Mahatma Gandhi Nelson Mandela

Let’s Be Frank About Blacks & Gandhi

A popular sentiment in South Africa goes: ‘India gave us Mohandas, and we returned him to you as Mahatma’.

mahatma gandhiLeaders like Nelson Mandela & Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have taken to quote and praise the work of Gandhi in times of the struggle against social injustice.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who has been revered at the ‘Great Soul’ or Mahatma in the times of the struggle against British Imperialism of India can be seen equivalent to the fight against apartheid in South Africa led by the late Nelson Mandela.

When Martin Luther King won the non-violent stance for black empowerment in the US, King went on to state that Gandhi and India had been the source of inspiration.

Gandhi’s tactics of mobilising people for passive resistance and mass protest inspired the South African nation to organise and some historians credit Gandhi as the progenitor of the African National Congress, which formed in 1912, two years before he returned to India to fight British colonial rule.

Offended by attacks on the Mahatma, some friends who think of me as a scholar ask about a new book which, according to media reports, alleges that during his years in South Africa (1893-1914), Gandhi disdained black people and supported British imperialism. Not having read it, I cannot comment on the book, but I can address the two allegations.

Before doing so, however, let me say that attacks on Gandhi should be welcomed, for they offer an opportunity to recall the things Gandhi stood for, writes Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, is research professor at the Centre for South Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as he explained the Mahatma’s position.

The legacy of this human rights activist, the symbol of India’s liberation Mahatma Gandhi is once again being called into question.

The South African GandhiThe controversial book, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher Bearer of the Empire by two South African university professors, Ashwin Desai & Goolam Vahed  is set to reveal what has been kept silent for many years and make the world see a side of Gandhi that many refuse to admit or just ignore. The book is to be released next month.

From the beginning to the end, M.K. Gandhi was loyal to imperialism according to some historians also the world of journalism are accused of creating concepts of a new Indian leader birthing around Gandhi and that when he embarked on his resistance against the British that he fought apartheid in South Africa. This was later termed, Satyagraha.

When Gandhi entered the stage of  politics in South Africa, there has been three fundamental directives of his early days of Satyagraha (passive resistance).

They were:

  1. the alleged loyalty to the British Empire,
  2. apathy with regard to the Indian of a lower caste, India’s indigenous population, and
  3. the anti-African sentiment

Remember the historic train incident: Gandhi was once thrown out of a train compartment which was reserved exclusively for the Whites. It was not that Gandhi was fighting on behalf of the local Africans that he broke the rule in getting into a Whites’ compartment.

Gandhi was so furious that him along with merchant caste Indians (Banias) were treated on par with the local South Africans whom he also identified these individuals as ‘natives’. This according to sympathetic historians was his birthing reason to take on fighting racial discrimination in South Africa but of no concern about the treatment of South Africans by supremacist Whites during this period.

On June 2, 1906 he commented in the Indian Opinion that “Thanks to the Court’s decision, only clean Indians (meaning upper caste Hindu Indians) or colored people other than K*****s, can now travel in the trains.”

Durban’s Satish Dhupelia admitted that Gandhi, his great-grandfather, had made the alleged racist remarks.

But, he argued, Gandhi later had a change of heart and “did not always think like this”.

He said: “You have to examine Gandhi’s life. He said those things when he first arrived in this country. When he arrived he was a young, novice lawyer. If you went on a holiday and met locals and they told you that this is the status quo of the people in the country, you would listen to them and repeat what is being said.”

He said Gandhi “soon learnt” and changed his stance on South African blacks.

“The man who came here was not the famous Mahatma Gandhi that we all know. He came into a country and was indoctrinated,” he said.

If you’ve read Kipling’s poem Gunga Din, some have stated that Gandhi was Kipling’s Gunga Din in flesh. The sentiment that Gandhi was a lover of the British imposition was also thought of by many.

Gandhi and the British imposition during the Xhosa War’s

During the `K*****r Wars’ in South Africa Gandhi volunteered to organize the brigade of Indians to shut down the Zulu uprising and himself was decorated for ‘valor under fire’ by the British regime.

Gandhi also quoted on stating that September 26, 1896 about the African people: “Ours is one continued struggle sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

Again, in an editorial on the Natal Municipal Corporation Bill, in the Indian Opinion of March 18, 1905, Gandhi wrote: “Clause 200 makes provision for registration of persons belonging to uncivilized races (meaning the local Africans), resident and employed within the Borough.

One can understand the necessity of registration of Kaffirs who will not work, but why should registration be required for indentured Indians…?” Again on September 9, 1905, Gandhi wrote about the local Africans as: “in the majority of cases it compels the native to work for at least a few days a year” (meaning that the locals are lazy).

Some might concur with the statement that he was in favour of continuation of White domination and the oppression of Blacks in South Africa.

In the Indian Opinion of March 25, 1905, Gandhi wrote on a Bill regulating fire-arms: “In the instance of fire-arms, the Asiatic has been most improperly bracketed with the natives. The British Indian does not need any such restrictions as are imposed by the Bill on the natives regarding the carrying of fire-arms. The prominent race can remain so by preventing the native from arming himself. Is there the slightest vestige of justification for so preventing the British Indians?”

In the Indian Opinion of September 4, 1904, Gandhi wrote: “Under my suggestion, the Town Council (of Johannesburg) must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians I must confess I feel most strongly. It think it is very unfair to the Indian population, and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”

In the Indian Opinion of September 24, 1903, Gandhi said: “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they (the Whites) do… by advocating the purity of all races.”

Again on December 24, 1903, in the Indian Opinion Gandhi stated that: “so far as British Indians are concerned, such a thing is particularly unknown. If there is one thing which the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is purity of type.”

It is alleged that the initial days of Gandhi’s struggle was made up of fighting for elevated rights the Indian merchant.

Today, in India, South Africa and the US, his legacy provides hope, not an obstacle, for the equality of races and castes. A 1995 book contains this observation from Nelson Mandela: “Gandhi had been initially shocked that Indians were classified with Natives in prison… All in all, Gandhi must be forgiven these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.” (“Gandhi the Prisoner” by Nelson Mandela in B.R. Nanda (edited), Mahatma Gandhi: 125 Years, ICCR, 1995.)

Some, however, seem to think that they are wiser than King or Mandela. – Rajmohan Gandhi, September 9, 2015, Indian Express

Source Inputs:

  1. The Racism of the Early Mahatma Ghandi by Arthur Kemp
  2. The South African Gandhi: Stretcher Bearer of the Empire
  3. Rajmohan Gandhi
  4. IOL & ANA

About Naufal Khan

Publisher & editor of Indian Spice.

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