A stately New Delhi mansion, once home to India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and now a museum to his life, has emerged as a flashpoint in the growing ideological war between his heirs and the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since trouncing the Congress party of …Read More »
The days and weeks leading up to the 68th Indian Independence Day in 2014 were marked by a furious debate about the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.
The debate was sparked by comments made by the prominent British Indian author and historian Dr Kusoom Vadgama who criticized a planned statue of the Mahatma in London's Parliament Square as "wholly inappropriate" given Gandhi's treatment of women and what Dr Vadgama described was his "obsession with sex".
Dr Vadgama said Gandhi's "experiments" with women - sleeping naked beside young girls and women in a bid to test his 'commitment to celibacy' - could no longer be ignored, particularly in light of the continued mistreatment of women in India that have generated headlines around the world.
Sex wasn't the only thing that has caused confusion for supporters of the Mahatma.
Economist Lord Meghnad Desai, the man who was responsible for ultimately installing the Gandhi statue in Parliament Square, had previously raised questions about Gandhi's supposed admiration for Adolf Hitler and his endorsement of the Hindu holy text Bhagvad Gita which Lord Desai claimed promoted violence.
Admiration for what Mahatma Gandhi achieved has often overwhelmed any attempt at scrutiny of his beliefs and principles.
Nevertheless, there have been numerous individuals - including Gandhi's contemporaries - who have questioned the morals and mores of a man many consider to be a saint.
One of the first was Cornelia Sorabji, the brilliant lawyer, reformist and social campaigner who was the first female graduate of Bombay University and the first woman to study at a British University after reading law at Oxford.
In an article published in the then Boston-based literary magazine The Atlantic Monthly in April 1932, some six months after Gandhi visited London to attend the Round Table Conferences, Ms Sorabji described the Mahatma as “vain, paradoxical and confused”.
That apparent “confusion” is a theme that unites many critics of Gandhi – his admiration for the British set against his desire for freedom from them; his adherence to the Hindu belief system set against the discrimination that was inherent in that system.
Now, two prominent South African academics of Indian origin are raising yet another question about Gandhi’s legacy: was he a racist?
Ashwin Desai, Professor of Sociology at the University of Johannesburg and Goolam Vahed, Associate Professor of History at the University of KwaZulu Natal are the authors of ‘The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire’.
In the book, the duo claim that during his time in South Africa, Gandhi regularly expressed “disdain for Africans”, describing black Africans as “savage,” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness”.
Desai and Vahed also claim that Gandhi campaigned to prove to the British rulers of South Africa that the Indian community in the country was superior to native black Africans.
Many of the claims are drawn from Gandhi’s own writings as well as government archives, the authors say.
The authors refer to numerous instances when Gandhi referred to black South Africans as ‘Kaffirs’ and cite his clear disdain when the racist white authorities banded blacks alongside Indians.
According to the Desai and Vahed’s book, Gandhi once fought with South African authorities over the separate entrances for whites and blacks at a post office in Durban. Gandhi was angered that Indians were “classed with the natives of South Africa,” who he called the kaffirs, and demanded a separate entrance for Indians.
Gandhi (Centre) outside his Johannesburg law office.
In a 1893 letter to the Natal Parliament, Gandhi writes: “I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
During a speech in Mumbai in 1896, Gandhi expressed his anger at the Europeans in Natal who he said wanted “to degrade us to the level of the raw kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
Many historians and authors have concluded that much of Gandhi’s current image has been carefully crafted by supporters who have discarded much of the unsavoury aspects of his persona – not least Gandhi’s willingness to go to any extent to achieve independence for India and Indians.
That’s a view supported by Desai and Vahed.
“As we examined Gandhi’s actions and contemporary writings during his South African stay, and compared these with what he wrote in his autobiography and 'Satyagraha in South Africa,' it was apparent that he indulged in some ‘tidying up.' He was effectively rewriting his own history”, said Desai.
‘The South African Gandhi’ is sure to cause widespread consternation in India. However, it has received the backing of award-winning author Arundhati Roy who said the book is “a serious challenge to the way we have been taught to think about Gandhi”.Read More »
In a landmark ruling that will be seen as yet another blow to Freedom of Speech in India, the country’s Supreme Court today ruled that a bank worker who published a “vulgar” poem about Mahatma Gandhi can be prosecuted. The ruling relates to a long-running case involving Devidas Ramchandra Tuljapurkar, …Read More »
Mahatma Gandhi (Seated bottom right) with fellow members of the Vegetarian Society in London in 1890
A permanent memorial to Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in London's Parliament Square this weekend.
Gandhi’s statue will join that of his famous adversary in his campaign for independence, Winston Churchill, as well as others, among them Nelson Mandela and Abraham Lincoln.
Gandhi is the only person never to have occupied public office to be honoured with a statue in the famous public square, and the first Indian.
The memorial’s inauguration coincides with a season of commemorations that mark the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa to begin the struggle for self-rule.
Yet the statue in London is also testament to Gandhi’s profound relationship with Britain: of both the considerable influence and impact Gandhi had in Britain itself, but also the influence Britain had on Gandhi.Read More »
Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan will join Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley at the unveiling of a permanent memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in London’s Parliament Square on Saturday 14 March, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced today. The unveiling ceremony will be open to the public and feature …Read More »
Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will unveil a permanent memorial to Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi in London’s Parliament Square on Saturday 14 March, the UK Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced today. The unveiling ceremony will be open to the public and feature several prominent speakers, including the …Read More »
A permanent memorial to Indian independence icon Mahatma Gandhi will be unveiled in London’s Parliament Square on 14 March, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced. The nine-foot bronze statue by acclaimed British sculptor Philip Jackson will stand alongside other iconic historical figures like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela. …Read More »
A young British Asian property entrepreneur who was inspired as a young child by Mahatma Gandhi has donated £100,000 to the Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust, which will build a permanent memorial to the Mahatma on London’s Parliament Square. Vivek Chadha, an engineering graduate of University College (whose alumni include Mahatma …Read More »
Funding for a permanent memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in London’s iconic Parliament Square is complete, with more than a little help from two wealthy India-based business tycoons. The total of £750,000 was raised just days before the memorial’s original scheduled unveiling – 31 January – after a £200,000 donation from …Read More »
One of India’s wealthiest men has announced a massive £200,000 donation to built a permanent memorial to Mahatma Gandhi in London’s parliament square. The gift by Rahul Bajaj, chairman of India’s iconic Bajaj Group, was revealed on Friday by UK-based Indian economist Lord Meghnad Desai, chairperson of the Gandhi Statue …Read More »