TFF logo TFF logo
Vicky Rossi 2007
ROSSI Columns Sitemap Areas we work in Resources Columns and art
Publications About TFF Support our work Search & services Contact us


Interview with Arun Gandhi


Vicky Rossi
TFF Associate and Board member

Comments directly to

January 31, 2007

Arun Gandhi is Director of the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence, University of Rochester, New York, USA. I interviewed him in Mumbai, India in January 2007. The grandson of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, Arun Gandhi was born in1934 in Durban, South Africa, where he experienced the challenges of life under the Apartheid system.

From 1946 until shortly before the Mahatma’s assassination in 1948, Arun lived in India with his grandfather, during which time he was greatly influence by both the political events related to India’s struggle for independence and the Mahatma’s teachings and embodiment of nonviolence.

In 1956 Arun returned once again from South Africa to India to work as a journalist for the Times of India. Then in 1987, along with his wife Sunanda and their 2 children, Arun Gandhi was invited to the United States by the University of Mississippi to write a paper on the similarities between the prejudice in India, the U.S. and South Africa.

Having decided to stay on in the U.S., in 1991 Arun and Sunanda founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, which works to promote the principles of nonviolence both locally and globally through conflict prevention, anger management, diversity training, and relationship- and community-building. Arun Gandhi is a well known speaker both in the U.S. and internationally with a commitment to spreading the message of the importance and the power of nonviolence.


Vicky Rossi: Having just spent a wonderful 2 weeks in India with you and an enlightened group of internationals on the Gandhi Legacy Tour (1), I was wondering when you first decided to lead such a trip and what your primary motivation was.

Arun Gandhi: I have been involved with people from Europe and other parts of the world for quite some time now and I have always felt that people need to know each other better. We tend to live in our own isolated worlds without knowing much about one another. This means we form all kinds of stereotypes and misunderstandings, which lead to conflicts in the world. I have always thought that if we can somehow bring people together and let them get to know each other, then we will be able to break down the barriers that exist and build bridges instead. For a long time I have been doing this, especially with Sweden where I have been working on an adoption programme with Swedish families. As a result, some Swedish families came to India - they saw the conditions here, including the orphanage. We took them a little bit around the country so that they could get to know the culture from where their adopted child was coming.

When I went to the U.S., I saw a lot of misunderstanding about India in the minds of the people there. This kind of confirmed my idea and I felt that I should lead a tour to India every year in order to expose people to the real India i.e. not just the cities where it is very westernised, but also to the small towns and villages. Sometime in 1992, when this idea of leading a tour to India came into my mind, I couldn’t figure out how to organise the whole thing because I didn’t have the manpower or the organizing capacity. Then one day I picked up a paper and I saw a little advert there about a Global Exchange tour to India. On a whim, I wrote to them and said that I had an idea for a tour to India and asked if they were interested in teaming up with me, which they were. We started the first tour in 1998 and since then it’s been an annual trip. Over the years the interest has been growing, partly because people who have been on the tour have been speaking about it and partly because I myself have been speaking about it when I go on lecture tours.

Vicky Rossi: In the course of the Legacy Tour, either through discussions we had with you or through the lectures we were given by representatives of the organizations we visited, four important Gandhian concepts were repeatedly referred to, namely, Swaraj, Sarvodaya, Swadeshi and Trusteeship. Could you briefly explain these concepts and their importance both microcosmically – at the individual level – and macrocosmically – at the national and/or international level?

Arun Gandhi: With regard to Swaraj, “swa” means “self” and “raj” means “rule over” so Swaraj is “rule over self”. This can be translated also as “self rule” in the political sense i.e. freedom in the country or a country that rules itself. However, it also means “self rule” in the personal sense i.e. learning to rule your own emotions and attitudes because unless we can rule over our own emotions, needs and greed, we won’t be able to practise nonviolence. We need to take control of ourselves. Most people have ignored this aspect of Swaraj, focusing instead on independence in the political sense.

The Sarvodaya concept is “the welfare of all”. Gandhi had studied the democracies in the world and he came to the conclusion that these democracies are not really fair because 51% of the people can lord it over 49% of the people. Gandhi believed that that wasn’t right, that it had to be equal for everybody and not just for the majority so he created the term “Sarvodaya” i.e. it has to be for the good and welfare of all the people of the country as far as that is possible. Gandhi believed that those who found themselves in the 51% should make sacrifices so that the other 49% could join the group and enjoy a reasonably good lifestyle as well.

As far as the Swadeshi concept is concerned, it arose as a result of the fact that the British ruled over India for so many years and before that the Moguls and all those who came and invaded India and drained the country of all its resources. This is why they came and conquered India – they wanted the spices and other raw materials that they took away from here. The British did the worst damage because they destroyed the handloom industry and impoverished India in the process. They built the British textile industry on the backs of the Indian people. Gandhi said that the only way that India could really be free was not just if there was political freedom but if there was economic freedom also. Gandhi said that India had to be able to stand on her own feet and not be dependent on others. The way that India could be independent economically was to rebuild her village industries, rebuild the capacity to make things that the Indians needed.

Swadeshi fits in with the principle of Sarvodaya. Gandhi saw that a large portion of the Indian people were uneducated and could not fit into a technological world, so he wanted to build a production capacity in which even the uneducated could participate as is the case with the spinning wheel. India produced a lot of cotton of its own, but all that cotton used to be taken away to England, produced into clothe and then sold back to India. Gandhi said, “We produce cotton, we can make our own clothe. Why send it to Britain?” so he introduced the spinning wheel and deliberately made it so simple that even a child, who had come back from school, could sit at home and spin for an hour a day, contributing to the making of clothe for the family. That’s how the Swadeshi movement came about. We must not only produce our own goods, but also be proud of our production and everybody must insist on buying things that are made locally.

Then there’s the concept of Trusteeship – trusteeship means that those who are fortunate, who have education, who come from a good family, etc., should not consider themselves to be the owner of the power or strength that they have. If you have acquired knowledge through your schooling, you should not feel that you are the owner of that knowledge or that you are going to exploit that knowledge for your own personal gains. You should be willing to share that knowledge and that capacity to help others who are less fortunate than you, to help them to raise their standard of living. That is what Trusteeship is all about. In a way we do a bit of this sharing when we give to charity, but Gandhi considered that kind of sharing to be very negative in most cases because instead of helping the recipient of that charity to regain their self-respect and self-confidence, we make them dependent on that charity i.e. as long as that charity is flowing the recipients are OK and they can live, but the moment that charity is cut off they are back again where they started from. That is not constructive. Constructive charity is when we help a person rebuild their self-respect and self-confidence so that they can stand on their own feet and are not dependent on the giver or on society.


Arund Gandhi and Vicky Rossi at Mani Bhavan in Mumbai 2007

Vicky Rossi: For you personally, what was the most important “legacy” your grandfather left you? What made the deepest impression on you? In which ways are you trying to impart that experience/knowledge either individually or through the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence?

Arun Gandhi: I think the deepest influence he had on me was his tremendous love for people and his compassion. He gave freely to everybody. That was something that really struck me very deeply. I don’t think that I am at his level of love, compassion and giving, but I am trying to do my best.

When I was here in India I was more of an activist - I was trying to put into practice everything I had learnt from grandfather. When I first went to the U.S., I didn’t go there to start an institute or anything like that, I just wanted to go there to write a book and come back [to India] again, but one thing led to another and I decided to establish the Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence. By then I realized that I was getting older, that I was in a new land with a new people and a new culture. The people didn’t really have any idea about nonviolence, so I didn’t want to get into activism as they seemed to be totally unaware of the philosophy needed to support active work there. I realized that I had to first teach the people what nonviolence is, so my wife Sunanda and I made this a teaching Institute. We originally thought that we would offer Nonviolence as a credit course through a university, but I wasn’t allowed to teach at university because I don’t have a doctorate. We decided to teach informally through workshops, seminars, lectures, etc. That’s what we’ve been doing since 1991.

Vicky Rossi: I am sure you have heard people saying to you many times, “I am not Gandhi, so what can I do?” What would you say to such people to enable them to understand that they have the power to make a difference in the world?

Arun Gandhi: I think we all do have the power to make a difference. Nobody is Jesus and yet so many millions of people follow Jesus and worship Jesus. I think we need to take it a step further by not simply worshipping Jesus but instead putting Jesus’ words into action. If we really lived the way he wanted us to live, that would be much more meaningful. That’s what I want people to understand also about Gandhi, that he showed us a way – in a Christian world one can say that Gandhi showed us a way to live as Jesus would have wanted us to. We should not reject him and we should not worship him, but we should learn from his life and try to imbibe the lessons that he tried to teach us.

Vicky Rossi: Would I be too simplistic if I were to say that in order to have right human-human and human-Earth relations, all we need to do is to live the 3 Gandhian principles of simple living, high thinking and hard work?

Arun Gandhi: I think that that would be a very good first step, but along with that we need to be able to relate to people. We need to be able to have compassion for people who are less fortunate than us. We need to conduct our lives in a way that can help people attain a better standard of living. This means being more active in that field – just living simply and minding our own business is not right because we are all interconnected. That’s something we are losing sight of – the interconnectedness of human beings. We think we can just live our own lives and forget about everybody else. We talk a lot about building a community, but we make no efforts to do that. We think that simply because we live in a neighbourhood that that constitutes a community, but that’s not really a community because everybody in it is pulling in different directions. They are only concerned about themselves, about what they can get, what they can enjoy. That’s not a community. A community is where everybody is thinking about everybody else and is willing to share. The pain of one person becomes the pain of the whole community; or the joy of one person becomes the joy of the whole community. It’s that kind of relationship that is very important.

Vicky Rossi: Gandhi himself chose to live in a community, founding 2 ashrams in India: one in Ahmedabad – the Sabarmati Ashram, which we visited on the Legacy Tour; and the other one near Wardha, Maharashtra – the Sevagram Ashram. Why did he think it was important to live in a community setting? Do you think that community life is an ideal that more of us, who are working to embody and promote the principles of nonviolence, should be aspiring to?

Arun Gandhi: The reason why Gandhi created the ashram communities was because he was trying to educate the people – train them – as community workers. These ashrams were basically kind of schools. He invited people of all different religions, different castes and different backgrounds to come and live as one big family. The kitchen was common, where the food was cooked for the whole group of people. The work had to be done by the whole group and everything was shared. There was no such thing as, “This is women’s work and this is men’s work.” Everybody did what needed to be done. That’s how Gandhi was trying to create that kind of awareness among the activists, who would then go out into the society and share their knowledge with other people on how to create a community in the place where you are living.

It is not necessary for all of us to go and join an ashram, but it is necessary for all of us to create a community around us. People have come to live in neighbourhoods because that is convenient – it’s a good neighbourhood so you go and live there – but then that neighbourhood should become a community. This can be done only when people make the effort to reach out to one another, to build communication between each other as well as compassion for one another.

Vicky Rossi: Gandhi emphasized the importance of the village as a self-sufficient unit - in fact, on the Legacy Tour we visited numerous initiatives aimed at empowering villagers, in particular the women, in rural India. Why was the village such an important concept for Gandhi? Is the idea of an empowered village community equally important for less “impoverished” – for want of a better word - countries like the U.S. and Europe?

Arun Gandhi: I think in terms of Gandhi’s philosophy that the village is as relevant for the United States as it is for India. Gandhi came to the conclusion that when we create these big cities we are breaking down communities. In a village where small groups of people live, everybody knows each other and they have a relationship between each other. This is a real community. But when you start expanding, when a million people come and live in a town or city, then people begin to care less about each other. People seem to become greedier, just wanting to get the most out of the resources that are available. These mega cities totally break down communities; they break down relationships and humanity itself. We become less human by living in big cities because we are always trying to grab from each other to get what we “need”. If there’s no water in my house I will go out and do anything to get it and I don’t care who I might be depriving of water in the meantime. We may create affluence in the big cities – big houses, all the luxuries - but we destroy humanity. This is a very heavy price. For this reason Gandhi was against the big conglomeration of people and said we should go back to our small units like the village, where we can have communities and regain our humanity.

Vicky Rossi: Gandhi has become something of an icon worldwide and yet the concept of nonviolence appears to remain little understood. How is it possible that a person can become so loved and respected and yet his message can remain so unheard?

Arun Gandhi: Well, Gandhi is not unique in this respect; Buddha and Jesus, for example, had a similar message. What we tend to do very conveniently because we don’t want to follow what they say is we put them on a pedestal and we worship them. We say that they were special people and for that reason they could do all these things, but that we are just ordinary people. This means we don’t even try to do what they asked of us. That’s a kind of cop out that we choose to adopt because we don’t want to make the sacrifices that they enjoined us to make. Eventually that’s what’s going to happen with Gandhi – like Jesus and others – they’ll put him on a pedestal and start worshiping him. That will be the end of his legacy.

Vicky Rossi: Presently, as a world community we tend to respond to conflict through violence - we have created a culture of violence. Do you see any encouraging signs that in the 21st century this will change and that nonviolence will become more understood and more mainstream than it is now?

Arun Gandhi: I have a hope that it will, yes. The responsibility lies with all of us who have an understanding of nonviolence to spread this knowledge to as many people as possible so that they can eventually grasp the concept. Unfortunately, to date, most people have not bothered to really understand nonviolence. They have only looked at it from the peripheral perspective so they reject nonviolence because they think it is weak. They see it only as the opposite of violence. They think the only solution in the world is violence – kill the person and then that’s it.
What we continue to do over and over again, without learning from history, is we kill the person but we don’t resolve the problem. We then suffer the consequences. I use World War II as an example: when Hitler spouted all that hate and prejudice, we went and killed him, but he nevertheless left a legacy of hate and prejudice to the world. Now that legacy is spreading all over the Earth. What did we really achieve by killing 60 million people in the War and not resolving the problem? I mean we sacrificed 60 million people in the Second World War not to mention the economic distress that so many people had to go through for so many years. The problem of hate and prejudice still remains, so what was the whole thing for? If you analyse all these violent conflicts, that’s what happens, we kill the people, we think that we have resolved the issue but it’s only a temporary solution – we have simply eliminated one person, but we have left the problem to fester and so the problem grows and ultimately takes over.

Would you be reading this now,
if it wasn't useful to you?

Then please support TFF and this homepage

Vicky Rossi: In what way then does nonviolence have the power to transform the problem itself to ensure that there is a permanent solution?

Arun Gandhi: What nonviolence does is that we don’t oppose the person who is practising what we consider to be wrong, but we try to transform and educate that person and make that person realise that what he or she is doing is bad, that we both need to get together to find out how we can stop that bad thing from spreading. We befriend that person and work together to end the evil.

Vicky Rossi: In order to do this then, a main component of nonviolence must be a deep compassion for the other person?

Arun Gandhi: Yes, the main components of nonviolence are love, compassion, understanding and respect. When we ask ourselves whether nonviolence is relevant today or not, we are basically asking ourselves whether love, compassion and respect are relevant or not. If we can truly say that love, compassion, understanding and respect are not relevant, then God help humanity, then we are all like savages living for ourselves. That’s not a human race. That’s not civilisation. Civilisation has to be based on love, understanding and compassion and that’s what nonviolence is.

Vicky Rossi: What, in your opinion, is the unique contribution India could make to the world community in the 21st century?

Arun Gandhi: I think India is unique in the sense that it has a tremendous legacy. It’s the birth place of the Buddha, the birth place of Mahavir - who was the initiator of Jainism – and it’s the birthplace of Gandhi. All of these people talked about nonviolence. Now the first two have become religions. Gandhi is still not a religion, but it may become a religion. But that’s not what Mahavir and Buddha wanted. They didn’t want a religion to be created in their name. They wanted people to experience what they had experienced, to get the enlightenment that they have received. They wanted us to be the Light for ourselves, but we don’t do that. Instead we put people on a pedestal and worship them.

India has this tremendous legacy that we ought to be able to share with the world. Gandhi’s vision of India was that India would practise a legacy of materialism and morality, showing the world that we can live with both materialism and morality and thereby live a happier life. But India has chosen not to do that. India has chosen to ignore its own legacy and follow the Western model of materialism. We have sadly joined the band wagon and given up on a tremendous legacy that we have.


*This transcript represents an accurate but non-verbatim representation of the original interview.
I would like to thank those who made my trip to India possible through their moral and financial support.


For further information, please contact
Arun Gandhi
160 Wintergreen Way
Rochester, NY 14618
United States
Tel: 00-1-585-256-3875



1. Global Exchange, Gandhi Legacy Tour


Global Exchange

Manav Sadhna

Mani Bhavan

Gandhi Smriti

Rajghat Gandhi Samadhi Memorial

Gandhi's non-violence message to Mid-East,
BBC News online, 25 August 2004

Satyagraha 100 Years Later: Gandhi Launches Modern Non-Violent Resistance Movement on Sept. 11, 1906
Democracy Now, 8 September 2006

TFF Nonviolence Forum - Peace by Peaceful Means

TFF Links to nonviolence


Copyright © TFF & Rossi 2007


Tell a friend about this column/interview by Vicky Rossi

Send to:


Message and your name


Get free articles & updates

ROSSI Columns Sitemap Areas we work in Resources Columns and art
Publications About TFF Support our work Search & services Contact us

The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

© TFF 1997 till today. All righs reserved.