Childhood and Bapuji
Arun Manilal Gandhi was born April 1934 in Durban, South Africa. Growing up during the rule of apartheid laws, Arun’s childhood was impacted by these discriminatory practices which electrified racial discord. As such, Arun began harboring anger based upon the ill treatment he experienced and soon began to get in fights despite his familial upbringing ensconced in the principles of nonviolence that his famous grandfather espoused. At the age of 12, Arun’s parents took him to India not only to meet his grandfather Mohandas K. “Mahatma” Gandhi for the first time, but also to entrust his care to his grandfather (Bapuji) in hopes that the he would be able to help the young Arun cope with his inner fury and transform it for good.
As heads of states and lay people alike daily converged upon the Sevagram Ashram where Arun lived with Bapuji, Arun found that his grandfather still always had ample time, energy, and compassion to love and help Arun transmute his negativity. From the daily exercise of spinning cotton at the wheel as a means to learn how to focus and to control his mind (or channel anger into intelligent action), to having to diagram a sort of “family tree” denoting acts of violence one had committed, the lessons Arun learned over these two formative years with his grandfather forged the path he would take as an adult to propagate Bapuji’s message of nonviolence that the worlds still greatly needs – or as Arun say: to pass on the message, principles and wisdom of nonviolence is to work as a “Peace Farmer.”
Professional and Philanthropic Endeavors
Arun’s professional career has been compromised of furthering his grandfather’s global message of nonviolence. As a journalist for over 30 years, Arun primarily wrote for The Times of India (where he retired as Deputy Editor) but was also a regular contributor to The Washington Post. He is also an author of multiple books, two of which are for children. Arun’s body of written work has focused both upon topics such as the lessons he learned while living with his grandfather, providing insight on the woman behind the Mahatma (his grandmother, Ba, Kasturba Gandhi), as well as proliferating his socio-political views of nonviolence as relevant to the current events of his lifetime. According to Arun and his family’s legacy, the ever-tumultuous events of our world should be approached first through an understanding of violence. As his grandfather said, “If we know how much passive violence we perpetrate against one another we will understand why there is so much physical violence plaguing societies and the world.” Pairing this underlying knowledge of whence violence emanates, we must forge our decisions and pathways forward with the equally important knowledge that finding justice and peace in our world does not mean revenge, but rather transforming conflict through love, and understanding suffering so that it can be mitigated.
In 1987, Arun and his wife Sunanda (deceased February 2007), moved to the United States so that Arun could work on a prejudice study sponsored at the University of Mississippi. Shortly thereafter, the two moved to Memphis, Tennessee where they co-found The M.K. Gandhi Institute of Nonviolence at the Christian Brothers University. Dedicated to applying the principles of nonviolence at both local and global levels, the Institute moved to the University of Rochester in 2007 where Arun continued as Director until 2008. Throughout the 30 plus years of the Institute’s history, Arun and those involved have been able to spread the Gandhian message of nonviolence and peace to thousands of high school youth and young collegiate adults across much of the United States and Western world.
Both Arun and Sunanda where also passionate about the plight of orphaned street children in the western Indian state of Maharashtra. As such, they were personally responsible for having rescued and found loving homes for 125 children from this region. They additionally helped to transform half a million people’s lives across 300 villages via their Center for Social Change which initiated social, economic and construction programs aimed at uplifting the oppressed via Gandhian nonviolence principles. In 2008, Arun founded the Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, a charitable organization which furthers the building of community amongst the most economically depressed areas of the world by fundamentally focusing upon Sarvodaya (“the welfare of all”), educational and vocational training rooted in Gandhianism, and family or parental non-violent involvement in children’s lives. Directly related to these initiatives, in January 2019 the AVANI center in Kolhapur (a shelter for impoverished girls), was posthumously dedicated in honor of Sunanda’s lifetime commitment to improving the lives of children.
In 1998, Arun also co-founded (and continues to co-chair) the Season for Nonviolence as a yearly celebration of both the lives and philosophies of nonviolence espoused by both his grandfather and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commencing each January 30th and running for 64 days straight, the initiative is a grassroots educational and media campaign spanning the memorial anniversaries of his grandfather and Rev. King. Drawing attention to the goal of garnering peace through nonviolent action, Arun spends much of his time during this 64 day period visiting inmates at prisons in the state of New York, teaching and sharing the principles of his grandfather’s legacy. These visits have resulted in lowering acts of violence by up to 70% in participatory prisons!
As an additional vehicle for promoting Gandhian principles and philanthropy, in 1997 Arun and his wife Sunanda also founded the Gandhi Legacy Tour where Arun and his son Tushar Gandhi lead a group of travelers throughout India for a two-week tour. During the tour, participants visit a variety of non-gonvernmental (NGO) humanitarian organizations which follow Gandhian principles, as well as visiting historical sites and museums pertinent to Bapuji’s life. This is an intimate and personal experience of India, Gandhianism and humanitarianism. The tour also occasionally offers visits to South Africa where Mahatma Gandhi lives and Arun grew up
Speaking Engagements, Honors and
Arun’s body of work has allowed him to take advantage of traveling throughout the world as a speaker and lecturer to share both his experiences and further promote Gandhian non-violence principles. As an agent for global change, Arun takes advantage of speaking opportunities to inspire others to “be the change they wish to see in the world.” Learn more about Arun’s speaking engagements and to book him for your next event.
Arun’s additional Honors and Notable Associations include, but are not limited too:
- Seven honorary doctoral degrees awarded
- Former Board Member of the Nelson Mandela’s Children’s Hospital in South Africa, The Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the Interfaith Alliance.
- Multi-year participant of the Renaissance Weekend deliberations alongside former U.S. Presidents and Rhodes scholars.
- Former leader of the Interfaith March in Washington D.C.