Links with slavery? Welsh govt audit puts Mahatma Gandhi on a list of controversial individuals

The audit was commissioned in July by Labour’s Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, following George Floyd’s controversial death in the US
By Prasun Sonwalkar | Hindustan Times, London
UPDATED ON NOV 29, 2020 04:40 PM IST
A statue of Mahatma Gandhi is seen at Gandhi Square in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 11, 2020.(REUTERS/ FILE)

An audit published by the Welsh government on the historical links of Wales with slavery has included Mahatma Gandhi on a list of controversial individuals whose statues are located across Britain, adding to similar reviews prompted by the Black Lives Matter campaign.

The audit was commissioned in July by Labour’s Mark Drakeford, the first minister of Wales, following George Floyd’s controversial death in the US.

Several councils and organisations across the UK have since initiated such reviews, at times provoking surprise and anger with the inclusion of names such as former British PM Winston Churchill.

There is no suggestion that Gandhi’s statue installed in the Welsh capital of Cardiff in 2017 would be pulled down, but the audit’s objective is to “identify issues for a possible second stage”.

The list includes colonial India’s officials with Welsh links such as Robert Clive and Edward Clive.

The audit says that Gandhi’s role needs examination after his controversial views were highlighted by campaigners. Besides Gandhi, the list of “international” figures in the audit includes anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, explorer Christopher Columbus and artiste Paul Robeson.

On Gandhi, the audit says his “personal culpability (is) uncertain”, but goes on to add, “The leader of the Indian independence movement (was) famous for his promotion of anti-colonialism, non-violent resistance and satyagraha or the force of truth. After studying law in London he went to practise in South Africa 1893-1914.

“He fought anti-Indian discrimination in Africa, but has been accused of complicity in continuing racism against Black South Africans. His comment in a speech in 1896 that whites were degrading Hindus and Muslims ‘to a level of Kaffir’ is taken as suggesting that he believed Indians to be better than Black Africans.”

The audit further says, “Historians have taken a range of views of his culpability, saying that it would have been premature to expect equality in turn-of-the-century South Africa or identifying Gandhi as having turned a blind eye to brutality against Africans. Nevertheless, Gandhi’s later leadership in India inspired leaders in Africa, including Nelson Mandela. A statue of Gandhi in Pietermartizburg was unveiled in 1993 by Desmond Tutu.”

Gandhi’s life-size statue produced by Ram Sutar and Anil Sutar was installed in Cardiff Bay in 2017 in an event attended by Drakeford and Indian diplomats, among others. It is one of several Gandhi statues across the UK, including two in London.

Drakeford said after the audit was published, “While the tragic killing of George Floyd happened almost 4,000 miles away, it sparked global action that shone a light on racial inequality in society today.

“That inequality exists in Welsh society too and we must work towards a Wales which is more equal. To help us do this, we need a clear understanding of the legacies of the slave trade and the British Empire. This audit provides important evidence which helps us establish an honest picture of our history.

“This is the first stage of a much bigger piece of work which will consider how we move forward with this information as we seek to honour and celebrate our diverse communities.”

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