Was Mahatma Gandhi a Racist?

Jharna Kukreja Chauhan
News & Cricket Editor
The Water Cooler

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — commonly referred to as 'Mahatma', is known the world over as a symbol of truth and non-violence. That's why many may find it surprising to know that the 'Father of the Nation' has his share of detractors.

Some hold him responsible for the partition of India in 1947 and the resulting bloodshed of both Hindus and Muslims. His decision that India should pay Pakistan Rs 55 crore also drew flak from several quarters. Nathuram Godse assassinated Gandhi in 1948 because he felt that he had betrayed the Hindu cause.

Now in San Francisco, a group that call themselves the Organisation of Minorities for India are demanding the removal of a statue of Gandhi on the pretext that he was a racist.

John Cote writes in the San Francisco Chronicle -

The group was formed four years ago to publicise the oppression of Christians, Buddhists, Dalits, Muslims, Sikhs and other Indian minorities…they say Gandhi was a racist who harboured violent urges.

The group plans to present management of the Ferry building (where the statue sits) with a demand to remove the statue and replace it with one of either Martin Luther King Jr or BR Ambedkar

Thalia Gigerenzer writes in The Bay Citizen -

The great peacemaker a bigot? It may sound sacrilegious in the United States but anti-Gandhi sentiments have long been part of the low-caste political movement in India. But these groups have only recently become vocal among Indians in America

…..While this group is growing more vocal, it is still a minority among the Indian community, for whom Gandhi is akin to a deity. "It's like calling God racist", said Neeraj Bakshi of the protestors…many feel that Gandhi is being unfairly maligned.

United Press International writes -

"The popular image of Gandhi as an egalitarian pacifist is a myth…we plan to challenge that myth by disseminating Gandhi's own words to expose his racism and sham." says Bhajan Singh, a member of the Organisation for Minorities of India.

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This however, is not the first time Mahatma Gandhi has been accused of being a racist. Some of Gandhi's early editorials during his stay in South Africa are controversial. On 7th March 1908, Gandhi wrote in the Indian Opinion — "Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised…They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals". His writings can be found in 'The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi'.

Two professors of history have also examined this controversy in their book 'Making of a Political Reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893-1914′. They write that the young Gandhi was influenced by segregationist notions prevalent in the 1890′s..but that his experiences in jail seemed to make him more sensitive and mellow.