The University of Ghana Council has started an online petition to remove a statue of activist Mohandas Gandhi (often given the honorific “Mahatma”) from campus, citing the figure’s racism toward black people.
The statue was revealed by India’s President Pranab Mukherjee in June, but now students and university officials alike want it taken down. “We are of the view that if there should be statues on our campus, then, first and foremost, they should be of African heroes and heroines, who can serve as examples of who we are and what we have achieved as a people,” says the petition. “Why should we uplift other people’s ‘heroes’ at an African university when we haven’t lifted up our own?”
Though many know Gandhi as one of the architects of the Indian independence movement and a proponent of pacifism and nonviolence, he’s also a controversial figure. In the petition, officials from the school list numerous instances of Gandhi’s prejudice against native Africans while he worked in South Africa. Though he fought discrimination against the Muslim Indian Traders he legally represented, in doing so, he discriminated against black Africans.
In one text, he calls black Africans the “half-heathen Native.” In 1906, he wrote, “The Boer Government insulted the Indians by classing them with the Kaffirs.” Kaffir is a racial slur used against black South Africans.
Gandhi also had some unusual views about sex and chastity. In 1906, he took a vow of chastity, and “challenged” himself by bathing with and sleeping next to young girls without engaging in sex. He also believed in conserving the “vital fluid” of semen to achieve “unfailing power,” making it seem like he wouldn’t be out of place on r/NoFap.
Online, protesters have been calling for the statue’s removal with hashtags like #GandhiForComeDown.
— Tunku Varadarajan (@tunkuv) September 21, 2016
— Otòfó Militia (@AccraBoy) July 14, 2016
Gandhi once discribed black people as dirty and 'live like animals'. #GandhiForComeDown
— mutombo♻️ (@MutomboDaPoet) September 13, 2016
He may have shed his shroud of racism b4 he died but his toxic writings remain and give impetus to his kin to belittle us #GandhiForComeDown
— jeli⚜️ (@ejahiable) July 15, 2016
Acting Indian High Commissioner to Ghana Pradeep Kumar Gupta told Joy News that they are working with the university to resolve the issue. “It happens everywhere. In this democracy, there is freedom of expression and speech, so anybody can express their feeling about Gandhi. The only thing is to resolve it amicably, which we will do,” he said.
However, others worry bringing down the statue could affect relations between Ghana and India, where Gandhi is still revered for his work in overthrowing British colonial rule. “It will be most unnecessary, most uncalled for, and not in the supreme interest of Ghanaians, and we must know what serves our interest best,” said a political science lawyer named Ocqauye to the Hindustan Times.
“Some harm has already been done by erecting the statue. We have failed the generation that look up to us, namely our students,” says the petition. “How will the historian teach and explain that Gandhi was uncharitable in his attitude towards the Black race and see that we’re glorifying him by erecting a statue on our campus?”