Gandhi's grandson to discuss India's independence Friday at Tennessee Tech

As India celebrates 50 years of independence, the grandson of one of its most revered leaders will visit Tennessee Technological University to speak on the status of the world's largest democracy and the legacy of Mohandas K. "Mahatma" Gandhi.

Arun Gandhi, founder and director of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, will give a talk at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 22, in the University Center Multipurpose Room at Tennessee Tech. The program is free, and the public is invited to attend.

"With 1997 being the Golden Jubilee year of India's independence, it is only appropriate in having invited Arun Gandhi," said Arvind Vedantham, president of the Indian Association of Cookeville, which is co-sponsoring the event with Tennessee Tech's chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi social fraternity.

"As grandson of the Mahatma to whom India owes its 50 years of freedom and a leading proponent of the glory of nonviolence in society, the bedrock of Gandhian Philosophy, Mr. Gandhi can offer valuable insight and perspective into Mahatma's legacy as well as the achievements and challenges that face India today."

Parrish Monk of Kappa Alpha Psi said Gandhi's visit is a first-hand opportunity for blacks to learn of the man whose principles inspired Martin Luther King and nonviolent protests he led in the Civil Rights Movement.

"It's appropriate, in a way, that we're crossing a lot of boundaries in sponsoring the event -- the first time a Greek fraternity has joined with a cultural group like the Indian Association, and the first time blacks and Indians here have reached out together in a way that crosses differences of race, religion, cultural and social issues," Monk said.

"It reflects the teachings of Gandhi, who sought to bring people together whatever their differences."

Bridging differences is a theme of Arun Gandhi's life, as well.

Born in 1934 in Durban, South Africa, Gandhi grew up in a nation where he was despised by whites for being black and blacks for being white. He recalls his youth in South Africa as being both dangerous and degrading and said he began to be obsessed with feelings of anger and revenge.

In 1946, when he was 12, he traveled to India with his parents to live with his grandfather and learn to deal with his anger in a positive way. Despite being immersed in India's tumultuous transfer of power, Mohandas Gandhi found time to teach his grandson some very important lessons in nonviolence. The 18-month stay set the course for Arun Gandhi's life.

After 23 years in South Africa and 30 years in India, Gandhi arrived in the U.S. to work on the comparison of prejudices in South Africa, India and the United States and find nonviolent ways to improve human relations. After a period in Mississippi, he and his wife, Sunanda, moved to Memphis to found the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, which they funded with money raised through the sale of Gandhi's original letters to Arun Gandhi's parents. The non-profit center is dedicated to teaching the philosophy of nonviolence and promoting and applying its principles locally, nationally and globally to prevent violence and resolve personal and public conflicts through research, education and programming.

For the past five years, Gandhi has participated in the Renaissance Weekend deliberations with President Clinton and other eminent Rhodes Scholars and invitees at Hilton Head, S.C.

Apart from four books written in India between 1969 and 1983, Gandhi has edited an anthology titled "World Without Violence -- Can Gandhi's Vision Become Reality" in 1994 and edited "A Testament to Truth," a collection of Gandhi's writings on nonviolence, women's issues, international relations, religion and human values. This book will be published by Harper, San Francisco, and is expected to be out in the fall.

Gandhi has also contributed four chapters to the first "Encyclopedia of Nonviolence," edited by Roger Powers and William Vogele of The Albert Einstein Institute, Cambridge, MA, and has been invited by the Stephen R. Covey of the Covey Leadership Center to endorse two of his books. Gandhi is now working on a biography of his grandmother, Kastur, who, Gandhi says, taught him nonviolence.

The Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence is hosted by Christian Brothers University. Additional information about the institute and its work is available online.