Did Mahatma Gandhi make racist statements?

In The Guardian article Gandhi branded racist as Johannesburg honours freedom fighter, it's stated that he said

"Many of the native [black] prisoners are only one degree removed from the animal and often created rows and fought among themselves."

and that Europeans sought to degrade Indian people in South Africa to the level of "raw kaffir [a term which at least nowadays is an offensive term for black people], whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness".

I'm skeptical because I usually hear about about his racism, along with other bad or abnormal things about Gandhi, from people antipathic to pacifism.

  • 2
    Why is the second quote considered racist? Seems more like a condemnation of European policy to me. Jul 28, 2014 at 20:41
  • @DJClayworth criticising social engineering isn't racist, but saying that black people already want to pass their life in indolence and nakedness is.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 28, 2014 at 23:17
  • 2
    No, he says Europeans want to turn Indian people into that, not that they want it. Without wishing to overstate the obvious, Gandhi WAS an Indian person. I don't think he was insulting himself. Jul 29, 2014 at 2:04
  • 4
    @DJClayworth I said "black people", not "Indian people", in my comment. The quote says black people "occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness." Gandhi is stating as fact the "level" of black people. He isn't attributing their "level" to what the Europeans think.
    – Golden Cuy
    Jul 29, 2014 at 3:20
  • 1
    @AndrewGrimm - I'm more in agreement with DJ on this. He's detailing what the Euorpeans sought to degrade black people to in South Africa, and is warning that they have the same goals for Indian people. He's not saying "they're trying to turn us into Africans, and this is what Africans are like." IMO, of course. Sep 22, 2016 at 14:29

1 Answer 1


http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Mahatma_Gandhi#1890s confirms the second quote.

The quotation given there is

Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.

And the citation given is

Address given in Bombay (26 September 1896), Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 1, p. 410 (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999, 98 volumes.

Regarding only hearing about these claims from his detractors, a seemingly sympathetic accounting of Gandhi confirms that Gandhi had these sentiments about black people.

From Wikipedia Mahatma_Gandhi#Gandhi_and_the_Africans:

Bhana and Vahed argue that Gandhi, at first, shared racial notions prevalent of the times and that his experiences in jail sensitized him to the plight of South Africa's indigenous peoples.[43]

43 is a citation of Bhana, Surendra; Vahed, Goolam H. (2005). The making of a political reformer: Gandhi in South Africa, 1893–1914. Manohar. pp. 44–5, 149. ISBN 978-81-7304-612-4.

  • 1
    Was Kaffir a slur in Gandhi's time, or would it have been more like saying "primitive"? The imagery he paints is one of primitive man, not necessarily a racist one.
    – user11643
    Oct 20, 2018 at 17:45

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