A Racist Or A Saint

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Picture: Mohandas Gandhi (02 October 1869-30 January 1948) was the leader of the Indian Independence movement against British rule. Photo: biography.

Mohandas Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 to a wealthy family in Gujarat Province, North West of India. He was the third son of a renowned government official.  At the age of 19, Gandhi went against the wishes of his family and departed to study law in England. As it has been documented in his books, he “was exposed to new ideas and many elements of British society and culture — he took dancing and violin lessons, read new religious works, and participated in British vegetarian groups”.

In 1893, after Gandhi had gained his license to practice law, he entered South Africa to represent an Indian shipping company. When Gandhi arrived in South Africa, the country was a combination of two British colonies, namely Cape and Natal, and two Dutch colonies namely Transvaal and the Orange Free State. With Indian people being among the smallest population, they “enjoyed few rights in South Africa and, although many of them were British subjects with voting rights, Indians were still victim to prejudice and racism.” Gandhi saw the need to take charge of the fight for Indian rights and went to form the Natal Indian Congress which aimed to give “Indians a collective voice in South African politics.” During his time in South Africa Gandhi was captured by the political situation in the country and his experiences are said to have been crucial to his political evolution to being anti-colonial.

 

Some may remember Gandhi as a “racist colonial collaborator.” In 1899 in an attempt to “send a message to the British that Indians were capable and responsible individuals who deserved the same rights as other British subjects”, he provided the British soldiers with an ambulance during the Boer war event though he claimed not to support the war on principle. The BBC in 2016 reported that “An online petition which has been signed by more than 1,000 people, has been started by professors at the University of Ghana. They call for the removal of a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from the campus grounds in Accra. The academics say that Gandhi, who has been praised by public figures for leading India’s non-violent movement to freedom from British colonial rule during the mid-20th century, had a racist identity.” Gandhi once stated that “I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan.… A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”  And that “We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs. There, our garments were stamped with the letter “N”, which meant that we were being classed with the Natives. We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much to put up with.” in different speeches he had made while advocating for Indian rights.

 

He was welcomed as a hero subsequent to his increased prominence in South Africa as an activist for Indian rights. In order to “familiarize himself with the problems in Indian society, Gandhi spent most of the next year traveling throughout the country by train. The poverty, famine, and government corruption that Gandhi saw on his travels convinced him of the need for social and moral reform”. Gandhi exported strategies he had developed in South Africa against injustice endured by the poor and marginalized. He was not only an activist in India and South Africa; he was involved with organizations around the world object to the Rowlatt Acts which are legislation designed for “suppressing Indian nationalism and activism through the suspension of Indian civil liberties, especially the right to public organization and protest.”

 

In his final moments, while being imprisoned by the British authorities, Gandhi had a “fast until death”. Previously, the British had authorities release him from custody, afraid that he would not survive another fast as it was his way of demonstrating against injustices he had witnessed. It is thought that Gandhi inspired leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther king and Nelson Mandela through his philosophy of nonviolent resistance.