Recent events have initiated a controversy about whether the statue of Queen Victoria should have a place on the Manitoba Legislature grounds. When a statue of Louis Riel was erected on the legislative grounds many years ago it caused a huge controversy.
The statues of Queen Victoria and Louis Riel aren’t the only ones in Winnipeg which have been a source of controversy. Another is the statue of Gandhi which stands just behind the Human Rights Museum. Gandhi was a political leader famous for his acts of civil disobedience against British colonial power during India’s fight for independence.
His statue was a gift from the Indian government to Winnipeg’s Human Rights Museum in 2004, although the statue was only put in its current place in 2010. The artist who created the statue is Ram Vanji Sutor.
A Black Lives Matter group in Winnipeg has started a petition to have the Gandhi statue removed. They say Gandhi was a racist who considered Blacks as sub-human, often calling them uncivilized and kaffirs (a disparaging term). According to them Gandhi believed whites should be the predominant race in South Africa.
Some people from the Punjabi community of Winnipeg also have a petition circulating to have the Gandhi statue taken down. They accuse Gandhi of not only being racist but also a pedophile citing an article in The Guardian that states after Gandhi’s wife had died he took to sharing his bed with naked young women in order to test his self-control and commitment to celibacy.
Controversy about a statue of Gandhi is not unique to Winnipeg. There have been demands to remove the Gandhi statue at Carleton University in Ottawa for the same reasons outlined by the Black Lives Matter group here. Jagmohan Humar a professor at Carleton and a former president of the Gandhi Peace Council says while it is true Gandhi made racist remarks as a young lawyer in South Africa he later recanted them and championed diversity and fought for justice for all.
The same article in The Guardian cited by the Punjabi community says there is no evidence Gandhi ever had sex with the young women who shared his bed and they bore him no ill will. Ian Jack who writes the Guardian article claims that while Gandhi’s actions were egotistical and misguided it would be a shame if they eradicated his legacy as a leader who used non-violence as an effective means to bring about change, a man who inspired other civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Junior to take up the path of non-resistance.
The controversial statue of Queen Victoria in Winnipeg has been toppled and the discussion about whether it will be replaced is ongoing. The controversial statue of Louis Riel was eventually moved to a different location and a new one made to take its place. It will be interesting to see what will happen with the statue of Gandhi.
I have written a number of articles about how we might approach controversial statues and other pieces of public art.