Petition calls for removal of Gandhi statue from Carleton campus

The petition draws attention to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi's dark past, which it says included misogyny and racism.

Man who led campaign for India's independence held racist beliefs, group says

A statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, better known as Mahatma Gandhi, stands outside Richcraft Hall at Carleton University in Ottawa on June 15, 2020. (Simon Lasalle/CBC)

An online petition is calling for the removal of a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi from the Carleton University campus.

As the Black Lives Matter movement, reinvigorated by the killing of George Floyd, continues to demand recognition that systemic anti-Black racism exists in Canada and around the world, the call to remove the statue of the political and spiritual leader who led a campaign for Indian independence from Britain has resurfaced — as have the darker elements of Gandhi's own past.

"We're not really taught that history because in the larger aspect, Gandhi — the man we know to be Gandhi today — has been whitewashed in a way to keep a certain element of his story hidden," said Kenneth Aliu, a former Carleton University student who called for the statue's removal three years ago.

The petition claims Gandhi was a misogynist and a racist who referred to "Africans as savages." 

Aliu said Gandhi would also refer to Black people as "sub-human."

Kenneth Aliu began asking the university to remove the Gandhi statue in 2017. (Laurie Fagan/CBC )

"This statue represents anti-Black racism on Black people, on Black bodies. A removal of that statue does not necessarily mean that we won't still understand the man we know to be Gandhi," Aliu told CBC Radio's All In A Day.

He said statues of historical figures don't help people learn about history, but merely place those figures on pedestals. The petition calls the statue's removal "one small step" the university can take to help address racism and discrimination. 

The statue is merely a symptom of the problem. The problem here is racism.- Kenneth Aliu, former Carleton University student

As of Tuesday evening, the petition had garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

But Jagmohan Humar, a professor at Carleton and past president of the Mahatma Gandhi Peace Council of Ottawa, disagrees with the petition's depiction of Gandhi, and calls those who want the statue removed "misguided."

He admits Gandhi made racist remarks when he was a young lawyer in South Africa who didn't fully understand the issues facing the country, but said he later recanted.

"He soon learned and he changed, and for the rest of his life he championed the cause of diversity and against injustice," Humar said.

"His whole life, he fought for justice, for equality and the right for justice for all."

Humar believes the statue, which was erected in 2011, isn't about placing Gandhi on a pedestal, "but to celebrate his message and to draw inspiration from what he stood for."

University won't pick sides

The university has not committed to removing the statue.

"Debate and discussion about Gandhi and his legacy have taken place at Carleton from time to time, as it has at many institutions worldwide. Statues of other historical figures have also come under scrutiny," wrote Carleton University media relations officer Steven Reid in a statement. 

"Universities must be a place where debate on contentious subjects is open and respectful, whatever the point of view of the individuals or groups. As you know, many view Gandhi as a man who meant a great deal to India and the world." 

Aliu was unsatisfied with the university's response.

"The statue is merely a symptom of the problem. The problem here is racism."

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day

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