Gandhi is respected as a great leader, but many are oblivious to a facet of his character where he was not well disposed to Blacks and Untouchables.
Mahatma Gandhi is a much respected figure all over the world, particularly in America. In real terms Gandhi's nonviolence made him an icon to the American civil-rights movement. Martin Luther King was greatly influenced by him. But most blacks in America who adopted Gandhi’s philosophy are perhaps not aware that he was a racist to a degree. This can be discerned from his days in South Africa.
Gandhi spent nearly two decades in South Africa and fought for the rights of the Indian settlers there. In addition his stay there brings out many interesting facts. In one of his campaigns for the rights of Indians settled in South Africa he is reported to have complained against Indians being sent to prison intended for Kaffirs. He further commented that he understood that Indians could not be classed with whites, but he could not countenance them being put up with Kaffirs or the natives (blacks). He further commented that the natives (blacks) were as a rule uncivilized as well as troublesome, dirty and lived like animals. In fact in an open letter to the legislature of the Natal Province in South Africa Gandhi reportedly objected to the Indian race being dragged down to the level of the Kaffir( Black). His opinion of the Blacks was that their only ambition was to buy some cattle, a wife and then live their life in idleness and nakedness.
It is also worth examining Gandhi’s views on the lowest of Indian castes, the untouchables. To a visiting missionary in 1936, he is reported to have remarked that the untouchables are worse than cows in their understanding. He rounded of the discussion by commenting ‘Would you teach a gospel to a cow?”. His other comments on untouch ability are revealing. He was in favor of abolition of untouchability, but stated that abolition of un-touch ability would not entail higher caste Hindus dining with untouchables at the same table. In fact in his massive rallies attended by thousands against untouchabilty during the thirties of the last century,the untouchables were themselves herded together in separate enclosures away from the higher caste Hindus. It should not also not be forgotten that Gandhi was against the lower castes having their own reserved seats in parliament. In fact he launched a massive fast to press this point in 1932.
Gandhi was a man who believed in self promotion. Even his statement that Islam was religion of peace after thousands of Hindus had been massacred by Muslims in Bengal in 1946-47 does not add to Gandhi’s stature. Sometimes I wonder with all this evidence ranged against him, how Gandhi could get away with being called a Mahatma (great Soul). Perhaps at some distant point in time the correct evaluation of Gandhi will take place.