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Monday, December 17, 2018

called racist ~ Gandhi's statue pulled down in Ghana !

We have seen statues of Lenin / Sadam Hussein fall ~ Berlin wall too stumbled but this   statue on the university's Legon campus in Accra, Ghana  removed overnight on Tuesday, by  students and lecturers makes us feel sad. The head of language, literature and drama at the Institute of African Studies, Obadele Kambon, said the removal was an issue of "self-respect" !  ~  "If we show that we have no respect for ourselves and look down on our own heroes and praise others who had no respect for us, then there is an issue," he said.  ~  and can you remotely think that to be the statue of our National leader – Mahatma Gandhi – there are streets in every metropolis – there are hundreds of statues (the one featured here is in a shop in Mumbai airport) – we see the statue in Marina (Gandhi beach) sculpted by Devi Prasad roy Chowdhury. 

In our school books we read that on 7th June 1893, in South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg – started a turn in Gandhi’s career,   first act of civil disobedience, which eventually led to the formulation of his Satyagraha principles of peaceful resistance against the oppressive British Raj.  It was on that day, Gandhi was evicted from a train in South Africa’s Pietermaritzburg station because the compartment he was in was reserved for “whites only”.  A white man had objected to Gandhi travelling in the first class coach in spite of the latter possessing a valid ticket. When Gandhi refused to move to the rear end of the train, he was thrown out. He had stayed at the station that night shivering in cold and the bitter incident had played a major role in Gandhi’s decision to stay on in South Africa and fight the racial discrimination being faced by Indians there. His doctrine of Satyagraha subsequently took shape during Gandhi’s stay in South Africa.

Sure you know of Cocoa bean……..almost  all of us are addicted to chocolates. They are made of cocoa bean.... the dried and fully fermented fatty seed of ‘Theobroma cacao’, from which cocoa solids and cocoa butter are extracted. Republic of Ghana,  located in Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic Ocean, in West Africa is famous for cocoa beans.  Ghana,  is a sovereign multinational state, 82nd largest country in the world and 33rd largest country on continental Africa by land mass.  The word Ghana means "Warrior King".

From Ghana comes that news of teachers and students ripping down statue of Gandhi unveiled by Ghana's president - saying the independence leader was 'racist' as a young man in South Africa – it was not sudden, but is the culmination of a campaign for removal that started almost immediately as it was unveiled in 2016.

Media reports suggest that after campaigning for the statue's removal for two years, teachers at the University of Ghana in the country's capital Accra took matters into their own hands on Wednesday.  The statue was unveiled in June 2016 by India's former President Pranab Mukherjee, who also gave a speech encouraging students to 'emulate and concretise' Gandhi's ideals.  However shortly afterward lecturers started a petition to get rid of the statue, which had been located in the university's recreational quadrangle. According to the BBC, the petition said that Gandi was 'racist' and called for African heroes to be honoured instead.  The professors said that the fact that the only historical figure memorialised on the university campus was not African was 'a slap in the face that undermines our struggles for autonomy, recognition and respect', The Guardian reported.   They also reportedly cited several of Gandhi's writings which refer to black South Africans as 'kaffirs' (a highly offensive racist slur), accuse the South African government of trying to 'drag down' Indians to the level of 'half-heathen natives' and describe Indians as 'infinitely superior' to black people.

He is remembered for his tactics of peaceful civil disobedience, which have inspired civil rights movements throughout the world. From age 23, Gandhi spent two decades living and working as a human rights lawyer in South Africa, where he developed his political and ethical views. While there he also faced persecution because of his race and served four prison terms totalling seven months for resisting racially-biased laws. Nana Adoma Asare Adei, a law student at the University of Ghana, told the BBC: 'Having his statue means that we stand for everything he stands for and if he stands for these things [his alleged racism], I don't think we should have his statue on campus.'  The University of Ghana lecturers are not the only group to have raised objections to honouring Gandhi on the grounds that he was 'racist'.  In October this year, construction work was stopped on a statue of the Indian leader being built in Malawi after more than 3,000 people signed a petition arguing against the statue citing the fact Gandhi had referred to black people as 'savages'.

A judge granted an injunction saying that construction should be halted until a hearing could be carried out, or another court order was given.  In their court application, activist group 'Gandhi Must Fall' said his remarks on black people 'have invited a sense of loathing and detestation.' The statue was being built in the city of Blantyre, Malawi's commercial capital, as part of a $10million construction project in conjunction with the city of Delhi.  Malawai's foreign ministry official Isaac Munlo previously defended the statue, saying 'Gandhi promoted values of simplicity, fight against social evils'.

Statues have sparked charged debates in Africa in recent years as the continent wrestles with the on-going legacy of colonialism and history of racism. Students in South Africa successfully campaigned in 2015 for the removal of a statue of Cecil Rhodes, a notoriously racist mining magnate who died in 1902, from the University of Cape Town campus.
Dead now for nearly 70 years, Gandhi did not leave behind precise solutions for such problems. But his legacy will aid, not impede, efforts to find the solutions, even if we assume for a moment that between 1893 and 1914, Gandhi was prejudiced about Africa’s blacks and backed British imperialism. One needs to read history as a whole and not in parts for sometime Gandhi supported Imperialism too -  This is no “discovery”. In fact, as Gandhi put it himself in his autobiography, the British Empire was one of his two passions at the start of the 20th century. (The other was nursing the sick.) Hadn’t Queen Victoria and other eminent Britons declared that in their empire, all the races would be equal and everyone would enjoy the freedoms of belief and expression and the rule of law? When Gandhi realised that the imperial claim was false, he became, as Winston Churchill and a succession of viceroys complained, the empire’s strongest foe, and India’s masses joined Gandhi in rebellion.

As for world’s black people, Gandhi nursed great expectations from them. In February 1936, he said to Howard Thurman, the African-American thinker, who was calling on him in Bardoli in Gujarat: “Well, if it comes true it may be through the African Americans that the unadulterated message of non-violence will be delivered to the world” (Harijan, March 14 1936). Nearly three decades later, when Martin Luther King and his colleagues won their remarkable nonviolent triumphs for black rights in the US, they did not hesitate to say that Gandhi and India had inspired them.  But wasn’t the younger Gandhi at times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks? He undoubtedly was, especially when provoked by the conduct of black convicts who were among his fellow inmates in South Africa’s prisons. 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.)

One is free to draw their own conclusions.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
17th Dec 2018.

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