Two years after activists in Malawi prevented a statue of Mahatma Gandhi from being erected at the heart of the city of Blantyre, a bust of the Indian national icon has been unveiled at the country’s capital, Lilongwe. The bust was unveiled at the Indian High Commission on Friday, October 2, coinciding with the birthday of the Indian independence icon who was assassinated at the age of 78 in 1948.
Malawi’s Foreign Minister Eisenhower Mkaka, who attended the ceremony said Gandhi’s bust will promote the Indian leader’s values. “Mahatma Gandhi, who led India’s freedom movement through non-violent struggle, is not only an icon for India but also a global icon that set the ball rolling for emancipation from the colonial struggle,” he was quoted by the BBC.
In 2018 when the Indian government with the approval of the Malawi government announced that they were going to erect a statue of Gandhi in the city of Blantyre, activists raised issues with it. They argued that the statue does not mean anything to Malawians as many do not even know who Gandhi is.
A group of over 3,000 young activists signed an online petition calling for the Malawian and Indian governments to put on hold the construction of the statue. Operating under a movement dubbed “Gandhi Must Fall”, the group argued that the Indian icon of peace was a racist.
“He (Gandhi) did not like the idea that Africans and Indians were given the same entrance at work. He actually fought for Indians to have their separate entrance away from Africans,” the group said.
Malawi, with a population of 18 million, has a small Indian community of around 8,000, most of whom are of Gujarati origin. Largely residing in cities such as Lilongwe, Blantyre, Zomba and Mzuzu, many of them are engaged in agriculture, trading, pharmaceuticals, and the retail and hospitality industries.
When Malawians raised issues with the decision to erect a Gandhi statue, the Malawi government insisted that the monument will highlight the formidable role that the Indian leader played in his home country and Malawi.
This was not the first time that a proposal to erect a Gandhi statue sparked controversy. In 2015, a Gandhi statue in Johannesburg’s Mahatma Gandhi Square in South Africa was defaced with white paint. In Ghana, a statue of the independence icon in the University of Ghana was pulled down in 2018 two years after protests by a group of academics and supporters who wanted it removed due to the social activist’s racism toward Blacks.
Why Mahatma Gandhi is being called racist?
Widely remembered as an influential revolutionary who played a very important role during India’s struggle for independence from Britain, Mahatma Gandhi expressed resentments towards black people and made racist comments in his writing.
After graduating as a lawyer from the prestigious Inner Temple in London, Gandhi moved to South Africa and served as an expatriate lawyer, representing resident Indian communities in their struggle for civil rights.
He spent 21 years in South Africa and just like other people of colour, he suffered his fair share of discrimination. That, however, did not change his views about black people being inferior.