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Dukandar - The Merchant from Pakistan

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Gandhi thought black people were subhuman

By Yasser Latif Hamdani

Gandhi’s desire for Indians to be segregated from blacks was so strong that he went to Johannesburg in late August of 1904 to protest the placing of blacks in the Indian section of the city


LAHORE: Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1870-1948), the man who inspired great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, may have harboured racial sentiments against black people if an article on Sulekha.com is to be believed.

The article quotes a series of letters and petitions from Gandhi, linking the black people of Africa to savages and portraying them as little better than animals. Gandhi writes, “A general belief seems to prevail in the colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than the savages or natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir”.

According to the article, part of Gandhi’s attitude stemmed from his belief in the Aryan Invasion Theory, claiming that the superior white race from the Steppes subjugated darker races all across Eurasia. Gandhi refused to accept classification with ‘aboriginal’ looking ‘savages’: “A reference to Hunter’s ‘Indian Empire’, chapters 3 and 4, would show at a glance who are aborigines and who are not. The matter is put so plainly that there can be no mistake about the distinction between the two. It will be seen at once from the book that the Indians in South Africa belong to the Indo-Germanic stock or, more properly speaking, the Aryan stock.”

He believed that White rule in South Africa – with the help of a reduction in Asiatic immigration was necessary for civilising the blacks with these characteristics: “We, therefore, have no hesitation in agreeing with the view that in the long run assisted Asiatic immigration - into the Transvaal would be disastrous to the white settlement. People will gradually accommodate themselves to relying upon Asiatic labour, and any White immigration of the special class required in the Transvaal on a large scale will be practically impossible. It would be equally unfair to the natives of the soil. It is all very well to say that they would not work, and that, if the Asiatics were introduced, that would be a stimulus to work; but human nature is the same everywhere, and once Asiatic labour is resorted to, there would not be a sustained effort to induce the natives to work under what would otherwise be, after all, gentle compulsion. There would be then less talk about taxing the natives and so forth. Natives themselves, used as they are to a very simple mode of life, will always be able to command enough wages to meet their wants; and the result will be putting back their progress for an indefinite length of time. We have used the words ‘gentle compulsion’ in the best sense of the term; we mean compulsion of the same kind that a parent exercises over children.”

Gandhi thus remained a firm believer in white settlement and rule in South Africa. More explicitly, he wrote that the White race deserved to be the dominant race in South Africa: “What the British Indians pray for is very little. They ask for no political power. They admit the British race should be the dominant race in South Africa. All they ask for is freedom for those that are now settled and those that may be allowed to come in future to trade, to move about, and to hold landed property without any hindrance save the ordinary legal requirements.”

Along with the dominance of the white race in South Africa, Gandhi also held dear the idea of racial purity: “We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do, only we believe that they would best serve these interests, which are as dear to us as to them, by advocating the purity of all races, and not one alone. We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.”

Commenting on a petition opposing interactions between the whites and the coloureds, Gandhi wrote: “The petition dwells upon ‘the co-mingling of the coloured and white races’. May we inform the members of the conference that, so far as the British Indians are concerned, such a thing is practically unknown? If there is one thing, which the Indian cherishes, more than any other, it is the purity of type. Why bring such a question into the controversy at all?”

Gandhi’s desire for the Indians to be segregated from the blacks was so strong that he went to Johannesburg in late August of 1904 to protest the placing of blacks in the Indian section of the city: “Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the Kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension. ...Of course, under my suggestion, The Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly.”

It is unclear from the article whether Gandhi later changed his position. However, it does shed some light on the ideas that shaped the mind of one of the most successful political leaders of the 20th century. *

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