April 09, 2021
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Gandhi a racist?

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Debate the Debates

Edition 14

Good morning. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, widely revered as Mahatma Gandhi, was someone who held controversial beliefs in his early years that he spent in South Africa, but later changed his perceptions based on his experiences. However, there is still some debate on Gandhi’s racist beliefs, especially when he was in South Africa.

In December 2018, a Gandhi statue that was installed in the University of Ghana’s campus was removed in the middle of the night, after a few students and staff protested. They felt that Gandhi had denigrated black Africans during his time in South Africa, and hence he did not deserve to be put on a pedestal in the University.

After this incident came to light, historian Ramachandra Guha wrote an opinion piece claiming that even though Gandhi had been a racist when he was young, he overcame his racist tendencies later on. However, Ọbádélé Kambon, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Language, Literature and Drama Section of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, wrote that Guha was wrong and that Gandhi went from being a racist young man to a racist middle-aged man.

Did Gandhi shed his racist beliefs in his later years?

“Yes”, said Ramachandra Guha:

He wrote, “In his twenties, Gandhi was unquestionably a racist. He believed in a hierarchy of civilizations, with Europeans at the top, Indians just below them, and Africans absolutely at the bottom. He spoke of the native inhabitants of Africa in patronizing and even pejorative language. However, by the time he was in his mid-thirties, Gandhi no longer spoke of Africans as inferior to Indians.”

Read his column here.

“No”, countered Ọbádélé Kambon:

He argued, “In our chapter entitled “The Pro-Indo-Aryan, anti-Black M.K. Gandhi and Ghana’s #Gandhi Must Fall Movement”, in the book Rhodes Must Fall (Oxford), we focus on the consistency of Gandhi’s pro-Indo-Aryan and Anti-Afrikan/Anti-Black actions throughout his life in uMzantsi Afrika (South Africa). His subsequent disagreements in India with Babasaheb Ambedkar on the demand for the rights of the Dalits are a continuation of his earlier anti-Black racist life.”

Read his column here.