This past January, Sarah Haynes and I took 9 intrepid WIU students to India for a study abroad course. We spent two weeks living and working at Navdanya, an organic farm that is the headquarters for Vandana Shiva’s national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources through the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.
Since the mid-1980s, Navdanya has been fighting for transformations in the food system. Dr. Shiva and her supporters often find themselves at odds with major corporations and governments who resist such changes. Adhering to the principles of non-violence, civil rights and freedom for all, Navdanya is a modern day ashram promoting the principles of non-violent change espoused by Mahatma Gandhi. The surprise arrival of Gandhi’s grandson, Arun on our final day at the farm was the perfect culmination to our journey.
Dr. Gandhi has followed in his grandfather’s footsteps, teaching and promoting the philosophy of nonviolence. Sitting outside in the warm winter sun, he shared stories of his grandfather with us. Some of the stories were funny, others sad and thoughtful, but all of them left us contemplating the importance of practicing nonviolence in our daily lives.
On Monday, October 15th Dr. Gandhi will be speaking at the WIU University Union Grand Ballroom at 7:00 as part of the University Theme Speakers Series on “War and Peace”. Growing up under apartheid rule in South Africa, he experienced many of the same hostilities his grandfather had lived through decades earlier. He was beaten up by blacks for not being black and by whites because he wasn’t white. As a young man, he became increasingly angry and his parents thought that an extended visit to live with his grandfather was in order.
What followed was an 18-month stay with one of the world’s great leaders that would give him the keys to the powerful philosophy of nonviolence, and help shape the foundation for his life’s work. Shortly after returning to South Africa, his grandfather was assassinated. Initially wanting to seek revenge on his grandfather’s killers, Gandhi’s parents reminded him of his grandfather’s words, to “Never react immediately in anger.”
After leading successful projects for economic and social reform in India, Gandhi came to the United States in 1987 to complete a comparative study on racism in America. In 1991, Gandhi and his late wife, Sunanda, founded the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, headquartered at the University of Rochester, New York. The Institute’s mission is to foster understanding of nonviolence and how to put that philosophy to practical use through workshops, lectures, and community outreach programs.
We live in a world that is full of violence and it may often seem that peace is just an elusive academic concept. The words of Mahatma Gandhi remind us that this is not always the case. He famously said “Be the change we wish to see in the world.” I hope that students, faculty and members of the community will come to hear Dr.Gandhi as he continues to share lessons of non-violence and peace from his grandfather.
Heather McIlvaine-Newsad is a Professor of Anthropology at Western Illinois University. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of WIU or Tri States Public Radio.