April V. Taylor
When people think of Mahatma Gandhi, many think of a man who pioneered non-violent social justice movements, with such leaders as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., citing him as inspiration for their own non-violent movements. What many fail to realize is that Gandhi was actually a racist who had a strong disdain for Black Africans, and those little known views are revealed in the new book “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire” by Ashwin Desai and Goolem Vahed.
Desai and Vahed quote statements directly from Gandhi to prove their point, and what they uncover is that not only did Gandhi express racist attitudes towards Africans, he also expressed classist prejudice towards indentured Indians and supported the British Empire and its use of war to further colonize and conquer other peoples.
The authors state, “He served as stretcher-bearer in the war between Brit and Boer, demanded that Indians be allowed to carry fire-arms, and recruited volunteers for the imperial army in both England and India during the First World War.”
For a man who was once praised by Nelson Mandela to now be revealed as a person who sought to have Indians included in South African society while seeking to exclude Blacks is mind boggling for many. The Washington Post points out that Gandhi referred to Black Africans as “savage,” and referred to the lives they lived as those of “indolence and nakedness.” His end goal seemed to be to prove that Indians in South Africa were superior to Black Africans.
Much of Gandhi’s racism was revealed in his push to have Indians classified as something different from native, believing that only Blacks deserved to be relegated to that substandard class.
Arundhati Roy, an author who endorses the book, spoke with Firstpost, calling the book a “serious challenge to the way we have been taught to think about Gandhi,” pointing out that he defended India’s caste system and its oppression of women. She goes on to state, “This is a wonderful demonstration of meticulously researched, evocative, clear-eyed and fearless history-writing. It uncovers a story, some might even cal it a scandal, that has remained hidden in plain sight for far too long.”