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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
News
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
News
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
News
Businessman at desk circa 1950s
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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

Sauce Recruitment: Partnership Sales Executive - TV

competitive + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: An award-winning global multi-media...

Sauce Recruitment: Account Director

£26017.21 - £32521.19 per annum + OTE $90,000: Sauce Recruitment: My client is...

Recruitment Genius: Linux Systems Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of UK Magento hosting so...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Development Manager - North Kent - OTE £19K

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A unique opportunity has arisen...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea