ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Gandhi and the Re-enactment of Racism

Gandhi and the Re-enactment of Racism

Examining M K Gandhi’s attitude towards South African natives during his sojourn in South Africa, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, in their book The South African Gandhi, have accused Gandhi of racism, arguing that Gandhi kept his struggle for British concessions for indentured Indians in South Africa separate from the struggle of Zulu people for freedom from colonial rule, because Gandhi considered the natives racially inferior and called them Kaffirs—a derogatory term used against them by the Whites as well as Indians. However, accusing Gandhi of racism indicates a misrepresentation of his ideas in transition, and the word Kaffir does not connote a racial slur.

M K Gandhi’s life and philo­sophy was, as he himself called it, an experiment with truth, and therefore, it took sudden, unexpected twists and turns before he arri­ved at a determined course of action on the chosen path. These ups and downs in his thought process are interpreted variously by Gandhian scholars and Gandhi’s critics alike, and as a result, some of his expressions and actions have acquired a controversial status. Some people have called him a hypocrite ­(Singh 2004; Lelyveld 2012; French 2013), some others have accused him of having a narrow approach towards the downtrodden in India (Gehlot 1993), and yet others have even levelled a charge of racism against him (Lelyveld 2012; French 2013; Desai and Vahed 2016). However, Nishikant Kolge (2016: 91) believes that Gandhi’s middle position avoiding the two extremes—anti-racism as well as fanatical racism—with reference to South African Blacks is to be interpreted “as a political strategy.” Some of the controversies concerning his approach relate to his formative years in South Africa.

Since these are not just offhand remarks against a prominent figure, but based on rigorous research and often add a different, unexpected dimension to the existing body of research in Gandhian thought, they need our serious ­attention and most often a clarification. What I mean by clarification is that in the course of research on such issues, it is often noted that such opinions may arise
owing to a misinterpretation of Gandhi’s ideas on a particular issue or action, though I admit that they may also represent an opinion different from a Gandhian perspective, and deserve to be added as an extra dimension to the study of the relevance of Gandhi’s ideas in a post-Gandhian era.

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Updated On : 11th Aug, 2021

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