At the University of Ghana this month, activists have called for the removal of a recently installed statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. According to a Sept. 20 Washington Post article, an online petition written by five faculty members cites Gandhi’s alleged racist views about Africans as the primary reason for this movement, and in less than a week, approximately 1,000 people signed the petition. Do you believe that the University of Ghana should remove Gandhi’s statue, and do you think society should re-examine its praise of Gandhi in light of racist remarks in his writings?
Prof. Rajesh Sampath (Heller)
When exploring two different Global Southern contexts, the matter is not so clear cut when discussing issues of institutional racism and oppression in higher education. Take for example the petition signed by 1,000 people at the University of Ghana to remove Gandhi’s statue, seeing that greater awareness of his racist views about Africans is coming to light. How do we reconcile this justice and injustice in the same individual? One could argue that the Ghanaians have every right to remove a symbol that they find is a direct affront to their moral sensibility on what constitutes harm to their pride in identity and heritage. And in that regard, their right to self-determination should outweigh an international demand that Gandhi’s legacy be respected. If one still admires Gandhi’s revolutionary movement that freed India from British rule, then fine. But if others condemn his racist views, particularly those directly affected by them, such as African people, then their desire to thwart past effects of oppression on the present should by duly respected.
Rajesh Sampath (Heller) is an Associate Professor of the Philosophy of Justice, Rights, and Social Change.
Prof. Carina Ray (AAAS)
What’s happening at the University of Ghana (Legon) is part of a global movement in which people, many of them university students, are critically interrogating the racial politics of memorialization. From the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement in South Africa to the call to drop Woodrow Wilson’s name from Princeton’s public policy school, students are demanding their schools stop honoring figures who held racist beliefs and who often put those beliefs into practice in ways that continue to produce racial inequality in society and in our educational institutions. Unfortunately, Gandhi’s anti-African racism is no longer alleged; it is something that has been definitively documented by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed in their new book “The South African Gandhi: Stretch-Bearer of Empire.” Why should students and faculty have to walk by a statue of Gandhi on the Legon campus only to be reminded of his disdain for them? Whether in Ghana, South Africa or the US, we need to (re)create university environments that nurture our souls and intellects, not chip away at them by honoring those who wouldn’t have honored us.
Carina Ray (AAAS) is an Associate Professor of African and Afro-American Studies.
Henry Snow ’17
It is not for me to say what Ghanaian students and faculty believe best represents the values of their institution. Mohandas Gandhi was inarguably a complicated figure with a complicated legacy in multiple areas. Beyond his writings, Gandhi’s legacy of action was mixed — in the words of one of his contemporaries, the Dalit politician B.R. Ambedkar, concerning Gandhi’s actions on Dalit rights, he was “devious and untrustworthy.” Through analysis of historical figures we can interrogate nuance and contradiction in history and society, and the discourse the students and faculty of the University of Ghana have created is doing just that, whatever they may decide the implications of his racist remarks should be in this instance. America has its own complicated heroes — many of them actually unambiguously awful — and could do with such interrogation.
Henry Snow ’17 is a History major. He is also the vice president of operations for the Brandeis Academic Debate and Speech Society.
Max Moran ’17
The University of Ghana has as much right to take down a statue of Mohandas Gandhi as Brandeis University had to disinvite Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Three years ago, a movement within this University’s community rose to object to an administrative action which activists found contrary to the values of the University. Then, as now, the University’s administrators can expect plenty of negative headlines headed their way if they “kowtow” to activist voices on campus. But schools in democracies — like the United States and Ghana — should reflect the ideals of their government, and there is plenty to criticize about Gandhi when one looks past the myth-making. If a large voice on campus wants this change, and no credible voice emerges in opposition, it’s perfectly fair to take down the statue. The point is that there’s more to this story than us Westerners and non-University of Ghana students can glean from reading a few articles. Like all college campuses, I’m sure the University of Ghana has its own culture and history which influences the actions of its student body, and as onlookers, I’m not sure it’s appropriate for us to judge them until they’ve stated their case more fully.
Max Moran’17 is an International and Global Studies major. He is also a senior editor for the Justice.
Matthew Reeves ’19
On June 14th this year a statue of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was erected at the University of Ghana to an unwelcoming reception. The statue, a gift from India’s president Pranab Mukherjee, was found offensive by members of UG’s staff due to Gandhi’s allegedly racist views towards African people. A Change.org petition was put up, and at the time of this article is being written, the petition has 1,641 signatures. With this issue brought to the public eye, one might ask the question of whether or not the statue should be removed, and if this recent rediscovery of Gandhi’s beliefs should cause for society to re-evaluate him in his entirety. Clearly offensive to many members of the UG community, I believe that the University should remove the statue based on the wishes of its majority, however, I do not believe that the worldly praise which Gandhi has received should be re-examined.