A debate has been brewing ahead of the 146th birth anniversary of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi raising questions whether the revered leader of Indian freedom struggle and symbol of non-violence was a racist?
The explosive book written by two South Africans of Indian origin--Ashwin Desai, a professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg and Goolam Vahed, associate professor of history at the University of KwaZulu Natal--has been endorsed by several authors, including Arundhati Roy.
Roy, who called the book--The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire--"a wonderful demonstration of meticulously researched, evocative, clear-eyed and fearless history-writing", noted in her review that it was a story "that has remained hidden in plain sight for far too long".
Similarly, Joseph Lelyveld--author of Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India--in his review called the book an impressively researched study that challenges "the political myth-making on both sides of the Indian Ocean that has sought to canonise Gandhi as a founding father of the struggle for equality in South Africa".
Here are six quotes from the book, which the authors claim are proof that Mahatma Gandhi was a racist: [courtesy: The Washington Post]
1. Gandhi's first battle against the British after coming to South Africa was over the separate entrance for whites and blacks at the Durban post office. The book claims that what Gandhi really found offending was that the Indians were "classed with the natives of South Africa," who he called the kaffirs. Hence then proceeded to demand for a separate entrance for Indians.
"We felt the indignity too much and ... petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction, and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans."
2. In an open letter to the Natal Parliament in 1893, Gandhi wrote:
"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."
3. In a petition in 1895, Mahatma Gandhi, who was concerned over a lower legal standing proposed for Indians:
"so much so that from their civilised habits, they would be degraded to the habits of the aboriginal Natives, and a generation hence, between the progeny of the Indians and the Natives, there will be very little difference in habits, and customs and thought."
4. In 1908, Gandhi wrote about his prison experience:
"We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs... our garments were stamped with the letter "N", which meant that we were being classed with the Natives. We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much to put up with."
5. In 1904, opposing the decision of Johannesburg municipal authorities to allow Africans to live alongside Indians, Gandhi wrote:
" Mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen."
6. In a speech in Bombay (Mumbai) in 1896, Gandhi said:
The Europeans in Natal wished "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."