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article imageGandhi’s great-grandson enters book-ban row over gay claims

By Andrew John     Apr 7, 2011 in Lifestyle
The great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi has entered the row over the banning in the Indian state of Gujarat of a book claiming that the father of Indian independence had a gay relationship.
Gujarat banned the bookGreat Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld – in late March. The ban has since been criticised by great-grandson Tushar Gandhi.
“More bans have been proposed in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009 and still carries social stigma,” says Fox News.
Media reports mainly in the UK and US emphasized a passage in the book – not yet released in India – that referred to Gandhi’s relationship with a German man, Hermann Kallenbach.
Fox News quotes from a letter from Gandhi to Kallenbach: “How completely you have taken possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance.”
Maharashtra is another Indian state in which politicians have called for a ban. Sanjay Dutt, a spokesman for the ruling Congress Party in the state, is quoted as saying: “It has become a fashion to tarnish the image of great Indian leaders for self-publicity and sale of books. The government should invoke a law to severely punish anyone who tarnishes the image of the father of the nation.”
But, according to the UK-based Australian-born human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Gandhi’s great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi, responded to the Gujarat ban with the comment: “How does it matter if the Mahatma was straight, gay or bisexual? Every time he would still be the man who led India to freedom.”
In a news release today, Tatchell writes:
Critics of the book condemn the author for revealing that Gandhi loved a man. They say this is insulting to his memory and offensive to the whole Indian nation. What nonsense. His sexuality does not diminish his political achievements or his character one iota. Only a homophobe would take offence at the evidence that Gandhi had a same-sex relationship.
I speak as someone for whom Gandhi has been a great political inspiration. He wasn’t a saint but he was a very great man. Despite his faults and flaws, he played a leading role in securing Indian independence, forcing out the greatest colonial power in history – the mighty British Empire – by entirely non-violent resistance. Defeating the British and securing Indian independence by peaceful mass protest was a truly remarkable feat, which far outweighs his shortcomings.
Freedom of expression, including the right to express ideas that others may find offensive, is a fundamental human right. Bans diminish open debate and critical inquiry. It is the job of historians and biographers to search for the truth and publish what they find without fear or favour. Censorship is a sign of weakness and a threat to democracy.
In a review of the book, Andrew Roberts writers in the Wall Street Journal:
[T]he love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. “Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom,” he wrote to Kallenbach. “The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed.” For some reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were “a constant reminder” of Kallenbach, which Mr Lelyveld believes might ¬relate to the enemas Gandhi gave himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.
The couple parted when Gandhi returned to India in 1914. Kallenbach could not get permission to travel to India in wartime. However, Gandhi never gave up the dream of having Kallenbach back, and wrote to him in 1933, saying that he was “always before my mind’s eye.”
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