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Gandhi The Mahatma- A Reminder of the High Way

By Pandita Dr. Indrani Rampersad, Trinidad

In recent years, there have been attempts to deface and remove Mahatma Gandhi’s statues in some parts of the world, with the claim that he was a racist. Such malicious attempts are unwelcome and morally wrong.

Even in Gandhi’s home land India, there are those who feel that Gandhi made huge errors that irretrievably plunged Hindus into a dark pit, the partition of India and creation of theocratic states out of Indian land, while leaving India as ‘secular.’

The Black Lives Movement has morphed into one where all over the world, persons are re-engaging themselves in their postcolonial traumas. This is most welcome – the decolonization process.

Public statues have historical and cultural meaning in their time and space. In Trinidad and Tobago, Gandhi was revered by the indentured Indians and their descendants for freeing India from the British in 1947. His photograph adorned the walls of homes and Hindu sacred spaces.

Some see him as “Gandhi the pre-Mahatma with all his human errors,” while others celebrate his journey to becoming “Gandhi the mahatma” (one whose “self or consciousness” is beyond the ordinary and so great).

Gandhi was a man who shaped himself. He made mistakes along the path to self-discovery. But he held firm in his search for the “Truth” both in the material/social sense and the spiritual sense.

Gandhi was a colonial product just as we are. While 1970 was a watershed in postcolonial consciousness for many of us, it was not for the masses. do you recall how we looked up to white culture and white gods as the standard of being civilized? Many still do.

The young Gandhi was a product of the British whose colonial education shaped his worldview. Gandhi, in his early years, ascribed to the racist European categorization of peoples with whites being the most superior and non-whites being the lowest. That was the colonial narrative then and it still operates today in our postcolonial world.

Gandhi’s life is an example of how an ordinary person with human weaknesses and a colonial mindset (including racism) could emerge to become the towering world hero that he is. His success was due to his commitment to “Truth”, love and nonviolence. Gandhi’s life was his message. His struggles in India and Africa were for the oppressed peoples.

Human beings with human frailties can draw inspiration from Gandhi in a variety of ways, including rising about colonial racist worldviews. Gandhi was incorruptible. He lived a simple life. He fought for dignity in labour and protection of the environment.

Gandhi is a symbol of peace and nonviolence – a man who belongs to all of humanity – he was a man not a god.

Nelson Mandela who knew Gandhi said in 2007, that Gandhi’s message of peace and nonviolence was the key to human survival in the 21st century. Gandhi, he said, was right in elevating satyagraha (the force of the inner consciousness) above the forces of oppression. Mandela was aware of the racist statements of young Gandhi and he said that Gandhi should be forgiven his prejudices and seen in his times and circumstances. “We are looking here at the young Gandhi, still to become Mahatma, when he was without any human prejudice save that in favour of truth and justice.” Martin Luther King would see Gandhi as one to emulate. These men operated at a different level of consciousness, which is why they remain as guiding lights in the world of human beings.

When Gandhi used the term “kaffir” to refer to Africans, it was then not an offensive term.  ‘Kaffir’ is a derogatory term used by Muslims to refer to “others” who were infidels and non-believers. Perhaps the term came to just mean “other” in Gandhi’s times.

It is unfair and unjust to paint Gandhi with a racist brush for his early mistakes in seeing the world from a white colonial perspective. We should celebrate his victory in overcoming that world and becoming a mahatma. His message of nonviolence and power of the inner consciousness is not palatable to those who want to “mash up and make anew” – an ideology that has no lasting effect. Leave Gandhi’s statue as a reminder of the higher way charted by a man with human frailties – a man who overcame so many of those frailties along the way.

(The Author is a senior journalist, author, columnist and a researcher in Indian Culture)

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