WASHINGTON DC, USA—A resolution introduced in U.S. Congress on September 26, which recommends that Mohandas Gandhi be posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, is already sparking outrage from certain quarters.
Roxanne Carter, speaking on behalf of Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI), says she is shocked that America’s highest civilian honor is even being considered for Gandhi. “As a woman, I cannot agree with awarding any medal to a man who sexually exploited women,” comments Carter. “Gandhi’s legacy of sexual misconduct has been intentionally overlooked and excused by so many. It’s disheartening that a Congresswoman like Carolyn Maloney, who is known for her commitment to furthering the cause of women’s rights and development, has introduced House Resolution 6916 to recognize a sexual predator.”
Recognition of Gandhi has sparked outrage around the globe over the past several years. Most recently, in April, students at Carleton University in Ottawa demanded removal of a Gandhi statue.
Kenneth Aliu, president of the Institute of African Studies Student Association (IASSA), led the campaign. “Gandhi was a racist,” said Aliu. “He utilized anti-Black racism as a weapon to bargain with the British about the subjugation of Indians living in South Africa.” Aliu explained that Gandhi “advocated for further segregation between people of color” and “portrayed Africans as savages.”
Aliu’s efforts to remove the Carleton statue won praise from professors at the University of Ghana who successfully demanded removal of a Gandhi statue from their campus in 2016. Describing themselves as the #GandhiMustFallGhana Coalition, the professors stated, “He campaigned vehemently for the violent repression of the Zulus. In Umzantsi Afrika (South Afrika), he played a central role in the caste-like segregation of the Durban Post and Telegraph Offices.” They asserted that honoring Gandhi is “tantamount to advocating for the fork-tongued hypocrisy of a pathological liar and does a disservice to humanity in general and Afrikan=Black people in particular.”
“Gandhi’s exploitation of his own teenage female relatives is an indisputable fact,” says OFMI activist Charity Joseph in reaction to U.S. House Resolution 6916. Speaking from the United Kingdom, she calls the proposed medal an affirmation of an abuser. “We are witnessing so many horrifying incidents of powerful men getting away with abusing and exploiting those who are supposed to be under their protection. Sex scandals in the Catholic Church, swamis in India like Asaram, and now the nominated Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Shouldn’t we be spurning abusers instead of awarding them?”
At the age of 75, Gandhi ordered his 18-year-old grandnieces Manu and Abha to sleep naked with him at night to help him test his celibacy. Ramachandra Guha, who just completed the last of his three-part biography of the Indian icon, says, “The most painstaking biographer of Gandhi cannot get a handle (on what Gandhi did).” Unable to explain it, Guha concludes, “It was very strange. That is why in my book I have a chapter called ‘The Strangest Experiment’.”
Responding to Guha, OFMI spokesperson Arvin Valmuci comments, “The really strange thing is that people continue to treat Gandhi as a hero instead of as someone who exploited the vulnerable. He became the legal guardian of Manu, his grandniece, when she was only 12. Just six years later, he was forcing her to share his bed. How can anyone justify that?”
Others are suggesting that H.R. 6916 affirms racism. “America hasn’t finished dealing with its long history of slavery, segregation, and institutionalized racism,” says Pieter Friedrich, an analyst of South Asian affairs. “Is it really the wisest move, at this point in our national history, to award a Gold Medal to a man who advanced an agenda of white supremacy in pre-apartheid South Africa?”
Jada Bernard, an African activist, calls the move an insult. “It’s a slap in the face,” says Bernard. “Gandhi hated blacks. Rosa Parks was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal almost 20 years ago, but as the Congress considers giving Gandhi a medal today, they need to realize that Gandhi would have made Mrs. Parks stay in the back of the bus.”