This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Devesh Narayanan. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Unveiling The Statue Of A Tainted Mahatma: Tribute Or ‘Historical Amnesia’?

More from Devesh Narayanan

By Devesh Narayanan:

The recent unveiling of a 9ft bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi in London’s Parliament Square marks 100 years since Gandhi returned from South Africa to lead India’s struggle for independence. As Prime Minister David Cameron puts it, “This statue is a magnificent tribute to one of the most towering figures in the history of world politics and by putting Mahatma Gandhi in this famous square we are giving him an eternal home in our country.” At first glance, it sounds like a loving and magnanimous gesture to reconcile differences and honour the very man who led one of the greatest opposition struggles against the British Empire. However, ‘The father of our nation’ has been reported to have some unkind words for the ‘Mother of Parliaments’ i.e. The British Parliament, dismissing it with his distinctive brand of misogyny as a “prostitute” and a “sterile woman”. Doesn’t it make little sense to immortalize the man in a place he would prefer not to be in?

Picture from Twitter
Picture from Twitter

There are many people who believe that this move was long overdue. Mahatma Gandhi has always been revered as a symbol of non-violence and peace, and there could be no better time to spread his teachings, when the World is so fraught with conflict. Some people even see the move as a symbolic maturation of a country that is putting its colonizing days behind them, to embrace their former ‘enemy’ and the strong message of peace and harmony that he represents.

Yet the opponents to this move far outnumber the proponents. Their dissent stems from two main arguments that were convincing enough to make me believe that perhaps the erection of this statue wasn’t the best idea after all.
The first argument is perhaps the most vehement, which challenges the saint-like portrayal of Gandhi. Personally, given how history lessons in school have always sung Gandhi’s praises, I’ve always revered him to be a pioneer that led a unique struggle using methods that were way ahead of his time. When stories came about that cast aspersions on his morality and character, I blatantly dismissed them as conspiracy theories. Yet as the stories became more detailed, and evidence started to sprout up, it became increasingly harder to maintain the image of Gandhi as the epitome of human attainment.

I have tremendous respect for the man’s work, so it pains me to consider the possibility that he might have actually been unethical, narrow-minded, racist and pedophilic. I do not wish to comment on the verity of those stories. That he slept with naked nubile women to test his celibacy. That he advised against small-pox vaccinations because of his own orthodox beliefs. That he was a vocal supporter of the discriminatory caste system. And that he ignored the prospects of a Japanese massacre in his blinding passion to get the British out of India, thereby suggesting policies that were against the interests of his own people. Documented evidence crops up every now and then, threatening to dethrone my childhood hero. All I can say is that if these stories are true, no amount of great work could possibly account for these outrageous deficiencies, and that he truly wouldn’t deserve this great honour that is being bestowed upon him.

The second argument revolves around the political motivation behind the move. The announcement of this statue was made a day after George Osborne confirmed a £250 million deal for British manufacturers to provide missiles for the Indian air force. Truly, what a crass link with Gandhi! It is appalling to trade off an arms deal with the statue of a man who embodies peace. Accusations are rampant about this move being purely a political stunt. Notable columnist Stephen Glover was quoted as saying, “(I) take the view that the statue is a cheap and cynical stunt by ministers with scant knowledge of history, whose only interest lies in greasing up to modern Indian politicians. With little or no dignity, they shamelessly prostrate themselves in the most craven way”.

There is much ambiguity about the character of Mahatma Gandhi. But even with the lack of a clear picture, it is safe to assume that he is not the saint the world believes him to be. But then again, the same could be said about the other dignitaries he now shares space with, in the Parliament Square. Perhaps the statue is symbolic of a ‘historical amnesia’, wherein the British Government is merely seeking to bask in the reflected glory of a universally renowned figure without fully understanding the true nature of their symbol. However, I believe that a 9ft tall piece of bronze should never be symbolic enough to trigger off international debate and agitation on such a scale. Maybe the statue should have never been erected, but now that it has, it’s time to move on. I feel that we still have much to learn about the life of Mahatma Gandhi, and while we should never stop looking for answers, perhaps the whole issue of this statue is a pointless discussion. We have more pressing problems to solve.

Also read: Confessions Of A Gandhi-Hater

You must be to comment.
  1. Yuuki

    15/09/2012You could definitely see your skllis in the work you write. The world hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. All the time go after your heart. The point of quotations is that one can use another’s words to be insulting. by Amanda Cross.

More from Devesh Narayanan

Similar Posts

By Cross-Culture studies

By Kazi Jamshed

By Jaideep Bisht

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.

We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below