October 6, 2008

Dear Senator Obama,

The Organization for Minorities of India (OFMI) is deeply concerned by your recent statement commemorating Mohandas Gandhi’s 139th birth anniversary. [Click here to read the full text of Obama’s commemoration of Gandhi’s birthday.]

Your Oct. 2nd statement praises “Gandhi’s commitment to creating positive change by bringing people together” and claims Gandhi’s “spirit and example… extinguished apartheid in South Africa.” The overall tone of the statement echoes your July 2008 comments: “Throughout my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodies the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things.” We have attached the full statement to this letter.

With all due respect, Senator, this statement reflects shocking ignorance. People choose role models, or “inspirations,” only after achieving intimate familiarity with their beliefs. Consequently, we would expect you to have studied Gandhi extensively. However, in the modern era it takes only a cursory examination of Gandhi to become acquainted with his anti-minority activities. Books, magazine articles, TV and radio shows, and college curriculum have all promoted such a high-profile reconsideration of Gandhi over the past decade that knowledge of his “hidden side” has become almost inescapable.

It is not only ignorant but also ironic that you should consider Gandhi your role model. After all, the sad truth is that Gandhi would not have even allowed you to hold political office. Consider Gandhi’s Sept. 24, 1903 remarks: “We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be the predominating race.” (CWMG, Vol. 3, p. 256) Perhaps on a generous day Gandhi would permitted you to work as a city dog-catcher, but he would have denied you even the basic public office of law enforcement. Note Gandhi’s Mar. 10, 1911 comments: “I do not think that there need be any worry about police officer [sic]. If the Regulations provide for Kaffir Police, we can fight the Regulations.” (CWMG, Vol. 11, p. 266)

You credit Gandhi with “creating positive change by bringing people together.” This is absolutely false. The sad reality is that Gandhi spent most of his life tearing people apart by preaching segregation through legislation, war, and social stigma. For instance, in 1895 Durban, South Africa, the post office had two doors – one for whites and the other for blacks and Indians. Gandhi was deeply offended by sharing a door with blacks, calling it an “invidious distinction” and saying “we felt the indignity too much.” He successfully campaigned to segregate the blacks from the Indians by creating a third door for Indian use only.

He served as a Sgt. Major a 1906 British war against the black Zulus. He agitated for an armed Indian regiment, writing on Nov. 11, 1905 that the British “give Indians the opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare.” (CWMG, Vol. 5, p. 11) He begged for a chance to fight the blacks, saying on Mar. 17, 1906 that Indians had “proved that they can do very efficient work in time of war.” (CWMG, Vol. 5, p. 124) After successfully raising an Indian stretcher-bearer corps, he lamented the corps’ unarmed status, called it a “pity” that the Indians were not given proper military training, making it “a matter of physical impossibility to expect Indians to do any work with the rifle.” (CWMG, Vol. 5, p. 211) In his autobiography, Gandhi even lied about his participation in the war, claiming his military work consisted “only” of nursing wounded blacks. Yet his 1906 writings tell a completely different story and document his only work as caring for British troops wounded during the war against blacks.

Gandhi did not forego even the most vulgar doctrines of the typical racist. He stereotyped black Africans as lazy and sexually addicted, writing on Sept, 26, 1896: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” (CWMG, Vol. 1, pp. 409-410) He also condemned miscegenation on Dec. 2, 1910, saying, “Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.” (CWMG, Vol. 10, p. 414)

While Gandhi is internationally promoted as a champion of civil rights, he is well-known within India for his hostility towards all minorities. As the “Father of India,” his goal was to advance a pan-Hindu philosophy and make India a Hindu state. In fact, he taught: “It cannot be said that Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are separate religions. All these four faiths and their offshoots are one. Hinduism is an ocean into which all the rivers run. It can absorb Islam and Christianity and all other religions and only then can it become the ocean.” This exact philosophy was adopted into Article 25 of the Indian Constitution, which reads: “The reference to Hindus shall be construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina or Buddhist religion.”

He was also an avid proponent of the Hindu caste system, saying in 1933 that “to abolish caste is to demolish Hinduism.” To this day over 160 million Dalits (Untouchables) are forced to live in abject poverty and slave-like conditions by that same caste system. However, in 1931 Gandhi claimed: “I would resist with my life the separation of ‘Untouchables’ from the caste Hindus. The problem of the ‘Untouchable’ community is of comparatively little importance.” He even wanted to extend casteism to other religions, saying in 1932, “Caste is necessary for Christians and Muslims as it has been necessary for Hinduism, and has been its saving grace.”

Throughout his life, Gandhi preached racism and prejudice against every minority group he encountered – African blacks, Indian blacks (commonly called Dalits), Sikhs, and Muslims. He severely damaged Indian minority campaigns for equality, and arguably even contributed to the rise of apartheid in South Africa. He never admitted to his racism or apologized for it. In fact, India’s black community condemns Gandhi. Mayawati, a Dalit leader, blames Gandhi for India’s caste problems, saying, “He divided Indian society into two categories – the weaker sections and upper castes.” Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, a contemporary of Gandhi, was even more blunt, saying: “If a man with God’s name on his tongue and sword under his armpit deserved the appellation of a Mahatma, then Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a Mahatma.”

Senator, as members of the Indian minority community, we are compelled to strongly protest your celebration of Gandhi. You would do better to make America’s founding fathers your example, since they at least taught, if not always practiced, that “all men are created equal.” Gandhi, however, actively promoted inequality for all, and we question your judgment in choosing an indisputable racist as your source of inspiration. Your oversight of Gandhi’s anti-black activism is worrisome, inducing us to doubt your potential discernment as president.

Consequently, until you repudiate Mohandas Gandhi for his unapologetic racism, we must advise all Indian-American minorities not to vote for you on election day.

Bhajan Singh, Director
Organization for Minorities of India