Gandhi Has Got To Go

Yesterday [19 June 2020] marked the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, the day celebrating the final liberation of African-Americans from slavery.

The struggle did not end there. It continued for decades as African-Americans faced segregation, discrimination, systemic racism. It continues even today as our country is still dotted by statues of Confederates — statues of people who fought a war to preserve slavery.

Today, these statues are being torn down — sometimes through legal processes and sometimes by understandably infuriated crowds angry over the ongoing glorification of slave-holders.

These statues should be taken down. But there’s at least one useful thing about these statues. At least they stand for what we expect. They symbolize what they are intended to symbolize. They represent exactly what we think they represent. There is no confusion. What you see is what you get: a statue of a racist.

In our complex world, however, what you see is not always what you get.

The path we must take in the struggle to free our society from racism is more clearly marked if and when the history we are taught truthfully reveals that yes, this person who is elevated on a pedestal and glorified through a statue was, actually, a racist.

We face a more complicated journey when confronted by statues of people who, we are told, represented justice, equality, and peace and yet, actually and in fact, represented the exact opposite.

As in the case of Mohandas Gandhi.

“Whether it was Martin Luther King Jr. or Nelson Mandela, the basis of their ideas was Mahatma Gandhi — it was Gandhi’s vision.” That’s what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last year to commemorate the 150th birthday of the so-called “Mahatma” or “Great Soul.”

Thus, we are told, the struggle for black liberation — from the United States of America to South Africa — owes its very existence to Gandhi.

The “Gandhi” movie was released in 1982. This Hollywood depiction of the Indian icon is the narrative about Gandhi with which most people in the West are familiar. What was not advertised, however, is that the Indian government funded the film.

Nor did anyone want to advertise what the Indian government, while paying to promote Gandhi as a cult figure, was actually doing to people in India.

Five years before the “Gandhi” movie was released, the Indian government was still imposing an “Emergency” on the country. They suspended elections, imprisoned and tortured journalists and political opponents across the country, and forcibly sterilized millions upon millions of Muslims, Dalits (those formerly known as “Untouchables”), and others.

In 1984, two years after the “Gandhi” movie was released, the Indian government led a genocide against Sikhs in New Delhi — the capital of the country — and other areas, killing thousands upon thousands. Butchering them in the streets.

In the 1990s, the Indian police and army disappeared tens of thousands of Kashmiris and Punjabis, creating widows and orphans en masse — at the same time, the Indian government was paying to install hundreds of statues and busts of Gandhi all around the world.

They were still going at it hard in the early 2000s when violence erupted in Gujarat — Gandhi’s birthplace.

“Erupted” is not exactly the correct term for the organized slaughter. It was a pogrom. For three days, Modi — who is now prime minister of India — oversaw the systematic extermination of thousands of Muslims by mobs affiliated with his political party and supported by the police.

A few years later, in another state, Modi’s political party — the BJP — massacred Christians.

But what do we hear today?

“The world bows to you, beloved Bapu,” said Modi on Gandhi’s last birthday. Modi called Gandhi “the best teacher to guide us,” said he “epitomized trust among all sections of society,” and insisted that he “envisioned a world where every citizen has dignity and prosperity.”

Two months after Modi bowed to Gandhi as his guide, the BJP passed a new citizenship law that made religion the basis for becoming an Indian citizen. The law is intended to be combined with a proposed National Register of Citizens. Coupled together, these laws provide a legal route for the BJP to begin cleansing the land of Muslims — and, ultimately, of all non-Hindus.

Two months after that, the BJP — with collaboration from the police — staged an anti-Muslim pogrom in New Delhi.

And yet, the BJP’s Modi tells us: “As long as Gandhiji’s philosophy remains embedded in humanity, he will remain relevant and continue to inspire us.”

Hiding behind the mask of Gandhi as the so-called “Father of India,” the violent and supremacist rulers of that country today use “Gandhiplomacy” or “propaGandhi” as a foreign policy weapon to conceal their atrocities and divert attention from their constant and most egregious violations of human rights.

Yet what if Gandhi is only able to be used to whitewash the BJP’s atrocities because Gandhi himself has been whitewashed?

What will we find if we strip away Gandhi’s mask?

What if Gandhi did not represent what we are told he represented? What if the story we think is really true is actually propaganda? What if the statues of Gandhi do not symbolize what they are intended to symbolize? What if we’ve been fed poison passed off as sugar? What if Gandhi was actually a champion of racial inequality?

The hard fact of the matter is that Gandhi was, actually, a champion of racial inequality.

Gandhi’s anti-black racism is widely acknowledged today, although rarely closely examined and often quickly excused. According to his grandson, Gandhi was “at times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks.” That’s an understatement.

Gandhi lived in South Africa for 21 years. He spent a huge portion of his professional life there. He didn’t leave until he was 45 years old. And while he was there, yes, he said a lot of racist things. A lot of very racist things.

He called black Africans “savages” and said that they “are very lazy,” “are of no use,” and are “as a rule uncivilized.” He called Africans “the children of black heathendom and outer darkness” and claimed that an African’s “sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

Time and time again, Gandhi argued that special taxes, passes, and registrations were necessary for Africans but wrong for Indians because — he said — Indians were hard workers but Africans did not work at all.

Over and over again, Gandhi told the white colonizers it was an “insult” and a “gross injustice” for Indians to be classed with Africans. Gandhi told the colonizers: “Indians… are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Africans.” Gandhi even told the colonizers that Indians and Europeans belong to the same “stock” — “the Aryan stock.”

While the Africans sweated and bled under the oppression of colonialism, Gandhi was hobnobbing with the colonizers, telling them that he believed in “the purity of race,” that he wanted “the purity of all the races and not one alone,” and that he thought that “the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race.”

And — here’s the important part — Gandhi didn’t just say racist things. He demanded racial segregation. And he joined the white colonizers in a war to exterminate African freedom fighters.

For fifteen years, from 1895 to 1910, Gandhi campaigned — sometimes successfully — for segregating Africans from Indians in neighborhoods, schools, post offices, trains, prisons, and even on footpaths.

Gandhi was 36 years old when he begged the colonizers to allow Indians to play their part in a war against Zulu rebels, when he raised a special fund and sent care packages to the colonial British soldiers fighting those Zulus, and when he ordered Indians to volunteer for military service to fight Africans because “now is the time when the leading whites want us to take this step.”

Then Gandhi partnered with the colonizers in their war against the Zulus — and afterwards insisted that there was no reason for outrage over the “great atrocities” perpetrated “by the whites” on the Africans.

For a man who is championed as a “Great Soul” and pushed as a saint for the African-American civil rights struggle, Gandhi sure is a strange choice.

Gandhi never changed.

Was it just the “young” and “immature” Gandhi before he evolved? That’s what some suggest to whitewash the racism and demands for segregation that were repeatedly raised by an exceptionally well-educated man in his 30s and 40s. Gandhi never changed. He never acknowledged his words or his actions. He never apologized for them. And he definitely never took responsibility for them.

Instead, Gandhi moved back to India and switched from promoting racism to promoting casteism — and then he threw being a sexual predator into the mix. Ranging from “hateful soul” in South Africa to “great asshole” in India, Gandhi was certainly a mixed bag. But he was not a Mahatma.

“Great soul,” after all, is not usually a term that we reserve for men in their 70s who force their teenage relatives to sleep naked with them. “Convict,” maybe. But not Mahatma.

“Gandhi was never tempted by power,” Prime Minister Modi tells us. But Indian feminist Rita Banerji tells a different story. She says: “I saw Gandhi as a classic example of a sexual predator — a man who uses his position of power to manipulate and sexually exploit the people he directly controls.”

The statue behind me was paid for by the Indian government. It was first installed in 2016. Indian-Americans who protested the installation warned the city government who they were honoring. “Gandhi was a child molester,” said former Yuba City councillor Tej Maan. “He was a predator on members of his own family — young women,” said Sacramento attorney Amar Singh Shergill.

The City of Davis ignored the truth.

Amar Singh Shergill also said, “If the statue can go up, it can come down.”

That’s what happened to a statue of Gandhi in Ghana that was installed at the same time as the one here in Davis. Two years after it was installed, it was torn down. Around the world, Gandhi’s statues are being blocked, protested, and even vandalized because of his racist legacy.

Here in America, we are pulling down Confederate statues because they symbolize exactly what they’re intended to symbolize. Racism.

Gandhi, a man whose real legacy is racism, casteism, and sexual abuse, has been falsely projected as a civil rights hero. He has robbed our true civil rights heroes of their rightful place. The Gandhi statues around the world do not symbolize what we are told they are intended to symbolize.

It’s time to start being honest about history and truthful about what symbols actually symbolize.

History grounded in reality reveals that statues of Gandhi are actually symbols of racism.

Whether it’s for the Africans whose rights he trampled on, or for the Dalits who suffer from his support for the caste system, or for the women he preyed upon, or for the minorities in modern India whose oppression is whitewashed by propaGandhi, one thing is clear: Gandhi has got to go.

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Pieter Friedrich

Pieter Friedrich

Friedrich is a freelance journalist and analyst of South Asian affairs. Learn more about him at www.PieterFriedrich.com.