Indian state bans controversial new Gandhi book
Posted: Mar 30, 2011 1:56 PM ET
Last Updated: Mar 30, 2011 1:56 PM ET
Joseph Lelyveld’s book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India was released in North America and Britain on Tuesday. (Knopf/Associated Press)
An Indian state has banned a new book about Mahatma Gandhi after reviewers said it hints that the independence icon had a homosexual relationship and held racist views.
The state assembly of Gujarat, where Gandhi was born, voted unanimously on Wednesday to ban Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, the latest book from Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld.
Other states are also considering banning the book, which explores Gandhi’s struggle for social justice and the evolution of his values. Great Soul was published in North America and England on Tuesday, but has yet to be released in India.
Outrage erupted in India overnight after Western book reviews focused on passages about Gandhi’s relationship with a German bodybuilder named Hermann Kallenbach, with whom he lived in Johannesburg for two years.
Other reviewers said the book depicts Gandhi as having held racist views towards blacks in South Africa.
Some politicians have called for the central government to block the book’s publication in India and demanded an apology from the author for tarnishing Gandhi’s image.
‘It’s a pious hope, but I’d say someone might take the trouble to look at it before it’s banned’—Joseph Lelyveld
Lelyveld, a journalist and former executive editor of the New York Times, has defended his book.
“I do not allege that Gandhi is racist or bisexual,” he said in a statement.
“It says that he was celibate and deeply attached to Kallenbach. This is not news.”
In an email to the Associated Press, the author added that “it should not be hard for anyone to determine what it actually says…It’s a pious hope, but I’d say someone might take the trouble to look at it before it’s banned.”
Indian poet, art curator and cultural theorist Ranjit Hoskote, who also serves as general secretary of writers advocacy group PEN in India, condemned any ban of Great Soul.
“You can’t cite a worse example of third-hand reportage and comment,” Hoskote said. “How can you ban a book you haven’t read?”
In a column for the Hindustan Times, Gandhi’s grandson Rajmohan dismissed the innuendo about his grandfather’s love life and also rejected calls for a ban.
A ban is “wrong from every point of view, and doubly so in the light of Gandhi’s commitment to freedom of speech,” he wrote.
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