In bronze, as in life, it seems Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is causing storms in the United Kingdom. In what seemed to be a fairly obvious, if borderline obsequious, gesture of friendship on a recent trade mission to India, the British chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, proposed that a statue to Mahatma Gandhi be erected outside the British Parliament at Westminster in London.
The figure will join a long list of luminaries standing around the buildings representing the world’s oldest parliamentary democracy. The area has no less than 12 statues immortalising figures from domestic and foreign history, among them distinguished British prime ministers like Benjamin Disraeli and Winston Churchill and international figures like Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela.
One of the main objections has been whether public funds should be used for such a venture. After all, there’s already a statue of Gandhi at Tavistock Square, just two miles from Parliament. Another objection is whether Britain does not have an icon from its own history to instal a statue of? Is there no room to honour the Chartists, the Anti-Corn Law League or the Tolpuddle Martyrs in a space where Sir Robert Peel, after whom London’s police officers are called Bobbies, has been remembered with a statue?
But despite these darkly comical shenanigans of some protesting groups, at least one serious point was being raised: in India and beyond, Gandhi’s sexual activities—his so-called experiments, about which he was characteristically candid—have been the cause of outrage and denial for decades. People like Dr Kusoom Vadgama, head of the Indo-British Heritage Trust, say it’s time Indians faced up to it and accept Gandhi’s unusual sexual experiments—his tests of celibacy, for example, which involved sleeping with women, among them his grandniece—for the distasteful and offensive behaviour that it is.
She says, “We have been brainwashed to believe that Indian history begins and ends with Gandhi. I used to worship this man, I helped organise celebrations for him. But this repeated story about him is not the whole truth, and in light of the way Indian women are being treated in recent times, it seems downright offensive.”
On the claims themselves—that Gandhi would sleep naked with teenage girls, often relatives, to test his celibacy—Vadgama, a lecturer and historian, makes no bones about what she believes. “How could a man like that lie naked with his grandniece and granddaughter to, in his own words, ‘test his celibacy’? Saying that, what if he failed and ended up having sex with them? Would that have been fine? I find it nauseating,” she says. “Gandhi was obsessed with sex and celibacy, yet the way he went about experimenting with it all was sick. I don’t have anything against sexual peccadilloes, when it comes to grown-ups—many great politicians in history had their own vices: John F. Kennedy, Gladstone and so on. But what Gandhi did was beyond that. I don’t care if he had an affair or flirted or slept with other grown women, that is a matter between adults—but what kind of man has that view of a child?”
Jad Adams, author of Gandhi: Naked Ambition, has noted that because Gandhi was known to sleep between two girls at the same time, British soldiers had in fact crudely nicknamed him the “virgin sandwich”. Adams says, “Gandhi could only get away with it because, lawyer that he was, he defined sex specifically as vaginal penetration and if you didn’t do that, it wasn’t sex.”
And more importantly, she says, what of the Indians—especially ones who were significant in Indo-British relations—who are not already represented? “We have so much Indian history, why must we be chained to this one person? Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Lala Har Dayal...why does it always come back to him?” she asks. “And this statue is coming up in front of the British Parliament, so why not have someone who actually served there? A genuine Indo-British parliamentarian like Dadabhai Naoroji? He was perhaps India’s greatest representative in Britain, and became an MP (in 1895, for the Liberal party, and he was the UK’s first Asian Member of Parliament). He is a symbol of Indo-British relations.”
In response, Lord Bhikhu Parekh, hairman of the Gandhi Foundation, alled for a public discussion—asked people to remember that any statue would have to be of Gandhi as a political figure, and it must have nothing to do with his personal life—this alone would be appropriate.
Parekh said. “I hope the statue will represent the political and not the religious Gandhi. Gandhi leading the Dandi march, and not Gandhi in meditation or prayer. It is this (political) Gandhi who shaped modern India and best fits into Parliament Square.” He added, “Gandhiji’s experiments in celibacy were undertaken with the full consent of women. What is more, he deeply respected women and brought them into public life on a much bigger scale than any leader of the world.”
That is all well and good, but as Vadgama and many others have pointed out, the entire saga is borne of sycophancy anyway. The role reversal of British ministers opening their palms to be lined by arms contracts and IT investment is more the issue than Gandhi’s worth in metal. As the columnist Stephen Glover noted in that standard bearer for Middle England, the Daily Mail” “The statue is a cheap and cynical stunt by ministers with scant knowledge of history. What a crass link with Gandhi. For he was a pacifist who would have disapproved of the Indian air force having missiles at all.”
By Saptarshi Ray in London
Apropos the controversy over Gandhi’s statue at Westminster (Questions in Bronze, Sep 1), the people in the story give very funny arguments to support their views against the statue. Who are they? Professional complainers? It seems India has exported the entire ‘hurt sentiment’ bloc of its population to the UK!
Dinesh Kumar, Chandigarh
There are so many statues of Gandhi, and all of them are drab and boring. Who needs another? And wouldn’t the British establishment be tired of bending backwards to accommodate the claims of ex-colonials in their country, when no such right is given to British personalities in places like India? Gandhi has monopolised the India story too long; it’s time to give him a rest.
Amin Dada, Agra
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
Gandhi had another obsession- enemas! He would suggest enemas to any and everybody for any ailment. Kasturba had plenty before she died. He himself suffered acute appendicitis when he was in Yerwada prison. He treated himself with enemas and declined treatment till it was quite late. At last he had to accept surgery when it became unbearble and therefore inevitable. On his consent, he was operated by a British district surgeon in those days of pre-antibiotics. It took a month or more before he recovered. It's a miracle that he survived the complications of late surgery.The biopsy reported pin worms in the appendix. I wonder what would have happened if he died of complications of the disease/surgery.
How about "An alternate discription of Gandhi" by Wendy Doniger?
>>>> "You are a shameless liar"
>> "I did not expect anything else from you."
That's one more lie!
"You are a shameless liar"
I did not expect anything else from you for you are braindead. If you have comprehension skills, go and read the Complete works on the Champaran incident and decide for yourself whether Gandhi was acting honestly.
" That image of Congress changed in 1905-when Gandhi was nowhere in the picture."
" That image of Congress changed in 1905-when Gandhi was nowhere in the picture."
1905 saw the partition of Bengal (a massive province comprising present day WB, Bangladesh, Bihar and several smaller states) along communal lines by Lord Curzon.
This event saw the eruption of angry protests all over Bengal and the rise of the swadeshi movement. It also saw the rise of leaders like Lal, Bal and Pal but it took the political genius of Gandhiji to transform the character of the freedom struggle into a pan Indian movement embracing all regions, religions and castes.
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