Calls to remove 'racist' Gandhi statue in Leicester

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Mahatma Gandhi statueImage source, Geograph
Image caption,
The Mahatma Gandhi statue was erected in Belgrave Road in Leicester in 2009

A petition to remove a statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester has received nearly 5,000 signatures.

The online petition accuses the Indian independence campaigner of being "a fascist, racist and sexual predator".

Last year, students from Manchester called for a similar statue of Gandhi to be removed because of his "well-documented anti-black racism".

Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe called the petition a "massive distraction" from the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Labour politician said Gandhi "was part of creating a movement in the same way that Martin Luther King created a movement".

"His form of peaceful protest, like Black Lives Matter, is a force for change," she said.

"There is not any desire from the black community to move that symbol of change."

Image caption,
Claudia Webbe called the petition a "massive distraction" from the Black Lives Matter movement

Professor of Indian history at Oxford University, Faisal Devji, said he thought the debate to remove the statue was "absurd".

"It seems almost surreal to have to list the many things Gandhi did," he said.

"He's a fallible man as all men are, but to lump him in with slave owners, that's a bit much."

Prof Devji said Gandhi's statue in Leicester was also a representation of the large refugee Gujarati community in the city.

"Gandhi himself was Gujarati, and many of the [city's] residents came from Uganda when they were expelled by Idi Amin," he said.

"So in some ways Gandhi's statue represents their presence in that place."

Image source, Geograph
Image caption,
The statue was vandalised in 2014 with graffiti referring to the 1984 Golden Temple attack in India

Several academics have noted reports of Gandhi's derogatory views towards native Africans while he lived in South Africa in the late 19th Century.

Gandhi's biographer and grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi, previously admitted one of the fathers of modern India was "at times ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa's blacks".

But Prof Devji said Gandhi's "record is actually very mixed", and he was known to sympathise with Africans during the Boer and Zulu wars.

"Gandhi too was an imperfect human being, [but] imperfect Gandhi was more radical and progressive than most contemporary compatriots," he said.

Former MP Keith Vaz, who was at the unveiling of the Leicester statue in 2009, called the Indian leader "one of the greatest peacemakers in history", and said he would "defend [the statue] personally".

Leicester City Council said the petition had not yet been submitted to the authority.

Statues fall across UK

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
A statue of Edward Colston was thrown in Bristol's harbour during a Black Lives Matter protest

The petition comes after the statue of 17th Century slave trader Edward Colston was toppled as part of a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol.

Since then, a statue of slave trader Robert Milligan has been removed from outside the Museum of London Docklands.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Protesters have been calling for an Oxford college's statue of Cecil Rhodes to be removed

There have also been calls to remove the statue of imperialist Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College in Oxford, which saw thousands of people protest outside the institution on Tuesday.

Protesters defaced a statue of Britain's wartime leader Winston Churchill during a Black Lives Matter protest in London, labelling the politician "racist".

Churchill's statue in Parliament Square has been boarded up because of fears it could be vandalised in future protests.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The statue of Winston Churchill was boarded up on Friday morning ahead of planned protests

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