Student activists have written an open letter to Manchester City Council demanding that a decision to erect a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Manchester city centre be reversed.
The letter, whose authors include University of Manchester Students’ Union Liberation and Access Officer Sara Khan, calls on the Council to reconsider its decision based on Gandhi’s “well-documented anti-black racism” and “complicity in the British Empire’s actions in Africa”.
The 9ft statue of Gandhi is set to be unveiled outside Manchester Cathedral on November 25th after receiving planning permission in August.
Gandhi is best known as an iconic anti-colonial who employed non-violent methods to successfully ensure India’s independence from British Rule.
Sara Khan has exclusively told The Mancunion that black history month makes it an “important time to be shining a light on Gandhi’s anti-black racism” and confront the “uglier sides of history”.
Addressing the Council, the letter argues that “Gandhi referred to Africans as ‘savages’, ‘half-heathen Natives’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘dirty’ and ‘like animals’.”
The letter goes on to say: “In modern times, Gandhi is used as a propaganda tool to cover up human rights abuses by the current Indian government under Modi, which is engaging to erect Gandhi statues globally to create an image of India as an anti-imperialist state.
“We demand that Manchester City Council refuse to be complicit in this, especially given the city’s history of anti-racist action, and to stand in solidarity with Manchester’s Black and Kashmiri communities.”
The activists are also calling for the Council to release a public statement acknowledging Gandhi’s “anti-black racism” and calling for funds to be redistributed to instead commemorate a black anti-racist activist with connections to Manchester.
The Manchester statue was a gift to the city, and an initiative of Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur, a non-political, worldwide spiritual movement headquartered in India.
The organisation carefully planned the commissioning and installation of the statue, considering the location and attempting to ensure necessary pedestrian and disabled access.
Responding to the letter, the charity told The Mancunion that their application for a statue to Manchester City Council’s planning department was highly publicised and didn’t receive a single objection.
They added that the letter’s authors were taking an “extreme and limited” interpretation of Gandhi, whose “heroism” helped “unite Indians, South Africans and Americans in their liberation movements.”
Khan has caused controversy in the past and hit the headlines for a number of her activities in her role as Liberation and Access Officer.
In July of last year, she helped deface a mural featuring Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’, branding his work ‘racist’ and replacing it with Maya Angelou’s ‘Rise’.
She also caused a storm last October for advocating BSL clapping in the Students’ Union, as traditional clapping can cause issues for students with autism.
She told The Mancunion: “It’s an especially poignant and important time to be shining a light on Gandhi’s anti-black racism as it’s black history month, a month that isn’t just about celebration, but also about confronting and educating ourselves on the uglier sides of history, and the terrible injustices black people have faced and continue to face across the world.”
Last year, a Gandhi statue was removed from a university campus in Ghana, activists used the hashtag #GandhiMustFall, which has also been used by the students in Manchester.
Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur said: “This call appears to diminish Gandhi’s rich and complex history and his principles of tolerance, peace and unity, which is greatly needed as we strive for global cohesion and harmony.
“While we welcome a searching public discussion of the past, it is misleading to fixate on comments made in Gandhi’s early life as a lawyer under British colonial influence.
“This call is an extreme and limited interpretation of Gandhi, whose heroism united Indians, South Africans and Americans in their liberation movements.
“Mahatma Gandhi is a citizen of the world and an icon of peace. The Manchester statue will celebrate the universal power of his message.”
The costs of the statue were sponsored by Boohoo owners, the Kamani family, to mark the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth.
The Mancunion has contacted Manchester City Council and the Kamani family for a response.