Category Archives: Apartheid
At the close of his presidency in 1999, Nelson Mandela praised Mohandas Gandhi for believing that the “destiny” of Indians in South Africa was “inseparable from that of the oppressed African majority.” In other words, Gandhi had fought for the freedom of Africans, setting the pattern for his later effort to liberate India from British rule.
Nothing could be more misleading. Gandhi’s concern for the African majority—“the Kaffirs,” in his phrase—was negligible. During his South African years (1893-1914), argue Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed in “The South African Gandhi,” he was far from an “anti-racist, anti-colonial fighter on African soil.” He had found his way to South Africa mainly by the accident of being offered a better job there than he could find in Bombay. He regarded himself as a British subject. He aimed at limited integration of Indians into white society. Their new status would secure Indian rights but would also acknowledge white supremacy. In essence, he wanted to stabilize the Indian community within the stratified system that later became known as apartheid.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN GANDHI
By Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed
Stanford, 343 pages, $80
Gandhi’s two decades in South Africa did enable him to perfect the methods and aims of nonviolent resistance, but he practiced them solely on behalf of Indians. Gandhi was especially concerned with the indentured laborers of the sugar plantations in Natal, where the Indian population since the mid-19th century had grown to some 150,000, outnumbering whites. From the time of his arrival, he suffered such indignities as being forced off a train even though he held a first-class ticket and being pushed from the sidewalk into the gutter. But he remained loyal to the ideals of the British Empire, to, in his words, its “spiritual foundations.”
Gandhi’s principal adversary was Jan Christian Smuts. They were born a year apart, Gandhi in 1869 and Smuts in 1870. Both studied law in England. Smuts received highest honors at Cambridge. Though leading a lonely existence, he established lifelong contact with some of Cambridge’s more prominent intellectuals. By contrast, Gandhi acquired legal credentials while becoming acquainted with Helena Blavasky, the occultist and founder of the Theosophical Society, and with Annie Besant, another theosophist, with whom Gandhi discussed “the universal brotherhood of humanity.” Both Gandhi and Smuts shared the assumption that black Africans were simply, in Smuts’s summation, “barbarians.”
They fought on the opposite sides of the Boer War (1899-1902). Smuts rose to the rank of general, and Gandhi waged one of his most conspicuous campaigns on behalf of the British. He organized an “ambulance corps” of no fewer than 11,000 Indians, who helped wounded soldiers find their way to field hospitals, often by bearing them on stretchers. In the fierce battle of Scion Cot in Natal, Gandhi, with the discipline of a sergeant major, led his volunteers through rough terrain in blistering heat and heavy fire to save British lives. The Indian volunteers found the terrain so rough that stretchers proved impossible to use, so injured soldiers had to be carried individually. Gandhi’s bravery proved that he was willing to sacrifice his own life to save the lives of others and, in this case, to further the purposes of the British Empire.
Gandhi was never naïve enough to think that the Indian communities in Durban and Johannesburg would achieve social equality with whites. But they were, he believed, entitled to legal protection. The viceroy in India agreed with Gandhi. The status of overseas Indians was a sensitive issue. The power and influence of the Raj lent force to the cause of upholding the rights of British subjects—Indians—in South Africa.
Gandhi’s legal credentials enabled him to practice law in South Africa. He challenged the government with petitions, thereby raising issues such as the right of Indians to own property. His success in organizing protest movements brought him to such prominence that he was able to meet with high-ranking officials, including Smuts, by then on his way to becoming prime minister.
Gandhi helped lead the two Indian rebellions of the era in South Africa, one in 1906 and the other in 1913. Both had origins in complaints about working conditions and the ambiguous status of Indian immigrants. In 1906, Indians protested against the Black Act, which required them to be fingerprinted—a practice reserved in India for common criminals. At one point Gandhi was briefly jailed, on Smuts’s own orders, as a result of his followers turning peaceful protests into riots.
When Gandhi eventually met with Smuts, they reached agreement, according to Gandhi, that the petty restrictions of the Black Act would be repealed. Smuts did not believe that he had made any fundamental concessions. In fact many of the restrictions were not repealed but recast sufficiently, so Smuts thought, to meet Gandhi’s satisfaction. He had not taken notes and failed to catch some of Gandhi’s exactitude. Gandhi later declared that he had been deceived. At their next and last meeting, some seven years later, Smuts took care precisely to transcribe all legal and other points.
The revolt of 1913 arose over the question of sending Indian dissidents back to India if they protested about wages or rights to property. In this action, the authors argue, Gandhi perfected the revolutionary technique of nonviolent resistance. At one point he led 13,000 Indians in protest. Gandhi proclaimed victory. Yet Smuts deftly secured important points regarding immigration and land ownership.
Gandhi was capable of spontaneous goodwill, as he demonstrated not only with Smuts but also later with Lord Irwin (Halifax) in India. In both cases, he characteristically laughed at his own inconsistencies and reaffirmed his faith in the ideals of the British Empire. He inspired intellectual and emotional bonds. Both sides could at least try to comprehend their differences and attempt to forge mutual respect. But it was an undertaking that had nothing to do with the African majority. Smuts believed that he could make minor concessions on such matters as passports and minimal labor laws, which persuaded Gandhi that Indians had secured legal protection.
When Gandhi left South Africa in 1914, he was hailed as the Mahatma (Great Soul). He thereafter wore a loincloth and shawl, looking not much different from the way Churchill famously described him later as a fakir striding “half-naked” up the steps of the viceroy’s palace.
“The South African Gandhi” deals comprehensively with Gandhi’s decisive two decades in South Africa. It complements Perry Anderson’s “The Indian Ideology” (2013), which explains how Gandhi later treated the Dalits, or Untouchables, much as he had dealt with black Africans.
For my taste, the book’s tone is too academic, but the authors use sound evidence and argue their case relentlessly—Gandhi’s vision did not include the majority of the people in South Africa, the Africans themselves. Gandhi was consistent, but in ways quite at variance with the general belief that he championed all parts of society, whether in South Africa or, in regard to caste, in India. “The South African Gandhi” helps explain the complexity and contradictions of Gandhi’s personality while emphasizing the way in which he became a symbol of peaceful means to resolve conflict.
—Mr. Louis is Kerr Professor at the University of Texas and the author of “The British Empire in the Middle East.”
Gandhi and South African Blacks
Note: All quotes are direct quotations from “The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi,” here abbreviated as “CWMG.” All grammatical errors and misspellings are the responsibility of Mohandas Gandhi, the original author, and are preserved for historical consistency.
Before Dec. 19, 1894
“A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 193
Before May 5, 1895
“In the face, too, of financial operations, the success of which many of their detractors would envy, one fails to understand the agitation which would place the operators in the same category as the half-heathen Native and confine him to Locations, and subject him to the harsher laws by which the Transvaal Kaffir is governed.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 224-225
Before May 5, 1895
“When one reflects that the conception of Brahmanism, with its poetic and mysterious mythology, took its rise in the land of the ‘Coolie trader,’ that in that land 24 centuries ago, the almost divine Buddha taught and practised the glorious doctrine of self-sacrifice, and that it was from the plains and mountains of that weird old country that we have derived the fundamental truths of the very language we speak, one cannot but help regretting that the children of such a race should be treated as equals of the children of black heathendom and outer darkness. Those who, for a few moments, have stayed to converse with the Indian trader have been, perhaps, surprised to find they are speaking to a scholar and a gentleman…. And it is the sons of this Land of light who are despised as Coolies, and treated as Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. I, p. 225
Before May 5, 1895
“So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the Kaffir.” ~ Vol. I, p. 229
Aug. 14, 1896
“The Attorney-General of Natal wants to keep the Indians for ever ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’ We are classed with the natives of South Africa – Kaffir race.” ~ Vol. I, p. 364
Sept. 26, 1896
“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” ~ Vol. I, pp. 409-410
Sept. 26, 1896
“While, in other parts of South Africa, it is the railway officials who make the lot of the 1st and 2nd class passengers on the railway intolerable, the Transvaal people have gone one better in that there the law prohibits the Indians from travelling 1st or 2nd class. They are, irrespective of position, huddled together in the same compartment with the natives of South Africa.” ~ Vol. I, p. 415
Oct. 17, 1896
“A picnic party of European children used Indian and Kaffir boys as targets and shot bullets into their faces, hurting several inoffensive children. So deep-seated is the hatred that children have begun instinctively to look down upon Indians.” ~ Vol. I, p. 421
Oct. 26, 1896
“There is a bye-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible.” ~ Vol. I, p. 435
Before May 27, 1899
“Your Petitioner has seen the Location intended to be used by the Indians. It would place them, who are undoubtedly infinitely superior to the Kaffirs, in close proximity to the latter.” ~ Vol. II, p. 270
Mar. 27, 1902
“All the anti-Indian laws in both the Colonies are in full force; under them, in the Transvaal, the Indians cannot own land or trade except in Locations, and must, like the Kaffirs, hold travelling and other passes.” ~ Vol. II, p. 453
Mar. 16, 1903
“The bye-law has its origin in the alleged or real, impudent and, in some cases, indecent behaviour of the Kaffirs. But, whatever the charges are against the British Indians, no one has ever whispered that the Indians behave otherwise than as decent men. But, as it is the wont in this part of the world, they have been dragged down with the Kaffir without the slightest justification.” ~ Vol. III, pp. 32-33
May 24, 1903
“The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin.” ~ Vol. III, p. 74
Feb. 11, 1904
“I venture to write you regarding the shocking state of the Indian Location. The rooms appear to be overcrowded beyond description. The sanitary service is very irregular, and many of the residents of the Location have been to my office to complain that the sanitary condition is far worse than before. There is, too, a very large Kaffir population in the Location for which really there is no warrant.” ~ Vol. III, p. 427
Feb. 15, 1904
“I am extremely obliged to you for having paid a visit last Saturady to the Indian Location and for the interest you are taking in the proper sanitation of the site. The more I think of it, the uglier the situation appears to me, and I think that, if the Town Council takes up a position of non possumus, it will be an abdication of its function, and I do respectfully say that nothing can justify the Public Health Committee in saying that neither overcrowding nor insanitation could be helped. I feel convinced that every minute wasted over the matter merely hastens a calamity for Johannesburg and that through absolutely no fault of the British Indians. Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension.” ~ Vol. III, p. 428
Feb. 15, 1904
“Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.” ~ Vol. III, p. 429
Apr. 30, 1904
“The Orange River Colony has entirely closed its gates against the Indians from the Transvaal. The Cape and Natal admit him under severe restrictions which have no scientific meaning. For instance, an Indian may be sharing the same compartment with a Kaffir. As soon, however, as the train bringing the passengers reaches the Natal border, the Indian is obliged to undergo 5 days’ quarantine before entering the Colony, whereas the Kaffir is permitted to do so without let or hindrance.” ~ Vol. III, p. 482
Jan. 10, 1904
“A correspondent from Warmbaths in the Transvaal writes to us in Gujarati, complaining that the authorities do not provide facilities for British Indians to make use of these famous healing waters. He says that, if any Indian wants to make use of them, he is merely directed to go to the rooms set apart for the Kaffirs. It appears that he offered to build a place for Indians, but the offer was not entertained. We are sure that, if there is any truth in the statement made by our correspondent, the Government will remedy the difficulty at once, and provide suitable facility for those Indians who may wish to make use of these waters.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 88
Mar. 12, 1904
“In South Africa, on the other hand, there are things which the white man would not do, and the Kaffir could not do. It has, therefore, been possible for the Indians to live in South Africa.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 129
Mar. 29, 1905
“Thus, the whites have begun to feel the need for Indian labour right from the beginning, for the Kaffirs are of no use and all the available Chinese are absorbed in the mines. Indian labour, is, therefore, in general demand.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 258
Oct. 6, 1905
“In all this computation, Lord Milner has overlooked one fact, viz., that, while the Kaffir hardly works for six months, the Chinese have to do so continuously for three years. Moreover, the Chinese being more active than the Kaffirs, much more work can be taken from them than from the latter. This is a very important point, but His Lordship utters not a word about it. Unless this is taken into account, Lord Milner’s figures are of no use whatever.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 312
Oct. 21, 1905
“We humbly submit that the decision to open the school for all Coloured children is unjust to the Indian community, and is a departure from the assurance given by the then Minister of Education, as also Sir Albert Hime and Mr. Robert Russell, that the school will be reserved for Indian children only.” ~ Vol. IV, p. 402
Dec. 30, 1905
“It has, we suppose, become a recognised thing in South Africa for such labour agents to be appointed for ‘inducing Kaffirs to work.’ Some call such a system a gentle coaxing; others call it a modified form of forced labour. We cannot question the policy that has been sanctioned for a long time, and its criticism does not lie within our domain. Unfortunately, the term ‘Coloured person’ is, in the Orange River Colony, interpreted invariably to mean ‘all coloured persons, who, in accordance with laws or customs, are called Coloured persons, or are treated as such, of whatsoever race or nationality they may be.’ It, therefore, includes Asiatics, Malays and others. Both the above-mentioned Ordinances on that account are open to very serious objections, and we cannot understand why the studied insult implied should be irritatingly kept up. Lord Selborne, in his reply to the British Indian Association, has admitted that there are very few Asiatics in the Orange River Colony. Why, then, should the offensive definition be maintained? If it is, in practice, inoperative, the only reason for its existence can be for the wanton pleasure of the inhabitants of the Orange River Colony, who wish to triumph over this implied degradation of the Asiatic races.” ~ Vol. V, p. 50
June 1, 1906
“The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 59
Mar. 17, 1906
“The ousting of the Kaffirs from the Bazaar at Pretoria is wrong; for, whatever the law, Indians have for many years now earned rentals from Kaffir tenants. It behoves the Government to ensured that Indians do not suffer any loss on this account.” ~ Vol. V, p. 129
Apr. 14, 1906
“It is not for us to say whether the revolt of the Kaffirs is justified or not. We are in Natal by virtue of British power. Our very existence depends upon it. It is therefore our duty to render whatever help we can. There was a discussion in the Press as to what part the Indian community would play in the event of an actual war. We have already declared in the English columns of this journal that the Indian community is ready to play its part;1 and we believe what we did during the Boer War should also be done now. That is, if the Government so desires, we should raise an ambulance corps. We should also agree to become permanent volunteers, if the Government is prepared to give us the requisite training.” ~ Vol. V, pp. 179-180
May 22, 1906
“It was a gross injustice to seek to place Indians in the same class as the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. V, p. 226
May 26, 1906
“You say that the Magistrate’s decision is unsatisfactory, because it would enable a person, however unclean, to travel by a tram and that even the Kaffirs would be able to do so. But the Magistrate’s decision is quite different. The Court has declared that the Kaffirs have no legal right to travel by the trams. And, according to tram regulations, those in an unclean dress or in a drunken state are prohibited from boarding a tram. Thanks to the Court’s decision, only clean Indians or Coloured people other than Kaffirs can now travel by the trams.” ~ Vol. V, p. 235
June 30, 1906
“We have to learn much from what the whites are doing in Natal. There is hardly any family from which someone has not gone to fight the Kaffir rebels. Following their example, we should steel our hearts and take courage. Now is the time when the leading whites want us to take this step; if we let go this opportunity, we shall repent later. We therefore urge all Indian leaders to do their duty to the best of their ability.” ~ Vol. V, p. 273
Before July 19, 1906
“As we were struggling along, we met a Kaffir who did not wear the loyal badge. He was armed with an assegai and was hiding himself. However, we safely rejoined the troops on the further hill, whilst they were sweeping with their carbines the bushes below.” ~ Vol. V, p. 278
Before July 19, 1906
“Troopers had to lead their horses, and the route was so long that we never seemed to reach the bottom. However, at about 12 o’clock we finished the day’s journey, with no Kaffirs to fight.” ~ Vol. V, p. 280
Sept. 9, 1906
“Even the half-castes and Kaffirs, who are less advanced than we, have resisted the Government. The pass law applies to them as well, but they do not take out passes.” ~ Vol. V, p. 332
Nov. 16, 1906
“As you were good enough to show very great sympathy with the cause of British Indians in the Transvaal, may I suggest your using your influence with the Boer leaders in the Transvaal? I feel certain that they did not share the same prejudice against British Indians as against the Kaffir races but as the prejudice against Kaffir races in a strong form was in existence in the Transvaal at the time when the British Indians immigrated there, the latter were immediately lumped together with the Kaffir races and described under the generic term ‘Coloured people.’ Gradually the Boer mind was habituated to this qualification and it refused to recognize the evident and sharp distinctions that undoubtedly exist between British Indians and the Kaffir races in South Africa.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 95
Nov. 6, 1906
“Mr. Stead has boldly come out to give us all the help he can. He was therefore requested to write to the Boer leaders that they should not consider Indians as being on the same level as Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 112
Feb. 2, 1907
“It is certain that the Asiatic Ordinance will be re-introduced. When that happens, there should be only one thought in the mind of every Indian: never to accept such a law. And, if it is enforced, he will rather go to gaol than carry a pass like a Kaffir.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 257
Sept. 2, 1907
“From these views expressed by a White we have a lesson to learn: We must encourage the Whites too. It is a short-sighted policy to employ, through sheer niggardliness, a Kaffir for washing work. If we keep in view the conditions in this country and patronize the Whites, whenever proper and necessary, then every such White will serve as an advertisement for the Indian trader.” ~ Vol. VI, p. 276
June 4, 1907
“Are we supposed to be thieves or free-booters that even a Kaffir policeman can accost and detain us wherever we happen to be going?” ~ Vol. VI, p. 363
July 12, 1907
“If registration is made compulsory, there will be no difference between Indians and Kaffirs, and the neighbouring Colony will be tempted to adopt it as a precedent. It may also turn out to be a prelude to compulsory segregation in Coloured Locations.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 395
July 12, 1907
“There is again a rebellion of Kaffirs in Zululand. In view of this, hundreds of white troops have been dispatched. The Indian community must come forward at such a time without, however, thinking of securing any rights thereby. They must consider only the duty of the community. It is a common observation that when we attend to our duty, rights follow as a matter of course. It will be only proper for the Indian community to make the offer that was made last year. There is a move at present to levy a tax on those who do not enlist. The burden of this levy will fall on Indians alone; even though paying the tax, they will get no credit. We are, therefore, convinced in our minds that the Indian community should repeat its offer. We assume that there are many Indians now who will welcome such work enthusiastically. Those who went to the front last year can do so again. Most of them are seasoned people and familiar with the nature of the work. We very much hope that this work will be taken in hand without any delay.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 397
Dec. 12, 1907
“As to the plea that the Indian will not blend with the rest of the community, what is this but a re-statement of the old fable of the boy who stoned the toad as a punishment for its being a toad? The Indian of the Transvaal a branded a pariah by statute; he is treated as such in practice; regardless of the obvious terminological inexactitude, he is indiscriminately dubbed ‘coolie.’ One hears even in official circles such expressions as ‘coolie lawyer,’ ‘coolie doctor,’ ‘coolie merchant.’ His women are ‘coolie Marys.’ As has been already shown, he is accorded no place in the scheme of things, save on sufferance. He may not even own fixed property, although, curiously, he may be a mortgagee of such. He is even denied the not always obvious privilege of riding in the same municipal tramcars and Government railway carriages as his white fellow-colonists. His children are afforded no facilities for education except they attend the schools set apart for Kaffirs. Could there be less encouragement for the Indian ‘to blend’ and to associate himself more closely with the larger life of the community?” ~ Vol. VII, p. 445-446
Dec. 12, 1907
“Compulsory registration is recognised as signifying nothing less than the reduction of British Indians to the status of the Kaffir; as being more than likely of adoption as a precedent for anti-Indian legislation by the neighbouring colonies; and as a probable prelude to compulsory segregation in coloured locations.” ~ Vol. VII, p. 447
Feb. 2, 1908
“The British rulers take us to be so lowly and ignorant that they assume that, like the Kaffirs who can be pleased with toys and pins, we can also be fobbed off with trinkets.” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 167
July 3, 1908
“We were then Marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs. There, our garments were stamped with the letter ‘N,’ which meant that we were being classed with the Natives. We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much to put up with. I then felt that Indians had not launched on passive resistance too soon. Here was further proof that the obnoxious law was intended to emasculate the Indians.” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 198
July 3, 1907
“Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!” ~ Vol. VIII, p. 199
Mar. 21, 1908
“It is thus clear that both Kaffirs and Europeans get food suited to their tastes. The poor Indians – nobody bothers about them! They cannot get the food they want. If they are given European diet, the whites will feel insulted. In any case, why should the gaol authorities bother to find out the normal Indian fare? There is nothing for it but to let ourselves be classed with the Kaffirs and starve.” ~ Vol. VIII, pp. 218-19
Jan. 16, 1909
“As soon as we rose the following day, I was taken to where the other prisoners were lodged, so that I had no chance to complain to the Governor about what had happened. I have, though, resolved in my mind on an agitation to ensure that Indian prisoners are not lodged with Kaffirs or others.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 257
Jan. 16, 1909
“I observed with regret that some Indians were happy to sleep in the same room as the Kaffirs, the reason being that they hoped there for a secret supply of tobacco, etc. This is a matter of shame to us. We may entertain no aversion to Kaffirs, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is no common ground between them and us in the daily affairs of life. Moreover, those who wish to sleep in the same room with them have ulterior motives for doing so. Obviously, we ought to abandon such notions if we want to make progress.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 257
Jan. 23, 1909
“Some of the prisoners are found to suffer from diseases like syphilis, and therefore everyone of them has his genitals examined. For this purpose, the prisoners are totally undressed, while being examined. Unlike the others, Kaffirs are kept standing undressed for nearly 15 minutes so as to save the physician’s time. Indian prisoners are made to lower their breeches only when the physician approaches them. The other garments have to be removed in advance. Almost every Indian resents having to lower his breeches, but most of them do not create any difficulty in the interest of our movement, though at heart they feel ill at ease. I told the physician about this.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 272
Jan. 23, 1909
“Prisons are generally kept very clean. If this were not so, there would be epidemics before long. But there is also lack of cleanliness in some respects. Blankets are constantly interchanged. A blanket that has been used by the dirtiest of Kaffirs may later fall to an Indian’s lot.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 274
Jan. 30, 1909
“First, why should we bear such hardships, submit ourselves, for instance, to the restrictions of gaol life, wear coarse and ungainly dress, eat food which is hardly food, starve ourselves, suffer being kicked by the warder, live among the Kaffirs, do every kind of work, whether we like it or not, obey a warder who is only good enough to be our servant, be unable to receive any friends or write letters, go without things that we may need, and sleep in company with robbers and thieves? Better die than suffer this. Better pay the fine than go to gaol.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 292
July 16, 1909
“The labour required of them is generally of a severe character. Indians who have never lifted a heavy weight or done any spadde work have been put to wheeling heavily loaded barrows, digging holes repairing roads, etc., side by side with Kaffir convicts of the worst type.” ~ Vol. IX, p. 422
Oct. 8, 1909
“We do not get there the food that we are used to, and are classified with the Kaffirs.” ~ Vol. X, p. 158
Dec. 2, 1910
“Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.” ~ Vol. X, p. 414
Mar. 10, 1911
“I do not think that there need be any worry about police officer. If the Regulations provide for Kaffir Police, we can fight the Regulations. Even in attacking the details of the Bill, I think we should be very careful not to trouble ourselves with what may be remedied by Regulation.” ~ Vol. XI, p. 266
Sgt. Major Gandhi
Note: The Indian Opinion was a newspaper established by Mohandas Gandhi in South Africa. He edited the paper and wrote much of its content for years, using it as a propaganda tool to promote his ideology.
Gandhi was born to a Hindu family in 1869 in British-ruled Gujarat, India. In 1888 he went to study law at University College in London, England. After a short stint as an attorney in India, he was hired to work in Durban, South Africa as a legal adviser for a wealthy Indian merchant firm. He moved there in 1893. Prior to Gandhi’s arrival in South Africa, the black Zulu South Africans were in the middle of a nonviolent civil rights movement against their colonial British masters. They refused to pay taxes and often even to work. Surprisingly, to those unfamiliar with the real Gandhi, he refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of their movement, and actively campaigned against it.He endorsed a British war on South African blacks, sought comfort and assistance for British troops, and pursued recruitment into the armed services. Eventually, he was appointed a Sgt. Major in the British Army. He then wrote propaganda about the war, and years later lied about the form of his involvement in his autobiography.
British Declare War on Blacks
In protest of a new poll-tax, Zulus confronted and killed two British tax collectors in 1906. In retaliation, the British declared war on the Zulus. They hung, shot, and severely flogged thousands of Zulus. Around four thousand Zulus were killed during the rebellion.
While the British took active measures to raise and equip an armed force for suppressing the blacks, Gandhi also began to prepare for the war against those he called “Kaffirs.”
Gandhi Endorses British War
For over six months Gandhi actively encouraged the British to raise an Indian regiment for use against the Zulus. Though considered an Apostle of Nonviolence, Gandhi eagerly pursued a chance for military service. His campaign began in late 1905, when he wrote “An Indian Volunteer Corps” for the Indian Opinion, saying, “If the Government only realized what reserve force is being wasted, they would make use of it and give Indians the opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare.”
Gandhi expressed his frustration that the British had not yet raised an Indian regiment in his Mar. 17, 1906 “A Plea for Indian Volunteering.” He sounded almost desperate to participate in the war on blacks when he wrote: “The Natal Native trouble is dragging on a slow existence…. There is a population of over one hundred thousand Indians in Natal. It has been proved that they can do very efficient work in time of war…. Is it prudent for the Government to allow a source of strength, which always lies at its disposal, to run to waste?”
Gandhi Campaigns For Care Packages for British Troops
While the Zulus continued their war for freedom, Gandhi urged the Indian community to send money and care packages to the white militia fighting the black Zulus. In “The Natal Rebellion,” Feb. 2, 1906, he wrote: “The substance of it is that the Indians are not able to go to the battle-field, but that they can assist the men at the front with the requisite amenities.” In the same letter, he also urged Indians to help fund the war effort, saying, “It will be good to collect some money and send it to the Government or to some Fund that might have been started. We shall then be considered to have done our duty to that extent. We hope the leaders of the community will take up this matter.”
In his June 6, 1906 “Soldier’s Fund,” he glowingly wrote, “The Durban Women’s Association has started a special fund for the soldiers who have gone to the front to fight the Kaffirs. All leading men have contributed to the Fund and some Indian names are seen among the contributors. It is our advice that more Indians, traders and others, should subscribe to the Fund.” He also demanded that civilians send care packages to the soldiers. Strangely, the staunch Brahmanist Gandhi suggested these include tobacco, use of which is considered a sin in Hinduism. He wrote: “The soldiers’ life is a hard one…. Those, therefore, who do not go to the front should, in order to express their sympathy, raise a fund for the purpose of sending the soldiers fruits, tobacco, warm clothing and other things that they might need. It is our duty to subscribe to such a fund.”
Gandhi Seeks Recruitment Into British Armed Services
Gandhi finally managed to convince the British government to allow an Indian stretcher-bearer corps. He seemed a little disappointed at the non-combatant status of the corps, however, when in his May 12, 1906 “Indian Volunteering” he wrote: “The pity of it is that the Government…have not taken the elementary precaution of giving the necessary discipline and instruction to the Indians. It is, therefore, a matter of physical impossibility to expect Indians to do any work with the rifle; or, for that matter, to do any work in connection with war with much efficiency.”
Still bent on convincing the British to arm that corps, however, Gandhi spoke of an “amendment of the Fire-Arms Act” in his June 9, 1906 “Indians and the Native Unrest.” This amendment would “[provide] for the supply of arms to Indians…intended to give Indians an opportunity of taking their share in the defence of the Colony.”
He also displayed his selfish reasons for raising an Indian regiment, which had nothing to do with actually helping the British and completely ignored the just cause of the black Zulus. He wrote: “Indians have now a splendid opportunity for showing that they are capable of appreciating the duties of citizenship. At the same time, the fact of the corps being raised is nothing to be unduly proud of. Twenty Indians, or even two hundred, going to the front is a flea-bite. The Indian sacrifice will rightly be considered infinitesimal. But it is the principle involved which marks the importance of the event. The Government have, by accepting the offer, shown their goodwill. And if Indians come successfully through the ordeal, the possibilities for the future are very great. Should they be assigned a permanent part in the Militia, there will remain no ground for the European complaint that Europeans alone have to bear the brunt of Colonial defence, and Indians will cease to feel that, in not being allowed to participate in it, they are slighted.”
Gandhi Becomes a Sergeant Major
On June 6, 1906, in “Pledge of Allegiance,” Gandhi transcribed his oath: “We, the undersigned, solemnly and sincerely declare that we will be faithful and bear true allegiance to His Majesty King Edward the Seventh, His Heirs and Successors, and that we will faithfully serve in the supernumerary list of the Active Militia Force of the Colony of Natal as Stretcher-Bearers, until we shall lawfully cease to be members thereof, and the terms of the service are that we should each receive Rations, Uniform, Equipment and 1s. 6d. per day.”
It was official. Gandhi was appointed a Sgt. Major in the British Army, and would lead 20 Indian volunteers to assist the war against the black Zulus.
Gandhi Writes Propaganda for War on Blacks
As a last touch before heading to the battlefield, Gandhi published “Should Indians Volunteer Or Not?” on June 30, 1906, in the Indian Opinion. He passionately urged Indians to volunteer, saying: “There is hardly any family from which someone has not gone to fight the Kaffir rebels. Following their example, we should steel our hearts and take courage. Now is the time when the leading whites want us to take this step; if we let go this opportunity, we shall repent later. We therefore urge all Indian leaders to do their duty to the best of their ability.”
He made sure to downplay the dangers of going to war by inventing statistics regarding previous British wars. “The Crimean War,” he wrote, “caused heavy casualties; yet it has been estimated that fewer men died from bayonet or bullet wounds in that war than through sheer carelessness or perverse living. It was calculated that, on an average, more men died of fever and other diseases during the attack on Ladysmith than by Boer bullets. The experience in every war has been similar.”
Gandhi also advertised military service as physically and mentally beneficial, saying: “Those who can take care of themselves and lead regular lives while at the front can live in health and happiness. The training such men receive cannot be had elsewhere…. A man going to the battle-front has to train himself to endure severe hardships. He is obliged to cultivate the habit of living in comradeship with large numbers of men. He easily learns to make do with simple food. He is required to keep regular hours. He forms the habit of obeying his superior’s orders promptly and without argument.”
Completely ignoring the underlying cause of the Zulu rebellion, which was a desire for freedom, Gandhi argued for a religious reason to wage war on the black natives of South Africa. He said, “For the Indian community, going to the battle-field should be an easy matter; for, whether Muslims or Hindus, we are men with profound faith in God. We have a greater sense of duty, and it should therefore be easier for us to volunteer.”
Gandhi Lies About His Involvement in War on Blacks
Gandhi tried to rewrite his South African history in his 1920s autobiography. He wrote: “I bore no grudge against the Zulus, they had harmed no Indian. I had doubts about the ‘rebellion’ itself.” He also claimed, “My heart was with the Zulus.” Yet in 1906, he vehemently advocated Indians be allowed to “[take] their share in the defence of the Colony,” demanded the Indian community help fund the suppression of the Zulu rebellion, and cheered the chance to train for “actual warfare.”
His lying was even more blatant, however.
In his autobiography, Gandhi insists, “I was delighted, on reaching headquarters to hear that our main work was to be the nursing of the wounded Zulus.” He also wrote that “the work of my Corps consisted only in nursing the wounded Zulu.” Yet in “Fatigue Duties,” his final dispatch from the battlefield, Gandhi describes his duties:
“Early on the morning of the 27th, therefore, one-half of the Corps, with two stretchers under Sgt.-Major Gandhi and Sgt. Joshi proceeded to Otimati, where instructions were received to take a stretcher to carry one of the troopers who was dazed. Fortunately, the trooper had recovered before the party reached Thring’s Post. But by an unfortunate accident, another trooper, by name Forder, had received a bullet-wound in the thigh from a co-trooper. He, however, pluckily rode to the camp. The stretcher party had to assist Mr. Stokes, of the N. M. C., in treating the wounded trooper, and others, who had received slight injuries through accidents or otherwise, requiring medical help. On the 28th, the stretcher party at Otimati were to take to Mapumulo Private Sutton of the Durban Reserves, whose toe was crushed under a waggon wheel, and Trooper Forder. The latter had to be carried on a stretcher, as his wound was very delicate. The work of carrying Trooper Forder proved to be much heavier than we had thought. The energy of all the available men had to be taxed to the utmost in carrying the wounded men, especially as it meant going uphill all the way. As we were nearing Mapumulo, the Captain of our escort sent word that, if it could be managed, Forder should be placed in the ambulance waggon, as the Natives about the hill might wrongly consider that the rebels had succeeded in wounding at least one of our men. Trooper Forder, on hearing the message, gladly volunteered to go into the wagon. And the fatigued bearers were equally glad to be relieved of the necessity of having to carry their charge up the very steep hill near Mapumulo.”
Although years later Gandhi claimed his military work consisted “only” of nursing wounded blacks, his earlier writings tell a completely different story. His main work was caring for British troops wounded during the war against blacks.
The indisputable truth is that Gandhi chose to actively endorse and participate in a war waged solely to deprive black people of their liberties. At a time of extreme racial conflict, Gandhi knowingly sided with the oppressive white race. He even thirsted for Zulu blood, ruefully saying in July, 1906: “At about 12 o’clock we finished the day’s journey, with no Kaffirs to fight.”
The Durban Post Office
Note: The Natal Indian Congress was founded in 1894 by Mohandas Gandhi to further the causes of caste Hindus and campaign against equal treatment for Indians and black South African natives. This blatant display of racism is apparent at the Durban post office in South Africa.
The first major accomplishment of the Natal Indian Congress was to further entrench racial segregation into South African society during a time of massive racial strife. At the time, the Durban, South Africa post office had two doors. One was for whites and the other for Indians and black natives. Gandhi was so disgusted at having to share a door with blacks that he initiated a campaign for the creation of a third door. This achievement is shocking but very well-documented in Gandhi’s writings.
Gandhi Refuses to Share Door With Blacks
Gandhi first referenced this issue in an August, 1895 letter titled “Report of the Natal Indian Congress.” He wrote: “A correspondence was carried on by the late President with the Government in connection with the separate entrances for the Europeans and Natives and Asiatics at the Post Office.”
A year later, after the issue had already been resolved, Gandhi chose to expound upon his reasons for raising it in the first place. In his August 14, 1896 letter, “The Grievances of the British Indians in South Africa: An Appeal to the Indian Public,” he called being “put on the same level with the native” a “disability.” He did not complain that Indians were refused the same rights as whites, but rather that Indians were not treated as legally superior to the black natives. Gandhi’s “Grievances” letter continues:
“Lavatories are marked ‘natives and Asiatics’ at the railway stations. In the Durban Post and Telegraph Offices, there were separate entrances for natives and Asiatics and Europeans. We felt the indignity too much and many respectable Indians were insulted and called all sorts of names by the clerks at the counter.”
Obviously, Gandhi was infuriated by the idea of integration with the black natives. He didn’t mind that Indians were segregated from whites as long as the Indian was not “dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”
Gandhi Achieves Post Office Segregation
In his 1895 “Report,” Gandhi boasted about the government response to his petition for segregation from the blacks. He wrote: “The result has not been altogether unsatisfactory. Separate entrances will now be provided for the three communities.” Again, in his 1896 “Grievances,” he bragged about this victory, writing: “We petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.”
Gandhi Seeks Further Segregation
He was not satisfied, however, and in 1896 raised the “problem” of other integrated locations. The integrated railway station lavatories displeased him, for instance, and in “Grievances” he wrote that “our efforts are concentrated towards preventing and getting repealed fresh legislation.” His efforts to increase racial segregation continued for many years. In an 1894 Indian Opinion article, for instance, he again protested integration with the blacks, writing: “Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian location should be chosen for dumping down all Kaffirs of the town, passes my comprehension. Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population, and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”
Indeed, Gandhi felt Indian segregation was something worth boasting about. In a March, 1903 Indian Opinion article, he wrote: “The petition dwells upon `the co-mingling of the colored and white races.’ May we inform the members of the Conference that so far as British Indians are concerned, such a thing is particularly unknown. If there is one thing which the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is the purity of type.”
Gandhi’s staunch devotion to Hinduism clarifies his love of racial segregation. The foundation of Hinduism is a racist caste philosophy which forces darker skinned people in general and the black Untouchables of India specifically to the bottom rung of society. Much of Gandhi’s time in South Africa was dedicated to ensuring the denial of equal civil rights to the black natives, whom he viewed as equivalent to Untouchables.
His activities in South Africa beg an important question. Did his campaign for a racially segregated society contribute to the rise of Apartheid?
Gandhi and Blacks
Gandhi is idolized by people of all political stripes around the world, and his life is popularly considered a model for the American Civil Rights Movement.
U.S. Senator Harry Reid called Gandhi “a giant in morality.” Former U.S president Ronald Reagan signed a bill creating a “National Day of Recognition for Mohandas K. Gandhi.” South African leader Nelson Mandela called Gandhi “the archetypal anticolonial revolutionary” whose “nonviolent resistance inspired anticolonial and antiracist movements.” African-American Senator Obama reportedly keeps a picture of Gandhi in his office.
Martin Luther King, Jr. associated Gandhi with the African-American struggle against inequality, segregation, and racism. Reverend King believed Gandhi was “inspired by the vision of humanity evolving toward…peace and harmony.” When the Indian government paid to place a statue of Gandhi at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Center in Atlanta, Mrs. King spoke about her husband’s admiration for Gandhi, saying, “It is gratifying and appropriate that this statue is installed in this historic site.”
Unfortunately, these people were never acquainted with the real, historical Mohandas Gandhi, who was a virulent racist.
Gandhi was hired to work as an attorney for wealthy Indian traders in South Africa. He moved there in 1893 and soon helped establish the Natal Indian Congress. The goal of this Congress was to “promote concord and harmony among the Indians and Europeans residing in the colony [of South Africa].” Instead of concord and harmony with the blacks, however, Gandhi promoted racial segregation. The major achievement of the Congress was the successful attempt, spear-headed by Gandhi, to fix the Durban post office “problem.” This issue is discussed in-depth here.
In 1904, Gandhi founded The Indian Opinion, a newspaper which he used as a political tool to promote his personal views. It is in this paper, which Gandhi edited until 1914, that we find a record of his extensive anti-black activism and opinions. A list of anti-black quotes from his writings, in which he invariably refers to the South African natives as “Kaffirs,” can be found here. Gandhi’s opinion of the native is best summarized when he calls them people “whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”
Finally, in 1906, Gandhi cheered on the British as they waged a war on the black Zulus. He then volunteered for military service himself, attaining the rank of Sgt. Major in the British Army and assisting the war on blacks in every way he could. You can learn more about this here.
One of the best-known heroes of the American Civil Rights Movement was Rosa Parks, the black lady who refused to sit at the back of the bus. While Gandhi is upheld as a champion of equality, the truth is that he probably would not even have allowed Mrs. Parks on the bus in the first place. He proudly said that among South African Indians, the “co-mingling of the coloured and white races…is practically unknown.” Gandhi also boasted, “If there is one thing, which the Indian cherishes, more than any other, it is the purity of type.”
People remember Rev. King for his most famous speech, in which he said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” To associate Martin Luther King, Jr. with Mohandas Gandhi, whose dream was to clear the way for Apartheid in South Africa, is an insult to the memory of Rev. King.
The Gandhi Nobody Knows
The following article was published in Commentary on March, 1983: entitled “The Gandhi Nobody Knows“.
I HAD the singular honor of attending an early private screening of Gandhi with an audience of invited guests from the National Council of Churches. At the end of the three-hour movie there was hardly, as they say, a dry eye in the house. When the lights came up I fell into conversation with a young woman who observed, reverently, that Gandhi’s last words were “Oh, God,” causing me to remark regretfully that the real Gandhi had not spoken in English, but had cried, Hai Rama! (“Oh, Rama”). Well, Rama was just Indian for God, she replied, at which I felt compelled to explain that, alas, Rama, collectively with his three half-brothers, represented the seventh reincarnation of Vishnu. The young woman, who seemed to have been under the impression that Hinduism was Christianity under another name, sensed somehow that she had fallen on an uncongenial spirit, and the conversation ended.
At a dinner party shortly afterward, a friend of mine, who had visited India many times and even gone to the trouble of learning Hindi, objected strenuously that the picture of Gandhi that emerges in the movie is grossly inaccurate, omitting, as one of many examples, that when Gandhi’s wife lay dying of pneumonia and British doctors insisted that a shot of penicillin would save her, Gandhi refused to have this alien medicine injected in her body and simply let her die. (It must be noted that when Gandhi contracted malaria shortly afterward he accepted for himself the alien medicine quinine, and that when he had appendicitis he allowed British doctors to perform on him the alien outrage of an appendectomy.) All of this produced a wistful mooing from an editor of a major newspaper and a recalcitrant, “But still….” I would prefer to explicate things more substantial than a wistful mooing, but there is little doubt it meant the editor in question felt that even if the real Mohandas K. Gandhi had been different from the Gandhi of the movie it would have been nice if he had been like the movie-Gandhi, and that presenting him in this admittedly false manner was beautiful, stirring, and perhaps socially beneficial.
An important step in the canonization of this movie-Gandhi was taken by the New York Film Critics Circle, which not only awarded the picture its prize as best film of 1982, but awarded Ben Kingsley, who played Gandhi (a remarkably good performance), its prize as best actor of the year. But I cannot believe for one second that these awards were made independently of the film’s content—which, not to put too fine a point on it, is an all-out appeal for pacifism—or in anything but the most shameful ignorance of the historical Gandhi.
Now it does not bother me that Shakespeare omitted from his ‘King John’ the signing of the Magna Charta—by far the most important event in John’s reign. All Shakespeare’s “histories” are strewn with errors and inventions. Shifting to the cinema and to more recent times, it is hard for me to work up much indignation over the fact that neither Eisenstein’s ‘Battleship Potemkin’ nor his ‘October’ recounts historical episodes in anything like the manner in which they actually occurred (the famous march of the White Guards down the steps at Odessa—artistically one of the greatest sequences in film history—simply did not take place). As we draw closer to the present, however, the problem becomes much more difficult. If the Soviet Union were to make an artistically wondrous film about the entry of Russian tanks into Prague in 1968 (an event I happened to witness), and show them being greeted with flowers by a grateful populace, the Czechs dancing in the streets with joy, I do not guarantee that I would maintain my serene aloofness. A great deal depends on whether the historical events represented in a movie are intended to be taken as substantially true, and also on whether—separated from us by some decades or occurring yesterday—they are seen as having a direct bearing on courses of action now open to us.
On my second viewing of ‘Gandhi,’ this time at a public showing at the end of the Christmas season, I happened to leave the theater behind three teenage girls, apparently from one of Manhattan’s fashionable private schools. “Gandhi was pretty much an FDR,” one opined, astonishing me almost as much by her breezy use of initials to invoke a President who died almost a quarter-century before her birth as by the stupefying nature of the comparison. “But he was a religious figure, too,” corrected one of her friends, adding somewhat smugly, “It’s not in our historical tradition to honor spiritual leaders.” Since her schoolteachers had clearly not led her to consider Jonathan Edwards and Roger Williams as spiritual leaders, let alone Joseph Smith and William Jennings Bryan, the intimation seemed to be that we are a society with poorer spiritual values than, let’s say, India. There can be no question, in any event, that the girls felt they had just been shown the historical Gandhi—an attitude shared by Ralph Nader, who at last account had seen the film three times. Nader has conceived the most extraordinary notion that Gandhi’s symbolic flouting of the British salt tax was a “consumer issue” which he later expanded into the wider one of Indian independence. A modern parallel to Gandhi’s program of home-spinning and home-weaving, another “consumer issue” says Nader, might be the use of solar energy to free us from the “giant multinational oil corporations.”
AS IT happens, the government of India openly admits to having provided one-third of the financing of ‘Gandhi’ out of state funds, straight out of the national treasury—and after close study of the finished product I would not be a bit surprised to hear that it was 100 percent. If Pandit Nehru is portrayed flatteringly in the film, one must remember that Nehru himself took part in the initial story conferences (he originally wanted Gandhi to be played by Alec Guinness) and that his daughter Indira Gandhi is, after all, Prime Minister of India (though no relation to Mohandas Gandhi). The screenplay was checked and rechecked by Indian officials at every stage, often by the Prime Minister herself, with close consultations on plot and even casting. If the movie contains a particularly poisonous portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, the Indian reply, I suppose, would be that if the Pakistanis want an attractive portrayal of Jinnah let them pay for their own movie. A friend of mine, highly sophisticated in political matters but innocent about film-making, declared that ‘Gandhi’ should be preceded by the legend: The following film is a paid political advertisement by the government of India.
“Gandhi”, then, is a large, pious, historical morality tale centered on a saintly, sanitized Mahatma Gandhi cleansed of anything too embarrassingly Hindu (the word “caste” is not mentioned from one end of the film to the other) and, indeed, of most of the rest of Gandhi’s life, much of which would drastically diminish his saintliness in Western eyes. There is little to indicate that the India of today has followed Gandhi’s precepts in almost nothing. There is little, in fact, to indicate that India is even India. The spectator realizes the scene is the Indian subcontinent because there are thousands of extras dressed in dhotis and saris. The characters go about talking in these quaint Peter Sellers accents. We have occasional shots of India’s holy poverty, holy hovels, some landscapes, many of them photographed quite beautifully, for those who like travelogues. We have a character called Lord Mountbatten (India’s last Viceroy); a composite American journalist (assembled from Vincent Sheehan, William L. Shirer, Louis Fischer, and straight fiction); a character called simply “Viceroy” (presumably another composite); an assemblage of Gandhi’s Indian followers under the name of one of them (Patel); and of course Nehru.
I sorely missed the fabulous Annie Besant, that English clergyman’s wife, turned atheist, turned Theosophist, turned Indian nationalist, who actually became president of the Indian National Congress and had a terrific falling out with Gandhi, becoming his fierce opponent. And if the producers felt they had to work in a cameo role for an American star to add to the film’s appeal in the United States, it is positively embarrassing that they should have brought in the photographer Margaret Bourke-White, a person of no importance whatever in Gandhi’s life and a role Candice Bergen plays with a repellant unctuousness. If the film-makers had been interested in drama and not hagiography, it is hard to see how they could have resisted the awesome confrontation between Gandhi and, yes, Margaret Sanger. For the two did meet. Now there was a meeting of East and West, and may the better person win! (She did. Margaret Sanger argued her views on birth control with such vigor that Gandhi had a nervous breakdown.)
I cannot honestly say I had any reasonable expectation that the film would show scenes of Gandhi’s pretty teenage girl followers fighting “hysterically” (the word was used) for the honor of sleeping naked with the Mahatma and cuddling the nude septuagenarian in their arms. (Gandhi was “testing” his vow of chastity in order to gain moral strength for his mighty struggle with Jinnah.) When told there was a man named Freud who said that, despite his declared intention, Gandhi might actually be enjoying the caresses of the naked girls, Gandhi continued, unperturbed. Nor, frankly, did I expect to see Gandhi giving daily enemas to all the young girls in his ashrams (his daily greeting was, “Have you had a good bowel movement this morning, sisters?”), nor see the girls giving him his daily enema. Although Gandhi seems to have written less about home rule for India than he did about enemas, and excrement, and latrine cleaning (“The bathroom is a temple. It should be so clean and inviting that anyone would enjoy eating there”), I confess such scenes might pose problems for a Western director.
‘Gandhi,’ therefore, the film, this paid political advertisement for the government of India, is organized around three axes: (1) Anti-racism—all men are equal regardless of race, color, creed, etc.; (2) anti-colonialism, which in present terms translates as support for the Third World, including, most eminently, India; (3) nonviolence, presented as an absolutist pacifism. There are other, secondary precepts and subheadings. Gandhi is portrayed as the quintessence of tolerance (“I am a Hindu and a Muslim and a Christian and a Jew”), of basic friendliness to Britain (“The British have been with us for a long time and when they leave we want them to leave as friends”), of devotion to his wife and family. His vow of chastity is represented as something selfless and holy, rather like the celibacy of the Catholic clergy. But, above all, Gandhi’s life and teachings are presented as having great import for us today. We must learn from Gandhi.
I propose to demonstrate that the film grotesquely distorts both Gandhi’s life and character to the point that it is nothing more than a pious fraud, and a fraud of the most egregious kind. Hackneyed Indian falsehoods such as that “the British keep trying to break India up” (as if Britain didn’t give India a unity it had never enjoyed in history), or that the British created Indian poverty (a poverty which had not only existed since time immemorial but had been considered holy), almost pass unnoticed in the tide of adulation for our fictional saint. Gandhi, admittedly, being a devout Hindu, was far more self-contradictory than most public men. Sanskrit scholars tell me that flat self-contradiction is even considered an element of “Sanskrit rhetoric.” Perhaps it is thought to show profundity.
GANDHI rose early, usually at three-thirty, and before his first bowel movement (during which he received visitors, although possibly not Margaret Bourke-White) he spent two hours in meditation, listening to his “inner voice.” Now Gandhi was an extremely vocal individual, and in addition to spending an hour each day in vigorous walking, another hour spinning at his primitive spinning wheel, another hour at further prayers, another hour being massaged nude by teenage girls, and many hours deciding such things as affairs of state, he produced a quite unconscionable number of articles and speeches and wrote an average of sixty letters a day. All considered, it is not really surprising that his inner voice said different things to him at different times. Despising consistency and never checking his earlier statements, and yet inhumanly obstinate about his position at any given moment, Gandhi is thought by some Indians today (according to V.S. Naipaul) to have been so erratic and unpredictable that he may have delayed Indian independence for twenty-five years.
For Gandhi was an extremely difficult man to work with. He had no partners, only disciples. For members of his ashrams, he dictated every minute of their days, and not only every morsel of food they should eat but when they should eat it. Without ever having heard of a protein or a vitamin, he considered himself an expert on diet, as on most things, and was constantly experimenting. Once when he fell ill, he was found to have been living on a diet of ground-nut butter and lemon juice; British doctors called it malnutrition. And Gandhi had even greater confidence in his abilities as a “nature doctor,” prescribing obligatory cures for his ashramites, such as dried cow-dung powder and various concoctions containing cow dung (the cow, of course, being sacred to the Hindu). And to those he really loved he gave enemas—but again, alas, not to Margaret Bourke-White. Which is too bad, really. For admiring Candice Bergen’s work as I do, I would have been most interested in seeing how she would have experienced this beatitude. The scene might have lived in film history.
There are 400 biographies of Gandhi, and his writings run to 80 volumes, and since he lived to be seventy-nine, and rarely fell silent, there are, as I have indicated, quite a few inconsistencies. The authors of the present movie even acknowledge in a little-noticed opening title that they have made a film only true to Gandhi’s spirit. For my part, I do not intend to pick through Gandhi’s writings to make him look like Attila the Hun (although the thought is tempting), but to give a fair, weighted balance of his views, laying stress above all on his actions, and on what he told other men to do when the time for action had come.
Anti-racism: the reader will have noticed that in the present-day community of nations South Africa is a pariah. So it is an absolutely amazing piece of good fortune that Gandhi, born the son of the Prime Minister of a tiny Indian principality and received as an attorney at the bar of the Middle Temple in London, should have begun his climb to greatness as a member of the small Indian community in, precisely, South Africa. Natal, then a separate colony, wanted to limit Indian immigration and, as part of the government program, ordered Indians to carry identity papers (an action not without similarities to measures under consideration in the U.S. today to control illegal immigration). The film’s lengthy opening sequences are devoted to Gandhi’s leadership in the fight against Indians carrying their identity papers (burning their registration cards), with for good measure Gandhi being expelled from the first-class section of a railway train, and Gandhi being asked by whites to step off the sidewalk. This inspired young Indian leader calls, in the film, for interracial harmony, for people to “live together.”
Now the time is 1893, and Gandhi is a “caste” Hindu, and from one of the higher castes. Although, later, he was to call for improving the lot of India’s Untouchables, he was not to have any serious misgivings about the fundamentals of the caste system for about another thirty years, and even then his doubts, to my way of thinking, were rather minor. In the India in which Gandhi grew up, and had only recently left, some castes could enter the courtyards of certain Hindu temples, while others could not. Some castes were forbidden to use the village well. Others were compelled to live outside the village, still others to leave the road at the approach of a person of higher caste and perpetually to call out, giving warning, so that no one would be polluted by their proximity. The endless intricacies of Hindu caste by-laws varied somewhat region by region, but in Madras, where most South African Indians were from, while a Nayar could pollute a man of higher caste only by touching him, Kammalans polluted at a distance of 24 feet, toddy drawers at 36 feet, Pulayans and Cherumans at 48 feet, and beef-eating Paraiyans at 64 feet. All castes and the thousands of sub-castes were forbidden, needless to say, to marry, eat, or engage in social activity with any but members of their own group. In Gandhi’s native Gujarat a caste Hindu who had been polluted by touch had to perform extensive ritual ablutions or purify himself by drinking a holy beverage composed of milk, whey, and (what else?) cow dung.
Low-caste Hindus, in short, suffered humiliations in their native India compared to which the carrying of identity cards in South Africa was almost trivial In fact, Gandhi, to his credit, was to campaign strenuously in his later life for the reduction of caste barriers in India—a campaign almost invisible in the movie, of course, conveyed in only two glancing references, leaving the audience with the officially sponsored if historically astonishing notion that racism was introduced into India by the British. To present the Gandhi of 1893, a conventional caste Hindu, fresh from caste-ridden India where a Paraiyan could pollute at 64 feet, as the champion of interracial equalitarianism is one of the most brazen hypocrisies I have ever encountered in a serious movie.
The film, moreover, does not give the slightest hint as to Gandhi’s attitude toward blacks, and the viewers of ‘Gandhi’ would naturally suppose that, since the future Great Soul opposed South African discrimination against Indians, he would also oppose South African discrimination against black people. But this is not so. While Gandhi, in South Africa, fought furiously to have Indians recognized as loyal subjects of the British empire, and to have them enjoy the full rights of Englishmen, he had no concern for blacks whatever. In fact, during one of the “Kaffir Wars” he volunteered to organize a brigade of Indians to put down a Zulu rising, and was decorated himself for valor under fire.
For, yes, Gandhi (Sergeant Major Gandhi) was awarded Victoria’s coveted War Medal. Throughout most of his life Gandhi had the most inordinate admiration for British soldiers, their sense of duty, their discipline and stoicism in defeat (a trait he emulated himself). He marveled that they retreated with heads high, like victors. There was even a time in his life when Gandhi, hardly to be distinguished >from Kipling’s Gunga Din, wanted nothing much as to be a Soldier of the Queen. Since this is not in keeping with the “spirit” of Gandhi, as decided by Pandit Nehru and Indira Gandhi, it is naturally omitted >from he movie.
Anti-colonialism: as almost always with historical films, even those more honest than ‘Gandhi,’ the historical personage on which the movie is based is not only more complex but more interesting than the character shown on the screen. During his entire South African period, and for some time after, until he was about fifty, Gandhi was nothing more or less than an imperial loyalist, claiming for Indians the rights of Englishmen but unshakably loyal to the crown. He supported the empire ardently in no fewer than three wars: the Boer War, the “Kaffir War,” and, with the most extreme zeal, World War I. If Gandhi’s mind were of the modern European sort, this would seam to suggest that his later attitude toward Britain was the product of unrequited love: he had wanted to be an Englishman; Britain had rejected him and his people; very well then, they would have their own country. But this would imply a point of “agonizing reappraisal,” a moment when Gandhi’s most fundamental political beliefs were reexamined and, after the most bitter soul-searching, repudiated. But I have studied the literature and cannot find this moment of bitter soul-searching. Instead, listening to his “inner voice” (which in the case of divines of all countries often speaks in the tones of holy opportunism), Gandhi simply, tranquilly, without announcing any sharp break, set off in a new direction.
It should be understood that it is unlikely Gandhi ever truly conceived of “becoming” an Englishman, first, because he was a Hindu to the marrow of his bones, and also, perhaps, because his democratic instincts were really quite weak. He was a man of the most extreme, autocratic temperament, tyrannical, unyielding even regarding things he knew nothing about, totally intolerant of all opinions but his own. He was, furthermore, in the highest degree reactionary, permitting in India no change in the relationship between the feudal lord and his peasants or servants, the rich and the poor. In his ‘The Life and Death of Mahatma Gandhi,’ the best and least hagiographic of the full-length studies, Robert Payne, although admiring Gandhi greatly, explains Gandhi’s “new direction” on his return to India from South Africa as follows:
He spoke in generalities, but he was searching for a single cause, a single hard-edged task to which he would devote the remaining years of his life. He wanted to repeat his triumph in South Africa on Indian soil. He dreamed of assembling a small army of dedicated men around him, issuing stern commands and leading them to some almost unobtainable goal.
Gandhi, in short, was a leader looking for a cause. He found it, of course, in home rule for India and, ultimately, in independence.
WE ARE therefore presented with the seeming anomaly of a Gandhi who, in Britain when war broke out in August 1914, instantly contacted the War Office, swore that he would stand by England in its hour of need, and created the Indian Volunteer Corps, which he might have commanded if he hadn’t fallen ill with pleurisy. In 1915, back in India, he made a memorable speech in Madras in which he proclaimed, “I discovered that the British empire had certain ideals with which I have fallen in love….” In early 1918, as the war in Europe entered its final crisis, he wrote to the Viceroy of India, “I have an idea that if I become your recruiting agent-in-chief, I might rain men upon you,” and he proclaimed in a speech in Kheda that the British “love justice; they have shielded men against oppression.” Again, he wrote to the Viceroy, “I would make India offer all her able-bodied sons as a sacrifice to the empire at this critical moment To some of his pacifist friends, who were horrified, Gandhi replied by appealing to the ‘Bhagavad Gita’ and to the endless wars recounted in the Hindu epics, the ‘Ramayana’ and the ‘Mahabharata,’ adding further to the pacifists’ honor by declaring that Indians “have always been warlike, and the finest hymn composed by Tulsidas in praise of Rama gives the first place to his ability to strike down the enemy.”
This was in contradiction to the interpretation of sacred Hindu scriptures Gandhi had offered on earlier occasions (and would offer later), which was that they did not recount military struggles but spiritual struggles; but, unusual for him, he strove to find some kind of synthesis. “I do not say,
Let us go and kill the Germans,'" Gandhi explained. "I say,Let us go and die for the sake of India and the empire.’” And yet within two years, the time having come for swaraj (home rule), Gandhi’s inner voice spoke again, and, the leader having found his cause, Gandhi proclaimed resoundingly: “The British empire today represents Satanism, and they who love God can afford to have no love for Satan.”
The idea of swaraj, originated by others, crept into Gandhi’s mind gradually. With a fair amount of winding about, Gandhi, roughly, passed through three phases. First, he was entirely pro-British, and merely wanted for Indians the rights of Englishmen (as he understood them). Second, he was still pro-British, but with the belief that, having proved their loyalty to the empire, Indians would be granted some degree of swaraj. Third, as the home-rule movement gathered momentum, it was the swaraj, the whole swaraj, and nothing but the swaraj, and he turned relentlessly against the crown. The movie to the contrary, he caused the British no end of trouble in their struggles during World War II.
BUT it should not be thought for one second that Gandhi’s finally full-blown desire to detach India from the British empire gave him the slightest sympathy with other colonial peoples pursuing similar objectives. Throughout his entire life Gandhi displayed the most spectacular inability to understand or even really take in people unlike himself—a trait which V.S. Naipaul considers specifically Hindu, and I am inclined to agree. Just as Gandhi had been totally unconcerned with the situation of South Africa’s blacks (he hardly noticed they were there until they rebelled), so now he was totally unconcerned with other Asians or Africans. In fact, he was adamantly opposed to certain Arab movements within the Ottoman empire for reasons of internal Indian politics.
At the close of World War I, the Muslims of India were deeply absorbed in what they called the “khilafat” movement—“khilafat” being their corruption of “Caliphate,” the Caliph in question being the Ottoman Sultan. In addition to his temporal powers, the Sultan of the Ottoman empire held the spiritual position of Caliph, supreme leader of the world’s Muslims and successor to the Prophet Muhammad. At the defeat of the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Turkey), the Sultan was a prisoner in his palace in Constantinople, shorn of his religious as well as his political authority, and the Muslims of India were incensed. It so happened that the former subject peoples of the Ottoman empire, principally Arabs, were perfectly happy to be rid of this Caliph, and even the Turks were glad to be rid of him, but this made no impression at all on the Muslims of India, for whom the issue was essentially a club with which to beat the British. Until this odd historical moment, Indian Muslims had felt little real allegiance to the Ottoman Sultan either, but now that he had fallen, the British had done it! The British had taken away their khilafat! And one of the most ardent supporters of this Indian Muslim movement was the new Hindu leader, Gandhi.
No one questions that the formative period for Gandhi as a political leader was his time in South Africa. Throughout history Indians, divided into 1,500 language and dialect groups (India today has 15 official languages), had little sense of themselves as a nation. Muslim Indians and Hindu Indians felt about as close as Christians and Moors during their 700 years of cohabitation in Spain. In addition to which, the Hindus were divided into thousands of castes and sub-castes, and there were also Parsees, Sikhs, Jains. But in South Africa officials had thrown them all in together, and in the mind of Gandhi (another one of those examples of nationalism being born in exile) grew the idea of India as a nation, and Muslim-Hindu friendship became one of the few positions on which he never really reversed himself. So Gandhi ignoring Arabs and Turks—became an adamant supporter of the Khilafat movement out of strident Indian nationalism. He had become a national figure in India for having unified 13,000 Indians of all faiths in South Africa, and now he was determined to reach new heights by unifying hundreds of millions of Indians of all faiths in India itself. But this nationalism did not please everyone, particularly Tolstoy, who in his last years carried on a curious correspondence with the new Indian leader. For Tolstoy, Gandhi’s Indian nationalism “spoils everything.”
As for the “anti-colonialism” of the nationalist Indian state since independence, Indira Gandhi, India’s present Prime Minister, hears an inner voice of her own, it would appear, and this inner voice told her to justify the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as produced by provocative maneuvers on the part of the U.S. and China, as well as to be the first country outside the Soviet bloc to recognize the Hanoi puppet regime in Cambodia. So everything plainly depends on who is colonizing whom, and Mrs. Gandhi’s voice perhaps tells her that the subjection of Afghanistan and Cambodia to foreign rule is “defensive” colonialism. And the movie’s message that Mahatma Gandhi, and by plain implication India (the country for which he plays the role of Joan of Arc), have taken a holy, unchanging stance against the colonization of nation by nation is just another of its hypocrisies. For India, when it comes to colonialism or anti-colonialism, it has been Realpolitik all the way.
Nonviolence: but the real center and raison d’etre of ‘Gandhi’ is ahimsa, nonviolence, which principle when incorporated into vast campaigns of noncooperation with British rule the Mahatma called by an odd name he made up himself, satyagraha, which means something like “truth-striving.” During the key part of his life, Gandhi devoted a great deal of time explaining the moral and philosophical meanings of both ahimsa and satyagraha. But much as the film sanitizes Gandhi to the point where one would mistake him for a Christian saint, and sanitizes India to the point where one would take it for Shangri-la, it quite sweeps away Gandhi’s ethical and religious ponderings, his complexities, his qualifications, and certainly his vacillations, which simplifying process leaves us with our old European friend: pacifism. It is true that Gandhi was much impressed by the Sermon on the Mount, his favorite passage in the Bible, which he read over and over again. But for all the Sermon’s inspirational value, and its service as an ideal in relations among individual human beings, no Christian state which survived has ever based its policies on the Sermon on the Mount since Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman empire. And no modern Western state which survives can ever base its policies on pacifism. And no Hindu state will ever base its policies on ahimsa. Gandhi himself—although the film dishonestly conceals this from us—many times conceded that in dire circumstances “war may have to be resorted to as a necessary evil.”
It is something of an anomaly that Gandhi, held in popular myth to be a pure pacifist (a myth which governments of India have always been at great pains to sustain in the belief that it will reflect credit on India itself, and to which the present movie adheres slavishly), was until fifty not ill-disposed to war at all. As I have already noted, in three wars, no sooner had the bugles sounded than Gandhi not only gave his support, but was clamoring for arms. To form new regiments! To fight! To destroy the enemies of the empire! Regular Indian army units fought in both the Boer War and World War I, but this was not enough for Gandhi. He wanted to raise new troops, even, in the case of the Boer and Kaffir Wars, from the tiny Indian colony in South Africa. British military authorities thought it not really worth the trouble to train such a small body of Indians as soldiers, and were even resistant to training them as an auxiliary medical corps (“stretcher bearers”), but finally yielded to Gandhi’s relentless importuning. As first instructed, the Indian Volunteer Corps was not supposed actually to go into combat, but Gandhi, adamant, led his Indian volunteers into the thick of battle. When the British commanding officer was mortally wounded during an engagement in the Kaffir War, Gandhi—though his corps’ deputy commander—carried the officer’s stretcher himself from the battlefield and for miles over the sun-baked veldt. The British empire’s War Medal did not have its name for nothing, and it was generally earned.
ANYONE who wants to wade through Gandhi’s endless ruminations about himsa and ahimsa (violence and nonviolence) is welcome to do so, but it is impossible for the skeptical reader to avoid the conclusion—let us say in 1920, when swaraj (home rule) was all the rage and Gandhi’s inner voice started telling him that ahimsa was the thing—that this inner voice knew what it was talking about. By this I mean that, though Gandhi talked with the tongue of Hindu gods and sacred scriptures, his inner voice had a strong sense of expediency. Britain, if only comparatively speaking, was a moral nation, and nonviolent civil disobedience was plainly the best and most effective way of achieving Indian independence. Skeptics might also not be surprised to learn that as independence approached, Gandhi’s inner voice began to change its tune. It has been reported that Gandhi “half-welcomed” the civil war that broke out in the last days. Even a fratricidal “bloodbath” (Gandhi’s word) would be preferable to the British.
And suddenly Gandhi began endorsing violence left, right, and center. During the fearsome rioting in Calcutta he gave his approval to men “using violence in a moral cause.” How could he tell them that violence was wrong, he asked, “unless I demonstrate that nonviolence is more effective?” He blessed the Nawab of Maler Kotla when he gave orders to shoot ten Muslims for every Hindu killed in his state. He sang the praises of Subhas Chandra Bose, who, sponsored by first the Nazis and then the Japanese, organized in Singapore an Indian National Army with which he hoped to conquer India with Japanese support, establishing a totalitarian dictatorship. Meanwhile, after independence in 1947, the armies of the India that Gandhi had created immediately marched into battle, incorporating the state of Hyderabad by force and making war in Kashmir on secessionist Pakistan. When Gandhi was assassinated by a Hindu extremist in January 1948 he was honored by the new state with a vast military funeral—in my view by no means inapposite.
BUT it is not widely realized (nor will this film tell you) how much violence was associated with Gandhi’s so-called “nonviolent” movement from the very beginning. India’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Rabindranath Tagore, had sensed a strong current of nihilism in Gandhi almost from his first days, and as early as 1920 wrote of Gandhi’s “fierce joy of annihilation,” which Tagore feared would lead India into hideous orgies of devastation—which ultimately proved to be the case. Robert Payne has said that there was unquestionably an “unhealthy atmosphere” among many of Gandhi’s fanatic followers, and that Gandhi’s habit of going to the edge of violence and then suddenly retreating was fraught with danger. “In matters of conscience I am uncompromising,” proclaimed Gandhi proudly. “Nobody can make me yield.” The judgment of Tagore was categorical. Much as he might revere Gandhi as a holy man, he quite detested him as a politician and considered that his campaigns were almost always so close to violence that it was utterly disingenuous to call them nonviolent.
For every satyagraha true believer, moreover, sworn not to harm the adversary or even to lift a finger in his own defense, there were sometimes thousands of incensed freebooters and skirmishers bound by no such vow. Gandhi, to be fair, was aware of this, and nominally deplored it—but with nothing like the consistency shown in the movie. The film leads the audience to believe that Gandhi’s first “fast unto death,” for example, was in protest against an act of barbarous violence, the slaughter by an Indian crowd of a detachment of police constables. But in actual fact Gandhi reserved this “ultimate weapon” of his to interdict a 1931 British proposal to grant Untouchables a “separate electorate” in the Indian national legislature—in effect a kind of affirmative-action program for Untouchables. For reasons I have not been able to decrypt, Gandhi was dead set against the project, but I confess it is another scene I would like to have seen in the movie: Gandhi almost starving himself to death to block affirmative action for Untouchables.
From what I have been able to decipher, Gandhi’s main preoccupation in this particular struggle was not even the British. Benefiting from the immense publicity, he wanted to induce Hindus, overnight, ecstatically, and without any of these British legalisms, to “open their hearts” to Untouchables. For a whole week Hindu India was caught up in a joyous delirium. No more would the Untouchables be scavengers and sweepers! No more would they be banned from Hindu temples! No more would they pollute at 64 feet! It lasted just a week. Then the temple doors swung shut again, and all was as before. Meanwhile, on the passionate subject of swaraj Gandhi was crying, “I would not flinch from sacrificing a million lives for India’s liberty!” The million Indian lives were indeed sacrificed, and in full. They fell, however, not to the bullets of British soldiers but to he knives and clubs of their fellow lndians in savage butcheries when he British finally withdrew.
ALTHOUGH the movie sneers at his reasoning as being the flimsiest of pretexts, I cannot imagine an impartial person studying the subject without concluding that concern for Indian religious minorities was one of the principal reasons Britain stayed in India as long as it did. When it finally withdrew, blood-maddened mobs surged through the streets from one end of India to the other, the majority group in each area, Hindu or Muslim, slaughtering the defenseless minority without mercy in one of the most hideous periods of carnage of modern history.
A comparison is in order. At the famous Amritsar massacre of 1919, shot in elaborate and loving detail in the present movie and treated by post-independence Indian historians as if it were Auschwitz, Ghurka troops under the command of a British officer, General Dyer, fired into an unarmed crowd of Indians defying a ban and demonstrating for Indian independence. The crowd contained women and children; 379 persons died; it was all quite horrible. Dyer was court-martialed and cashiered, but the incident lay heavily on British consciences for the next three decades, producing a severe inhibiting effect. Never again would the British empire commit another Amritsar, anywhere.
As soon as the oppressive British were gone, however, the Indians—gentle, tolerant people that they are gave themselves over to an orgy of bloodletting. Trained troops did not pick off targets at a distance with Enfield rifles. Blood-crazed Hindus, or Muslims, ran through the streets with knives, beheading babies, stabbing women, old people. Interestingly, our movie shows none of this on camera (the oldest way of stacking the deck in Hollywood). All we see is the aged Gandhi, grieving, and of course fasting, at these terrible reports of riots. And, naturally, the film doesn’t whisper a clue as to the total number of dead, which might spoil the mood somehow. The fact is that we will never know how many Indians were murdered by other Indians during the country’s Independence Massacres, but almost all serious studies place the figure over a million, and some, such as Payne’s sources, go to 4 million. So, for those who like round numbers, the British killed some 400 seditious colonials at Amritsar and the name Amritsar lives in infamy, while Indians may have killed some 4 million of their own countrymen for no other reason than that they were of a different religious faith and people think their great leader would make an inspirational subject for a movie. Ahimsa, as can be seen, then, had an absolutely tremendous moral effect when used against Britain, but not only would it not have worked against Nazi Germany (the most obvious reproach, and of course quite true), but, the crowning irony, it had virtually no effect whatever when Gandhi tried to bring it into play against violent Indians.
Despite this at best patchy record, the film-makers have gone to great lengths to imply that this same principle of ahimsa—presented in the movie as the purest form of pacifism—is universally effective, yesterday, today, here, there, everywhere. We hear no talk from Gandhi of war sometimes being a “necessary evil,” but only him announcing—and more than once—“An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” In a scene very near the end of the movie, we hear Gandhi say, as if after deep reflection: “Tyrants and murderers can seem invincible at the time, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.” During the last scene of the movie, following the assassination, Margaret Bourke-White is keening over the death of the Great Soul with an English admiral’s daughter named Madeleine Slade, in whose bowel movements Gandhi took the deepest interest (see their correspondence), and Miss Slade remarks incredulously that Gandhi felt that he had failed. They are then both incredulous for a moment, after which Miss Slade observes mournfully, “When we most needed it [presumably meaning during World War II], he offered the world a way out of madness. But the world didn’t see it.” Then we hear once again the assassin’s shots, Gandhi’s “Oh, God,” and last, in case we missed them the first time, Gandhi’s words (over the shimmering waters of the Ganges?): “Tyrants and murderers can seem invincible at the time, but in the end they always fall. Think of it. Always.” This is the end of the picture.
NOW, as it happens, I have been thinking about tyrants and murderers for some time. But the fact that in the end they always fall has never given me much comfort, partly because, not being a Hindu and not expecting reincarnation after reincarnation, I am simply not prepared to wait them out. It always occurs to me that, while I am waiting around for them to fall, they might do something mean to me, like fling me into a gas oven or send me off to a Gulag. Unlike a Hindu and not worshipping stasis, I am also given to wondering who is to bring these murderers and tyrants down, it being all too risky a process to wait for them and the regimes they establish simply to die of old age. The fact that a few reincarnations >from now they will all have turned to dust somehow does not seem to suggest a rational strategy for dealing with the problem.
Since the movie’s Madeleine Slade specifically invites us to revere the “way out of madness” that Gandhi offered the world at the time of World War II, I am under the embarrassing obligation of recording exactly what courses of action the Great Soul recommended to the various parties involved in that crisis. For Gandhi was never stinting in his advice. Indeed, the less he knew about a subject, the less he stinted.
I am aware that for many not privileged to have visited the former British Raj, the names Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Deccan are simply words. But other names, such as Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, somehow have a harder profile. The term “Jew,” also, has a reasonably hard profile, and I feel all Jews sitting emotionally at the movie ‘Gandhi’ should be apprised of the advice that the Mahatma offered their coreligionists when faced with the Nazi peril: they should commit collective suicide. If only the Jews of Germany had the good sense to offer their throats willingly to the Nazi butchers’ knives and throw themselves into the sea from cliffs they would arouse world public opinion, Gandhi was convinced, and their moral triumph would be remembered for “ages to come.” If they would only pray for Hitler (as their throats were cut, presumably), they would leave a “rich heritage to mankind.” Although Gandhi had known Jews from his earliest days in South Africa—where his three staunchest white supporters were Jews, every one—he disapproved of how rarely they loved their enemies. And he never repented of his recommendation of collective suicide. Even after the war, when the full extent of the Holocaust was revealed, Gandhi told Louis Fischer, one of his biographers, that the Jews died anyway, didn’t they? They might as well have died significantly.
Gandhi’s views on the European crisis were not entirely consistent. He vigorously opposed Munich, distrusting Chamberlain. “Europe has sold her soul for the sake of a seven days’ earthly existence,” he declared. “The peace that Europe gained at Munich is a triumph of violence.” But when the Germans moved into the Bohemian heartland, he was back to urging nonviolent resistance, exhorting the Czechs to go forth, unarmed, against the Wehrmacht, perishing gloriously—collective suicide again. He had Madeleine Slade draw up two letters to President Eduard Benes of Czechoslovakia, instructing him on the proper conduct of Czechoslovak satyagrahi when facing the Nazis.
When Hitler attacked Poland, however, Gandhi suddenly endorsed the Polish army’s military resistance, calling it “almost nonviolent.” (If this sounds like double-talk, I can only urge readers to read Gandhi.) He seemed at this point to have a rather low opinion of Hitler, but when Germany’s panzer divisions turned west, Allied armies collapsed under the ferocious onslaught, and British ships were streaming across the Straits of Dover from Dunkirk, he wrote furiously to the Viceroy of India: “This manslaughter must be stopped. You are losing; if you persist, it will only result in greater bloodshed. Hitler is not a bad man….”
Gandhi also wrote an open letter to the British people, passionately urging them to surrender and accept whatever fate Hitler’ had prepared for them. “Let them take possession of your beautiful island with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these, but neither your souls, nor your minds.” Since none of this had the intended effect, Gandhi, the following year, addressed an open letter to the prince of darkness himself, Adolf Hitler.
THE scene must be pictured. In late December 1941, Hitler stood at the pinnacle of his might. His armies, undefeated anywhere ruled Europe from the English Channel to the Volga. Rommel had entered Egypt. The Japanese had reached Singapore. The U.S. Pacific Fleet lay at the bottom of Pearl Harbor. At this superbly chosen moment, Mahatma Gandhi attempted to convert Adolf Hitler to the ways of nonviolence. “Dear Friend,” the letter begins, and proceeds to a heartfelt appeal to the Fuhrer to embrace all mankind “irrespective of race, color, or creed.” Every admirer of the film ‘Gandhi’ should be compelled to read this letter. Surprisingly, it is not known to have had any deep impact on Hitler. Gandhi was no doubt disappointed. He moped about, really quite depressed, but still knew he was right. When the Japanese, having cut their way through Burma, threatened India, Gandhi’s strategy was to let them occupy as much of India as they liked and then to “make them feel unwanted.” His way of helping his British “friends” was, at one of the worst points of the war, to launch massive civil-disobedience campaigns against them, paralyzing some of their efforts to defend India from the Japanese.
Here, then, is your leader, 0 followers of Gandhi: a man who thought Hitler’s heart would be melted by an appeal to forget race, color, and creed, and who was sure the feelings of the Japanese would be hurt if they sensed themselves unwanted. As world-class statesmen go, it is not a very good record. Madeleine Slade was right, I suppose. The world certainly didn’t listen to Gandhi. Nor, for that matter, has the modern government of India listened to Gandhi. Although all Indian politicians of all political parties claim to be Gandhians, India has blithely fought three wars against Pakistan, one against China, and even invaded and seized tiny, helpless Goa, and all without a whisper of a shadow of a thought of ahimsa. And of course India now has atomic weapons, a satyagraha technique if ever there was one.
I AM SURE that almost everyone who sees the movie ‘Gandhi’ is aware that, from a religious point if view, the Mahatma was something called a “Hindu”—but I do not think one in a thousand has the dimmest notion of the fundamental beliefs of the Hindu religion. The simplest example is Gandhi’s use of the word “God,” which, for members of the great Western religions—Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, all interrelated—means a personal god, a godhead. But when Gandhi said “God” in speaking English, he was merely translating >from Gujarati or Hindi, and from the Hindu culture. Gandhi, in fact, simply did not believe in a personal God, and wrote in so many words, “God is not a person … but a force; the undefinable mysterious Power that pervades everything; a living Power that is Love….” And Gandhi’s very favorite definition of God, repeated many thousands of times, was, “God is Truth,” which reduces God to some kind of abstract principle.
Like all Hindus, Gandhi also believed in the “Great Oneness,” according to which everything is part of God, meaning not just you and me and everyone else, but every living creature, every dead creature, every plant, the pitcher of milk, the milk in the pitcher, the tumbler into which the milk is poured…. After all of which, he could suddenly pop up with a declaration that God is “the Maker, the Law-Giver, a jealous Lord,” phrases he had probably picked up in the Bible and, with Hindu fluidity, felt he could throw in so as to embrace even more of the Great Oneness. So when Gandhi said, “I am a Hindu and a Muslim and a Christian and a Jew,” it was (from a Western standpoint) Hindu double-talk. Hindu holy men, some of them reformers like Gandhi, have actually even “converted” to Islam, then Christianity, or whatever, to worship different “aspects” of the Great Oneness, before reconverting to Hinduism. Now for Christians, fastidious in matters of doctrine, a man who converts to Islam is an apostate (or vice versa), but a Hindu is a Hindu is a Hindu. The better to experience the Great Oneness, many Hindu holy men feel they should be women as well as men, and one quite famous one even claimed he could menstruate (I will spare the reader the details).
IN THIS ecumenical age, it is extremely hard to shake Westerners loose from the notion that the devout of all religions, after all, worship “the one God.” But Gandhi did not worship the one God. He did not worship the God of mercy. He did not worship the God of forgiveness. And this for the simple reason that the concepts of mercy and forgiveness are absent from Hinduism. In Hinduism, men do not pray to God for forgiveness, and a man’s sins are never forgiven—indeed, there is no one out there to do the forgiving. In your next life you may be born someone higher up the caste scale, but in this life there is no hope. For Gandhi, a true Hindu, did not believe in man’s immortal soul. He believed with every ounce of his being in karma, a series, perhaps a long series, of reincarnations, and at the end, with great good fortune: mukti, liberation from suffering and the necessity of rebirth, nothingness. Gandhi once wrote to Tolstoy (of all people) that reincarnation explained “reasonably the many mysteries of life.” So if Hindus today still treat an Untouchable as barely human, this is thought to be perfectly right and fitting because of his actions in earlier lives. As can be seen, Hinduism, by its very theology, with its sacred triad of karma, reincarnation, and caste (with caste an absolutely indispensable part of the system) offers the most complacent justification of inhumanity of any of the world’s great religious faiths.
Gandhi, needless to say, was a Hindu reformer, one of many. Until well into his fifties, however, he accepted the caste system in toto as the “natural order of society,” promoting control and discipline and sanctioned by his religion. Later, in bursts of zeal, he favored moderating it in a number of ways. But he stuck by the basic varna system (the four main caste groupings plus the Untouchables) until the end of his days, insisting that a man’s position and occupation should be determined essentially by birth. Gandhi favored milder treatment of Untouchables, renaming them Harijans, “children of God,” but a Harijan was still a Harijan. Perhaps because his frenzies of compassion were so extreme (no, no, he would clean the Harijan’s latrine), Hindu reverence for him as a holy man became immense, but his prescriptions were rarely followed. Industrialization and modernization have introduced new occupations and sizable social and political changes in India, but the caste system has dexterously adapted and remains largely intact today. The Sudras still labor. The sweepers still sweep. Max Weber, in his ‘The Religion of India,’ after quoting the last line of the ‘Communist Manifesto,’ suggests somewhat sardonically that low- caste Hindus, too, have “nothing to lose but their chains,” that they, too, have “a world to win”—the only problem being that they have to die first and get born again, higher, it is to be hoped, in the immutable system of caste. Hinduism in general, wrote Weber, “is characterized by a dread of the magical evil of innovation.” Its very essence is to guarantee stasis.
In addition to its literally thousands of castes and sub-castes, Hinduism has countless sects, with discordant rites and beliefs. It has no clear ecclesiastical organization and no universal body of doctrine. What I have described above is your standard, no-frills Hindu, of which in many ways Gandhi was an excellent example. With the reader’s permission I will skip over the Upanishads, Vedanta, Yoga, the Puranas, Tantra, Bhakti, the ‘Bhagavad-Gita’ (which contains theistic elements), Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, and the terrible Kali or Durga, to concentrate on those central beliefs that most motivated Gandhi’s behavior as a public figure.
IT SHOULD be plain by now that here is much in the Hindu culture that is distasteful to the Western mind, and consequently is largely—unknown in the West—not because Hindus do not go on and on about these subjects, but because a Western squeamishness usually prevents these preoccupations from reaching print (not to mention film). When Gandhi attended his first Indian National Congress he was most distressed at seeing the Hindus—not laborers but high-caste Hindus, civic leaders—defecating all over the place, as if to pay attention to where the feces fell was somehow unclean. (For, as V.S. Naipaul puts it, in a twisted Hindu way it is unclean to clean. It is unclean even to notice. “It was the business of the sweepers to remove excrement, and until the sweepers came, people were content to live in the midst of their own excrement.”) Gandhi exhorted Indians endlessly on the subject, saying that sanitation was the first need of India, but he retained an obvious obsession with excreta, gleefully designing latrines and latrine drills for all hands at the ashram, and, all in all what with giving and taking enemas, and his public bowel movements, and his deep concern with everyone else’s bowel movements (much correspondence), and endless dietary experiments as a function of bowel movements, he devoted a rather large share of his life to the matter. Despite his constant campaigning for sanitation, it is hard to believe that Gandhi was not permanently marked by what Arthur Koestler terms the Hindu “morbid infatuation with filth,” and what V.S. Naipaul goes as far as to call Indian “deification of filth.” (Decades later, Krishna Menon, a Gandhian and one-time Indian Defence Minister, was still fortifying sanctity by drinking a daily 1 of urine.)
But even more important, because it is dealt with in the movie directly—if of course dishonestly—is Gandhi’s parallel obsession with brahmacharya, or sexual chastity. There is a scene late in the film in which Margaret Bourke-White (again!) asks Gandhi’s wife if he has ever broken his vow of chastity, taken, at that time, about forty years before. Gandhi’s wife, by now a sweet old lady, answers wistfully, with a pathetic little note of hope, “Not yet.” What lies behind this adorable scene is the following: Gandhi held as one of his most profound beliefs (a fundamental doctrine of Hindu medicine) that a man, as a matter of the utmost importance, must conserve his bindu, or seminal fluid. Koestler (in ‘The Lotus and the Robot’) gives a succinct account of this belief, widespread among orthodox Hindus: “A man’s vital energy is concentrated in his seminal fluid, and this is stored in a cavity in the skull. It is the most precious substance in the body … an elixir of life both in the physical and mystical sense, distilled from the blood…. A large store of bindu of pure quality guarantees health, longevity, and supernatural powers…. Conversely, every loss of it is a physical and spiritual impoverishment.” Gandhi himself said in so many words, “A man who is unchaste loses stamina, becomes emasculated and cowardly, while in the chaste man secretions [semen] are sublimated into a vital force pervading his whole being.” And again, still Gandhi: “Ability to retain and assimilate the vital liquid is a matter of long training. When properly conserved it is transmuted into matchless energy and strength.” Most male Hindus go ahead and have sexual relations anyway, of course, but the belief in the value of bindu leaves the whole culture in what many observers have called a permanent state of “semen anxiety.” When Gandhi once had a nocturnal emission he almost had a nervous breakdown.
Gandhi was a truly fanatical opponent of sex for pleasure, and worked it out carefully that a married couple should be allowed to have sex three or four times in a lifetime, merely to have children and favored embodying this restriction in the law of the land. The sexual-gratification wing of the present-day feminist movement would find little to attract them in Gandhi’s doctrine, since in all his seventy-nine years it never crossed his mind once that there could be anything enjoyable in sex for women, and he was constantly enjoining Indian women to deny themselves to men, to refuse to let their husbands “abuse” them. Gandhi had been married at thirteen, and when he took his vow of chastity, after twenty-four years of sexual activity, he ordered his two oldest sons, both young men, to be totally chaste as well.
BUT Gandhi’s monstrous behavior to his own family is notorious. He denied his sons education—to which he was bitterly hostile. His wife remained illiterate. Once when she was very sick, hemorrhaging badly, and seemed to be dying, he wrote to her from jail icily: “My struggle is not merely political. It is religious and therefore quite pure. It does not matter much whether one dies in it or lives. I hope and expect that you will also think likewise and not be unhappy.” To die, that is. On another occasion he wrote, speaking about her: “I simply cannot bear to look at Ba’s face. The expression is often like that on the face of a meek cow and gives one the feeling, as a cow occasionally does, that in her own dumb manner she is saying something. I see, too, that there is selfishness in this suffering of hers ….” And in the end he let her die, as I have said, rather than allow British doctors to give her a shot of penicillin (while his inner voice told him that it would be all right for him to take quinine). He disowned his oldest son, Harilal, for wishing to marry. He banished his second son for giving his struggling older brother a small sum of money. Harilal grew quite wild with rage against his father, attacked him in print, converted to Islam, took to women, drink, and died an alcoholic in 1948. The Mahatma attacked him right back in his pious way, proclaiming modestly in an open letter in “Young India,” “Men may be good, not necessarily their children.”
IF THE reader thinks I have delivered unduly harsh judgments on India and Hindu civilization, I can refer him to ‘An Area of Darkness’ and ‘India: A Wounded Civilization,’ two quite brilliant books on India by V.S. Naipaul, a Hindu, and a Brahmin, born in Trinidad. In the second, the more discursive, Naipaul writes that India “has little to offer the world except its Gandhian concept of holy poverty and the recurring crooked comedy of its holy men, and … is now dependent in every practical way on other, imperfectly understood civilizations.”
Hinduism, Naipaul writes, “has given men no idea of a contract with other men, no idea of the state. It has enslaved one quarter of the population [the Untouchables] and always has left the whole fragmented and vulnerable. Its philosophy of withdrawal has diminished men intellectually and not equipped them to respond to challenge; it has stifled growth. So that again and again in India history has repeated itself: vulnerability, defeat, withdrawal.” Indians, Naipaul says, have no historical notion of the past. “Through centuries of conquest the civilization declined into an apparatus for survival, turning away from the mind … and creativity … stripping itself down, like all decaying civilizations, to its magical practices and imprisoning social forms.” He adds later, “No government can survive on Gandhian fantasy; and the spirituality, the solace of a conquered people, which Gandhi turned into a form of national assertion, has soured more obviously into the nihilism that it always was.” Naipaul condemns India again and again for its “intellectual parasitism,” its “intellectual vacuum,” its “emptiness,” the “blankness of its decayed civilization.” “Indian poverty is more dehumanizing than any machine; and, more than in any machine civilization, men in India are units, locked up in the straitest obedience by their idea of their dharma…
“The blight of caste is not only untouchability and the consequent deification in India of filth; the blight, in an India that tries to grow, is also the overall obedience it imposes, … the diminishing of adventurousness, the pushing away from men of individuality and the possibility of excellence.”
Although Naipaul blames Gandhi as well as India itself for the country’s failure to develop an “ideology” adequate for the modern world, he grants him one or two magnificent moments—always, it should be noted, when responding to “other civilizations.” For Gandhi, Naipaul remarks pointedly, had matured in alien societies: Britain and South Africa. With age, back in India, he seemed from his autobiography to be headed for “lunacy,” says Naipaul, and was only rescued by external events, his reactions to which were determined in part by “his experience of the democratic ways of South Africa” [my emphasis]. For it is one of the enduring ironies of Gandhi’s story that it was in South Africa—South Africa—a country in which he became far more deeply involved than he had been in Britain, that Gandhi caught a warped glimmer of that strange institution of which he would never have seen even a reflection within Hindu society: democracy.
ANOTHER of Gandhi’s most powerful obsessions (to which the movie alludes in such a syrupy and misleading manner that it would be quite impossible for the audience to understand it) was his visceral hatred of the modern, industrial world. He even said, more than once, that he actually wouldn’t mind if the British remained in India, to police it, conduct foreign policy, and such trivia, if it would only take away its factories and railways. And Gandhi hated, not just factories and railways, but also the telegraph, the telephone, the radio, the airplane. He happened to be in England when Louis Bleriot, the great French aviation pioneer, first flew the English Channel—an event which at the time stirred as much excitement as Lindbergh’s later flight across the Atlantic and Gandhi was in a positive fury that giant crowds were acclaiming such an insignificant event. He used the telegraph extensively himself, of course, and later would broadcast daily over All-India Radio during his highly publicized fasts, but consistency was never Gandhi’s strong suit.
Gandhi’s view of the good society, about which he wrote ad nauseam, was an Arcadian vision set far in India’s past. It was the pristine Indian village, where, with all diabolical machinery and technology abolished—and with them all unhappiness—contented villagers would hand-spin their own yarn, hand-weave their own cloth, serenely follow their bullocks in the fields, tranquilly prodding them in the anus in the time-hallowed Hindu way. This was why Gandhi taught himself to spin, and why all the devout Gandhians, like monkeys, spun also. This was Gandhi’s program. Since he said it several thousand times, we have no choice but to believe that he sincerely desired the destruction of modern technology and industry and the return of India to the way of life of an idyllic (and quite likely nonexistent) past. And yet this same “Mahatma Gandhi handpicked as the first Prime Minister of an independent India Pandit Nehru, who was committed to a policy of industrialization and for whom the last word in the politico-economic organization of the state was (and remained) Beatrice Webb.
WHAT are we to make of this Gandhi? We are dealing with two strangenesses here, Indians and Gandhi himself. The plain fact is that both Indian leaders and the Indian people ignored Gandhi’s precepts almost as thoroughly as did Hitler. They ignored him on sexual abstinence. They ignored his modifications of the caste system. They ignored him on the evils of modern industry, the radio, the telephone. They ignored him on education. They ignored his appeals for national union, the former British Raj splitting into a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. No one sought a return to the Arcadian Indian village of antiquity. They ignored him, above all, in ahimsa, nonviolence. There was always a small number of exalted satyagrahi who, martyrs, would march into the constables’ truncheons, but one of the things that alarmed the British—as Tagore indicated—was the explosions of violence that accompanied all this alleged nonviolence. Naipaul writes that with independence India discovered again that it was “cruel and horribly violent.” Jaya Prakash Narayan, the late opposition leader, once admitted, “We often behave like animals…. We are more likely than not to become aggressive, wild, violent. We kill and burn and loot….
Why, then, did the Hindu masses so honor this Mahatma, almost all of whose most cherished beliefs they so pointedly ignored, even during his lifetime? For Hindus, the question is not really so puzzling. Gandhi, for them, after all, was a Mahatma, a holy man. He was a symbol of sanctity, not a guide to conduct. Hinduism has a long history of holy men who, traditionally, do not offer themselves up to the public as models of general behavior but withdraw from the world, often into an ashram, to pursue their sanctity in private, a practice which all Hindus honor, if few emulate. The true oddity is that Gandhi, this holy man, having drawn from British sources his notions of nationalism and democracy, also absorbed from the British his model of virtue in public life. He was a historical original, a Hindu holy man that a British model of public service and dazzling advances in mass communications thrust out into the world, to become a great moral leader and the “father of his country.”
SOME Indians feel that after the early l930’s, Gandhi, although by now world-famous, was in fact in sharp decline. Did he at least “get British out of India”? Some say no. India, in the last days of British Raj, was already largely governed by Indians (a fact one would never suspect from this movie), and it is a common view that without this irrational, wildly erratic holy man the transition to full independence might have gone both more smoothly and more swiftly. There is much evidence that in his last years Gandhi was in a kind of spiritual retreat and, with all his endless praying and fasting, was no longer pursuing (the very words seem strange in a Hindu context) “the public good.” What he was pursuing, in a strict reversion to Hindu tradition, was his personal holiness. In earlier days he had scoffed at the title accorded him, Mahatma (literally “great soul”). But toward the end, during the hideous paroxysms that accompanied independence, with some of the most unspeakable massacres taking place in Calcutta, he declared, “And if the whole of Calcutta swims in blood, it will not dismay me. For it will be a willing offering of innocent blood.” And in his last days, after there had already been one attempt on his life, he was heard to say, “I am a true Mahatma.”
We can only wonder, furthermore, at a public figure who lectures half his life about the necessity of abolishing modern industry and returning India to its ancient primitiveness, and then picks a Fabian socialist, already drawing up Five-Year Plans, as the country’s first Prime Minister. Audacious as it may seem to contest the views of such heavy thinkers as Margaret Bourke-White, Ralph Nader, and J.K. Galbraith (who found the film’s Gandhi “true to the original” and endorsed the movie wholeheartedly), we have a right to reservations about such a figure as a public man.
I should not be surprised if Gandhi’s greatest real humanitarian achievement was an improvement in the treatment of Untouchables—an area where his efforts were not only assiduous, but actually bore fruit. In this, of course, he ranks well behind the British, who abolished suttee over ferocious Hindu opposition—in 1829. The ritual immolation by fire of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, suttee had the full sanction of the Hindu religion, although it might perhaps be wrong to overrate its importance. Scholars remind us that it was never universal, only “usual.” And there was, after all, a rather extensive range of choice. In southern India the widow was flung into her husband’s fire-pit. In the valley of the Ganges she was placed on the pyre when it was already aflame. In western India, she supported the head of the corpse with her right hand, while, torch in her left, she was allowed the honor of setting the whole thing on fire herself. In the north, where perhaps women were more impious, the widow’s body was constrained on the burning pyre by long poles pressed down by her relatives, just in case, screaming in terror and choking and burning to death, she might forget her dharma. So, yes, ladies, members of the National Council of Churches, believers in the one God, mourners for that holy India before it was despoiled by those brutish British, remember suttee, that interesting, exotic practice in which Hindus, over the centuries, burned to death countless millions of helpless women in a spirit of pious devotion, crying for all I know, Hai Rama! Hai Rama!
I WOULD like to conclude with some observations on two Englishmen, Madeleine Slade, the daughter of a British admiral, and Sir Richard Attenborough, the producer, director, and spiritual godfather of the film, ‘Gandhi.’ Miss Slade was a jewel in Gandhi’s crown—a member of the British ruling class, as she was, turned fervent disciple of this Indian Mahatma. She is played in the film by Geraldine James with nobility, dignity, and a beatific manner quite up to the level of Candice Bergen, and perhaps even the Virgin Mary. I learn from Ved Mehta’s ‘Mahatma Gandhi and his Apostles,’ however, that Miss Slade had another master before Gandhi. In about 1917, when she was fifteen, she made contact with the spirit of Beethoven by listening to his sonatas on a player piano. “I threw myself down on my knees in the seclusion of my room,” she wrote in her autobiography, “and prayed, really prayed to God for the first time in my life: ‘Why have I been born over a century too late? Why hast Thou given me realization of him and yet put all these years in between?’”
After World War I, still seeking how best to serve Beethoven, Miss Slade felt an “infinite longing” when she visited his birthplace and grave, and, finally, at the age of thirty-two, caught up with Romain Rolland, who had partly based his renowned ‘Jean Christophe’ on the composer. But Rolland had written a new book now, about a man called Gandhi, “another Christ,” and before long Miss Slade was quite literally falling on her knees before the Mahatma in India, “conscious of nothing but a sense of light.” Although one would never guess this >from the film, she soon (to quote Mehta’s impression) began “to get on Gandhi’s nerves,” and he took every pretext to keep her away >from him, in other ashrams, and working in schools and villages in other parts of India. She complained to Gandhi in letters about discrimination against her by orthodox Hindus, who expected her to live in rags and vile quarters during menstruation, considering her unclean and virtually untouchable. Gandhi wrote back, agreeing that women should not be treated like that, but adding that she should accept it all with grace and cheerfulness, “without thinking that the orthodox party is in any way unreasonable.” (This is as good an example as any of Gandhi’s coherence, even in his prime. Women should not be treated like that, but the people who treated them that way were in no way unreasonable.)
Some years after Gandhi’s death, Miss Slade rediscovered Beethoven, becoming conscious again “of the realization of my true self. For a while I remained lost in the world of the spirit….” She soon returned to Europe and serving Beethoven, her “true calling.” When Mehta finally found her in Vienna, she told him, “Please don’t ask me any more about Bapu [Gandhi]. I now belong to van Beethoven. In matters of the spirit, there is always a call.” A polite description of Madeleine Slade is that she was an extreme eccentric. In the vernacular, she was slightly cracked.
Sir Richard Attenborough, however, isn’t cracked at all. The only puzzle is how he suddenly got to be a pacifist, a fact which his press releases now proclaim to the world. Attenborough trained as a pilot in the RAF in World War II, and was released briefly to the cinema, where he had already begun his career in Noel Coward’s superpatriotic ‘In Which We Serve.’ He then returned to active service, flying combat missions with the RAF. Richard Attenborough, in short—when Gandhi was pleading with the British to surrender to the Nazis, assuring them that “Hitler is not a bad man”—was fighting for his country. The Viceroy of India warned Gandhi grimly that “We are engaged in a struggle,” and Attenborough played his part in that great struggle, and proudly, too, as far as I can tell. To my knowledge he has never had a crise de conscience on the matter, or announced that he was carried away by the war fever and that Britain really should have capitulated to the Nazis—which Gandhi would have had it do.
ALTHOUGH the present film is handsomely done in its way, no one has ever accused Attenborough of being excessively endowed with either acting or directing talent. In the ‘50’s he was a popular young British entertainer, but his most singular gift appeared to be his entrepreneurial talent as a businessman, using his movie fees to launch successful London restaurants (at one time four), and other business ventures. At the present moment he is Chairman of the Board of Capital Radio (Britain’s most successful commercial station), Goldcrest Films, the British Film Institute, and Deputy Chairman of the BBC’s new Channel 4 television network. Like most members of the nouveaux riches on the rise, he has also reached out for symbols of respectability and public service, and has assembled quite a collection. He is a Trustee of the Tate Gallery, Pro-Chancellor of Sussex University, President of Britain’s Muscular Dystrophy Group, Chairman of the Actors’ Charitable Trust and, of course, Chairman of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. There may be even more, but this is a fair sampling. In 1976, quite fittingly, he was knighted, by a Labor government, but his friends say he still insists on being called “Dickie.”
It is quite general today for members of the professional classes, even when not artistic types, to despise commerce and feel that the state, the economy, and almost everything else would be better and more idealistically run by themselves rather than these loutish businessmen. Sir Dickie, however, being a highly successful businessman himself, would hardly entertain such an antipathy. But as he scrambled his way to the heights perhaps he found himself among high-minded idealists, utopians, equalitarians, and lovers of the oppressed. Now there are those who think Sir Dickie converted to pacifism when Indira Gandhi handed him a check for several million dollars. But I do not believe this. I think Sir Dickie converted to pacifism out of idealism.
His pacifism, I confess, has been more than usually muddled. In 1968, after twenty-six years in the profession, he made his directorial debut with ‘Oh! What a Lovely War,’ with its superb parody of Britain’s jingoistic music-hall songs of the “Great War,” World War I. Since I had the good fortune to see Joan Littlewood’s original London stage production, which gave the work its entire style, I cannot think that Sir Dickie’s contribution was unduly large. Like most commercially successful parodies—from Sandy Wilson’s ‘The Boy Friend’ to Broadway’s ‘Superman,’ ‘Dracula,’ and the ‘Crucifier of Blood’—‘Oh! What a Lovely War’ depended on the audience’s (if not Miss Littlewood’s) retaining a substantial affection for the subject being parodied: in this case, a swaggering hyperpatriotism, which recalled days when the empire was great. In any event, since Miss Littlewood identified herself as a Communist and since Communists, as far as I know, are never pacifists, Sir Dickie’s case for the production’s “pacifism” seems stymied from the other angle as well.
Sir Dickie’s next blow for pacifism was ‘Young Winston’ (1973), which, the new publicity manual says, “explored how Churchill’s childhood traumas and lack of parental affection became the spurs which goaded him to a position of great power.” One would think that a man who once flew combat missions under the orders of the great war leader—and who seemingly wanted his country to win— could thank God for childhood traumas and lack of parental affection if such were needed to provide Churchill in the hour of peril. But on pressed Sir Dickie, in the year of his knighthood, with ‘A Bridge Too Far,’ the story of the futile World War II assault on Arnhem, described by Sir Dickie—now, at least—as “a further plea for pacifism.”
But does Sir Richard Attenborough seriously think that, rather than go through what we did at Arnhem, we should have given in, let the Nazis be, and even—true pacifists—them occupy Britain, Canada, the United States, contenting ourselves only with “making them feel unwanted”? At the level of idiocy to which discussions of war and peace have sunk in the West, every hare-brained idealist who discovers that war is not a day at the beach seems to think he has found an irresistible argument for pacifism. Is Pearl Harbor an argument for pacifism? Bataan? Dunkirk? Dieppe? The Ardennes? Roland fell at Roncesvalles. Is the ‘Song of Roland’ a pacifist epic? If so, why did William the Conqueror have it chanted to his men as they marched into battle at Hastings? Men prove their valor in defeat as well as in victory. Even Sergeant Major Gandhi knew that. Up in the moral never-never land which Sir Dickie now inhabits, perhaps they think the Alamo led to a great wave of pacifism in Texas.
In a feat of sheer imbecility, Attenborough has dedicated ‘Gandhi’ to Lord Mountbatten, who commanded the Southeast Asian Theater during World War II. Mountbatten, you might object, was hardly a pacifist—but then again he was murdered by Irish terrorists, which proves how frightful all that sort of thing is, Sir Dickie says, and how we must end it all by imitating Gandhi. Not the Gandhi who called for seas of innocent blood, you understand, but the movie-Gandhi, the nice one.
THE historical Gandhi’s favorite mantra, strange to tell, was ‘Do or Die’ (he called it literally that, a “mantra”). I think Sir Dickie should reflect on this, because it means, dixit Gandhi, that a man must be prepared to die for what he believes in, for, himsa or ahimsa, death is always there, and in an ultimate test men who are not prepared to face it lose. Gandhi was erratic, irrational, tyrannical, obstinate. He sometimes verged on lunacy. He believed in a religion whose ideas I find somewhat repugnant. He worshipped cows. But I still say this: he was brave. He feared no one.
On a lower level of being, I have consequently given some thought to the proper mantra for spectators of the movie ‘Gandhi.’ After much reflection, in homage to Ralph Nader, I have decided on Caveat Emptor, “buyer beware.” Repeated many thousand times in a seat in the cinema it might with luck lead to 0m, the Hindu dream of nothingness, the Ultimate Void.
Fred Thompson on Gandhi
The following is a transcript from a March 15, 2007 episode of The Paul Harvey Show.
I feel bad for Nancy Pelosi, and her neighbors. Anti-war activists from the group Code Pink have been giving her the same treatment the president gets at his Crawford, Texas, ranch. Camping on her San Francisco lawn, they’re demanding she cut off funds to the troops in Iraq.
Besides coolers and mattresses, protesters have brought along a giant paper mache statue of Mahatma Gandhi, who is pretty much the symbol of the anti-war movement. Code Pink was founded on his birthday, and when Saddam Hussein was being given a last chance to open Iraq to U.N. weapons inspectors, posters appeared around America asking “What would Gandhi do?”
And that’s a pretty good question. At what point is it okay to fight dictators like Saddam or the al Qaeda terrorists who want to take his place?
It turns out that the answer, according to Gandhi, is NEVER. During World War II, Gandhi penned an open letter to the British people, urging them to surrender to the Nazis. Later, when the extent of the holocaust was known, he criticized Jews who had tried to escape or fight for their lives as they did in Warsaw and Treblinka. “The Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife,” he said. “They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.” “Collective suicide,” he told his biographer, “would have been heroism.”
The so-called peace movement certainly has the right to make Gandhi’s way their way, but their efforts to make collective suicide American foreign policy just won’t cut it in this country. When American’s think of heroism, we think of the young American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, risking their lives to prevent another Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein.
Gandhi probably wouldn’t approve, but I can live with that.
Arun Gandhi Reveals Anti-Semitism
Arun Gandhi flirted with anti-Semitism in a recent online op-ed for The Washington Post. Echoing his grandfather’s fringe views on the Jewish people, Mr. Gandhi claimed that “Israel and the Jews are the biggest players” in the creation of a “Culture of Violence” that “is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
A Jan. 10, 2008 Jerusalem Post article quotes Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Israel director. Mr. Zuroff called Mr. Gandhi’s comments “exceptionally strange, especially in light of the fact that there’s never been any history of anti-Semitism in India and among Hindus.” He also said Mr. Gandi’s comments “clearly amount to anti-Semitism.”
While Mr. Zuroff is correct that Arun Gandhi’s comments reflect an anti-Semitic attitude, he’s wrong that there is no history of anti-Semitism in India. Mohandas Gandhi himself was no stranger to anti-Semitism. In a WWII-era letter to the British, he insisted, “Hitler is not a bad man.” In an interview documented in George Orwell’s “Reflections on Gandhi, he encouraged the self-destruction of the Jewish race, saying: “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs…. [Collective suicide] would have been heroism.”
January 7, 2008 article from The Washington Post:
“Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the holocaust experience — a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example of a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends. The holocaust was the result of the warped mind of an individual who was able to influence his followers into doing something dreadful. But, it seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty but the whole world must regret what happened to the Jews. The world did feel sorry for the episode but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on the regret turns into anger.“The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak. Any nation that remains anchored to the past is unable to move ahead and, especially a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs. In Tel Aviv in 2004 I had the opportunity to speak to some Members of Parliament and Peace activists all of whom argued that the wall and the military build-up was necessary to protect the nation and the people. In other words, I asked, you believe that you can create a snake pit — with many deadly snakes in it — and expect to live in the pit secure and alive? What do you mean? they countered. Well, with your superior weapons and armaments and your attitude towards your neighbors would it not be right to say that you are creating a snake pit? How can anyone live peacefully in such an atmosphere? Would it not be better to befriend those who hate you? Can you not reach out and share your technological advancement with your neighbors and build a relationship?
“Apparently, in the modern world, so determined to live by the bomb, this is an alien concept. You don’t befriend anyone, you dominate them. We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
Perhaps instead of telling others how to live their lives, Mr. Gandhi should spend some time on self-reflection. Gandhism is increasingly exposing itself as a philosophy based on racism against blacks, Untouchables, and even Jews – Mr. Gandhi would do well to question the wisdom of continuing to spread that philosophy.
Arun Reflects Grandfather’s Anti-Semitism
The following is a February 8, 2008 Jewish Chronicle editorial by Miriam Shaviv.
It was a rare admission from one of the most prestigious newspapers in America.
“In hindsight, everyone sees the error,” Deborah Howell, ombudsman of the Washington Post, wrote this week. “The piece should not have been published. The apologies should have come sooner.”
It was the culmination of a month of recriminations, public apologies and even a job loss, all provoked by a short treatise on the future of Jewish identity published on the Washington Post’s On Faith website.
According to the author, “Jewish identity in the past has been locked into the Holocaust experience. It is a very good example of how a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends… The world did feel sorry for the episode, but when an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger.”
On the political situation in Israel, he added, “The Jewish identity in the future appears bleak… We have created a culture of violence (Israel and the Jews are the biggest players) and that Culture of Violence is eventually going to destroy humanity.”
It was bile by any measure, but what seemed to stoke the furore was that the author was Arun Gandhi, grandson of the pacifist Indian leader, and president of the MK Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence at the University of Rochester. His piece generated 400 comments, as well as furious replies from Daniel Pearl’s father Judea, Jewish organisations, and even the president of his own university.
A half-hearted apology from Gandhi, in which he regretted suggesting that Israeli policies reflected “the views of all Jewish people”, only drew more fire, and last week he resigned from his institute.
But would the original piece, objectionable as it is, have generated the same response had the author not been a Gandhi? Many of the comments implied that Arun was betraying his grandfather’s legacy.
The truth is, however, that there is a direct connection between Mahatma Gandhi’s views on Jews and those of his grandson. In November 1938, responding to Jewish requests that he endorse the Zionist cause, Gandhi set out in writing his thoughts on contemporary Jewry (generating a scathing response from Martin Buber).
The “German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history”, Gandhi admitted, and if ever there could be a justifiable war, it would be against the Nazis. “But I do not believe in any war.”
So, what does he suggest the Jews do in face of Nazi persecution? “If I were a Jew… I would challenge [the German gentile] to shoot me… The calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews… But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy… The German Jews will score a lasting victory over the German gentiles in that they will have converted that latter to an appreciation of human dignity.”
Restoring the Jews to Palestine was a “crime against humanity”, and the Jews there should follow a similar course in face of Arab aggression, and “offer themselves to be shot or thrown in to the Dead Sea without raising a little finger against them”.
But what does the pacifist Gandhi say about that Arab aggression?
“I am not defending the Arab excesses,” he wrote. “I wish they had chosen the way of non-violence in resisting what they rightly regarded as an unwarrantable encroachment upon their country. But according to the accepted canons of right and wrong, nothing can be said against the Arab resistance in the face of overwhelming odds.”
That, to me, is hypocrisy.
Arun Gandhi, as (now former) president of an institute promoting non-violence, lays claim to his grandfather’s intellectual mantle. And it is not hard to see from where his contempt for the centrality of the Holocaust to contemporary Jewish life might have evolved; after all, his grandfather believed Jewish deaths in the Holocaust were noble, even desirable.
It is also clear how he may have come to believe that “Israel and the Jews” are responsible for a “culture of violence”; this is only an extension of his grandfather’s belief that the Jews should commit collective and national suicide rather than defend themselves against the Arabs and the Nazis.
The lesson to be drawn is that, political correctness aside, there is nothing sacred or superior about “non-violence”. It may have worked against the British, who would not massacre millions of Indians, but applied to a people facing a truly ruthless enemy — such as the Nazis — it is utterly immoral.
Moreover, despite our idealised view of him, Mahatma Gandhi was not completely holy either. He may have played a pivotal and brave role in India’s independence, but he held deeply disturbing views about Jews and Jewish nationalism. And that is a fatal flaw.
Gandhi’s Love Letters to Hitler
On September 25, five American religious organizations plan to host a Ramadan dinner for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his upcoming visit to the United States. These include the Mennonite Central Committee, the Quakers, the World Council of Churches, and Religions for Peace. How is it that these Christian “peace” organizations are willing to break bread with a declared warmonger and Holocaust denier? An answer lies in the troubling history of these organizations – a history that includes a shameful alliance with Nazi Germany during World War II.
The pacifist-Nazi axis dates to the 1930s. None other than the worldwide spokesman for non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi, wrote letters to Adolph Hitler that were deferential in their tone and abhorrent in their implications. A 1939 letter was apologetically described by Gandhi as a “mere impertinence” and included the following signoff: “I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you. I remain, Your sincere friend, Sd. M. MK Gandhi.”
In a letter dated December 24, 1940, Gandhi assured Hitler that he had no doubt of “your bravery or devotion to your fatherland.” Zionist appeals for Gandhi to support a national home for the Jewish people, meanwhile, fell on deaf ears, as he insisted that “Palestine belongs to the Arabs.” Not only did Gandhi reject the cause of a Jewish state but he effectively echoed Nazi propaganda, as with his warning that “this cry for the national home affords a colorable justification for the German expulsion of the Jews.”
Note: Gandhism.net does not oppose or support President Ahmadinejad or those who meet with him. We do, however, applaud the author of this excerpt for exposing some of Gandhi’s disturbing ties to Hitler.