for life. His journey was strengthened by the resolve of his parents Sushila and Manilal, Gandhi's second son, to raise their children according to the principles of nonviolence — including loving discipline (not punishment) shared by child and parent, and lifelong commitment to social progress through nonviolence. Arun's father, Manilal, spent over fourteen years in prisons as he was repeatedly jailed for his efforts to change South African apartheid nonviolently. Arun's mother, Sushila, spent fifty-four years at Gandhi's ashram, Phoenix, outside Durban. After the deaths of Gandhiji and Manilal, Sushila was the ashram's driving force. She greatly lamented the ashram's physical destruction in 1985 although she asserted the indestructibility of the spirit that had created and sustained the community for over eighty years. 

At twenty-three Arun returned to India and worked as journalist and reporter for The Times of India. He, his wife Sunanda, and several colleagues started the successful economic initiative, India's Center for Social unity, whose mission is to alleviate poverty and caste discrimination. The Center's success has now spread to over 300 villages, improving the lives of more than 500,000 rural Indians. 

Having written eight books and hundreds of articles, Dr. Gandhi is an accomplished author and journalist. He published the Suburban Echo, a weekly, in Bombay from 1985 through 1987. Recently Arun envisioned and edited World Without Violence: Can Gandhi's Dream Become Reality?, a collection of essays and poetry from noted international scientists, artists, and political and social leaders on the ideals of nonviolence. This popular volume was published in October 1994 for the celebration of the 125th anniversary of Gandhiji's birth. 

Arun and Sunanda went to the United States in 1987 to compare race issues in the American South, color discrimination in South Africa, and the caste system in India. In October of 1991 the Gandhis founded the M K Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence. Its mission is to examine, promote, and apply the principles of nonviolence thought and action through research, workshops, seminars, and community service. The Institute is located at Christian Brothers University in Memphis, Tennessee, where Arun is also a scholar-in-residence. In addition to lecturing worldwide at collages and institutes and addressing community and professional organizations, Arun and the Institute staff are active in community, educational, corporate, and prison programs, workshops, and conferences. 


Professor Richard Bonney -

M K Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Memphis, Tennessee,  

Back to Features
Back to [eBulletin] index

[University Home][University Index A-Z][University Search][University Help]

Last updated: 18 December 2002 10:55
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

This document has been approved by the head of department or section.
If you are an authorised user you may edit this document through your Web browser.