LONDON – Students from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom have launched a “Gandhi Must Fall” campaign against a proposed statue of the leader of the Indian freedom struggle outside Manchester Cathedral, approved by the local authorities.
The University of Manchester Students’ Union issued an open letter to Manchester City Council to reconsider its decision to allow the nine-foot bronze sculpture in the heart of the British city on the grounds of Gandhi’s “well-documented anti-black racism and complicity in the British Empire’s actions in Africa”.
“Gandhi referred to Africans as ‘savages’, ‘half-heathen natives’, ‘uncivilised’, ‘dirty’ and ‘like animals’, to reference only a few of his vile comments,” the letter notes.
The letter adds that “In modern times, Gandhi is used as a propaganda tool to cover up human rights abuses by the current Indian government under Modi, which is engaging in an effort to erect Gandhi statues globally to create an image of India as an anti-imperialist state.”
The sculpture, by Indian artist Ram V. Sutar, is to be installed in November month to commemorate the 150th birth anniversary year of Gandhi.
The Mahatma Gandhi Statue Project, an initiative of Shrimad Rajchandra Mission Dharampur (SRMD)—a worldwide spiritual movement headquartered in India—is said to epitomise the city’s resilience in the aftermath of the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena in May 2017. The Islamic State (ISIS) had claimed the attack in which 23 people were killed.
“The statue of Gandhi will celebrate the universal power of his message. A statue in Manchester will ensure that the heart of our politics and democracy can all be blessed with his ethos,” said a spokesperson for SRMD-UK, an apolitical body propagating Gandhi’s teachings.
“Gandhi inspired African leaders, including Nelson Mandela, [and] this call is an extreme and limited interpretation. Mahatma Gandhi is a citizen of the world and an icon of peace. The Manchester statue will celebrate the universal power of his message,” it added in reference to the students’ campaign.
However, the students’ union led by its Liberation and Access Officer Sara Khan has demanded that the city council withdraw permission.
“We demand that Manchester City Council refuse to be complicit in this, especially given the city’s history of anti-racist action, and to stand in solidarity with Manchester’s Black and Kashmiri communities,” demands the open letter titled ‘Gandhi Must Fall’.
The name is a reference to the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign that began in 2015, which focussed on British colonialist Cecil Rhodes and went on to encompass a wider call for the decolonisation of Britain’s educational institutions.
A council spokesperson said the new Gandhi statue had undergone the necessary local procedures and is intended “to spread a message of peace, love and harmony”.