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
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Arts and Entertainment
books New York Times slammed over summer reading list
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
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

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine