Monday, April 4, 2011

India decides not to ban Pulitzer Prize winner's Gandhi biography

Isn't it nice when once in a while, the Indian government does something to deserve our faith?  I've kept mum on this particular controversy because firstly, while I am against banning any form of speech on principle, it is irresponsible and counter-productive to comment on a book you haven't read yet and secondly, I had a feeling good sense would prevail at Shastri Bhawan.  Thankfully, prevail it did.

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily announced yesterday, the Indian government has decided not to ban former New York Times editor and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Joseph Lelyveld's "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India" because the author has clarified he has not written what has been attributed to the book.  

Mahatma Gandhi's glasses 
Source: The Guardian
"This is not a sensationalist book.  I did not say Gandhi had a male lover.  I said he lived with a man who was an architect as well as a bodybuilder for nearly four years.  The letters are part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (Volume 96, to be precise) published by the Government of India.  They are in the Indian National Archive.  That particular volume was first published in 1994.  In other words, the material I used contains no news," said Lelyveld.

Many reviews of the book highlighted Gandhi's comments on black South Africans and Gandhi's close relationship with a Jewish German man, Hermann Kallenbach but Lelyveld contested the interpretations given to his words.   "I do not allege that Gandhi is a racist or bisexual in Great Soul," he told the Times of India. "The word 'bisexual' nowhere appears in the book.  The word 'racist' is used once to characterise comments by Gandhi early in his stay in South Africa, part of a chapter summarising his statements about Africans and his relations with them. The chapter in no way concludes that he was a racist or offers any suggestion of it."

Against the wishes of Gandhi's two grandsons Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopal Gandhi and great grandson Tushar Gandhi, the Gandhi family's home state, Gujarat banned the book last week.  Chief Minister Narendra Modi demanded an apology from the author for hurting the sentiments of "those with capacity for sane and logical thinking".  

Joseph Lelyveld's former employer, The New York Times notes, "the crux of the controversy is the intersection of two subjects on which Indians have strong views: sexuality and Gandhi."  I wonder if they forgot about the racism or tacitly acknowledged Indians are racists and don't mind that Gandhi felt, "Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized — the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live like animals."

While I doubt he is truly surprised or entirely unhappy with the attention, my sympathies are with the author.  “I lived in India, and there’s an Indian word called tamasha,” he said, which translates to “spectacle.” “I’m surprised to find myself at the center of one, because I think this is a careful book, and I consider myself a friend of India.”


Tys said...

loved this post...didnt even know of this new controversy.,...whats with these sensitive buggers and their ability to be offended by everything arnd them.? and what the fuck is up with banning things? what is that?

personally iam a big fan of gandhi and i for one dont care if tomorrow somebody digs up something that gandhi was a homosexual or a foul mouthed nazi ....who really cares? he obviously whats the story here?

the author got it down pat...tamasha..

Pundit Commentator said...


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