The existing statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Tavistock Square, London
On a visit to India in July, UK chancellor George Osborne announced that a statue of Mahatma Gandhi would be erected in Parliament Square. You can criticize Osborne for a lot of things, but you’d have thought his decision to build a statue of a globally revered peace-loving icon of Indian independence would be fairly uncontroversial.
However, alongside all of Gandhi’s notable achievements, he also used to do stuff like getting girls and boys to bathe and sleep together, chastely, as a kind of celibacy experiment. He also slept naked next to women—including, in one case, his grandniece—to test his own restraint. It’s this aspect of his character that doesn't wash too well with 82-year-old Dr. Kusoom Vadgama, founder of the Indo-British Heritage Trust, or Bhai Amrik Singh, leader of the UK's Khalistani Sikh Federation, who described Gandhi as a "sexual weirdo."
I gave Dr. Vadgama a call last week to talk about the campaign she’s launched against the proposed statue.
VICE: So how did this all begin?
Dr Kusoom Vadgama: I've been aware of the unjust treatment of women [in India] for many years. In Delhi over two years ago, an innocent women was killed and raped on a bus. The abuse she suffered was horrific—it pierced through my heart. There has also been another incident where women were hanged. These men want to abuse and destroy the spirit of women. When the chancellor, George Osborne, went to India they decided to announce the erection of a Gandhi statue in Parliament Square. First of all, there's already a statue of Gandhi in Tavistock Square. And secondly, no man has the right to abuse or use a woman’s body to satisfy his own whims.
In Gandhi’s case he wrote in his own autobiography that he went to sleep with his grandniece. When you [test] how much you can control yourself by going to bed with a 16-year-old, I think it’s bizarre. I don’t know if you’ve looked up Gandhi and his sex life, but you will be shocked. He is one man. I just feel I have to speak on behalf of woman all over the world about what men do to dominate and destroy the lives of women. We’re not pieces of furniture. I will do my damndest to stop this statue going up.
But Gandhi also helped with the emancipation of women in India.
That’s the irony of it. Everyone joined him because it was the culture of a movement. People hammer on about how great he was, but he insulted women. He used to tell little boys and girls to bathe together. It was also exposed that he went to bed naked with his grandniece and people at the time were disgusted.
Dr Kusoom Vadgama
OK, but does he not deserve some recognition for all the great stuff he did?
I’m not denying he did a great deal. But in India people are brainwashed to believe that the history of India begins and ends with Gandhi. He was not the only one. His iconic status has risen as if nobody did anything else at all. If he wore a bowler hat and a suit nobody would take any notice of it, but he designed clothes to associate with the poor. In India you are born with Gandhi because the first time you look at the money, Gandhi’s face is on it. The whole system is focused to a degree of mass hypnotism. For me, I feel it's the women who have been insulted and degraded to a degree by a man who is meant to be the saintly savior of India. He has been overrated and he has to be put down to earth and treated as a normal person. Don’t put him in Parliament Square. He is a symbol of what women don’t want.
So why do you think he's held in such high regard?
In India we have a habit of worshiping people—like if you're rich, beautiful, or a film star. Gandhi was a horrible man to his family. He ill-treated his wife. He didn’t even tell her he was going to be celibate. Yet as a schoolgirl I was absolutely behind him. If he went on a fast, I went on a fast. Anything he did, I would do. I was so jealous of the two girls that went around with him. He was my god. But he has insulted the culture and women of India and the world. We got our independence, now we want our dignity.
Gandhi in 1939. Photo via Wikimedia Commons
I’d say the majority of people like Gandhi, so have you had much opposition to your campaign?
The initial reaction is always, “My god, I didn’t know that.” Then after it’s explained they give me their support. Many people locally are supporting me. I just can’t believe it. It's also important that the Indian diaspora here have some kind of role model, but does Gandhi inspire you? Overall, people have been supportive and shocked when I tell them [about his sex life.] Although, one of the fundraisers for the statue had a go at me and said, "What men do with women isn’t anybody’s business.” I accept that, but I said, “I am drawing a line when it involves a teenager who is his blood relation.”
You’ve just started a petition, too, right? How’s that going?
It's a petition personally to George Osborne and has just gone online. There's already a Gandhi statue two miles from Parliament Square—why [do they need another]? Maybe they want to impress the government in India, or it might be to do with the trade benefits or something. I have already sent George Osborne two letters and am just about to write a third one.
Has he replied?
No. I wrote the second letter in the full knowledge that he would neither reply nor do anything to stop the construction of the statue. But I’m going to keep going. This is a very serious mater. I want to say, "Enough is enough."
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