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".

Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

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

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week