A statue of Mahatma Gandhi, overlooking the Sauteurs Bay in Grenada, is becoming the talk of the town in the Caribbean country. Indians had arrived more than 100 years ago in the island nation.
The statue, unveiled in 2013 as a mark of Grenada-India relations, invited criticism from a person named Josiah Rougier who wrote to the newspaper, The New Today, calling the leader a “racist.”
He wrote in a letter to the editor: “The following is a quote by Ghandi, he said, ‘Kafirs (black) are as a rule uncivilised convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals’. Ghandi – March 7, 1908. As a person of African heritage, is this the kind of person whose bust should be placed anywhere among our people? What has this racist ever done for the people of Grenada?”
The letter adds: “If Indians in Grenada choose to celebrate the birthday of their leader Ghandi, they are free to do so in their own homes, but not among our young children who should be celebrating the life and times of those who fought against the evil system of the apartheid regime in South Africa.”
In response, an Indian-origin reader Jai Sears wrote to Guyana Chronicle, saying: “Gandhi was only 27 years old when he made that contextual statement. If Rougier had done his research, he would have found that Nelson Mandela said: ‘Gandhi must be forgiven for these prejudices in the context of the time and the circumstances.’
“Gandhi was a man; he was not God. And even God made mistakes. Rougier must instead focus on Gandhi’s vision of non-violent protest and his belief in Satyagraha which inspired rebels and revolutionaries around the world.” Sears added in his letter.
“Gandhi’s life is an example to us all and his legacy, a positive influence to all Grenadians, especially the youth in these times of increasing violence,” the then Prime Minister Tillman Thomas was quoted as saying at the unveiling of the bust.
“The figurine is that we remember all who contributed to this island in one way or another, he is a hero in India and is recognized by Indians all over the world, so this is our respect to him,” he is reported to have said.
Indians comprise less than 5 per cent of Grenada’s population.
This is not the first time Gandhi’s statue has been at the center of a controversy.
Last year, a statue of India’s ‘Father of the Nation,’ unveiled in June 2016, was removed at Ghana University following protests by academics and students.
The statue was a gift by the Indian embassy to the university during then Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to the country.
The academics, who were not consulted before the statue was erected, wrote in a petition: “It is better to stand up for our dignity than to kowtow to the wishes of a burgeoning Eurasian super-power.”
A statue of the preacher of non-violence in Downtown Davis in California sparked similar protests in October last year, citing Gandhi’s letters, which called the blacks “kaffirs”.
The unveiling of Gandhi statue at Parliament Square in London in 2015 was met with criticism as well, with Dalit and Sikh activists accusing him of discriminating on the basis of the Hindu caste system.
London-based historian Kusoom Vadgama also launched a petition against the statue, saying that Gandhi ‘dishonoured women’.