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Instances of Vandalism of Statue, How he Fought Apartheid and Was he a Racist? Learn In #ClassesWithNews18


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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, commonly known as Bapu or Mahatma Gandhi is loved not just in India but also abroad. Students must have learned in their class textbooks about Gandhi’s fight against apartheid. While some consider him the father of the nation, as stated in the school textbooks, and praise his efforts in helping India gain independence, however, there have been a recent spurt in hate crimes and instances of vandalism of Gandhi’s statue. Protestors consider him responsible for the partition of India and Pakistan and even called him racist. Let us understand the two sides of the coin with ClassesWithNews18.

Attacks on Gandhi Statues in Recent Years

In a series of attacks on Gandhi statues in the US, the latest incident occurred in August when a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in front of a temple in New York was toppled and smashed. In February, an eight-foot-high statue, located in Manhattan’s Union Square, New York was defaced by some unknown persons.

In January last year, unknown miscreants vandalised, broke, and ripped from the base a statue of Gandhi in a park in California, evoking a strong response from India. In December 2020, Khalistani-supporters desecrated a Gandhi statue in Washington, DC in front of the Indian Embassy.

In June 2020, some unknown miscreants vandalised the statue of Gandhi outside the Indian embassy in the US with graffiti and spray painting, prompting the mission to register a complaint with the local law enforcement agencies. Some say that the perpetrators of these acts and their sponsors are sending the message that they have not accepted peace, human rights, freedom, and equality of all human beings

The incidents are not limited to United Nations, even in India, a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was vandalised by unidentified miscreants in Punjab’s Bathinda in July. This incident in Bhatinda came just days after a statue of Mahatma Gandhi was desecrated in Canada’s Ontario province.

Bapu’s Role in South Africa During Apartheid

But why are these instances happening when Gandhi too suffered the brunt of South Africa’s aggressive color bigotry? Gandhi was working in South Africa from 1893 to 1914 so he arrived in Durban aboard SS Safari on 24 May 1893 and soon after became the leader of the South African Indian community. He lived there to fight against injustice and class division. Gandhi spent 21 years in South Africa, where he developed his political views, ethics, and politics. He always considered himself an Indian and a South African.  It was in South Africa that he developed his philosophy of Satyagraha.

Upon his arrival, he faced discrimination for his skin colour and heritage. He was not allowed to sit with European passengers in the stagecoach and told to sit on the floor near the driver, then beaten when he refused. Furthermore, a magistrate of a Durban court ordered Gandhi to remove his turban, which he refused to do. Also once Gandhi was kicked by a police officer out of the footpath onto the street without warning because Indians were not allowed to walk on public footpaths in South Africa.

Gandhi formed the Natal Indian Congress in the year 1894. This organisation led non-violent protests against the oppressive treatment of the white people towards the native Africans and Indians. In 1896, he gathered 800 Indians and took them back to South Africa where they were welcomed by an irate mob, and Gandhi was injured.

Later, during the 1899 Boer War, Gandhi gathered around 1,100 Indians and organised the Indian Ambulance Corps for the British. However, ethnic discrimination and torture on Indians continued.

Gandhi set up Phoenix Farm near Durban, where he trained cadres on non-violent Satyagraha or peaceful restraint. Phoenix Farm is considered as the birthplace of Satyagraha. Gandhi organised the first Satyagraha campaign to protest against the Transvaal Asiatic ordinance that was constituted against the local Indians in 1906.

In 1908, he was sentenced to jail for organising non-violent movements. However, after he met with General Smuts, a British Commonwealth statesman, he was released.

Later Gandhi organised a non-violent resistance campaign in Transvaal against the oppression that Indian minors faced and led around 2,000 Indians across the Transvaal border. He also fought against the nullification of non-Christian marriages in 1913. In fact, after black South Africans gained the right to vote in South Africa in the year 1994, Gandhi was proclaimed a national hero.

The Why Attacks Against Gandhi?

In December 2018, a university in Ghana removed a statue of Gandhi because faculty and students claimed that he had shown contempt for black people while working in South Africa.  A group of people in South Africa carried placards proclaiming “Racist Gandhi must fall” while defacing a statue that depicted him as an attorney in 2019

In The “South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire”, Ashwin Desai and H Vahed write that Gandhi described black Africans as “savage”, “raw” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness”.

The book also states that during his stay in Africa, Gandhi kept the Indian struggle “separate from that of Africans and coloureds”.  The authors write that Gandhi was indifferent to the plight of the indentured, and believed that state power should remain in white hands.

Also, some South Africans have always accused the Indian freedom fighter of working with the British colonial government to promote racial segregation.

So, is this driving the attacks on Gandhi?

Across the Americas, Europe, South Asia, and elsewhere, social scientists contend that the current political environment has furthered disparagement of the “other” along the lines of nationalism, religion, race, creed, gender, and caste.

Gandhi was attacked and criticized for his views and actions most of his life and to this day. The current allegations of racism are merely the most recent. A child of the British Raj,rule by the British Crown, Gandhi was virtually conditioned to be biased toward race by his upbringing. As Upon entering adulthood, he became in effect a British barrister who – while studying in Britain and later working in South Africa – internalized racist elements.

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