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Illustration by Dhabia AlMansoori

Bapu’s Time is Up

It is high time we realize that the man we idolize as the father of India abused his power and position to mould a set of ideologies that perpetuate inequality.

Dec 7, 2019

More than 70 years after his assassination, Gandhi still lives on in the hearts and pockets of most Indians; there is immense respect for the man who won us our independence. His face appears on all of our currency notes, numerous public places across the country are named after the man, and countless Bollywood movies glorify his principles as we remember them. Statues dotting hundreds of cities around the world serve as a reminder of his legacy and etch it physically into the memory of a place, the most recent of them being unveiled in Manchester.
But now, in light of the firm grasp of revolutions that call for political and social inclusion and equality across the world, we need to have a difficult conversation about Bapu — the father of India. Let’s step back and talk about how we have idealized a man based on the stories he himself has woven for us, and nothing else.
Gandhi has been the go-to reference for those propagating principles of love, harmony and humanism. He led an entire movement against the British and played a monumental role in the Indian independence struggle. Not only that, but he also promoted self-sufficiency, peaceful coexistence and nonviolence — the markings of a saint, indeed. These truths however, have always seemed to overshadow dark realities that we fail to acknowledge, and have hence put Gandhi on a pedestal as a Mahatma or superior soul.
In 2016, former President Pranab Mukherjee unveiled a statue of Gandhi in the University of Ghana. This led a professor in the university to start discussions on their campus about Gandhi’s racist ideologies and his intentions to uphold the dignity of Indians in South Africa at the cost of native Africans during apartheid. Consequently the #gandhimustfall movement came into being, as Professor Obádélé Kambon began to spread awareness on the issue. This ultimately led to the statue being torn down. Bapu is said to have encouraged segregation in his early life in South Africa, as he felt indignity from the fact that Indians had to use the same entrance to a post office as the “savages and natives of Africa”.
In an article published for British newspaper The Telegraph, Ramchandra Guha, a famous authority on modern Indian history argues that these ideas belonged to a fevered, young boy seeking inclusion, who grew into a man in the years that he fought for India’s independence, recognizing the equality of all races. But the Dalit community — the lowest tier of the caste system in India — disagrees. The racist ideologies from his youth spent in South Africa only transformed into casteist beliefs during the independence struggle. While leaders like Ambedkar fought for political and social inclusion of Dalits who had faced the brunt of the caste system for centuries, Gandhi contested this representation.
It seems that our revered Bapu worked towards othering and upholding the sanctity of his own identity at the cost of already oppressed communities and groups — be it as an Indian in South Africa or an upper-caste Hindu in India. That does not sound like the essence of equality and humanism to me.
As revelations unfolded, the Mahatma’s sexual practices also came under scrutiny. Gandhi advocated for a life of celibacy, but his experiments with sexuality in his ‘ashrams’, or places of spiritual retreat, were nothing short of appalling. He tested his celibacy and sexual restraint by laying, bathing and receiving massages from minor girls who were told to be naked. These instances were recorded in the journals of his grand-niece, who was one of the minors who was made to lay with him.
Perhaps it is futile to deliberate over incidents of decades past today. Nonetheless, it is important to understand how such revelations would be percieved with the backdrop of fierce and fearless movements against gender-based violence and sexual abuse in the 21st century across the world.
These considerations are important because the media of the past failed to record such instances in fear of tarnishing the image of a much revered man. Building a nation on the principles given to us by a pseudo-humanist has allowed sexism and casteism to ingrain themselves in the structures of the institutions of the country. A powerful man getting away with using racial slurs, furthering identity politics and rifts in an already divided country and acting predatorily towards minor women is not a concept alien to the modern global citizen.
India was founded on Gandhi’s beliefs, but I refuse to celebrate the man who used his position of power to mould truths, manipulate the youth and uphold an institution that perpetuates inequality.
It looks like Bapu’s time is up.
Sameera Singh is Social Media Editor. Email her at
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