10 Curious Controversies About Mahatma Gandhi

The Bambatha Rebellion

One additional event provides us with a glimpse into the past: the Bambatha Rebellion of 1906. Zulus protested against the taxes imposed by the British after the end of the Boer War. The British responded with a massacre of thousands of Zulus. Between 3,000–4,000 Zulus were killed, 7,000 were imprisoned, and 4,000 were viciously flogged. British losses amounted to 25 men.

Gandhi’s role during the conflict was a highly controversial one. Prior to actively recruiting volunteers to fight in “no man’s land” during World War I, he had actually pestered the British to recruit Indians as part of the army against the Zulus. This was partly due to his aim of gaining favor with the British overlords and, in effect, helping to legitimize the citizenship of Indians. Critics also insisted that this was motivated by racism. Gandhi commanded a detachment of volunteers who bore the wounded on stretchers, although he felt that this activity was a waste of men. Gandhi wanted Indians to have the “opportunity of a thorough training for actual warfare.”

Perhaps it’s also worth adding that this event may have changed Gandhi for the better. Upon seeing the damage inflicted by the British on the hapless Zulus, his compassion may have led him to reassess what his life had been until then.

The Death Of William Francis Doherty

The controversial book Gandhi: Behind the Mask of Divinity, describes a certain incident involving Gandhi and an American widow, Annette Doherty, wife of engineer William Francis Doherty. She went to claim the body of her husband, slain during a riot of Gandhi’s supporters on November 19, 1921, and subsequently met with the famed political leader. During that fateful day, Mr. Doherty was on his way to work when rioters suddenly pounced on him, gouging out his eyes and leaving him for dead. For over an hour and a half, Doherty lay on the street under the scorching sun, blinded and dying, before he was taken to a hospital where he died within minutes.

Later on, Mrs. Doherty’s meeting with Gandhi revealed a scandalous yet highly disputed turn of events. According to her deposition, she had initially met with one of Gandhi’s representatives who was concerned about the American public finding out about the killing. The emissary allegedly asked for her price—how much did she want to keep her silence about the matter. Later on, when the widow met with Gandhi himself, he told her that he and his movement had the sympathy of the American public and that he did not wish for more details to emerge that could lead to prejudicial treatment.

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