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Arundhati Roy accuses Mahatma Gandhi of discriminationexcerpt
- Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize winning author, has accused Mahatma Gandhi of discrimination and called for institutions bearing his name to be renamed.
Speaking at Kerala University in the southern Indian city of Thiruvananthapuram, Roy, 52, described the generally accepted image of Gandhi as a lie.
"It is time to unveil a few truths about a person whose doctrine of nonviolence was based on the acceptance of a most brutal social hierarchy ever known, the caste system … Do we really need to name our universities after him?" Roy said.
The caste system is thousands of years old but still defines the status of hundreds of millions of people in India. So-called untouchables, or Dalits, continue to suffer discrimination.
The author's comments provoked immediate outrage from descendants and some scepticism from historians.
"Being outspoken is one thing but being so blase about your ignorance is quite another," said Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of the world-renowned thinker and activist. "It's just an attempt to get publicity."
Prof Mridula Mukherjee, an expert in modern Indian history at Jawaharlal University in Delhi, said Roy's criticism was misplaced. "Gandhi devoted much of his life to fighting caste prejudice. He was a reformer not a revivalist within the Hindu religion. His effort was in keeping with his philosophy of nonviolence and bringing social transformation without creating hatred," Mukherjee said.
Roy's comments are part of a long-running historical argument over Gandhi's views on caste.
Gandhi's stance is sometimes contrasted by commentators with that of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, a Dalit who grew up in poverty but went on to become a prominent independence leader and India's first law minister, with responsibility for much of the country's constitution. Roy recently wrote a new introduction to Ambedkar's undelivered 1936 speech, The Annihilation of Caste, in which she called Gandhi "the saint of the status quo".
Mukherjee said Gandhi and Ambedkar "represented different understandings of how to solve problems of caste oppression in India, but each was equally sincere".
The British government recently announced that a statue of Gandhi would be placed in Parliament Square.
Roy's comments come amid a series of rows over the study and representation of Indian history.
The appointment of a little-known academic to the head of a national research body has raised concerns that the new Hindu nationalist government in India may try to promote an ideological version of the country's past.