New Delhi: The Manchester City Council’s decision to erect a statue of Mahatma Gandhi honouring him on his 150th year of birth has sparked protests from students at Manchester University, with the #Gandhimustfall trending on Twitter.
The 9-foot bronze statue, set to be unveiled outside the Manchester Cathedral of Mahatma Gandhi on 25 November, was commissioned to ‘promote peace’ in the city which witnessed a terror attack in May 2017 during an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people had died in the attack, while hundreds of others had sustained injuries, as a result of the suicide bombing by twenty-two year old Salman Abedi.
However, a group of student activists led by US Pakistani literature student Sara Khan, has opposed the move.
In an open letter, the students cited Gandhi’s “well-documented anti-black racism and complicity in the British Empire’s actions in Africa”. The protesters also highlighted how Gandhi’s references to Africans as “savages”, “half-heathen Natives” and “dirty” made him a “fellow-colonist”. The letter further notes historical instances wherein Gandhi appealed to Indians to fight against the South African Zulu community. The group also alleged Gandhi was being used as a “propaganda tool” by the Modi government now to cover up human rights abuses.
Apart from its arguments, the group articulated several demands, including redistribution of funds meant for the statue to commemorate Black anti-racist activists such as Olive Morris and Steve Biko, as well as a public apology from the council acknowledging Gandhi’s “anti-black racism”.
“The activists are also calling for the Council to release a public statement acknowledging Gandhi’s “anti-black racism” and calling for funds to be redistributed to instead commemorate a black anti-racist activist with connections to Manchester.” ✊🏽✊🏽✊🏽 https://t.co/DzEptSgiZ2
— Sara Khan (@VPLibNUS) October 10, 2019
The protest divided support for the #Gandhimustfall movement. Some congratulated the student activists while others targeted the group on the grounds of religion and age.
Pakistani-Canadian author and journalist Tarek Fateh called out Sara Khan’s involvement in the protests, saying the “disease of Hindu-hatred is pernicious and almost incurable among Pakistan’s Punjabis”.
One Twitter user said the protest was a “denigration” of historical entities by a generation which “knows nothing about hard times, poverty, war or history”.
— Obed Manwatkar (@obed_manwatkar) October 16, 2019
Statue of Gandhi facing backlash from Manchester University student activists – there is no end to this denigration of historical entities being adjudged by a generation which knows nothing about hard times, poverty, war or history. https://t.co/ZU59Z12hVH
— Thomas Culpepper (@Cu1pepperTh0mas) October 16, 2019
UK Pakistani #SaraKhan [ @LibAccessMCR ] leads racist campaign against #Gandhi's statue in Manchester University. Refers to revered Indian leader as a 'racist'. The disease of Hindu-hatred is pernicious and almost incurable among Pakistan's Punjabis. https://t.co/ziadPLleFL
— Tarek Fatah (@TarekFatah) October 16, 2019
Indians in UK respond
A group of Indian students from Manchester and other parts of the UK issued a statement flaying the #Gandhimustfall letter. Taking to Twitter, they said they had “immense respect for the Father of our Nation” who was a symbol of “peace, non-violence and anti-colonialism”.
#Indianstudentleaders in #Manchester and #theUK, along with the @IndianSocMCR and @NISAU_UK request the authors of the #Gandhimustfall open letter to engage, respect and fairly represent the opinions of the Indian student community. pic.twitter.com/CbrhA3kiFD
— Riddivisu (@riddivisu1) October 16, 2019
The statue, the Indian group said, was an initiative to “promote global peace and harmony”.
While they acknowledged the university had different students with diverse views on Gandhi, “dishonouring” him on the 150th birth anniversary year and linking the statue to “alleged actions of a current government” was unacceptable.
They added that claims that the statue was hurting the Kashmiri community in Manchester was deeply offensive to the Indian student body, one of the largest communities in the UK.