India ponders new law after book questions Gandhi's sex life

The authorities in India are considering making it a criminal offence to insult Mahatma Gandhi after a new biography sparked fresh speculation about his sexual preferences and suggested he once made racist comments.

The Minister of Law and Justice, Moodbidri Veerappa Moily, told reporters yesterday that he was reviewing legislation in order to protect the reputation of a man considered a national icon. "Mahatma Gandhi is revered by millions, not just in India but across the world," he said.

"We can't allow anybody to draw adverse inferences about historical figures and denigrate them. Otherwise history will not forgive us."

The move comes a day after the authorities in the state of Gujarat, where Gandhi lived for a number of years, announced they would ban the book, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, written by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Joseph Lelyveld. "The writer has indulged in the most reprehensible act," claimed the state's chief minister.

Controversies over the man who led the struggle against British rule regularly crop up. Last year the pen and watch maker Mont Blanc was forced to withdraw a £16,000 gold ink pen released to mark the anniversary of his birth that after it was deemed an ostentatious insult to his frugal example.

But the row over Lelyveld's book is one of the oddest. Much of the controversy focuses on reviews of the biography, currently not available in India, and which the author claims are inaccurate.

Among the reviews which created the storm was one by British historian Andrew Roberts, writing in the Wall Street Journal, in which he claimed the biography portrayed the independence leader as "a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist". Other reviews focused on Gandhi's relationship with a German-Jewish architect and amateur body-builder, Hermann Kallenbach, who lived with Gandhi in South Africa for several years in the early 1900s.

The reviews suggest Lelyveld's book concludes that the "Great Soul" was bisexual and highlights sections which detail Gandhi's habit of sleeping naked with his 17-year-old niece in order to test his control over his carnal urges.

However, other reviewers found Lelyveld's book much less sensational and the author issued a statement in which he said: "I do not allege that Gandhi is racist or bisexual. The word 'racist' is used once to characterise comments by Gandhi early in his stay in South Africa... the chapter in no way concludes that he was a racist or offers any suggestion of it." The Law Minister said officials were looking at amending the National Honour Act of 1971, which protects the Indian constitution and its flag. But the decision, first reported by the Indian Express, has been the basis for sharp debate about whether such a move would undermine freedom of expression.

Among those who have opposed an amendment is Tushar Gandhi, a great grandson of the independence leader. Last night, Mr Gandhi told The Independent: "I strongly feel that no book or opinion should be censored. They should be, and can be, countered, but they should not be gagged. It goes against our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and threatens the freedom of the individual."

Although Gandhi is held in high regard for his crucial role in leading the peaceful struggle to win independence, some of his beliefs and actions have been questioned by academics and historians, in particular his views on caste. In his review, Roberts recalls that BR Ambedkar, a contemporary of Gandhi and who spoke out on behalf of the country's Dalits or Untouchables, described Gandhi as "devious and untrustworthy".

News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Arts and Entertainment
Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) and Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint)
newsBloomsbury unveils new covers for JK Rowling's wizarding series
News
scienceScientists try to explain the moon's funny shape
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
As Loki in The Avengers (2012)
filmRead Tom Hiddleston's email to Joss Whedon on prospect of playing Loki
Voices
voices In defence of the charcoal-furred feline, by Felicity Morse
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Experienced Creche Assistant - Lambeth - September 2014

£64 - £69 per day + Competitive London rates of pay : Randstad Education Group...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

DT Teacher - Food Technology

£100 - £145 per day + Pension and travel: Randstad Education Maidstone: SUPPLY...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star